In The Substitute Bride by Kathleen O'Brien, Marly is back in Marietta after 9 years. The place she swore she'd never return to. Marly was living the dream in San Francisco until it all came crashing down and she has no where to go but home. She is back working at the small town newspaper with her mother, the mother who sacrificed so much for Marly. Now Marly is in a remarkably similar situation, but it is one she is determined to make the best of. Returning to Marietta is a temporary thing.
Drake is the boy she used to dream about, but he is also the boy who stood her up and broke her heart all those years ago. He is the last person she expects to see on her first day back in Marietta...and he has grown up very well. Even though he can still make her heart race, Marly is determined to avoid him and how he can still make her feel. Drake is just as determined to see a lot more of Marly.
Both of them have secrets, and Drake has been hiding his for so long and the hurt they caused, that he doesn't plan to stay in Marietta either. Neither of them are sure where they'll move on to next. As they learn to trust and open up to each other though, it's possible new memories can be made in Marietta. For Marly, will having the courage to follow her dream incude Drake? And can Drake finally let go of the past to make way for the future?
The Substitute Bride is a romance, but it is also the story of Marly and her mother. There is strong character development, especially for Marly, in The Substitute Bride, and I really enjoyed seeing the mother/daughter relationship mature and grow. Marly's mother is a strong secondary character in The Substitute Bride, but the development and growth of her character stood out very well. In The Substitute Bride, Kathleen gives us characters who have that second chance...but will they be brave enough to take it?
The pace of The Substitute Bride is just right for a novella, and the issues the characters are dealing with are done fairly realistically. Marly's 'secret' was a main part of the plot, but was not explored in depth, and I'm not sure if this is because of the length of the novella or not, but I would have liked to see this played out a bit more.
Drake is a guy you could easily get attached to. For all his outwardly appearance, he holds a lot in and once you get to know him you really will feel for him.
I enjoyed being back in Marietta, the small town feel, and I liked how Kathleen gave you glimpses of characters from other books in this series, but kept the encounters brief enough so that The Substitute Bride is easily a stand alone novella.
I'd recommend The Substitute Bride to any romance reader who likes sweet, small town romance.