The Return (The Austin Trilogy #2)

Return[The]Title: The Return (The Austin Trilogy #2)
Author: Brad Boney
Cover Artist: Tricia Dunlap
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Publisher Buy Link: The Return
Amazon:  Buy Link The Return
Genre: contemporary romance
Length: 350 pages
Rating: 3 stars out of 5

A Guest Review by Andrea

Review Summary: Two wonderful romances for the price of one. It was going so well until the final wrap up…

Blurb:

Music. Topher Manning rarely thinks about anything else, but his day job as a mechanic doesn’t exactly mesh with his rock star ambitions. Unless he can find a way to unlock all the songs in his head, his band will soon be on the fast track to obscurity.

Then the South by Southwest music festival and a broken-down car drop New York critic Stanton Porter into his life. Stanton offers Topher a ticket to the Bruce Springsteen concert, where a hesitant kiss and phantom vibrations from Topher’s cell phone kick off a love story that promises to transcend ordinary possibility.

The Austin Trilogy

Review:

There are a couple things I need to clarify before I get into my review. First, The Return isn’t listed as a sequel to The Nothingness of Ben, but they are very closely related. I wouldn’t recommend reading it until you’ve read The Nothingness of Ben. It’s a fantastic book so that shouldn’t be too much of a hardship. The second thing is that I would consider this to have a bit of paranormal in it. The blurb hints at it with the line, “… a love story that promises to transcend ordinary possibility.” The paranormal twist a major part of the story so you need to expect and accept that.

The Return is two love stories in one book, and it switches back and forth between them. The first love story is between Stanton and Topher. Topher is a mechanic at Groovy Automotive. His good friend, and coworker, is Travis. You’ll know Travis from The Nothingness of Ben. Topher earns his paycheck at the shop, but his dream is to be a successful musician. One day Stanton walks into the shop and Topher is immediately drawn to him. Stanton is a famous music critic and they bond over their shared passion for music.

The second love story is between Stanton and Hutch. Their romance takes place in the early 80’s. Stanton was just a confused college kid at the time he met Hutch. Hutch is working as a bartender but dreams of making it as a singer/songwriter. They too initially bond over their shared love for music. Hutch, and his friends, are the ones who challenge Stanton to think about music in a new way. They are responsible for setting Stanton on the path which eventually leads to Topher.

Both love stories are fantastic. The chemistry between both couples is substantial and I truly wanted them to be together. That made it rather interesting because I knew that it must not have worked out with Hutch if Stanton was single when he met Topher 20 years later. The romances were great, but the story was elevated even further by the side characters. Some of Stanton’s friends changed and some friends stayed the same over the different time periods, but they always had an important role. There is also that paranormal twist I mentioned earlier. I loved how that played into their lives and relationships.

Those are the things I really enjoyed about the book. Unfortunately, there were also some things which detracted from my enjoyment. The first was that I didn’t have the knowledge base to get some of the references. Stanton and Hutch met in the early 80’s, which makes them part of my parents’ generation. The characters bonded over discussions of music and pop culture of that time period. I didn’t know most of people or music they were talking about. Then, there were a couple of phone calls toward the end which I didn’t find believable. I needed more convincing to buy into that. My biggest issue came right at the end. The very last paragraph of the book seemed to come out of nowhere. It wasn’t that it was bad news or anything, it was just an odd tweet and it didn’t fit. I really wish it had been left out or thrown in a few pages earlier. I was happy riding the HEA rainbow until I got dumped into a pot of WTF was that!? It wasn’t a good way for me to end the book. I would have rated it a 4 all the way until the phone calls. It moved to a 3.5 after the phone calls, and then it slammed into a 3 with that last paragraph.

Despite my issues with the end, I did enjoy the book. I think die hard music fans and people who experienced the early 80’s would enjoy it on a level I could not.

22 comments

  • I’m 57. I don’t like 80’s music as a whole and I’ve never cared for Springsteen but I loved this book.I would recommend watching Longtime Companion to really get the feel of this story. I noticed at least two characters from that movie in this book (Fuzzy and Willy on Fire Island). The phone calls were a little creepy but this in my opinion (such as it is) is a work of fantasy and I love Mr. Boney’s writing style.

    Reply
  • I have been reading the comments and it seems to me that most people’s enjoyment of this book and their individual ratings would depend largely on when they were born. 😀 The references in the book (as described by the commenters) relate to the music of the 80’s and the times around which the story was based. Someone said that this book would have lent itself to a duelling review and they are probably right. However, since I hadn’t read the book (and still have not) I had no way of knowing this. NOB was rated at 3.75 stars by Stuart (who lived the 80’s and appreciated the references in that book and no doubt would have appreciated these same references in The Return). In his review Stuart said some very complimentary things about the writer’s talent, but if I recall correctly he was critical about other aspects of the story. You can read his review if you’re interested in what he had to say.

