This is the third Riverbend Romance Novella and hands down my favorite of the series so far. Carly and Reed are people who both work and play in the great outdoors. They amply demonstrate the sense of wonder being in nature should inspire and try to reveal that wonder with those around them. Since I share the same love of the wilderness and how every glance contains something new, I had no trouble bonding with the two of them.
At the same time, Sweet Serenade touches on another of my focuses with an underlying theme of peer pressure and how tangled up it can get in the way people take your actions as judgment about their own. Reed is considered standoffish and judgmental by Carly’s cousin Brittany because of his choice to remain a virgin until marriage when the rest of his crowd has not.
Instead, he’s a shy man who has been teased and used as the target of dares designed to break his convictions. Carly, meanwhile, has lived a very different life than Reed’s, growing up on the road with little stability beyond her bond with her father, who has since died, leaving her rudderless.
Theirs is not an easy path. They face both opposition from their peers and from the differences in their upbringing, but with a good bit of struggle, they work it through.
The subtitle makes it clear, but this is a Christian novel with their communing with nature bound up in connecting with God. The abstinence theme is also about faith and the promises made to yourself in faith, but ultimately the strength of the faith message for me is in how non-judgmental Reed truly is. He’s not perfect, and it’s not easy, but when push comes to shove, he demonstrates a truly Christian nature.
As part of the series, this title continues the tradition of the first and second by providing a connection in place and a couple of references but otherwise standing alone. I still had one moment where the story felt rushed, and I would have liked to have known more about Carly’s life before she shows up in Riverbend, but neither of those aspects reduced my enjoyment, especially when compared to the descriptions of the wildlife, and how Carly and Reed connected with nature.
P.S. I’ve mentioned it before, but I became a fan of Valerie Comer’s writing when we met as part of an online writers group, and she’s very much lived up to the potential evident back then.