Title: His Road Home
Author: Anna Richland
Publication Info: Carina Press October 13, 2014
Genre: Contemporary Romance
I loved His Road Home SO DAMN MUCH. This is a novella that excels across the board – great characters, great writing, great story, and excellent construction. It’s hard to cram a romance into a novella and have it feel fully developed but this one uses some clever tricks to tell a long story in a short space.
His Road Home is a contemporary and although I don’t read many contemporaries I had to read this one because the heroine is a marine biologist. I have to read and review every contemporary with a scientist hero or heroine. It’s in my Geek Reviewer Contract and also it’s a federal law.
I was also excited to read the book because both main characters are people of color – the heroine is Korean-American and the hero is Mexican-American, and he is missing two legs. The great thing about this romance is that it directly addresses race, class, and disability without becoming a Very Special Episode. It’s never preachy or soapy – it’s sexy and funny and fun while also having some tearful moments (DUDE. HAVE TISSUES AVAILABLE).
Behold the plot. Special Forces Medic Reynaldo Cruz is in Afghanistan and he has to convince an Afghan leader that he (Rey, not the Afghan leader) is married, for political reasons. He has to find a photo of a woman who looks like she might be his fiancée, who is fairly modestly dressed in the photo and isn’t smoking or drinking alcohol, which given the fact that Rey likes to party means most of the girls he has photos of don’t qualify. He ends up finding a photo of Grace Kim, a friend of his sister’s. He photoshops the photo to make it look like an engagement picture, prints the photo and promptly steps on an IED which…I don’t know how to type the noise I made when I read about that. It’s bad. The takeaway here is that Rey isn’t trying to stalk Grace or anything – he’s just trying to get out of a difficult political spot without anyone getting offended or hurt.
But of course someone does get hurt, that someone being Rey, who loses both legs. A reporter takes a photo of the shredded clothes and blood and the engagement photo – so suddenly Grace is getting all these people congratulating her on her engagement and offering condolences and sick leave and her employer sticks her on a plane to the hospital, and she’s like, “WTF?” And when she gets to the hospital to find out what’s going on, Rey can’t talk to her very coherently, because the blast caused serious speech aphasia and he can’t get more than one word or so out at a time. They end up having a running joke about how many syllables he uses, because they are the kind of people who joke about things like that, which is why I LOVE THEM. So confusion reigns, but Grace stays for the one week of her leave, because she doesn’t want to leave the guy on his own in the hospital.
One thing Grace helps Rey figure out is that although he can’t write by hand, he can type. So she goes back to Seattle, where she works as a marine biologist and studies Orcas, and they text each other every day. He works through his therapy, gets prosthetics, and learns to walk, and she texts him about the orcas every day. No, she never becomes sexually attracted to any Orcas. We are denied a crossover with The Orca King. She just does her job and talks about it, which is awesome, because science is sexy.
And then, it’s time for Rey to go home, and someone has to drive him. So it’s road trip time for Grace and Rey, and they argue about race, class, and music, and share hotel rooms, and oh my gosh, it’s just the greatest romance ever because I love these people and I love road trip romances and I just think everyone should read this book immediately.
The mastery of tone in this novella is astoundingly good. Is it heavy? Well, it certainly has heft. It’s about a guy who just lost both legs and struggles to speak and who also has some survivor’s guilt with just a dash of PTSD. And yet overall the book is fun and sexy and funny. Neither Grace nor Rey are very interested in drama and they aren’t much for wallowing. So yeah, you’ll want tissues. You’ll be emotionally involved in this book. I cried just reading the freaking introduction. But the book never depressed me. I was entertained and inspired, but not in a treacly way. Rey and Grace never stop having fun together and that means I had fun, too.
There’s a couple of things that the author leaves out of the story. I missed them but I also liked the fact that they were missing. First of all, we never see a scene in which Grace finds out why everyone thinks she’s Rey’s fiancé. Of course I would have liked to have seen that play out, but there was also an advantage to not seeing it. The author just matter of factly states that as soon as Rey could type a message to Grace he explained what had happened, like any sensible person would do. The fact that there’s no drama to report says a lot about both characters. He explained as soon as he could and she understood. Grace is a pretty levelheaded individual and it’s actually a fairly simple situation.