    No story is perfect, even when reviewers rate it 5 stars, and each reviewer has his/her own built-in rating criteria regardless of the ratings criteria posted on the site which are intended as a guide. Probably no two readers would agree exactly about this book, but that’s why reading is such a great and enjoyable pastime because we all bring our own experiences to each book we read. Andrea is one of the younger reviewers on the site and represents the burgeoning group of new readers who read M/M romance. I appreciate her perspective because she didn’t “live” the times in the book and therefore brings an innocence and new dimension to the 80’s and the story. Great job on the review Andrea. Next time maybe the publisher will indicate when/if a book is a sequel. If that information were available perhaps I could have persuaded Stuart to do a duelling review with Andrea. 😎

    Reply
    • Hey Wave,
      My problems with this book were not because of an age thing, being 56 ( when I remember ) but because I found an element of heavy handedness with the period / music details and the paranormal storyline. He is clearly a good writer but there others who create past times with a more subtle hand …. IMO only of course. 😀

      Reply
    • I do think my age was a big part of my problem with this book. That’s a surprise to me because I certainly don’t think of myself as being young!

      Spoiler Alert

      I tried to keep everything spoiler free, but I think I need to address it in order to make my point. I’m in my 30s so that means HIV/AIDS has always been a known disease in my lifetime, and it’s been a manageable disease ever since I was in my teens. Making the leap back in time to where it’s a terrifying disease with a guaranteed death sentence is not something I can easily do. That world needs to be built for me since I didn’t live it. I mentioned Caregiver earlier as an example of a really well done book dealing with that time period. With Caregiver I felt as though the writing style invited into the lives of the characters. While I enjoyed The Return, I felt alienated from the characters because of the way it was written.

      The author used references to music, movies, and plays a lot. The characters had many conversations about these things. It was through those conversations that the reader gets to know the characters. I knew none of the play references, a couple of the movie references, and about 50% of the music references. That reduced half of the deep conversations the characters were having down to nothing but chatter. I skimmed through most of them because I had no idea what they were talking about. I had trouble relating to the characters because of that. I enjoyed reading about their lives but there wasn’t a deep connection.

      This would have been a great book for dual reviews!

      Reply
      • Interesting – Caregiver did absolutely nothing for me, left me unmoved, and in particular did not manage at all to make me feel the horrific depth of terror and tragedy of the time period, even though it’s a period I lived through. I thought this’d book captured – and conveyed – much better the enormous contrasts and swing in mood and emotion (again trying to avoid spoilers) that characterized the decade.

        Reply
  • One more disagreement about the 3.5, although I understand your reasons; the review was thoughtful and clear.

    As a 40-something reader who lived through the early 80s and had a gay family member in those very difficult times, I understood the musical references AND the heart-wrenching happenings in the gay community.

    I LOVED the book. I really liked The Nothingness of Ben and bought The Return hoping for a similar experience. I got so much more! Ok, it’s a cliché to say, “I laughed, I cried”, but darn it, I did!

    It’s a great book. Very satisfying. I’ve already gone back and reread it once and I will undoubtedly read it again. It’s a 5 for me.

    Reply
    • I felt the same way about The Return as compared to TNOB (and am also a 40-something reader who lived through that time, though without quite such a personal connection, at that time). This book was so much…more.

      Reply
    • I’m really enjoying reading everyone’s responses. They have helped me see the book in a different light. Even though I couldn’t appreciate some of the references, I can definitely see why it would be so meaningful for you. Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  • I agree with you Andrea on this one. The paranormal elements started as so appealing but, for me, eventually became too much- it began to feel like everybody and their dog was subject to the same thing the main characters were.

    Song references are always so difficult to get right. If you share them it can so enhance a read, in this case I really got the Springsteen, who I love, the rest of the time I felt a touch left out….not sitting at the cool table.

    The book and it’s excellent writing held my attention, but did not make me believe.

    Thanks for the thoughtful review.

    Reply
  • I could have done very well without the last page of the book. The phone calls didn’t bother me so much because they had been a little theme with the phantom vibrations but including the whole country in this? Nope. To redeem himself though, Mr Boney has a link to a YouTube playlist on his web site. I went and played thru most of it and relived some lovely old memories. Yes, I’m old. I had an eight-track of the Carpenters.

    Reply
    • I went through all the pictures he had on his website which showed important things from the book, but I completely missed a YouTube playlist. I will go back and check that out. Thanks!

      Reply
  • I agree that this book transcends the boundaries in gay lit. I also agree, that given that opinion, I found some of the things a little “hoakey” including the very, very ending. I thought it detracted too, and took me to a place where I was like “huh?” That being said, because I was so into the book, I’d still give it a 4.5. I didn’t care too much for the paranormal part, and I too had to look back in TNOB to remind myself of a few things. I’m still not sure that I got all of the connections because I read that one a while ago. Overall though, I have to say I loved it. It had a “Long Time Companions,” Larry Kramer feel with some MM thrown in too.

