Welcome to Serenity

Sherryl Woods
2008, Contemporary Romance
MIRA, $7.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 077832589X
Part of a series

Grade: B
Sensuality: Warm

I'm not a big fan of holiday romances. Still, since one of my all-time favorite contemporary romances is Sheryl Woods' Amazing Gracie, I was interested in this one despite the fact that it focuses on Christmas. Fortunately, I found it to be an enjoyable, character-focused read.

Welcome to Serenity is the latest in the author's Sweet Magnolias series, centered in the fictional town of Serenity, South Carolina. The story takes place in the months before Christmas as the citizens of the town prepare for their annual festival.

Jeanette Brioche works at an exclusive spa where she gives facials, manicures, and pedicures. When her boss asks her to serve on the organizing committee for the town's Christmas celebration, Jeanette struggles to get out of the task. A family tragedy ruined the holiday for her when she was a young girl, leaving her estranged from her family. In contrast, Tom McDonald, the new town manager, feels smothered by his wealthy parents and their political expectations for him. He also has issues with Christmas and prefers to ignore the entire event. But, within a matter of hours after arriving in town, Tom finds himself on the festival organizing committee.

Tom and Jeanette have an instant, strong attraction to each other. Jeanette hasn't had a lot of luck with men and sees no possibility for a long-term relationship with Tom. Her reluctance doesn't stop Tom, however, and he actively pursues a relationship, no matter what barriers she erects. Soon Tom's mother objects strongly to Jeanette.

I liked both Jeanette and Tom, who are honorable, intelligent people. While I enjoyed seeing them do their jobs, the primary focus is on the developing relationship and dealing with family issues. Though some of the resolutions seemed a bit quick, I found it believable and completely bought their relationship

Early on, I was confused by the Sweet Magnolias, a group of powerful Serenity women, as well as a host of other characters introduced. While it helped set the context for the town, I had trouble keeping them all straight. On the other hand, I like stories where the hero and heroine aren't loners and have large social networks. Jeanette definitely has that right from the beginning, and Tom is quickly enveloped into the community. Eventually I figured out all the characters, but it was a bit daunting at first.

There is a secondary romance involving one of Jeanette's customers. Initially it seemed to distract from Tom and Jeanette's story, but eventually I became interested in it as well.

I'm not sure towns like Serenity really exist, but if they do, I think I'd enjoy living in one. I came away from the book feeling that if I can't visit Serenity in person, I would like to revisit there in future romances.

-- LinnieGayl Kimmel

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