The other thing we don’t see is Grace or Rey struggling with Rey’s altered appearance post-amputation. The first time Grace enters the hospital, she sees a different person’s amputation site and it freaks her out a little. But by the time Grace and Rey have sex, they both accept the amputations as just part of Rey’s body, matter-of-factly. On one hand, I think it could have added a very honest, human element to the story to show Grace going from being off-put by amputation sites to simply accepting them. But there’s also something interesting about skipping that transition. Presumably, after Grace spends some time in the hospital, she becomes accustomed to what Rey looks like, and Rey’s stumps are simply a part of his body, a body that she loves. They do have some issues with sex related to balance, his meds, and his brain injury, but no problems with body image, and I found that to be refreshing.
This book is beautifully developed even though it’s short. There’s a solid cast of supporting characters and there’s a great sense of history behind the lead characters. This is one of my favorite couples, ever because they had so much chemistry – not just sexual chemistry but that ease that comes between friends. The joke around, they confront problems, and they clear up misunderstandings promptly. The closing scene between Rey and Grace is so freaking romantic I could pass out. I’m giving this book an A instead of an A+ because in my brain I think that there are some places where the book could have been exapnded, but in my heart it’s an A++++.
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I so can’t wait to read this because a) I am an anthropologist who does research on adaptation to amputation and b) my partner is an amputee. I remember first getting used to seeing his stump, and amazingly, it (being fairly used to it) happened pretty quickly. At that point in time, I had seen a few stumps, which were confronting for me at first, but seeing people handling their stumps, putting the prosthesis on etc made it seem pretty normal for me. So, in our case at least, the issue wasn’t so much about the physicality of my partner’s changed body – but the whole psychological dimension was tricky. For him, it was questions around will anyone ever find my body (and therefore my self) attractive again? How do I reconcile my sexuality with my disability? Etc. It was early days and so was all really tied in with his just getting used to his amputation. From my perspective, it was much more straightforward. I didn’t – and still don’t – like touching his stump though, mostly because it gives him nerve pain. So I dont find that skipping over too tricky but i would love to know about Anna Richland’s process in writing it!
I’m a little over halfway through this one (stalled by the demands of school this week) and have found some parts thus far to be disjointed and abrupt – as you say, some plot developments are skipped. I’m not sure if my confusion is augmented by rough formatting (the mixed blessing of ARCs – read the book first, but read it in an unrefined formatting state).
However, I am definitely loving the ethnic diversity of this book – we need more diversity in romance! I’m white and I get tired of seeing white characters all the time – I’m sure readers of color feel that way even more.
On that note, I watched “Belle” a couple of weeks ago. Aside from the lead actress being stunningly gorgeous, I love that she was not content to settle for being treated like the family shame in exchange for social prestige – she married a man who loved her and who didn’t see her mixed race heritage as something to be ashamed of.
Also looking forward to the new Beverly Jenkins coming out here at the end of the month. In the meanwhile, I have a new Muslim romance called “She Wore Red Trainers” by Na’ima B. Robert next up on the reading list. We need more Muslim romances – I hardly know any beyond “Love in a Headscarf”.
I just went to Amazon to pre-order this book (thanks for the awesome review) and the pub date says 10/13 instead of 10/14. Woo hoo!
To say that I am thrilled for Anna Richland is an understatement! Her work is tremendous and I am so, so happy others will read her work because of such a great review.
Just finished reading this and completely agree with your review. It was so refreshing to not be buried in prolonged angst and stupid misunderstandings. Grace and Rey were refreshingly normal and, wonder of wonders for a romance book, they communicated and with honesty too.
I did realize that Grace was Asian American and Rey Mexican American, but after awhile I forgot. As the story went on, they were just two people, two Americans, falling in love.
