This may be a controversial statement, but I hate pets in romance novels. Not all the time, but whenever they’re used as a cutesy plot point or overblown metaphor, I cringe. When I saw that Homecoming was going to involve not only six reunited siblings but six puppies and a small town, I knew things did not bode well.
Quinn Cantrell left Sweetland, a small town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, nearly 20 years ago, after his girlfriend and father both died of cancer. Now he’s an oncologist in Seattle, treating cancer patients and researching a cure. When his grandmother dies, he returns for the first time for the funeral. But things are complicated: he and his five siblings inherited equal shares of his grandmother’s bed and breakfast, which has an unexplainable $50,000 tax lien against it. They also each inherited a puppy.
The Cantrells quickly promote assistant manager Nikki Brockington to manage the inn. Nikki was good friends with the youngest Cantrell sister growing up, and had a huge crush on Quinn. Now they’re adults, and Quinn is noticing Nikki, too.
The relevant details in this book are often very vague and sometimes contradictory. While Quinn says he is thirty-six, the math elsewhere adds up to 38, and no where are we given a concrete clue to Nikki’s age, other than that it’s young enough to raise a few eyebrows. I’m guessing she’s about ten years younger than Quinn, but that’s just speculation. Details like age and timelines are important to me, and I realize “mid-to-late thirties” is maybe all some readers need. But when an age difference is worth mentioning not once, but several times, the author owes the reader specifics.
The mystery surrounding the tax bill is vague and poorly concluded as well. There’s also an overly dramatic plotline where Nikki is suspected of murder. I say “unnecessarily” dramatic not because the story didn’t need any more excitement (it definitely did), but because the melodrama of murder didn’t fit in with the tone of the rest of the novel. Police interrogations and execution-style murders don’t quite fit in with the lazy early-summer mood the author creates in the majority of the book. I would have much preferred some setting-appropriate action in the plot, though, because for the most part, the book was incredibly dull.
In terms of characterization, the book was okay. I had no real problem with Nikki as a character, other than that she was a bit bland. I struggled more with Quinn, who for most of the book was still mourning for his girlfriend – who died nearly twenty years ago. I get that returning to a place filled with memories may trigger some buried feelings, but 20 years is an awfully long time to be stuck on the death of a teenage girlfriend.
More problematic, though, was his frequent use of the word “female” to describe Nikki. A female what, exactly? A female dog? A female panda? A female rhinoceros? Using “female” in this way seemed somewhat dehumanizing. The only thing that would have been worse for me was if he started calling Nikki “his bitch.” It’s a slippery slope of sexism. Once I had a client in my office tell a friend on the phone that he would call back when he was done “meeting with this female.” I almost kicked him out. This was pretty much my reaction every time Quinn said it, too.
Less egregious but also annoying was the authors frequent (and often incorrect) use of the word “quip.” It’s a great word, but not always appropriate. It pulled me out of the story more than once.
While this book is a straight contemporary, it has some Inspirational undertones. That’s not surprising, given it’s a homey small-town romance. It has a very Southern feel, and the characters in the novel would probably consider themselves Southerners. (As someone who has lived in Alabama and Tennessee, though, I am extremely reluctant to lump Maryland in with “the South.”) Therefore, I recognize that this type of book has a wide appeal. I have no opposition to small-town romances as a whole, but I don’t like when they overdose on cutesy-ness, and all those scenes playing with puppies did it for me. Small-town romances have been done much better than this one. They’ve also been done worse, so for those readers who love them, this may be an enjoyable but forgettable one. For me, a much less devoted reader of this type of book, it fell into the “irritating” category.