The Return by Nicholas Sparks was lacking...spark

Title: The Return
Author: Nicholas Sparks
Series: N/A
Publication: June 22 2020
Pages: 355 Pages, Hardcover
Source: Library
Rating: 2/5 Cupcakes

#1 New York Times bestselling author Nicholas Sparks returns with a moving new novel about an injured army doctor and the two women whose secrets will change the course of his life.

Trevor Benson never intended to move back to New Bern, North Carolina. But when a mortar blast outside the hospital where he worked as an orthopedic surgeon sent him home from Afghanistan with devastating injuries, the dilapidated cabin he'd inherited from his grandfather seemed as good a place to regroup as any.

Tending to his grandfather's beloved bee hives while preparing for a second stint in medical school, Trevor isn't prepared to fall in love with a local . . . yet, from their very first encounter, Trevor feels a connection with deputy sheriff Natalie Masterson that he can't ignore. But even as she seems to reciprocate his feelings, she remains frustratingly distant, making Trevor wonder what she's hiding.

Further complicating his stay in New Bern is the presence of a sullen teenage girl, Callie, who lives in the trailer park down the road. Claiming to be 17, she works at the local sundries store and keeps to herself. Discovering that she was once befriended by his grandfather, Trevor hopes Callie can shed light on the mysterious circumstances of his grandfather's death, but she offers few clues - until a crisis triggers a race that will uncover the true nature of Callie's past, one more intertwined with the elderly man's passing than Trevor could have ever anticipated.

In his quest to unravel Natalie and Callie's secrets, Trevor will learn the true meaning of love and forgiveness . . . and that in life, to move forward, we must often return to the place where it all began.

You know what they say, it's not summer without Nicholas Sparks. Well, I'm pretty sure no one says that except for me but it doesn't make it any less true. As soon as the sun begins to emerge and the scent of sunscreen and ice-cream linger in the air, I know it's time to crack open a Nicholas Sparks book. Nothing screams summer like a tragic love story, right? 

However, the magic that filled the pages of a Sparks novel seems to be distinctly lacking in his two latest novels. I've read several of his books and I thought he couldn't write a bad book, but after reading his last two books I can't help wondering if this is the same author who wrote books like The Last Song and Dear John. With bland characters, stilted dialogue and a wooden romance,  I'm beginning to think that Nicholas Sparks may have lost his spark. 

Sadly, I didn't like most of this book. Why did I keep reading? Probably because I have an unrealistic optimism when it comes to books improving as I read more of it and probably because I really want to love every Nicholas Sparks book I read. There were a couple of things I did like but it wasn't enough to salvage the book for me.
I say this in every review I write: the characters make or break a book for me. I can look past just about everything when it comes to a book - mediocre written, poor dialogue, and a somewhat lacking plot - except the characters. Seeing as Nicholas Sparks’ books are romance novels with an intense focus on characters, it's imperative that I can connect to the characters in order to thoroughly enjoy his books. All the characters in this book felt two-dimensional and bland. I don't feel like I got to actually know any of them, and what I did get to know was often superficial and distinctly lacking in depth.

Trevor, the main character, isn't terrible. He goes out of his way to help one of the secondary characters in the book and he has a keen desire to help people, but he also would say several things that had me internally cringing. Mainly one-liners that could've been humorous but fell quite flat - mainly because it made him come across as a flirt, a charmer and a bit of a playboy. 

Natalie, the love interest, was quite unlikable in my opinion. For one she was way too secretive and mysterious. She barely offered any information about herself ever which Trevor clearly found riveting but I found it tedious. Try reading conversations where the other person offers little to no information about themselves. It gets exhausting and quickly. Secondly, she just wasn't a great person and I have a serious problem with how she was painted as this incredible woman when she made decisions that were hurtful and disloyal. She also completely lied to Trevor and despite seeing how attracted he was to her, she did nothing to stop it in its tracks when she knew she couldn't commit to him.


Natalie was a married woman. Her husband was in vegetative state after contracting a severe form of meningitis for around a year. So because she was lonely and felt like she was stuck in limbo, she decided to give into Trevor's flirting and begin dating him. And he thinks nothing of it? He tells her she's an incredible woman and doesn't bat an eyelid that the woman he apparently loves has just cheated on her husband who is in a coma?

If there's something I abhor in books it's dishonesty and infidelity. The fact that Natalie was a married woman who was having an affair with Trevor while her husband was in a coma is honestly terrible. Marriage is complete loyalty and dedication in sickness and in health, and I hated that the sacred nature of marriage was completely disregarded. 


There weren't many other characters in the story, except for Callie, the mysterious teenage girl who is somehow linked to Trevor's father who had just passed away. Callie's story was a subplot interwoven throughout this book, and it was much more intriguing than the main story itself. Again though, I couldn't connect to Callie much as she, like the others, wasn't written with much depth at all.

The romance had me very nearly knocking my head against a wall. It was insta-love at its finest (worst?). When Trevor said those three words to Natalie I was so confused. Was I missing something? Was there a large section of the book I had skipped over (there wasn't)? They literally want on two dates and then were declaring their love for each other. These two had virtually no chemistry and theirs conversations were basically centred on bee-keeping and Natalie evading Trevor's blatant attempts at flirting. Trevor was also just a complete idiot when it came to Natalie, if I can be so blunt as to say. She was initially trying to evade contact which should've been enough for Trevor to back away and then when he found out she was already in a committed relationship, he shouldn't have been so blinded as to think she was such an incredible person. 

I don't even really know what more to say on the romance because it was honestly ridiculous, shallow, and unrealistic.

Sigh. The writing wasn't great either. It was filled with mundane and unnecessary details that felt like a way for the author to fill the book with words instead of with actual substance that could further develop the plot and the characters. It was very much filled with unnecessary information about the characters choosing what to eat and what to do next. The dialogue felt so unnatural and wooden, more like something of an interview than a natural conversation between two people. Trevor would also just lay bare his whole life story from the beginning. There were no subtle ways of getting to know him. It was all just told directly to the reader. I much prefer it when an author shows and doesn't tell. Pretty much all the writing in this book was the author telling and not showing which made the book seem overly simple too. Perhaps that's what also prevented me from getting lost in the story: the writing was quite dry and almost acted like a barrier to getting to the actual story. I was very disappointed with the writing. 
The one thing that had me invested in the book was the plot and the setting. Despite all my qualms with this book, I felt very much transported when reading it. I know when I read some reviews people weren't impressed with the amount of beekeeping talk that was present in the book, but I found it quite interesting and it didn't detract from the story. I really enjoyed the mystery surrounding Trevor's grandfather's connection with Callie and I think that was probably the main thing that kept me committed to finishing the story. It wasn't the most astounding or gripping plot, but it was interesting enough. 

I also loved the setting, and that's probably the thing I love most about a Nicholas Sparks book. They're usually set in sleepy southern states near the beach. They usually have a relaxed holiday vibe to them which makes me feel like I've taken a holiday without having to go anywhere. 

The Return by Nicholas Sparks was a book I was expecting to fall in love with, but the usual magic found in his books was noticeably missing. With underdeveloped characters, stilted dialogue, an unbelievable romance and overly simple writing I was left sorely disappointed. The Return's saving grace was its fairly interesting plot and vivid setting that transported me to a small town in North Carolina. The other aspects of this book were very disappointing. 

I give it: 2.5/5 cupcakes