I lurved this too. Two things I’d add: HOW did the same person write this real-world, diverse military romance AND the deliciously OTT loonypants immortal Viking-meets-Mafia military romance First to Burn? IT BLOWS MY TINY MIND. I also note that in both this and the aforementioned loonypants Beowulf epic, Richland is very conscious of consent. Her heroes are so alpha but also so aware of making sure that the female characters give explicit yeses. HI HELL YES HI.
I had a couple more issues than you did, Carrie; chief among them, I was troubled by the glowing portrait of Walter Reed and the treatment of our veterans in general.
But yup, overall, big love. Richland’s now on my very short auto-buy list.
(FWIW: My Goodreads review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1054858847?book_show_action=false)
@Heather S Yes, this book was wonderful. I enjoyed the out-of-the-norm romance pairing. And the low key drama. If you are interested in reading more diversity in romance books try this site http://www.red-mcir.com It is a site, maintained by romance author, Camille Leone, which has lists of authors who write romance with various pairings. It also contains a huge database of romance books written by authors from ALL ethnic groups with diverse characters. It is updated regularly.
I need to read this book. Off to Amazon!
Is the author allowed to answer questions on here? I could answer Marjorie and Narelle on my FB page or something, but no one would see it…
MARJORIE – I’m just crazy.
Seriously, His Road Home came to me when I heard Brandi Carlile sing the amazing song Hard Way Home at a concert. The whole story. Not word for word, I still had to write it, but the whole plot, the aphasia, the cross-country road trip, all of that. The way I describe it in the afterward is exactly how it hit me. Actually, I think I tried to make the way I was inspired sound more normal in the afterward but I was basically sitting there with a movie going in my head and all the other people (including Mr. Richland) were just gone. It was the music, the story and me. Brandi’s music is too beautiful for looneypants. However, since my immortal Vikings are loosely inspired by the music of Warren Zevon … (Roland, the Headless Thompson Gunner and Mr. Bad Example, etc) … there is the crazy. And I agree, First to Burn has some crazy immortal Viking/Beowulf stuff going on. I’m slightly worried you might have to reach for looneypanties or looney G-strings to describe The Second Lie!
I’m so interested in connecting off-line! At the end of His Road Home, Rey actually enrolls in the University of Washington to finish up his degree in Anthropology and Global Health, and he’s thinking about going on to dental school. Maybe to become a rural dentist. (But of course Grace’s job is in Seattle … ). I’m considering writing another story about Rey and Grace, because they have so much still to cover.
Research: I read “No Turning Back,” a memoir by Bryan Anderson who is a triple amputee from the Iraq War. It has some really funny parts, really funny – like when he and another amputee work together to drive a car off Walter Reed and then get stopped by the gate guard coming back on post – in with all the descriptions of his therapy. That freed me up to let Rey’s natural humor come back out. And I used a lot of news sources – I’ve clipped articles from the New York Times about veterans for years. There’s a great on-line series including videos at HuffPo called “Beyond the Battlefield,” which pointed me in a lot of helpful directions and I learned a lot about therapy from that series. But I couldn’t put all that in the story. I also read a memoir from a man who had aphasia after a stroke, although the name of that book is escaping me.
Also – BIG THANKS to Ridley from Love in the Margins. She very graciously read an early version of the story and spent time pointing out places where I used clichéd phrases that are sort of meaningless to people with standard bodies, things like “you complete me,” but that can carry double meanings for people with different bodies. Her input into several scenes was very valuable.
And I’m really interested in your comment about the nerve pain. I knew about the bone growth (I forget the technical term?) and I guess in my research I must have absorbed the nerve pain without realizing it. But the scenes where one character kisses the stump have always felt more contrived than natural to me, so I skipped that. It’s the helping remove the prosthetics at the end of a long day that felt like a more natural expression of caring between two people.
Okay, battery dying … and I’m writing too long!
Anna, I revel in loony undergarb descriptors! If a book (of any genre, including fancy literary fiction) doesn’t have a sense of humor, I’m out. And in the romance genre, as far as I’m concerned, the more imaginative the better.
