Kimani, $6.50, ISBN 978-1-335-21668-7
Contemporary Romance, 2018
It’s been awhile since the previous The DuGrandpres of Charleston book, and I have to say: Return to Me feels like it had been written by a completely different author. Jacquelin Thomas’s last few books felt like they were written in a hurry, full of clunky dialogues and bloated with long-drawn exposition. This one, however, feels like a genuine story rather than a contractual obligation fulfilled under duress. I don’t know what happened, but hey, I’m not complaining.
Not that this one is brilliant. It still suffers from some fundamental aspects of the plot that don’t make sense to me. For example, early on we have Jasmine being very angry because Austin DuGrandpres refuses to marry her. Now, try to work this out: she really wants to marry him, and she knows that he wants a child above all else… so she, already pregnant with his kid, decides to pop out that brat in secret and never ever tell him out of spite. Huh? Won’t it make more sense for her to leverage her pregnancy to get him to marry her, if she wants that ring so badly?
At any rate, that is the opening scene. We cut to years later, when Austin realizes that he is a father. Jasmine gave the brat up for adoption, but his PI has managed to track down the brat to… right in his neighborhood. That’s right, his sister’s BFF, Bree Collins, adopted Emery without suspecting that the kid’s father is just a few doors away. Now, he wonders how he’s going to get that kid back. He’s also attracted to Bree, who is a perfect mom to his brat, which complicates matters for him, because he really wants that kid for his own. Now, you may be thinking: he wants the kid’s foster mother, he wants the kid, he knows her very well, so it should be easy, right? He tells her, they get married, and the family live happily ever after, right?
This is where the story gets tricky: Austin is one of the flakiest guys I’ve come across in a romance novel – he either takes forever to make up his mind about anything, or he has to be talked into making a decision by his family members. Hence, he spends the first third of this book acting dazed and horny (yes, a romance hero can feel both at the same time), and when he decides that he loves Bree, he then takes what seems like forever to decide whether he should tell her that he’s Emery’s father. Naturally, he never tells her when the time is right, because of plot, and also because the guy may be cute but oh my god, he comes off as so dim at the same time.
While Austin is flake, however, Bree is an unexpectedly solid character. She is a bit too good to be true at times, especially as this perfect mother that never gets anything wrong or out of order, but she is also measured, sane, and reasonable. Thanks to her, the story never plunges into big misunderstanding drama, no matter how easy Austin makes it for her to do so. No, really, I would have screamed a few times at Austin if I were her, because that man can be infuriatingly dense sometimes, but Bree is clearly a better person than me as she is all zen, calm, and rational in the face of everything.
I am also pleasantly surprised by how the author has Bree defending Jasmine from Austin’s more black and white Madonna/whore complex by pointing out that some women prefer career over motherhood, and you know what, there’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe Jasmine doesn’t have it in her to be a mother, and she did what she thought was best for Emery in the end. It would be so easy for the author to demonize Jasmine to support Austin’s belief that all good women should have maternal instincts, so I really appreciate that she chooses instead to put a little more effort into making Jasmine a more human character.
That kid is predictably creepy and says a lot of contrived “adults think this is cute” things. I still cringe when I recall how he tells Austin, “Daddies sleep with mommies. Are you my daddy?” Here’s a crucifix, child – begone before I make you eat it!
Return to Me is a pleasant read, although I suspect that Austin would probably grate on readers who prefer their romance heroes to be more take charge in nature. In a way, though, I feel that the romance feels right here, as Austin needs a mother more than a wife sometimes, and Bree is born to play that role perfectly. At any rate, this one has a few unexpected surprises along the way that elevates it from another formulaic “family series” book into something a little bit more memorable.