Seventeen years ago, Seth Sileski had the world on a string. He was a star football player at Thunder Point High School and was later recruited to play pro ball while still in college. Then everything came crashing down around him when he sped through an intersection in his prize Ferrari, broadsiding another car. It was determined that the other driver was technically at fault, but if Seth hadn't been speeding he may have been able to avoid the accident that left him with permanent scars and a badly injured leg, ending his football career before it had really had a chance to begin. Due to a rather contentious relationship with his father, Seth has mostly avoided his hometown ever since, but now he's finally back, serving as the town's new deputy sheriff. The one person he has missed the most over the years is his former best friend and neighbor, Iris McKinley. Even after all this time, he's still baffled as to what happened between them all those years ago, and he's absolutely determined to patch things up, rekindle their friendship, and hopefully do a whole lot more.
What Seth doesn't know is that during their senior year of high school, he broke Iris's heart. She'd loved Seth from afar throughout their childhoods together, but she was an awkward teenager who never thought Seth could like her as anything more than just a friend. That all changed the night she rescued him from a party where he'd had too much to drink while lamenting a break-up with his girlfriend. In a drunken stupor, Seth made love to Iris in her mother's flower shop van, but the next morning, when he announced his girlfriend and he were back together, it became abundantly clear to Iris that he didn't remember the night before that had changed everything for her. In a fit of pique, Iris ended their friendship, leaving Seth to believe that it was about him revoking his offer to take her to prom, but in her heart, he has always been one she was never able to forget. Now Seth's back in town, and Iris can't seem to stop feeling like that same, embarrassed, teenage girl she was all those years ago. Will Iris finally be able to let go of those feelings long enough to let Seth back into her life, and if she does, can she trust him not to stomp on her heart again?
When I discovered that The Homecoming was a friends to lovers romance, I had high hopes that it would finally become another Robyn Carr keeper for me. This is one of my favorite romance tropes and after reading a long string of Ms. Carr's books this year that have been pretty good but not great, I really thought this one was going to break that streak and become a big winner. It started off well, and I really did enjoy the fact that Seth and Iris had been best friends since childhood. During those early chapters, I was eager to get back to reading it every time I had to put it down, but eventually it started to slow down for me, and in the end, it kind of fizzled out. Even though there were few character perspectives outside of Seth's and Iris's (the author seems to be getting away from her trademark multiple POVs), I still felt like there was a little too much focus on other characters and subplots and not nearly enough romance, sexual tension, and conflict to make our main couple truly stand out. Overall, The Homecoming has edged out Wild Man Creek for my favorite Robyn Carr book I've read this year, but it still didn't have quite enough gas to make it to keeper status for me.
Iris is a headstrong, independent woman. As a girl and later a teen, she was somewhat awkward and a bit of a tomboy. She fell for Seth when she was quite young and always wished he would see her as something more than his best friend and next-door neighbor. During their senior year of high school, she rescued him from a party when he got drunk after breaking up with his girlfriend. In his drunken stupor, Seth declared that he loved Iris and wanted to take her to the prom, and then proceeded to make love to her. The next day, he was back together with his girlfriend and taking the other girl to the prom, while it was abundantly clear to Iris that he had no memory of the night before with her. At that point, she refused to be friends with him anymore and although they've seen each other from time to time when he came to visit his family, they've mostly been out of touch for seventeen long years until Seth returns to Thunder Point as the new deputy sheriff. Even after all this time and even though they've each dated other people, Iris is still nursing a grudge against Seth. I can't say that I blamed Iris much for being upset with Seth for what he did to her even if he was under the influence of alcohol. After all, she'd loved him since she was just a girl and essentially felt like he'd used her that night, but there were times when I felt like her actions were just a tad immature, especially for a trained high school counselor. I think she was getting a little too caught up in the hurtful memories of her teenage self and not allowing herself to feel as an adult would. She realizes pretty quickly that she's still in love with Seth and never has, nor probably ever will, love anyone else, but she also fears that he just wants to be friends and may hurt her again if she allows him to get too close. Iris keeping Seth at arm's length was somewhat understandable given the circumstances, but it didn't really leave much room for actual romance or even sexual tension to build between them.
