Series: Sweet Magnolias #9
Published by Harlequin MIRA on July 31, 2012
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Source: the publisher through NetGalley
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Also in this series: Midnight Promises, Where Azaleas Bloom, Swan Point
Also by this author: Midnight Promises, Where Azaleas Bloom, A Seaside Christmas, Home to Seaview Key, Swan Point, The Christmas Bouquet, Dogwood Hill, Willow Brook Road
When bullying threatens to destroy a teen's life, painful memories resurface for dedicated high school teacher Laura Reed and pediatrician J. C. Fullerton. With the support of the Sweet Magnolias, they bring the town together to ensure that a promising student's future isn't ruined. And to establish once and for all that bullying has no place in Serenity, South Carolina.
Both J.C.'s and Laura's passion for the cause is deeply personal, and their growing feelings for each other are just as strong. But with so many secret hurts to overcome, can these two vulnerable lovers find the strength to believe in happily ever after?
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.
Most romances make use of one or more secondary plots, designed (in part) to provide conflict between the characters, place one or both of them in danger, or otherwise heighten the tension, romantic or otherwise. Generally, the secondary plot in a romance is just that: secondary to the main focus of the novel, the development of a romantic relationship between the two main characters. Catching Fireflies is unusual in that its plot involving bullying is as important, even more important, than the slowly-developing relationship between teacher Laura and pediatrician J.C. The bullying plot receives as much page time as the romance, probably more. And Misty Dawson, the teenage victim, is as much a main character as either Laura or J.C.
Readers interested mainly in the romance may find this slightly disappointing, but it will come as no surprise to long-time fans of Sherryl Woods. Woods is known for incorporating real-life issues (eating disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, domestic abuse, even agoraphobia) into her novels, weaving them into the broader story with both skill and sensitivity. In this book, her anti-bullying message does overtake the romance at times, but I came to care as much about Misty and the outcome of her story as I did about Laura and J.C.
Another trait that I enjoy in Woods’s writing is her ability to see and convey the humanity of even her “villains.” While this has occasionally resulted in a too-sudden or overly-facile turnaround for an antagonist, for the most part I appreciate the reminder that even wrongdoers and those who oppose us have feelings and motivations we can understand. There’s always a sense that redemption is possible. In Catching Fireflies, Laura speaks up more than once to remind both reader and fellow characters not to respond to bullying with more bullying, though she never wavers in her condemnation of the perpetrator’s actions nor in her support for Misty as the recipient. Though there is no major reconciliation, there is some hope that at least some of those involved have learned a lesson.
Part of the fun of a series is revisiting old friends, and fans will get plenty of that in Catching Fireflies. The Sweet Magnolias and their husbands are out in force in this book. The men in particular play an ongoing role in pushing J.C. to pay attention to his feelings for Laura and the potential ramifications. The Sweet Magnolias and their friends are heavily involved both in opposing the bullying and in supporting Laura. Maddie’s teenage daughter Katie plays a pivotal part in bringing Misty’s plight to adult attention. Katie is a bright and feisty young woman and a fiercely loyal friend — surely a young Sweet Magnolia in the making.
I recommend Catching Fireflies mainly to readers who have been following the series. It’s a solid and satisfying read despite the slightly understated romantic relationship. While new readers could jump in here, I think you are better off starting at the beginning with Stealing Home, especially because some characters and incidents in Catching Fireflies connect closely with events in the earlier novel.
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The Sweet Magnolia books in order:
1. Stealing Home
2. A Slice of Heaven
3. Feels Like Family
4. Welcome to Serenity
5. Home in Carolina
6. Sweet Tea at Sunrise
7. Honeysuckle Summer
8. Midnight Promises (review)
9. Catching Fireflies (review)
10. Where Azaleas Bloom (review)
11. Swan Point (review)
Click here for my review of Sherryl Woods’ Chesapeake Shores series featuring the O’Brien family.