Return to Monte Carlo
Grade : D+

Cate C. Wells' latest offering, Return to Monte Carlo, attempts to revisit the sizzling romance novels of the 1980s, but instead, sinks into a morass of missed chances, icky sex scenes, and uninspired narrative.

The story begins, in 1982, with 20-year-old Diane de Noli waiting for her husband, 32-year-old Marco, to show up for their first anniversary dinner. The two met in a whirlwind romance, right out of an old Presents novel if they'd had sex scenes with graphic violence and many mentions of bodily fluids. Marco, the older, suave Italian billionaire has to have big boobed, blonde virgin Diane the moment she inadvertently cuts his throat during a shave. When he realizes that she LOVES him to f*ck her violently--this kind of kink is apparently called consensual non-consent--he marries her and brings her back to his horrific family where they all live in misery in extraordinary wealth in a fictional--as in no bearing to reality--Monte Carlo. Unsurprisingly, his relatives treat Diane like sh*t but Marco, too busy saving his empire, doesn't notice.

When Marco does finally show up for dinner, he's accompanied by his secretary, Sienna, whom Diane is sure he's banging. So she bolts.

Five months later, Diane, despite having been on the pill, is pregnant, and living in semi-squalor with two friends. She--and this took five months--decides Marco has the right to know he's to be a father and calls him. Within 24 hours, he's at her door. After a brief discussion and an aggressive banging over the kitchen counter, Diane gets on his private jet and, yes, returns to Monte Carlo. I really wish she hadn't.

Wells' writing is crisp and clear, but the narrative doesn't do it justice. The story tries to spice things up with a kinky twist, but, here it too often reads as just another name for rapey roleplay. Yes, Diane enjoys playing hard to get--she also likes to beat up Marco but her tiny female fists and feet never leave a mark-- and Marco delights in bondage, using belts, and calling her names. Not one but two of their love lust scenes involve literal sh*t but despite riveting discussions about "stuff on your thing," the two are unable to talk about anything of importance.

The book's brevity, reminiscent of the old Harlequin romances, fails to deliver depth. The plot is thinner than the actual novel and predictably dull.

Despite being set in 1982, the story fails to evoke a genuine '80s vibe. Return to Monte Carlo, despite the occasional reference to Folgers, pantyhose, and Mr. Coffee, feels firmly tethered to our era so much so that, if the novel hadn't stated it was set in 1982, I'd have placed it this century. (It does lack cell phones so there's that.)

Worse, almost all the characters are wildly unlikable. Diane is a terrible heroine: self-absorbed, immature, and profoundly annoying. It's challenging to find any redeeming qualities in her character. Especially egregious is her hatred of Sienna, a smart and ambitious woman with a degrees from the London School of Economics. As for Marco, his baffling behaviors make him an asshat rather than an enigma. He's one of the heroes who is supposed to be brilliant professionally, but he's so clueless about his wife, his family, and his actions that he just comes across as an entitled jerk. I loathed them both.

Return to Monte Carlo feels more like an failed experiment gone wrong than a successful foray into retro romance. Wells' writing remains her strong suit, but the romance fails in its portrayal of characters and their inability to communicate, its lackluster historical setting, and its eye-roll inducing epilogue. Readers considering this 80s tinged love story should take their cue from one of the eras most visible women, Nancy Reagan: Just say no

Reviewed by Dabney Grinnan
Grade : D+

Sensuality: Hot

Review Date : October 28, 2023

Publication Date: 09/2023

Review Tags: 1980s

Recent Comments …

  1. What kept me reading was the sheer unpredictability of the storyline. I knew David’s and Chelsea’s paths would cross again…

Dabney Grinnan

Impenitent social media enthusiast. Relational trend spotter. Enjoys both carpe diem and the fish of the day. Publisher at AAR.
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