A Soldier’s Return, by Judy Christenberry

14 Oct

A Soldier’s Return, by Judy Christenberry

An American Romance from Harlequin, A Soldier’s Return is my first novel by Ms Christenberry, and the fourth title in her Children of Texas miniseries. I am not sure why, but I had truly high expectations for this book. Sadly, this is one of those times when the execution just doesn’t live up to the premise.

I disregarded the (oh man so awfully inaccurate!) back cover blurb, because… well, honestly, how often are they anything but awful and inaccurate?

Children of Texas

Coming Home…

Ever since he was a kid and his orphaned family split, sending him into foster care, Captain James Barlow knew he was a jinx to anyone he loves. He’d hidden out safely in the marines… until a detective found him and most of his siblings. The captain had seen battle, but no enemy made him uneasy like his newfound family—and the beautiful Carrie Rand.

Even before Jim walked into her Dallas P.I. office, Carrie had fallen for his photo. The square-jawed hunk she’d sought had starred nightly in her fantasies… until the real thing put the dream lover to shame. But how could Carrie transform the stoic ex-marine into a hot blooded man?

Heart, Home and Happiness—American Romance

As with most books, there are the smallish quibbles; i.e., a marine is not a soldier (the Marine Corps is part of the Navy, and marines are marines, period). And what ex marine in his early thirties would call an attractive woman he likes, “dear heart”? Or, why do I need to know that he got up early and dressed in his running clothes—shorts, old t-shirt, color included—and tied his shoes and went to the park where he usually runs… before I’m told something equivalent to, “as he ran he pondered the situation with Carrie”?

I could have overlooked most of that if I had liked the characters or found the story itself believable—which didn’t happen. In fact, Carrie is absolutely TSTL, and Jim is both too self-aware and too scarred.

Carrie is interested in him—majorly—but even though he keeps throwing out all sorts of signals—like, say, kissing her? trying to spend more and more time in her company under the flimsiest of excuses?—she’s convinced he can’t be interested in her, therefore she keeps giving him the cold shoulder. This is the weirdest conundrum ever—for once we have the capable heroine who IS capable in her profession (meaning, we are shown this, not just told it while she gets up to her neck in trouble) but stupid beyond the telling in all other areas.

Ack!

Then we have Jim, who is interested but doesn’t want to be, because he has this idea that he’s bad luck. The worst part is that he doesn’t need a psychoanalyst—nor even a friend—to tell him that he’s afraid of relationships because after his parents’ deaths he got separated from his siblings, or because he lost his fiancée shortly after his deployment. He doesn’t even need to be told how irrational the feeling is—he’s perfectly aware of all that. Doesn’t that sound altogether too self-aware? Particularly when he won’t even try to work on these fears?

And yet, he flirts with her, maneuvers her into spending time with him, kisses her a few times…but she still knows he cannot feel attraction, let alone fall in love with her, so she keeps on with the snark and the rebuffs. Which, frankly, makes me wonder, why on earth does he keep trying?

Still, there were some secondary characters who, despite being mostly sketches seemingly included to keep track of the rest of the family (since it’s a six books family series), had real spark and quite a lot of potential. And as I said above, the setup intrigued me, plus I liked how most of the P.I. stuff was weaved into the story without becoming too much exposition. So I forged on, hoping it would come together somehow.

Then came the big deal—this dangerous case that Carrie is working on. And they have the perfect opportunity to discredit this guy’s insurance claim and get him for fraud. All they need to do is to think on their feet and take a couple of pictures under any stupid excuse. Hello, tourists? In a tourist town, in a hotel lobby. What, I ask, could be more natural that getting that camera out and fiddling with it, talk about previous shots while pointing it at their target? Or pretend to point it at each other and line the guy in the background?

But none of the above occurs to either of them.

Instead, they have to check in and spend three nights in the hotel. Where of course, we have the attraction—must fight this—must give in—no! must fight it!—oooopsss!—awkward morning after—big misunderstanding—crisis…and four pages later, a happily ever after.

I can’t say I hated this book, but I was increasingly irritated, by the characters and the writing, with every page I read (so much so that for once I was happy a novel was only 230 pages).

4 out of 10.

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