Serena Bell’s Tierney Bay series continues with So True, the finely written and engrossing story of Chiara Campbell and Jax Walker. It’s a good romance and the characters are generally sympathetic, but I had to take some points off for Jax’s self-flagellating, cruel behavior toward Chiara.
Once upon a time, Chiara and Jax were lovebirds – they had been teenagers swept up in a love tangle all through high school – but Jax and his family pulled up sticks and left town without Jax letting Chiara know and broke her young heart.
Ten years later, and overachieving Chiara’s life has decelerated. She’s temporarily running the comic book store Meeples as a favor for Jax’s brother Evan while he has surgery (Evan has Crohn’s Disease). This is just one more stop on Chiara’s world tour – she’s planning to move to Seattle, four hours away from Tierney Bay’s Oregon Coast locale, very soon. The shop’s rundown appearance isn’t helping draw customers to it, so she assumes it’s going to be another boring night. Then Jax walks through the door, and her world shifts.
Jax has arrived to find out what’s happened to Evan after realizing his brother has been lying about taking classes at a local community college and bought the game and comic book store instead. Finding out Evan has just had emergency surgery does not improve his evening. Evan is okay for the moment, but the family is perpetually out of money thanks to his alcoholic mother. Evan’s previous irresponsibility hasn’t helped, and Jax is already semi-estranged from every single person in Tierney Bay, so settling back in will not be an easy task. He chooses to stay and try to fix things.
To help out Evan and Chiara, Jax starts working at Meeples, trying to shore up his brother’s bad investment. The more time he spends in town, the closer he and Chiara get to one another. But will that old secret tear them apart? Or will it be their course be smoother this time out?
So True combines Bell’s signature smoky sexy, relatable and realistic characters and small-town settings with a genuinely heartbreaking storyline. I had to detract some points for Jax’s stubbornness which led to cruel words being spoken, but Chiara makes him own up to his behavior, so I didn’t take too much off the book’s final grade.
Chiara – with her goals and dreams and ambitions – is incredibly sympathetic. She wants love, she loves her family and she also wants to know what it’s like outside of her one-horse town. She’s easy to root for.
Jax, too, is ultimately worth rooting for. The responsible one, he’s come from dysfunction to carve out a life for himself, but his mother’s alcoholism means he has a severe inferiority complex.
Their relationship is warm and sweet – and prickly with mistrust and tension. It’s not an easy love story to embrace sometimes, and I did subtract points for Jax’s tendency to be cold and push Chiara away. They work through it like adults, but sometimes the passion between them could skew toward melodrama. The Big Secret is conveniently in part solved by the fact that the person who asked Jax to do do what he did is dead, though the emotional wreckage plays throughout the novel, echoing down in spite of their lack of presence.
The background characters didn’t pop out to me in a unique or outstanding way, though I did enjoy Evan, whose point of view stood out as something interesting.
Even with those flaws, the passion between our two leads makes So True stand out, as does Bell’s prodigious writing talent. While the book is a couple of rungs beneath her best, it’s still a wonderful romance.