Soraya Lane's backlist and she's quickly become one of those authors where I never know what I'm going to get. She's written books I've highly enjoyed, books that have made me angry and now with The Returning Hero, the dreaded "OK" read. For the record, I hate writing "OK" reviews. It's like trying to extract a tooth with a pair of pliers. There's nothing inherently wrong with this story, per se. There aren't elements in this story that I can point to and say "This is why I wasn't wild about it" - it's just.....OK. Let's see if I can find my way out of this paper bag.
Jamie Mattheson has been a widow for six months. Her soldier husband died in an explosion and she's now all alone, with only his now-retired bomb-detecting military dog, Bear, for company. Knocking on her door is Brett Palmer, her husband's BFF, who was also injured in the same explosion. He survived, with burns on his back that required skin grafts. He's been putting off visiting Jamie, mostly because he's always had the hots for her. But he promised Sam he'd look after her, and believe you me, he knows that Jamie is way off limits. He may have met her before Sam, but once her and Sam hooked up? He backed off in a major hurry. Just because Sam is now dead doesn't change anything. Or does it?
So that's pretty much the gist of it. Jamie invites Brett to stay at her place because 1) she needs help with Bear 2) they've always been friends and 3) she's lonely in the now big, empty house. Naturally Brett cannot say no, and then spends the rest of the book fighting his attraction for Jamie. What I liked most here was that the author doesn't keep any "big secrets" percolating to the bitter end. By the halfway point in the story Jamie has a pretty good idea of how Brett feels about her because, get this, he actually talks to her about it. Jamie, in turn, is attracted to Brett and thinks they should explore these feelings. Sam is gone. Sam is dead. And yes she loved him, but to keep on loving him and denying anything "new" to come into her life isn't going to bring him back. The fly in the ointment? Logan. Another BFF who is fairly outraged by the idea that Brett would be horning in on Sam's girl.
It's just....OK. I think my problem is that for a long time I didn't feel a lot of chemistry and attraction between the couple. The author tells me they have the hots for each other, but there's not a lot on the page to convince me of that fact. The attraction does get stronger as the story gains some traction, but it's pretty light in the pants in the early going.
Also, and I know this is understandable, the ghost of Sam looms large and there are times it toes the line into "icky" territory for me. I think if the chemistry between Jamie and Brett had been stronger, it wouldn't have bothered me so much. But even in the mushy epilogue I kept getting this vibe that Jamie and Brett are a couple to keep Sam's memory alive and his death is something they have "in common" - as opposed to them being a couple on their own, in their own world, without Sam. Yes, they both loved him - but in the end Sam shouldn't have anything to do with their relationship. Sam is used too much as common ground for my tastes - and I'll be blunt, six months? If the relationship between Jamie and Brett had been stronger (in other words, without Sam lurking around) I probably wouldn't have found six months jarring. But as it was - it seemed way too soon.
So I'm probably nit-picking all of this to death, and I really think it's because this story didn't push me strongly on either end of my spectrum. Mileage is going to vary here. I can see some readers loving this story and slapping it with a bunch of A+++ ratings. I, personally, didn't find it offensive in a way to illicit any strong loathing reactions, but again - what do I know? In the end, it's a dreaded OK read for me. The kind of book that immediately flies out of my memory once I've completed the epilogue. Or makes me crazy wondering about why I didn't like it more.....
Final Grade = C+