REVIEW: Coming Home by Mariah Stewart
Dear Ms. Stewart:
Because I don’t follow many author newsletters, I was a bit surprised to find out that you were turning away from your harder edged FBI romantic suspense books for a more softer toned contemporary series set in Chesapeake Bay. The covers and stylings reminded me strongly of the Robyn Carr books that have become so popular.
While Coming Home is the first book in The Chesapeake Diaries series, it involves several characters from previous books. Grady Shields, the hero of the story, is the older, allegedly hermit like, brother of Mia Shields who is getting married. The plot of the story centers around Mia’s wedding (Mia having starred in a previous book). The heroine is Vanessa Keaton, the sister of the groom, Gabriel Beck.
Much of Vanessa’s backstory must have been told in a previous book because we are given a summary rundown. To wit, Vanessa and Gabriel are half siblings who have in common their mother, Maggie’s, abandonment. When Vanessa shows up in St. Dennis, Gabriel and his father welcome Vanessa with open arms, practically adopting her. They’ve helped her find a home, set up her own upscale clothing store, Bling, and integrated her into the community. We readers don’t see this take place, rather it is a fait accompli. Vanessa’s story arc is the challenge that her mother provides when she blows into town and strikes up a new romance with Gabriel’s father, Hal. To say that Gabriel and Vanessa were unhappy is an understatement yet Gabriel’s emotions toward his wayward mother are largely hidden from the reader. Vanessa, who has much less of a stake in preventing the budding Hal and Maggie relationship, is left to provide the agnst over the renewal of feelings between the older couple.
Vanessa and Grady are thrown together because Mia asserts that Grady lives a spare, near hermit like existence. Mia asks Vanessa to make sure that Grady doesn’t spend the week on the sidelines. I believe that the intention was to make us believe that Grady was dark and brooding but what we are told in the beginning regarding Grady doesn’t match up with how Grady is presented to us as readers. It is possible that Mia is supposed to be an unreliable narrator but the blurb reinforces the Grady as a loner theme:
In the wake of his wife's murder, agent Grady Shields turned his back on the FBI-‘and everything else-‘to retreat into the vast solitude of Montana, grieve for his lost love, and forget the world. But after years in seclusion, his sister's wedding draws him to St. Dennis, a peaceful town on the Chesapeake Bay.
I felt that the portrayal of Grady as a brooding loner was non existent. From the first moment he arrives in St. Dennis, Grady has no problems interacting with others including flirting heavily with Vanessa. Vanessa and Grady’s flirtations quickly (over a matter of a couple of days) turn into a relationship that has Vanessa fretting about the future and Grady thinking about his past. The romance stakes are ratcheted up when Vanessa strangely becomes the target of acts of violence. Because the time period is so compressed and Vanessa and Grady’s chemistry so lukewarm, I felt unmoved by Vanessa’s distress over Grady’s imminent departure. Grady had no such problems because he was the one in control of the “relationship.”
I felt like the suspense plot was just as tacked on as the characterization of Grady as a loner and Vanessa’s agnst over her mother’s lastest love affair.
The secondary romance between Hal and Maggie was actually far more interesting. Hal has every right to feel embittered and angry at Maggie’s leaving him and Maggie is a mess emotionally having undergone several marriages and divorces. The title Coming Home really has meaning for Maggie. Hal was her first love and he represents a stability that she was never able to recapture no matter how many wealthy men she tried to pin down. Hal’s position to let the past lie in the past is consistent with how he treated Vanessa and the optimistic way he tries to live his life. The slow evolution of his romance with Maggie was far more intriguing to me than the quick and ordinary one involving Vanessa and Grady. I’m not sure, though, if I am invested enough to pick up the next Chesapeake Bay series book. C