I first discovered Sherryl Woods with her first Sweet Magnolias book, Stealing Home. I adored it. I fell in love with the Sweet Magnolias and made sure I had the next book in my hand as soon as it was released. I mean, I wanted to be a Sweet Magnolia. You can read what I had to say about the three books if you click here and here (these were from my days at d&D). Heck, I even went on Wood's message boards a couple of times, so enamored of the books was I. I thought that there was only going to be three books in the series and that we had seen the last of the Sweet Magnolia, until I spied this beautiful book in an e-mail I receive from somewhere about books being released (and contest information that I never win!). I nearly hooted with glee. I ran out, bought the book, read it and wanted to weep. Be warned, this is a post by the cynical reader me...
Welcome to Serenity by Sherryl Woods
The Sweet Magnolias are branching out...
When Jeanette Brioche helped launch The Corner Spa in Serenity, South Carolina, she found a hole lot more than professional satisfaction. She discovered the deep and loyal friendships that had been missing from her life. Nut even the Sweet Magnolias can't mend the terrible rift between Jeanette and her family or persuade her that the holidays are anything more than a season of misery.
Pushed into working on the town's much-loved annual Christmas festival, Jeanette teams up with the sexy new town manager. Tom McDonald may be the only person in Serenity who's less enthused about family and the the holidays than she is.
But with tree decorations going up on the town square and a bit fo romance in the air, Jeanette and Tom take a fresh look at the past and a hopeful look into the future. Together they discover that this just may be a season of miracles after all.
Like I said, I hadn't expected any more Magnolia books so when this one was released I was pleased but perplexed. Woods explains with a short letter at the beginning that so many readers were asking for more from the Sweet Magnolia's, and she enjoyed them so much as well, she's returning to Serenity to give us readers what we wanted.
Unfortunately, the story is Jeanette's, the woman the Magnolia's hired to run Spa Services in The Corner Spa, their new business. IIRC, Jeanette had been a third POV in at least one of the books. This, however, was not enough for the reader to really bond with her in any way, at least, not this reader. So when I say that Jeanette's graduation into Sweet Magnolia-dom was a bit of a shock.
Jeanette and her family suffered a horrible loss over the Christmas holiday when she was just a teenager, and ever since then, Jeanette's parent's barely know she's alive, let alone function well enough to want to celebrate in the merry fashion they once did. It's no wonder she hates the holidays. So when Maddie asks her to take the responsibility of The Corner Spa's contribution to the towns annual Christmas Festival it's the very last thing she wasn't to do.
Tom McDonald is also a non-lover of the holidays, as his family over-celebrates with the motive of impressing the other upper crust families. Growing up his house may have had multiple Christmas trees but they were all put up by decorators, not with love by his family. But even though he has a serious hate on for the holiday, as the new town manager the mayor insists that he be on the planning committee as well. In his quest to work off some of the stress of the new job, Tom tries to get into The Corner Spa to work out, only to be denied entrance (and quite rudely, I might add) by a beautiful woman. Tom is instantly smitten and takes her obvious distaste for him as a challenge.
The book also has a nice subplot about Mary Vaughn, the woman who had tried to get Ronnie away from Dana Sue (second book in the series). In the letter at the beginning Woods explains, "I think you'll gain some new insights into what makes her tick and maybe even feel some sympathy for all she's gone through in her life."
This book, no matter the fact that it was a Sweet Magnolia book, fell so far short of its mark for me. First there's Jeanette, who yes, has had a rough time of things, but was so absolutely insane I was praying that Tom would wise up and steer a wide path around her. And by insane I mean absolute raving bitch one minute, snapping the heads off of everyone, including the people there to help her only to do a complete 180 where Christmas was concerned and then upset when Tom doesn't have the same change of heart.
Then there's Tom, who falls in love with a woman who is all kinds nasty to him but he seems to have real chemistry with. I tell ya folks, you've heard of the Too Stupid To Live (TSTL) heroine, well, meet Tom, the TSTL hero.
Then their is Mary Vaughn and her ex-husband Sonny. Okay, I actually kind of enjoyed their story, and the Jeanette/Tom storyline notwithstanding, if Woods would have been writing to her normal high standards, I think Mary Vaughn's story would of have been far better suited to a full length novel rather than the measly sub-plot she got. Mary Vaughn's struggles and poor choices, her hard work to be respectable and her desire to be liked, coupled with the fierce animosity between her and Dana Sue, could have made an amazing book. I suppose though that it would take too long to write such a tale and make it believable that the Magnolias and Mary Vaughn could ever come to terms. I have no doubt though, that if Woods would have put her mind and pen to it, she could have pulled it off and we would have had a book that actually fit with the other Sweet Magnolia books.
As it stands, Jeanette doesn't really ever seem to treat any of the Magnolias or Tom very well, yet the Sweet Magnolias consider her one of their own and Tom falls in love with her. Jeanette was a selfish woman who talked sharply to too many people and yet got her happy ending. And while I know it's a Romance and the HEA was required, it was a stilted love story, with an ending that leaves much to be desired. In short, I'm willing to suspend reality for a while but even my fiction must be believable and this one just didn't add up.
Truthfully? I'm sort of hoping that in the next book which would seem to be about two of the Magnolia's children, Ty (Maddie's son) and Annie (Dana Sue's daughter who had anorexia), will show that Tom has wised up and left Jeanette for some one that deserves him. And yes, I still plan on reading the next book, it is this readers opinion that Woods rushed herself to get this one done and the next book (hopefully) will be much more up to the level of feel goodness I'm used to from Woods and The Magnolias.