A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn
One Sentence Review: Contrived situations and a hero I couldn’t entirely warm up to made this a less-than-stellar read for me.
Tallis Carrington ruled Rock Bay with his gang of jocks and an iron fist—until a scandal destroyed his family’s name. Ten years later Tallis is dead broke, newly homeless, and on the walk of shame to end all walks of shame. He needs money and needs it fast, and Rock Bay is the only home he knows. But the people of Rock Bay haven’t forgotten him—or the spoiled brat he used to be.
The only person in town willing to overlook his past is Lex, the new coffee shop owner, who offers Tally a job even though he appears to despise Tally based on his reputation alone. When Tally discovers his gorgeous boss is the kid he tortured back in high school, Lex’s hot and cold routine finally makes sense. Now Tally has to pull out all the stops to prove he was never really the jerk he seemed to be. After all, if he can win Lex’s heart, the rest of the town should be a piece of coffee cake.
I love stories where the protags meet again years later, and if there is an “enemies to lovers,” or in this case “bully/bullied to lovers with a touch of redemption” trope, as the blurb implies here, I’m all in. Additionally, I’m a big fan of M.J. O’Shea’s writing, so much so that I nominated her as one of the “New M/M Authors Who Rock” a couple of years ago on this here site, so it seemed to be a match made in m/m heaven. That all said, Coming Home didn’t quite live up to what I expect from her, and I’ll try to explain why.
But first, there were things about the story that I really liked. I liked Lex, how he was willing to give Tally a chance knowing who he is/was, to try and get over their past, to stand his ground and open his café with the disapproval of some of the townspeople. I was good with the Insta!Attraction and generally the gradual love over time between him and Tally (more on this later). I liked the supporting cast, especially Lex’s BFF Amy and Tally’s grandmother. While there are multiple instances of headhopping that jarred me out of the story and caused me to go back and re-read the previous paragraph to figure out whose POV I was in, I tried to overlook them as it’s well-written overall.
Around Chapter 12, however, which is about two-thirds in, the story fell apart for me. It became overly melodramatic and tedious, with situations that seemed tacked on to create external conflict to create internal conflict, if that makes sense. These situations felt artificial and contrived at best and ridiculous at worst, and easily could have been left out without the story suffering. In fact, if O’Shea had wrapped up the book at the end of Chapter 11, I would have been much happier…but she didn’t. As a result, our heroes, who I had come to care for, began acting like idiots because of this conflict creation and I suffered through unnecessary…unnecessaries.
First, the scene with Tally’s bitch of a mother didn’t make any sense to me at all. Here’s a woman who left Rock Bay in shame over her scandalous husband (the story there is barely mentioned and glossed over) and bully son, kicked out said son for being gay, has made a life for herself in Seattle after remarrying, yet makes a convenient (for the plot) appearance back in the town that she ran from because she has “to show [her] face every once in a while.” She hasn’t spoken to her son in fourteen years, yet she confronts him and makes demands. What? I still have no idea, even after two readings, why she would have any interest in what her son does or doesn’t do when she clearly does not want him based on prior actions.
Next, the whole situation with Tally’s former friends, including the reason behind it (I wonder if Drew’s going to get his own story out of this), was another thing that felt artificial and wrong to me. While I can see it a little more than the mother thing, it painfully dragged the story out and I felt that it made Tally act out of character — the new-and-improved person Tally was supposed to be, that is. Tally is in his early thirties, way old enough to know better, to be his own man, to make his own decisions, not need the approval of a bunk of jerks who he knows are jerks, and treat the people he cares about right. In fact, this part of the story made all of the characters, Lex included, act like they had turned back the clock fifteen years and were teens again.
Lastly, even though I wanted to, I never entirely warmed up to Tally, and found myself angry at him several times during the story. Karma’s a bitch, baby, and I think part of my issue with him is that he isn’t shown to us — or at least to me — as going entirely through the redemption process (even after the fourteen years of hardship we are told about briefly). While I get that he was a product of his environment of sorts, his “poor me” attitude at the beginning didn’t help, and worse, it seems that he felt put upon for having to prove himself as different than he used to be to the people of Rock Bay. But the thing is, I never got the feeling he did that fully (prove himself, that is), rather he was just accepted over time just by being around and smiling at people as he takes/fulfills their orders at the coffee shop. Related to this, and while I liked them as a couple in general, his relationship with one of the people he tormented the most — Lex — seemed a bit too easy to me, that he didn’t overcome enough barriers to be with him. Also, when the situation with Brock and the gang came along beginning in Chapter 14 and through the end, I felt like it was all about him. He likes how his old buds look to him to make decisions and up to him in general; how he is the center of their attention, even though he knows he is hurting Lex; he is hurt because of Lex’s reaction. This selfish behavior, regardless of how it all came together at the end and our heroes getting their HEA, did not endear me to him.
While not a bad read as a whole, the last third of the story damn-near ruined the rest.