Author: Nicola Marsh
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Publication Date: September 29, 2021
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher via NetGalley

Soon after reading My Sister’s Husband I picked up Summer of Serenity and it couldn’t be more different.

Jy Atherton is a city boy and principal of a prestigious private school in Melbourne, he loves his job and the differences he has made at his school but when he takes his passion and speaks out against the education board he finds himself in purgatory. Jy is sent to the very small town of Acacia Haven to write a report on their school and it’s viability.

Jy knows he is being punished and he has a pretty fair idea that the writing is already on the wall, his findings aren’t going to make a difference but he’s going to go in and do the job he’s been tasked with. He knows he enters the town as the enemy but he is determined to do the job right and be objective. He doesn’t think he goes in with any preconceived notions but is soon shown what a judgemental city-boy he was.

Summer O’Reilly is a born and bred resident of the small intentional living community, leaving only to attend boarding school in Melbourne where she couldn’t wait to return home. Now she teaches at the tiny school a few days a week and helps in her mum’s store. She is a feisty one that still suffers a fractured relationship with her mother after the sudden departure of her father when she was a teen.

Rayne O’Reilly is also a lifelong resident of Acacia Haven and though she loves the place, she also yearns for the city streets of Melbourne. A divorcee who has been on her own for a long time, never quite recovering from her relationship with Summer’s father. An eventual reconciliation with an old friend sees her decide that it’s time to rejoin the dating world and hope to find someone to spend some time with.

We do get a little of a dual timeline as Marsh acquaints us with Rayne’s past and how this came to be her life but most of the story is set in the present, except where we need the bits of backstory to piece together how everything fits.

Jy is determined to get in, get the job done and get out. He knows it’s a pretty foregone conclusion that the department want to close the school but he doesn’t intend to make it easy for them. He wasn’t planning on the complication of Summer O’Reilly who fascinates him, and sees him as the enemy here to shut down the school that is absolutely imperative to the town.

The school has the lowest test scores in the state and that’s what raised the axe over it’s head, but there is so much more to the school than test scores. There is so much more to the students and the town than test scores and hopefully Summer can show Jy a bigger picture.

Summer is happy single, she’s independent and strong and doesn’t have a lot of faith in people not to leave her so she is very careful about who she lets gets close, but a no strings fling… that could be fun. Consenting grown adults should be able to have a little fun if they remain on the same wavelength.

Jy knows he’s just treading water waiting to get back to the private school he is Principal of but there’s something about this small town that gets under his skin… and it isn’t just the firecracker that challenges him.

This story is largely about Jy, Summer and the fight to save the school but I think Rayne really carries the story. She has suffered so much, she has sacrificed so much and now is the time we start to see her sharing a little of what she’s been through, what she suffered in silence because it just seemed easier that way. And now might just be her time to shine. I loved her story, her past broke my heart but I cheered for her future.

If you want a small town story with a little romance, a lot of friendship, a tight knit community that looks after it’s own and a lot of humour and happy endings then definitely give this one a go. Marsh never disappoints, regardless of genre. She has definitely become one to look out for.

Marsh’s characters are vividly drawn, flawed not perfect, and always relatable. I loved the way this one played out and I despised the underhanded and devious dealings of the education department but that didn’t really surprise me.

There is a lot going on in this small town romance and Marsh explores themes of domestic violence, small school viability, nepotism within the education department and the scars that follow us through life from adolescent slights. I loved it and I think a wide audience of readers will too.

Nicola Marsh loves hearing from readers and she can be found in the following places: her Website, her Blog,  Facebook,  Twitter and Goodreads.

Summer of Serenity was read as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2021, perhaps by the end of the year I will work out what number I’m up to.