second song coverRating: 4.25 stars
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Length: Novel

 

As a struggling teen, Rowan left school and joined a national singing contest. The whole experience was traumatic and awful, capped off by a night he can’t remember, but which led to half the country seeing a picture of his bare ass and his stepfather needing to get an injunction to stop a tell-all story about him. Now, six years later, Rowan has emerged stronger, but parts of the trauma still linger. Rowan hopes that training to be a music teacher will help him regain his love for music that was stolen from him by the awful contest experience. Of course, Rowan has to make it to the interview first, something that might be impossible now that he has found himself on a crumbling cliff at risk of plunging onto the rocks below. Fortunately, Rowan is rescued by a handsome stranger and even makes it to the interview on time.

Liam’s time in the military may be over, but his protective instincts are still strong. He can’t help but want to look out for Rowan, who somehow always seem one step from disaster. But Liam is only in Cornwall for a short time; staying longer means he needs continued excuses for why he doesn’t want to see his army buddies when the group all gets together. But Liam still harbors guilt for those he wasn’t able to save during his deployment and the tinnitus in his ear is a constant reminder of that life. Liam has plans to take a long-term demolition contract up north, but something about Rowan convinces Liam to take a temporary local construction job at Glynn Harber, the school where Rowan is working.

The connection between Liam and Rowan is instant and the men are incredibly drawn to one another. The more time they spend together, the more both men realize they may have found something wonderful between them. But Rowan’s future is still uncertain, particularly if he can’t work through the past trauma that could make it difficult for him to get a full-time job at Glynn Harber. For his part, Liam needs to decide if he is ready to face his past and to finally put down roots. Both Liam and Rowan have difficult pasts, but their intense bond could give them the strength to face those challenges and move forward together.

Oh, can I just tell you how much I have been looking forward to this new Second Chance School series by Con Riley? Those of you who read my reviews regularly know what an enormous fan I am of Riley’s work, particularly her book, Charles, the first in the author’s Learning to Love series set at Glynn Harber school. This new series brings us back to Glynn Harber and my heart was just full to bursting knowing we would be returning to this magical place. For folks new to Riley’s work, I think this series can stand alone, and it gives a nice introduction to the school and some of the key players (including Charles himself, who is a prominent side character). That said, Riley’s Cornwall universe is expansive and familiarity with the world and some of the characters can only enhance your enjoyment here. Even if you read nothing else of the original series, I can’t recommend Charles highly enough (like seriously, my obsession with this character is almost embarrassing) and it will give you a nice foundation for this story. I’ll also note that Ed and Pasha from Riley’s True Brit appear here as side characters and their book deals with the same singing competition that Rowan was in. I didn’t read that book and had no trouble following along here, but those familiar with Ed and Pasha’s story will likely enjoy the way the books connect.

This book brings us back to Glynn Harber, as Rowan is looking for a teacher training position. His job would be for the fall, but Luke brings him on for a short-term assignment while some of the teachers are away on a trip with the older students. It is a chance for Rowan to demonstrate his skills and figure out if the school is the right place for him, and once again Glynn Harber does its magic. Rowan has a traumatic past, one he doesn’t fully remember, but he is emotionally scarred from the experience and the aftermath. The school is a place for kids who need those second chances, who need some extra support and time and understanding that is not always available other places. Working with these kids and finding a way to reach them with music helps Rowan work through his own past and find the confidence to face it and move forward. (Be aware that Rowan’s story does touch on sexual assault if this is a sensitive area for you.)

For his part, Liam has his own complicated past he hasn’t quite faced. He feels guilty that he wasn’t able to save more lives and it has him shutting himself off from his friends and former team. Liam takes contracts all over the country to avoid their get togethers and can’t quite stop running. But something about Rowan makes Liam want to stay, so he takes a job working on the repairs to the school. It gives Liam a chance to finally give himself a little grace for his past and realize he is not as alone as he thinks. It also gives the men a chance to build on that early spark they had between them and they are just a lovely couple together. There is so much warmth and caring between them, as well as a lot of spark. I did wish that Liam’s backstory got explored a little more, as it gets less focus than Rowan’s and the details aren’t quite as clear. But there is a nice sense of two men working through their pasts and finding comfort from one another that I really liked.

It was so wonderful to be back in Glynn Harber and I think there is a lot to explore with this series. The theme of “second chances” is one that has run throughout the original series and looks to be a focus for this new set of books. It fits so well with the school and I think there is so much great potential for future stories. I can’t wait!

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