GUEST REVIEW: Back to You by Jessica Scott
Dear Ms. Scott,
In the acknowledgments, you wrote that you have been working on this book since 2008. I can certainly see how this would be a challenging story to get right and while it’s not perfect, I am glad that you persevered. Before I go further, I have to admit that the US military is an organization and culture that is completely unfamiliar to me. When I read military romances, I sometimes wonder about the authenticity and accuracy, but because you are a career officer, I know I can trust you to get it right. That is definitely a plus.
Laura and Trent Davila have been married for more than a decade and have two children, but Trent has been absent for much of the marriage: as an army captain, he has been deployed several times, and although he told Laura that there was no choice about it, she eventually found out that this was not true, and that Trent had actually volunteered to go several times. Feeling that Trent has bailed out on their marriage and unable to trust him, Laura files for divorce.
Around the same time that Laura filed for divorce, an investigation revealed that an officer under Trent’s command had been stealing and selling sensitive items, and the officer implicates Trent in these activities. As a result, Trent is fired from his command and returns to the US to await the conclusion of the investigation and a possible court martial. On top of that, a female soldier has accused Trent of improper advances, which is both damaging to his case and very hurtful for Laura.
Back to You is set about a year after these events, in 2008. Trent has not signed the divorce papers, and realizes that his choices have wrecked his marriage. He returns to Fort Hood, where a hearing is scheduled to take place soon and decide whether his case will go to a court martial. Laura, who works on base as a family readiness liaison for the brigade, still loves Trent, but feels that their marriage is over and wants to move on. Nonetheless, when his lawyer suggests that the two pretend that their marriage is going well as a way to undermine some of the charges, Laura agrees to go along with it, although she makes it clear that she does not believe that they can salvage their marriage. I didn’t really think that the pretend-marriage was needed for the story to work (or a particularly effective legal strategy), but I went along with it.
Laura had been willing to make a lot of sacrifices as an army wife, but finding out about the voluntary deployments and the allegations against Trent crushed her, and she’s afraid of letting him back into her life. Trent is scared because he doesn’t know how to cope with civilian life, including his family, and his way of dealing with it has been to stay away – physically while on deployment and emotionally while home. But this time, he knows that if he wants to fix his relationship with Laura and be a father to his children, he will have to face his problems and somehow find a new normal.
In many romance novels, when heroes carry the sort of emotional baggage that Trent has, it’s resolved with a quick conversation or a cathartic confession. I liked that you chose otherwise and showed Trent’s incremental progress in this regard: learning to ask for help, to share his experiences with others and to rely on them doesn’t come naturally for him and there is no miraculous fix – it’s something he has to work on with Laura, with his psychiatrist and with himself. He has to learn how to be a father and how to really be there in his relationship with Laura.
What didn’t work as well for me was the way Laura and Trent’s reconciliation was portrayed. They both spend a lot of time thinking about their past, what had gone wrong, and their worries about the future – but not a lot happens between them in the present. It was past the 10% point when they saw each other again for the first time, and even after that, there would be long stretches in which there wasn’t much interaction between them. When they did get together, there would often be some major development in terms of their relationship or Trent’s relationship with the kids. Sometimes it just seemed like it was too much and too fast. I wish there had been more Laura and Trent together, rather than Laura or Trent thinking about being together, and I think that might have helped with the pacing and the emotional impact of the story.
The case against Trent isn’t very strong, but the lieutenant who implicated him has a high-ranking and well-connected father so it isn’t something that can just be dismissed. It’s probably for the best that the lieutenant doesn’t make too many appearances, since he’s pretty much a one-note villain with no redeeming characteristics. But the outcome of the investigation and Trent’s consequent choices about his life were believable, and I felt that by the end, Laura and Trent were headed in the right direction. B-.
Rose lives in a country where romance readers are few and far between, so discovering romance websites was a welcome development. When not busy with reading and graduate school, she can often be found online discussing romance novels or sports –occasionally both at the same time. She has no TBR pile and is forever looking to change this unfortunate fact; recommendations for historicals, romantic suspense and contemporaries (preferably of the non-small town variety) are welcome.
Were the charges of improper sexual advances false as well? If that’s the case, I don’t think I can read this book.
It’s not that I don’t think that women (and men) sometimes make false accusations; but considering all that has been in the news about superior officers ignoring and dismissing charges of sexual harassment and assault in the military, I suspect that I simply couldn’t deal with a storyline that implicitly endorses such behavior.
Yes, the charges were false – the soldier who made the accusation was quite young and was essentially manipulated into doing so. If it had been otherwise, I’d have noted it in the review – and there’s a strong chance I’d have DNFd such a book anyway.
Maybe I’ll give this a try. I do love a good second chance story.
I really liked her earlier book and the thoughtfulness with which this author portrayed the emotions between the characters. But I’ve been hesitating over this one because of the “legal” strategy (or the description of it) that is the catalyst for their reconciliation. I just don’t buy this as a legal strategy at all. (I am a lawyer, and it sounds flimsy to me.) But if not too much is made of this, and it is just used as a way of bolstering testimony about his character or whatever, maybe I could get past this. Otherwise, it sounds like a good book….
Follow up to JacquiC and others on the legal strategy – I haven’t read Jessica Scott’s latest, but as a former army lawyer, I can say that it’s not beyond the realm of possibility: “Look like a good family man, that carries weight. Shirking your responsibilities at home is going to count against you with the panel (jury equivalent) at the court martial.”
The military is a culture where commanders are REQUIRED to counsel troops about bad debts, bounced checks, etc. If you bounce a check to your landlord, your landlord calls your commander. Sometimes they read you the riot act, sometimes they send you to legal assistance to get straightened out by the lawyers, etc. Soldiers are ordered to have wills. Ordered to have life insurance. You can lose your job for failing to pay debts or child support. There are good and bad aspects to that level of paternalism and in-your-business.
From my personal experience, I don’t think it’s far-fetched that a defense counsel might tell an officer to move back in with his family.
Wonderful review Rose! While I absolutely loved this book (and all the other books in the series!), I can still see the flaws you mentioned, and I agree, I would have liked a bit more of Trent and Laura in the present. I’m glad you pointed out that Scott had Trent working through his baggage, rather than just dumping it and suddenly he’s all better — yeah! — like some romances do. That was one of the many reasons why I loved this book; it wasn’t an easy road to a HEA, it seemed real, and of course Scott knows what she’s writing about, which always helps.