Basically, if it’s well-written, i EMBRACE THE CRAY.
(Straight-up, straightforward, straight-straight contemporary featuring privileged pretty white people is pretty much the only area of romancelandia I’m categorically NOT interested in. I do not sneer—the bigger the tent, the better, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s so tiresome and divisive for women to roll their eyes at what other women read—but that is not my personal jam.)
Wonderful quick read- I laughed. I cried. So down to earth and real. Well done Anna! Can’t wait for the next one. I just don’t want iBooks to let me know that the next book is released at 10pm- didn’t get as much sleep because I couldn’t put it down.
Hi Anna, I’d love to make contact offline. Can I find you on Facebook? Also, thanks for describing your research process – I must read that book! I’m halfway through your book – loving it and chuckling at some of the similarities to our experience!
I’d pre-ordered this as soon as it was mentioned on the DBSA podcast. Culture differences, marine biologist, Army medic, psychological dimensions, road trip, YES PLEASE. (I had a “is somebody reading my mind, agggh no wait this is awesome” moment, in fact.)
I do hope there’s a sequel; I had a lot of squishy hopeful feelings about Rey’s preliminaries in signing up for college and so on. But if not, that’s OK. I’m not demanding; just saying, if it is published, I will buy it with the quickness.
there is a sequel planned in my mind at this moment. I have a lot of ideas that aren’t formed enough to share, but basically it covers going back to school (super challenging for a lot of vets, especially if they’re out of age-sync like Rey is – that’s hard enough.) through the wedding. However, Carina Press wants more of the full-length paranormal series, so that’s what I’m planning to write next. I thought I might alternate, but I’m pretty much the slowest writer I know.
Rey’s a minor character in my crazy paranormal romantic suspense first book – the one Marjorie can’t believe is from the same writer! But that’s old Rey, not new Rey.
And Narelle –
my name is clickable to my website, which has all my FB and other info. Also you can email me directly at annarichland with a gmail tag. I keep getting emails in the middle of the night from people who are reading His Road Home!
And the fact that you are enjoying my book, and seeing similarities that make you happy, is pretty much the best thing anyone can say. Years ago I had a contest judge write in the comments she returned on my first book that her husband was a veteran and after reading my entry she talked with him about things they’d never talked about, and that and your comment are the kind of things that make all the sitting in the chair doing this writing so worth it. Thank you.
And since this is just my favorite place in the world to hang out today (can you blame me?)
may I say … Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo won the 2014 Newberry. Mr. Richland is enjoying reading it out loud FAR too much to the kid, b/c apparently the EVIL mother is a romance writer. She is frequently called the “arch nemesis” of Flora and her squirrel Ulysses, and the passages of her romance novels are atrocious. I mean atrocious.
It was the “treacly” up above in CarrieS’s review that reminded me b/c at one point I heard the people who were supposed to be quietly reading for bedtime screaming “TREACLE” at the top of their lungs. Because apparently that’s a line in the book.
It sounds superb. And I know lots of SB’s need kids’ books too.
This cracks me up, because when my BIL was stationed in back-country Afghanistan he took along some photos of my two sons to help liaise with the locals. Apparently no real married man in his thirties would be missing a son or two, but you don’t flash around pictures of your WIFE there, good lord, no. So he took the photos of my sons, renamed James and John, for the purposes of asserting his masculinity, and I think my husband got a bit secretly wistful at the idea of a culture where people wouldn’t say ‘Aren’t you going to try for a girl?’ upon hearing you had only boys.
I haven’t read the book yet, but I love the review and I am definitely going to read it. I amI also have a partner who is an amputee, but fortunately he doesn’t have lots of pain issues. We only met after his accident, but from the beginning I didn’t have any reluctance in touching his stump. As soon as he gave me the okay, that is. And he likes it too when I give his stump a massage and he can just lie back and relax.
Anna, if you are interested I am happy to share some more experiences off-board as well.