Avon Impulse, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-06-237223-9
Contemporary Romance, 2014
Caroline Willis has come back to Rock Canyon, Idaho, because her father recently had a heart attack and she is hoping that they could somehow reconnect and have at least a cordial relationship. Unfortunately, her father is pretty stubborn, her ex-best friend is not keen on seeing her again after Caroline stole her boyfriend all those years back, and some folks think of her still as that troublemaker whose return couldn’t be anything but trouble. Worse, Caroline has to see the man who raped her when she was 15 – the rape that started her downward spiral back when she was a teenager – and that brought back a lot of traumatic memories. She also feels guilty for not telling anyone, as her silence no doubt allowed that man to victimize other girls.
Gabe Moriaty is an ex-con who is hoping to start life anew in Rock Canyon – he has friends here, after all – but the apartment he is hoping to lease is double-booked. Caroline expects to stay at that apartment, and now the two of them are at a standstill, as none wanted to budge and let the other person move in. Well, cohabitation seems like the best compromise, and we all know what happens next, don’t we?
Codi Gary seems intent to making her mark as an author of “issues” romances, and Return of the Bad Girl is another story where the issues end up defining the characters and, as a result, the story often comes off like some kind of PSA TV show from a mental health organization. Caroline is basically “that girl who was raped” – all her issues stem from that one traumatic incident, and there is little room for anything else in this story other than her finding closure through a series of heavy-handed moments. To give the author credit, Caroline is an active participant in her voyage to becoming a stronger person – this is not a story where the heroine finds courage to stand up for herself against the disapproving townspeople only after she’s had a boyfriend. She has some sense of humor and can even crack a joke or two about her circumstances. I like her. But, as I’ve said, the story doesn’t allow her to become anything more that the rape survivor who finally found the strength to be herself and nail that bastard who raped her.
Not that this is a bad thing, normally, but the trouble lies in the way the author structures the story. From beginning to end, the entire story feels rather contrived, as if things deliberately happen to let Caroline to eventually emerge a triumphant lady who has found herself. Of course, all stories are, by definition, contrived but the author is a bit too heavy-handed here, and the contrivances stand out a bit too much. This is quite a shame as Gabe and Caroline has a pretty good relationship here – both are scared and damaged inside, and it’s understandably bumpy at times on the road to happily ever after. But things often happen a bit too conveniently, timing of various events is a bit too fortuitous, and Caroline’s chance to nail her rapist basically falls onto her lap as if Caroline is Moses and the author deliberately part the skies to shower her with goodies.
Return of the Bad Girl may be a bit too artificial-feeling for its own good, but I do like the characters and I feel that their relationship would be so much better if the author had allowed things to happen more organically. A three-oogie score would be fair, but you can think of this book as one of the better three-oogie books reviewed on this website.