    Reply
    • When I read the book I was very thrown out of it by the ending paragraph. But I found myself thinking about it a lot, and thinking about the paranormal aspects of the book (who the 80s people were in relation to the current day people and, more important, why), and that last paragraph started to seem more and more…well, understandable, I guess. Like the ultimate wistful wish fulfillment. That ending almost doesn’t entirely belong with the plot line of the book, feels jarring just as the last paragraph of Stanton and Topher’s mm romance, but it does make more sense (to me) with the underlying motivation behind the book, and if I think about being a person of Stanton’s generation and social circle. Then the ending paragraph fits a little better – is thought provoking at least!

      Reply
    • I did like the paranormal part quite a bit. I thought it brought everything full circle and made for a more positive book overall. You definitely recovered from that ending much better than I did. I really didn’t like that ending.

      Reply
      • I would have liked the paranormal part more if I had anticipated it more, I think.

        I also can see the paranormal element working well given Stanton’s generation, but I think I liked it more as a one time special thing, and the ending took that away some for me. If that ending hadn’t been there, the specialness of the paranormal element would have worked better.

        Nevertheless, like I said, I loved it. I think I blocked out the last page 🙂

        Reply
        • OK, I can’t argue with that. If the paranormal element had been more limited, it would have been better. It went a couple steps too far even for me.

          Reply
  • I have to admit, as someone who is cynically critical of most mm books I read, and who does see the flaws in this book, it nonetheless truly stuns me to see this book getting a 3 on this site, especially compared with some of the works that get so much higher scores. I do understand that reviews are subjective (and I’ve never before commented on a review), but there is an objective element, and with no disrespect intended, it strikes me that perhaps this book might have been a candidate for dueling reviews, with the other written by someone who could appreciate all those references – which added amazing depth and context. And the thing is, the 80s aren’t just amusing pop references in the book – they’re the foundation for its entire underlying point, including that last paragraph (which, while a little out of the blue, makes perfect sense in the book’s context and is a bit corny perhaps but also remarkably…poignant).

    There’s a way in which this book is more than mm romance, it’s also “gay literature,” and I think this review entirely misses that (trying to avoid spoilers here). Of course no book is for everyone, and this one isnt perfect (I too thought the phone calls went a little too far),, but I will say that it has stayed with me, and I’ve continued to think about it, more than any other book I’ve read in the past 6 months at least. The writing is quite strong, the author, unlike the vast majority in this genre, tells not shows, with excellent dialogue, the characterizations are outstanding, the love stories excellent, the plot interesting and the concept unique. Based on this site’s normal reviewing standards, as I’ve inferred them over the past 3 years, for whatever it’s worth, I’d certainly give it a 5.

    Reply
    • I’m happy you liked it and would give it a 5 star review. That’s the wonderful thing about books, we all have our own lives and experiences which we bring into the story. Two readers will read the exact same book but will walk away with two different stories. I thought I made it clear in my review how important the music and pop culture of the 80s were for the characters, maybe I didn’t stress it enough. That was an extremely important building block for their friendship. I didn’t understand 50% of what they were talking about in those discussions. There are a lot of MM readers out there like me who will have the same problem I did. There is also a huge portion of MM readers who will get every reference of those discussion. Without a doubt, these readers will take away a lot more from the discussions than I did.

      As to the gay literature comment, I know what you’re referring to and it’s a huge spoiler so I basically ignored that in the review. Most of the other reviews you see cover that part so I chose to focus on other things. The “gay literature” part was very good and is the reason I would have given it 4 stars up until the point of the phone calls. My gold standard for that type of story is Caregiver by Rick R. Reed. That book stayed with me for months. The Return was emotional and poignant but it never impacted me the way Caregiver did.

      All of those things combined with everything I mentioned in the review are what led me to give it the rating I did. I love Brad Boney’s writing style. I gave The Nothingness of Ben 5 stars and I will be reading any other books writes. It was simply a case of me not connecting very well with this particular book.

      Reply
      • I actually agree with justacat on this one but I understand what you’re saying. I lived through the 80’s so for me, the ending left me with this warm fuzzy feeling, although I will admit to my own wtf moment when I first read it, but once its meaning settled in, I loved it.
        I was a little disappointed that there was no reference to TNOB in the blurb or anything, because it was definitely a sequel.

        Reply
  • What an intriguing review Andrea, especially about two romances for one. I like getting more than I expect. The last comments about your disappointments (the phone calls and the last paragraph) make me want to read this book.

    Good warning that readers should read The Nothingness of Ben first, because there’s nothing in the blurb to indicate this.

    Reply
    • Thanks Wave.

      I initially thought I had missed something telling me this should have been a sequel. I started reading and the connections to TNOB were everywhere. It was quite a shock to me when I looked at the blurb and saw no mention of TNOB anywhere. 😯

      Reply

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