|This is an add-on to the “Sweet Magnolia” series about three friends who would go to the ends of the earth for each other. Jeanette Brioche is a massage therapist who works for one of the magnolias, Maddie, at the Corner Spa in Serenity, South Carolina. Jeanette is satisfied with her life but yearns for romance and also a bit of her past life. Her parents shut her out when her brother was killed in a car accident years ago on Christmas Eve. Ever since then, they have lived in a world of depression and Jeanette has been estranged from them for years. She has had two failed relationships because in both cases, the man did not put her first. She is determined to have that in her life.
Tom McDonald is from a wealthy Charleston family who has aspirations of a strong political future for him. Tom is glad to have money but really sees nothing exciting about the political games he would have to play to get what his father particularly wants for him. So Tom is determined to do things his way, working his way from small city to large town and enjoying the benefits of helping people while serving as a public administrator. He has just recently come to Serenity as the new Town Manager. He too has issues about Christmas, having grown up in a home that was decorated by hired professionals and used as a show case, not for the enjoyment of a close family holiday.
Tom and Jeanette are pushed together to serve on Serenity’s holiday committee, which requires them to be in close contact as well as plan for the town’s big weekend festival. This includes a tree lighting ceremony, Christmas Choirs and a lot of vendors for the holiday bazaar. Needless to say, this is a task neither is looking forward to.
Woods style is similar to Debbie Macomber’s – by the end of the novel, you know the whole town and all the characters are warm, friendly and filled with good cheer. Even though there are barriers to work through, you just know all will work out in the end. In this case, Jeanette and Tom have to work through their own feelings about the holidays and relationships. There are parental issues on both sides, with Jeanette having an unsavory history with Tom’s mother. Add to that the fact that Jeanette loves Serenity and Tom is looking at this being a temporary stop and you have plenty of obstacles in the way of true love. The Magnolias are prominently featured and fans of the series will enjoy this additional visit to see how things come out. Having read one of the previous stories, I got most of the references. A person new to the characters may feel a bit lost at times.
I read this book on a long plane ride, and it did keep my interest, but there were times when I struggled. Tom had moments of extreme stubbornness that was a bit irritating at times, even causing the final conflict that almost destroyed his chance at happiness. Jeanette was a bit too standoffish at times, yet was doing so as self-preservation in her mind. Neither character grabbed me completely, but overall, they engaged me in their story.
The secondary characters added to the flavor of the small town atmosphere and for the most part, provided enjoyable scenes and Christmas hope, as they participated in the planning and dealt with the joys and sorrows that life had thrown their way. There were scenes meant to warm the heart and these generally met the mark.
Welcome to Serenity is one of those stories that breaks no new ground but provides some enjoyable moments in the world of romance and a nice holiday flavored story.