The Inn on Sweetbriar Lane (2021)

by Jeannie Chin
ASIN/ISBN: 9781538753606
Publication: September 28, 2021

The Inn on Sweetbriar Lane is a charming small-town romance, practically a Hallmark movie in its plot and execution but updated to be more diverse in its population. (And people have sex too…). June is a likeable protagonist. While Clay eventually grew on me, I still didn’t like him all that much. It has the typical small-town story that I usually enjoy but only half of the main couple is likeable, which affected how much I rooted for their romance. 

Clay is a grumpy and stubborn vet who arrives in Blue Cedar Falls to fulfill his best friend’s dream of opening a bar. His less than personable behavior and his planned business venture put him at odds with some of the residents of the small town, including June, who helps run her family’s inn across the street from his bar. He realizes belatedly that he’ll need June’s support if he wants to successfully open his bar. Clay’s assumptions about June rubbed me the wrong way, and he never seems to be apologetic for jumping to conclusions about her. He second-guesses her motives, even though she doesn’t give him cause to. I didn’t think he deserved her, especially when the last act breakup started looming.

Used to being the responsible one, June needs to get more guests checking in to help pay her mother’s medical bills. It doesn’t help that the newest resident is making noise at all hours and driving guests away. Like Clay, she can be stubborn, but her outlook on life is much rosier. She’s the small-town girl who loves where she lives and wants other people to see its charm. June is relatively open-minded and is willing to give just about anything a chance, including Clay and his bar. Getting off on the wrong foot doesn’t prevent her from helping him once he sees the error of his ways. I liked her Pollyanna personality. The support she provides her best friend, who has a subplot here, is part of the reason why I liked June. She’s dependable but can sometimes carry too much on her shoulder.

One of the biggest drawbacks of the book is how quickly Clay and June pair up. I was left wondering what was going to happen for the rest of the book. The second half left me restless, although I did enjoy some of the subplots. I was disappointed that the Pumpkin Festival mentioned in the blurb only makes a small appearance. Chin does an excellent job of making the town charming. Everyone knows everyone else, and Chin easily pulls in characters to weave in some of their stories and backgrounds through conversations. It helped create that small-town atmosphere I was hoping for.  Although I might not have liked Clay as much as I hoped, Chin has successfully drawn me into the town and I look forward to reading the next sister’s book. The one I’m really looking forward to is the youngest sister’s book.

Gin’s Tonic (2020)

by Olivia Owen
ASIN/ISBN: B085RQJYWR
Publication: April 16, 2020

Virginia “Gin” Lee’s life is turned upside after a devastating loss. Running away from what’s left of her life in So Cal and looking for a place where she can be no one instead of someone, she finds herself in small town Jasper, Colorado after nearly running someone over. Yup, it’s a “city girl looking for escape in a small town” book. This may prompt an eye roll because of the abundance of similar books but Gin’s Tonic is so well-written. I picked it up on a whim but it was the book I needed in that exact moment. It embraced me like only a comfort read could. With imperfect characters, found family, and healing, Gin’s Tonic soothed a part of me I didn’t realize needed it.

Gin is broken and aware of it. She recently takes up smoking to purposely shorten her lifespan. She considers ending her life, even attempting it at one point. Anyone in her situation–going through the motions of living while not really living at all–might act in a similar way. While I cannot relate to Gin on every level, there were things about her I identified with, making the story feel more personal in some ways. The town easily embraces her, and she finds herself becoming part of the town’s “we” rather than the no one she wanted to be. The church ladies break the typical church lady stereotypes and are a fun bunch, and Aunt May and Becca essentially adopts her into their small family.

Roman is a big brooding alpha male. He’s the silent, protective type and seems to always show up when Gin needs him most. If this was real life, I’d be a little bit terrified but it’s a romance book so, for now, let me have swoon. I’m always on the fence about alpha males and some of their tendencies but Roman’s personality and overall behavior doesn’t particularly trigger any of my alarms and eyerolls the way other alpha male characters normally do. I loved how patient he was with Gin.

It’s told solely from Gin’s perspective, which is surprising considering the majority of my romance reads alternate viewpoints of the potential couple. As much as I liked Roman and would have liked to hear his thoughts–in the beginning I was wondering when would I get his perspective–I quickly realized that I preferred it without. I liked that this was solely Gin’s story; this was her journey to healing.

I flipped back and forth on the romance. Initially, I loved it because Gin and Roman seemed to fit so well but upon rereading my favorite parts over, it was difficult to understand why they gravitated toward each other. In piecing their progression from strangers to lovers, I found I wasn’t as easily convinced the second time around. It’s attraction at first, but becomes this unexplained connection that draws them to each other. It’s attraction mingled with lust bordering on instalove but they talk about it as if it’s something more. Eventually, it could be but I don’t know if I believe it is. Of course, maybe it’s just the cynical me who comes out when I try to understand rather than simply believing. Alternatively, it makes just as much sense to say Owen just doesn’t explicitly write it. It could be the brokenness they see in each and their loneliness that connects them to each other or something but there’s no explicit confirmation. Of course, after all of that (I’m so sorry for putting you through my rant) the hopeless romantic in me still enjoyed them together.

This is Owen’s debut novel and I liked it so much. I continuously looked at how much I still had left to read every few pages because I was scared I was getting close to the end. And, I didn’t want it to just yet. While I wished it would keep going, my heart was content with the ending, epilogue included. The book leaves a lot of room to continue the stories of those connected to Gin, but I’m not sure if I’m ready to leave Gin and Roman behind just yet. I will be rereading this book many times over.