Living Down a Bad Boy Image – A review of “Lead Me Back” by CD Reiss

Even though I’m a CD Reiss fan I still approached “Lead Me Back” with some reservations, primarily because it’s written around a boy band that smacks of teenybopper material. However, I’ll concede that the relationships of the protagonists are complex and compelling and definitely intended for an adult audience. During the first chapter I almost consigned it to the DNF bin but my stubbornness prevailed and I kept reading. Wow! Am I ever glad I didn’t give up on this gem.

Needing a fresh start on her career and her personal life, Kayla drives her van cross-country from New York to L.A. Starting over symbolizes her desire to erase or at least outrun an unpleasant part of her life. Kayla is determined to be the one in control and not let a man dictate or question her decisions. Until she meets Justin, formerly lead singer of a boy band.

After going single in the music world, Justin has the quintessential bad boy rep. He’s a lightning rod for bad press, some of which is honestly deserved. But as with anyone in the public eye, much of the negative press is public fodder, contrived or misconstrued by the paparazzi. Justin’s public image suffers from his mouthiness and his “I don’t give a flying f*ck what anyone thinks” attitude. He’s a classic example of the misunderstood, over-indulged public figure with a strong sense of entitlement. In reality he’s a kind, generous and caring young man who loves his grandmother Louise but sometimes he’s his own worst enemy.

When Kayla meets Justin her well-intentioned resolutions fly out the window. She recognizes the good in him that he lets only his inner circle see and she struggles to resist his charming private self. But he needs to clean up his public image and a “normal” girlfriend like Kayla could be just the PR boost he needs. Or could she?

Kayla and Justin’s relationship is unabashedly romantic and as in real life, laced with complications aplenty, all of which are plausible and never contrived. My initial reaction to Justin was negative but Reiss’ depiction of the goldfish bowl existence as the price of fame is on target and elicits more than a grudging sympathy for him. Kayla’s outspokenness and flippant ‘tude have a low flash point that constantly threatens to spontaneously combust and destroy any chance for lasting happiness.

It’s easy to empathize and fall in love with these characters, flaws and all. The plot is essentially the beginning and development of their relationship and that’s okay. It IS a romance after all. One that is well worth a romance lover’s read. But because of the slow start I’m only going with four stars.

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