Review: Come Back to Me by Jody Hedlund
#1 This is a long review, so pull up a chair and grab a bowl of popcorn. You’ll be here awhile. #2 When I read a review, I want substantial information. So I will not skimp on the details. Which may mean some spoilers, so watch out.
Synopsis: Marian Creighton was unprepared for her father’s death...and even more unprepared to travel back in time to the Middle Ages in search of a fantastic cure for all diseases. Will she be able to survive in the 14th century long enough to find her father and the cure to heal her sister?
Come Back to Me was one of those books—you walk away from it pleased, having enjoyed the story if not found yourself lost in it, but once you take the time to think about it, you realize several things were off about it. That’s what I call an enjoyable experience. The actual process of reading the book is five-star—holds your attention, can’t put it down, you read through smoothly—but the book itself was just lacking in certain arenas. Like the ones that keep the book fresh in your mind for months to come, so that you can jump into the sequel with gusto, or ones that make you gush in your review, even if you don’t write it until six months later.
As you can tell, Come Back to Me lacked the gushing-worthy elements. *looks around* See? No gushing. Crazy, right?
What’s crazy is that I think I liked the technicalities of this book the best. The plot, the mechanics, all that. I loved the way Jody Hedlund chose to depict time travel. There are so many options—you can go the Marvel route and be as scientific as possible; the Back to the Future method of sticking with unique but not too complex; or be as fantastical as you can and keep the technical stuff on the level of a children’s show (in other words, call it magic). Of course, when you’re talking Christian time travel, you’ve got a lot of other things to factor in. Namely, God.
Which is why I really like how the Waters of Time series focuses on real history and Christian mythology while weaving in a bit of quantum physics to make things seem a wee bit more realistic (the physics don’t come into play until the second book, though). It was the perfect balance, and the way Hedlund wrote it was both a little fantastical, a bit scientific, kinda spiritual...and, in the end, almost believable.
The plot was good—if not a bit cliché in some areas (the ones not involving time travel)—and the pacing as well. The beginning was weird, though. Slow, because we didn’t meet Will (or at least travel back for more than a minute) until way later, but also really fast, because a lot transpired within just a few chapters. After that, things flew by (which is not necessarily a bad thing, I suppose).
The touch of suspense was lovely, playing into a lot of the loose ends that are left for the sequel, so suffice it to say that once you finish this book, you’ll be ready for the next one.
All this said, Hedlund’s writing wasn’t up to par with some of her other works. First of all, I was missing the flavor—especially in the contemporary scenes, which read like historical scenes. Hedlund really struggled to get out of the 19th and 14th centuries, and it showed. There were times when I had to pause and remember Marian was a female pharmacist (which, if you consider Linnea from The Heart of a Cowboy, isn’t that big of a deal) to remind myself that this was a present-day time travel novel.
She also seemed to be doing more telling than showing, and I feel like there was some emotional connection or theme or character arc that was missing.
On that note, why do I feel like she tries to do something different for each series? And I don’t mean in terms of plot, setting, and characters. I mean, she found something that worked. The Bride Ships. That was series was perfect. I didn’t realize how much I loved it until I started reading her new series—the Colorado Cowboys and this one. It was the perfect balance between passionate romance, inspiring faith messages, and engaging plots. But the beauty of that series...the quality of the romance, the depth of the characters, the power of the themes...is exclusive to that one. It’s as if she decided to cull all that from her other series, leaving them hollow in comparison. She found something that worked...but she hasn’t kept doing it.
Maybe that’s a little harsh or I’m just not able to see the good parts of these two series like I was the Bride Ships.
Either way, I know the characters in Come Back to Me were just not on-par with most of Hedlund’s others (Bride Ships or no). Will had potential, but the story obviously wasn’t about him, because he had very little screen time and seemed to be almost disregarded. As if he were only there for the plot and the romance, not to have his own story, his own experiences, and his own character arc.
Such blatant inequality. *shakes head*
But then…Marian didn’t really have much of an arc either. For all of her problems, all of her doubts, all of her struggles...she doesn’t really experience much change. None of that is ever really dealt with.
It could be that this was a plot-driven novel and that the characters were just there to move the plot along (newsflash: only works with mysteries)...or it could be that the book was simply to short to deal with all of that. I don’t know. I just know that these two didn’t reach their full potential, which is always a shame.
Neither did their romance.
Now. Before I go into that, I will say that certain aspects of their romance—i.e., the physicality of it—have been dissed by many reviews of this book, some calling it “Christian erotica.” That, my friends, is actually a thing (don’t ask me how...it just is...it’s a case where the rose isn’t necessarily defined by its name). And this...this is not Christian erotica. Not even close. I have read way more passionate Christian romances and, worse, I have read Christian romances that are way more focused on physical attraction than this one.