When Seth returns to Thunder Point, the first person he wants to see is Iris. He deeply misses the friendship they shared and realizes he lost something special when she refused to be his friend anymore. Although he's had vivid dreams of making love to Iris over the years, he doesn't remember anything about the drunken sex they shared that night in high school. He thinks she's still upset with him over not taking her to the prom, so it's difficult for him to understand where she's coming from. The moment Seth gets back, he goes on a single-minded pursuit of Iris, trying to make it clear how much he wants her back, and I had to give him kudos for his persistence in the face of her prickliness. Although it was obvious through his thoughts and actions that Seth wanted Iris as more than a friend, it just didn't quite come out that way on an emotional level. Overall, Seth was a very nice and likable guy, who cared about Iris, his family, his friends, and his town, but he didn't really do anything that made him stand out in my mind. He had no real internal conflicts to speak of. He's simply a man who knows what he wants and goes after it. Even the conflict with his dad over past mistakes that is hinted at in the cover blurb and his scars from the car accident that ended his football career aren't really that big of a deal.
As with all of the Robyn Carr books I've read this year, I felt like the weak link was the romance. Don't get me wrong, they were a cute couple and all, but I just didn't really feel the romance all that much. IMHO, Seth and Iris stayed in the friend zone a little too long. I was glad that it didn't take forever for the truth about their drunken teenage love-making to come out, and when it does Seth feels really bad about it. Once this happened, I thought it was opening the door for Seth to make some truly romantic overtures to show Iris just how much she means to him, but this still didn't exactly happen. Admittedly, it was sweet how he brought her food, medicine, etc. to help out when she was sick, but because he doesn't want to get sick too, he keeps at a distance physically speaking. From an emotional standpoint, they both keep each other at arm's length, him because he doesn't want to push her too hard, too fast and her because she's afraid he's going to hurt her again. Unfortunately, this made it difficult for me to feel any romance building between them. Even their introspections are lacking any real romanticism or sexual tension. At this point, I couldn't help feeling that anything would have helped: longing looks, friendly touches that wreak havoc on the other's body, a hug, or even a peck on the cheek, but sadly nothing of that nature materialized. Their first love scene was kind of cute and sweet, but it seemed to happen too fast, not in the sense that it was too soon in the story (that actually took a while), but in the sense that I just didn't feel much emotion building up to it. It was a simple case of Iris finally revealing that she had feelings for Seth, him bringing her some flowers, and them falling into bed. After that, everything was hunky-dory between them with no real obstacles to overcome. I simply felt like there were several missed opportunities for the author to deepen this couple's connection that didn't ever come to fruition.
As I mentioned earlier, there wasn't a whole lot in the way of secondary POVs. The only ones I remember were Iris's friend, Grace, who now owns the local flower shop that used to belong to Iris's mother, and Iris's ex-boyfriend and teacher colleague, Troy. These two hang out a bit during the story and if the Thunder Point series continues (which I have every reason to believe it will), I suspect they'll become the hero and heroine of the next book. I liked Grace and felt like she was a good sounding board for Iris. Troy seemed nice too, but where I had a bit of a problem with him is that early in the story he's kind of a third wheel. He's still trying to court Iris even though it's obvious he's not the man for her. I think perhaps the author was trying to use him to add a bit of conflict, but IMO, he came off as more of an annoying distraction to Seth and Iris rebuilding their relationship. I also didn't really need to hear how much Iris enjoyed Troy's company, and more importantly, how much she'd enjoyed sex with him. Once would have been enough, if it even needed to be mentioned at all, but she ends up thinking about it multiple times, which only served to further dilute her connection to Seth. It also made Troy and Iris trying to remain friends a rather awkward prospect to my way of thinking.
The other main subplot that I thought had some potential centered around Rachel, a student at Iris's school and as it happens, the daughter of Seth's ex-girlfriend, who appears to possibly be the victim of some kind of abuse. When this storyline got started, I thought it was pretty interesting and gave Iris something to do outside of her relationship with Seth. Of course, Seth got pulled into it too, since he's the local law enforcement officer. Where it all kind of fell apart for me though, was in the final chapters, which read more like a public service announcement about teenage dating abuse. Also, the climax to this subplot could have been very tense, but instead it was rather dull with Troy really being the one who saved the day instead of Seth.
Overall, The Homecoming was a decent read. It was better for me than the last two Thunder Point books. The last three of Robyn Carr's books I've read were way too similar in plot and characters, so I have to give the author an A for effort in creating a different kind of story with different types of characters, which made for a more engaging reading experience. Unfortunately though, she only gets a C+ from me on the execution, because the characters and their romance fell a little flat for me. If Ms. Carr had deepened her characterizations a little more especially in the area of the relationship building it would have been a definite keeper for sure, but as is, The Homecoming gets a B (aka four stars) from me.
Note: I received an ARC copy of this book from the publicist via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Friends Before Lovers
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