It was nice to start the reading year with a quiet book, with flawed, believable characters, and still get a satisfying HEA. That’s Noelle Adams’s The Return. In a way, it reminded me of another recent read, Lacy Williams’s Small-Town Girl. Adams and Williams manage to convey a certain grit to their heroes and heroines and yet still imbue them with vulnerability and kindness. It’s nice to read, refreshing. My reading world didn’t rock, but it had a nice gentle swing, leisurely and hopeful, for the few days I spent in The Return‘s company. It helped that The Return is a second-chance romance for two good people: florist Ria Phillips and the boy who loved her and left her just when they were new lovers at eighteen, Jacob Worth. The novel opens with more humour and light-heartedness than it ends, despite its HEA. At its opening, Ria is trying to convince her town that, after eight years, she’s NOT holding a torch aloft for Jacob Worth. Until he “returns” to Azalea, Virginia, as his grandfather lies dying (turns out grandfather had a lot to do with why Jacob abandoned Ria and none of it good on gramps’s part). It’s obvious from their first reunited meeting that these two love each other and belong together, but there’s plenty of hurt and years and change to integrate into a new relationship. No matter how difficult and valid Jacob’s reasons were for leaving, he still left without explanation and never again contacted Ria. He was young, proud, hurt, and stupid. But he’s an awfully nice guy and gets softer and more vulnerable as the novel progresses.
I like what Adams does with the genre: her combination of flawed, “broken” she calls them on her website, characters, their raw, blunt sexuality, their vulnerabilities and errors, their integrity about the way they feel, how they open to each other … it’s unique and compelling. On the other hand, I thought The Return‘s first half stronger than its second. Ria and Jacob’s tension, how they must navigate finding trust on Ria’s part and making amends on Jacob’s, is immersive. The second half? Well, Ria and Jacob faded, their personalities, so strong in the first half, become one-dimensional. Ria did too much giggling (this truly was peculiar, the number of times she giggles) and Jacob was sad all the time. I thought the grandfather’s death sequence inspired and unusually realistic and honest for a genre built on wish-fulfillment fantasy. To add critique to that weak second half, I think Adams is a better writer than her prolific output allows her to be. There were some great turns of phrase on rare occasions, but overall Adams sacrifices elegance to serviceable. Still, she’s unique in the genre and I quite enjoyed this category-length journey to an HEA. With Miss Austen, Noelle Adams’s The Return offers “real comfort,” Emma.
Noelle Adams’s The Return is self-published. It was released in May of 2020 and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley, from the author, via Netgalley.