So if you have been turned away by such reviews, let me assure you that they don’t know what they’re talking about (no offense). Yes, this romance does get a little physical, but like I said. This ain’t nothing. And, yes, it is a marriage of convenience, so you’ve got that to deal with (I’m beginning to hate MoCs, by the way, so I’m not gonna comment on that). However, I will say that this romance wasn’t purely physical. There was great potential for this deep and abiding emotional and spiritual connection between Will and Marian...but guess what.
The same thing happened to the romance that happened to the characters. There wasn’t enough time for development, apparently, and I feel like so many scenes weren’t written. Scenes in which Will and Marian got to know each other and grow alongside each other. Scenes in which their romantic relationship—basically their marriage—became part of their individual arcs and vice versa. Scenes in which they bonded over something others than being stuck with each other. I mean, there was like one scene. And I loved it. And I wanted it to go on forever.
But it didn’t. So we were kinda left with just Will going on about how purty Marian was. Which, yes, is annoying. But at least there was potential for more. I feel like so many other romances—even and especially Christian ones—don’t even have potential for more. Allow me to direct you to my review of Hooked on You and my review of Never Miss. The foundation of the romances in these two books literally was just physical attraction. At least in Come Back to Me, I felt like there was this unseen something lurking in the shadows that was the backbone of Will and Marian’s relationship. We just...didn’t get to see it.
Dude, this was like a Christmas present that your forgetful aunt wrapped fifty times and you eventually just left there half-opened. That’s exactly was this was like.
Okay, seriously, though, no one forgets that they wrapped a present. Forty-nine times over.
Lastly, there was the faith elements. Marian and her dad are scientists...and Christians. And the entire plot of this series revolves around supernatural occurrences. So naturally, you have two elements that seem to contend (I personally don’t think science and God contend...God invented science, after all, but that’s a discussion for something other than a book review). Despite that, I feel like all of that...all the spirituality...was glossed over. Marian believed in God and she believed in science (perhaps a little more so) and that was that. Until her dad dies suddenly and she gets swept into the mystery of time travel. Then it seemed like she started doubting God and having some spiritual struggles. But guess what. None of that was ever dealt with or resolved. There was no substance to her faith—only a thin shred of belief and nothing more. Most of that is due to what I stated above—she had no arc.
As for Will? Pft, nothing. Poor dude didn’t get nothin’ outta this book but grief, bless him.
So the depth of Christianity in here was (1) God created the Tree of Life and (2) Will’s sister is a nun. That’s basically it. And here I was hoping for some great theme about trusting God and following His will for your life...or taking the Gospel to all time periods...or being a light to others...or having faith during the hard times...or something.
On top of that, what did she give me? A birth control comment. I’m beginning to think that Hedlund is pro-birth control (I’m currently discussing the portrayal of birth control in Christian fiction in the comments section of this review, if you’d like to join). Personally, I don’t appreciate that. At all. But at this point, I’ve complained about enough stuff. This honestly reads like a negative review, so I’m sure you’re asking yourself why the heck did Grace rate this four stars?
Like I said. Five-star experience. I enjoyed reading this book. I couldn’t put it down. I breezed through it so quickly that apparently I missed all the good stuff. I mean, if y’all want more positivity—I liked the historical elements. Gotta love insurrection and peasant uprisings, am I right? I’m right. Fighting for social justice is always a fan-favorite. And I was super excited for the sequel when I finished this, so that’s a good sign. Hungry for more, right?
Long story short…if you just want an entertaining and unique read, then, dude, this is perfect. But if you’re like me and you want to become invested and involved in the characters and you want a story that leaves an imprint on your heart, then may I direct you to another novel? (I may? Ooh, goody! I’ll leave a recommendation for you in the comments, then!) So, yeah, it was a five-star experience reading a three-star book. So here we are with four stars and a much longer review than I’d anticipated. This is why I warn you people. I ramble. They call me The Rambler. Oh, I’m The Rambler. I ramble on and on and on and on.
And, yes, that is a parody of The Wanderer by Dion. I’m so glad you noticed. *winks*
Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher, publicist, or author, including NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.
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About the Author
Jody Hedlund is the author of over thirty historicals for both adults and teens and is the winner of numerous awards including the Christy, Carol, and Christian Book Award.
Jody lives in central Michigan with her husband, five busy children, and five spoiled cats. Although Jody prefers to experience daring and dangerous adventures through her characters rather than in real life, she’s learned that a calm existence is simply not meant to be (at least in this phase of her life!).
When she’s not penning another of her page-turning stories, she loves to spend her time reading, especially when it also involves consuming coffee and chocolate.