5 Stars, James Oliver French, Kaituhi Press, Literary Fiction, Reviewed by Lynn, Tragic Romance

Review: Return to Me by James Oliver French

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Title: Return to Me

Author: James Oliver French

Publisher: Kaituhi Press

Pages/Word Count: 326 Pages

At a Glance: A powerful, off the grid and fascinating read

Blurb: What would you do if the man you loved vanished without a trace?

Kyle and Todd meet at a party in their freshman year at college. They fall in lust at first sight, then deep in love. In spite of Kyle’s melancholy past, their future together looks bright. Then Kyle disappears, leaving Todd heartbroken and alone, and their dreams in ruins. Fifteen years later, Todd is a successful but lonely psychiatrist. He still hasn’t come to terms with the loss of his first love. When a dangerous amnesiac arrives at the hospital, Todd is forced to confront the past, and is driven to find answers to the questions that have haunted him all these years.

Return to Me is a tragic love story that stands out in a genre dominated by M/M romance. It’s a story about love, loss, heartache, acceptance, and hope that will stay with you long after you’ve reached the end.

Dividers

Review: Wow, this story was an amazing read. I had expectations when I started the book but set them aside, one by one, the deeper I read. The complex inner workings of Todd, the main character, is the true focus of the story and kept me fascinated. We see him meet a man while they are both in college, and their relationship blossoms quickly. Still, this is not your typical romance. The author goes places I did not expect, which I appreciate. And there is neither a HEA, nor does it have a HFN. Just putting that out there. You’ve been warned.

I’m not one for insta-love, but when Todd and Kyle meet as freshman, it just felt right. All the pieces fell into place and they just clicked. This could have been cheesy or rushed, yet it was smooth, sweet and hopeful. The author’s portrayal of first time love was spot on. As a reader I was definitely feeling the deep connection with these two. I wanted nothing but the best for Kyle and Todd. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.

As quick as it starts, everything stops. We know from the blurb that Kyle vanishes. He’s nowhere to be found, and his estranged family is no help either. Todd’s pain is palpable. I felt the anguish, the desperation, the feeling of helplessness, and it was heartbreaking to read. The author did a great job bringing these emotions from the page right to your gut. The same attention to detail, the same finesse seen when the pair fell in love is now used here, making everything so real and believable. Todd’s frame of mind while torturing himself by rehashing his last moments with Kyle, and how none of it makes any sense, will stay with me for a while.

I loved how the author broke this story up into two parts. He could have easily started the book years after Kyle’s disappearance, and had Todd having flashbacks of his time with Kyle. The problem with flashbacks is that they can sometimes dull events because the characters are removed from the situation, everything has already happened, so there is no knee-jerk, spontaneous reaction. I feel the author wanted us to really connect with these characters in a way that can only be done “in real time”, along with setting up for the second part of the story. He does it splendidly well.

So, now the story jumps fifteen years, and Todd has moved on with his life. He’s recently met a new man but is still affected by the loss of Kyle, has never stopped wondering what happened. Some answers finally come from an unlikely place, with an impossible patient and unexpected events. The change in Todd as he helps the patient is subtle at first. He is older now and less innocent than he was in the beginning of the story. I was immediately curious how the author was going to connect all the dots. The method seems to have confused or disappointed some reviewers, but I thought it was amazing. A little advanced medicine with a bit of a sci-fi element thrown into the mix. It allows Todd to go on a fact finding mission and finally get some inkling as to what happened to his first love. The truth is very shocking. There is only one piece of the puzzle that I shook my head at, even though something had to happen. I will warn readers, it’s not a walk in the park. It’s another massive punch in the gut.

I personally don’t need a story with a HEA, but I wanted it with this one. I really fell in love with both characters. I had hope and then nothing. What this author does is build up that hope, gives the reader a light at the end of the tunnel and then abruptly snuffs it out. I loved it. I never wanted to get off the emotional roller coaster the author had me going on.

This is a very strong debut book from an author I will definitely read again. The story is fresh and real, the writing is precise and flowed smoothly. From Todd to Felix, who is Todd’s best friend, his rock, and biggest supporter from the very beginning, to Simon, a hopeful candidate for Todd’s future happiness, the characters, even those we meet for only brief moments, really moved this story along. If you want butterflies and buttercups, look elsewhere. If you want a powerful, off the grid and fascinating read, try this. You won’t be disappointed.






You can buy Return to Me here:

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