Return to Me by James O. French ~ Book Review by Ulysses

Return-to-Me Title: Return to Me

Author: James O. French

Publisher: Kaituhi Press

Cover Artist: unknown

Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars


What would you do if the man you loved vanished without a trace?

Kyle and Todd meet at a party in their freshman year at college. They fall in lust at first sight, then deep in love. In spite of Kyle’s melancholy past, their future together looks bright. Then Kyle disappears, leaving Todd heartbroken and alone, and their dreams in ruins. Fifteen years later, Todd is a successful but lonely psychiatrist. He still hasn’t come to terms with the loss of his first love. When a dangerous amnesiac arrives at the hospital, Todd is forced to confront the past, and is driven to find answers to the questions that have haunted him all these years.

Return to Me is a tragic love story that stands out in a genre dominated by M/M romance. It’s a story about love, loss, heartache, acceptance, and hope that will stay with you long after you’ve reached the end.

Ulysses’s View:

Now listen carefully, and remember that 3 stars is not BAD in my book, and 3.5 stars is even better. 3.5 stars is a recommended read for me.

I was asked to read this for Prism Book Alliance, and I’m glad I did.

I particularly liked the author’s literate writing style. Oh, my God, you can’t imagine what a pleasure it is to read someone who writes well. There is too much badly written fiction out there, and those books you’ll never see reviewed by me.

The prime characters in “Return to Me,” Todd Chambers and Kyle Hansen, are very well drawn and easy to care about. The secondary characters, like Felix and Georgina, also play important roles and add greatly to the flow of the narrative (in both its very different halves) and to its emotional heft. Even the too-brief snippets of Todd’s family life in Denver are vibrant and create a strong supporting context for Todd’s character.

This is a debut novel by James Oliver French, a South African who lives in New Zealand. I’m not sure why he decided to set the book in Los Angeles, because I’d have loved to see this set in his hometown. I mean, we don’t ALL have to live in Los Angeles, do we?

As the author himself points out at the back of his novel, this is not your typical m/m romance. The first half follows the general lines of a sort of mature-audience young adult book, in which college students Todd and Kyle meet cute and begin to fall in love. If there is not a lot of tension in this budding romance, it is merely because there will be more than enough tension later on. Where French’s narrative diverges dramatically from the expected is in the second part of the book, which takes place fifteen years later, and takes us through the aftermath of Kyle’s disappearance.

Overall, I like the way French handles this before/after dichotomy. The continuity of Felix and Georgina as Todd’s friends; the fulfillment of his professional ambitions from his college days; and the ongoing support of his family all create a bridge that holds the two section of the novel together.

My issues with this book are twofold. French (again, as he admits in his afterword) injects a dose of sci-fi into the book’s second half that, frankly, does little to advance the plot and is completely out of sync with the rest of the story. I see exactly what French tries to do with this sci-fi note, but it ends up being gratuitous. It is a cool idea, but ultimately it is pointless.

The mystery behind Kyle’s disappearance becomes the central theme in the second half, and this works much better. If this book is, ultimately, about moving beyond a tragedy and finding one’s way toward happiness, then it succeeds. But there are contrivances in the plot (a character named Peter Jenner in particular, who is nothing more than a convenient plot device) that make the very plausible outcome feel too forced. I’ve tried to figure out what bugged me, and I think it’s that the second half is too rushed, too quickly filled up with pieces of action that come out of nowhere to help bring it to its conclusion. I liked the solution to the mystery; it took the story where I think it needed to go. However, the shift in tone from part A to part B does a disservice to the coherence of the whole.

I thought the final scene, as Todd, now Doctor Chambers, prepares for an evening out, was pitch perfect and it moved me to tears (which, after all, is usually the point).

James Oliver French is onto something. I hope all the folks who have encouraged him to write keep doing so. I want to read more of his work.

And I’d love to learn something about gay life in New Zealand. Just saying.

Buy Links

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA
All Romance eBooks
iTunes / iBooks
Barnes & Noble
Kobo US

I would like to thank the author for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

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One thought on “Return to Me by James O. French ~ Book Review by Ulysses

  1. Thank you for this review Ulysses I probably would not have noticed this book but for your review, but I think I shall download this now, as I am intrigued. Btw I love the cover.

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