Monday, 17 February 2014

Review: Once in a Lifetime (Lucky Harbour) - Jill Shalvis*

After a wrenching loss, Ben McDaniel tried to escape his grief by working in dangerous, war-torn places like Africa and the Middle East. Now he's back in his hometown and face-to-face with Aubrey Wellington, the hot-as-hell woman who is trouble with a capital T. Family and friends insist she's not the one to ease his pain, but Aubrey sparks an intense desire that gives Ben hope for the future.
Determined to right the wrongs of her past, Aubrey is working hard to make amends. But by far, the toughest challenge to her plan is sexy, brooding Ben - even though he has absolutely no idea what she's done . . .
Can this unlikely couple defy the odds and win over the little town of Lucky Harbor?

Once in a Lifetime is the ninth and latest instalment in Jill Shalvis's much beloved 'Lucky Harbour' series and, shamefully, a first in the series for me. However, on finishing it I promptly went out and read the two preceding books. Yes, I loved it.

I've previously been put off the 'Lucky Harbor' novels when someone told me that they were "too sweet". I don't know why but at the time I interpreted this as a bad thing and steered clear of the series. But you know what, sometimes all you want is a sweet romance, where everything turns out well and everyone who deserves a happy ending gets their happy ending. Once in a Lifetime is, undeniably, all this and more.

Although the ninth in the town of Lucky Harbor series as a whole, Once in a Lifetime is actually the third of a trilogy within the series that tells the stories of Luke, Jack and Ben. Ben is the last of the band of bothers to have his story told, but to my mind it is well worth the wait as his is the best of the lot. What I loved about this book is the history that Ben and Aubrey share that isn't really touched on in the synopsis but is hinted at in two preceding books and fully revealed throughout the novel.

Being the last to have their story told, Ben and Aubrey are some of the most well developed characters in the series and Once in a Lifetime is a wonderful character driven journey as well as an indulgent romance. Still recovering from the loss of his wife, Ben isn't looking for a relationship, or to settle down at all, but he can't seem to steer clear of the troublesome Aubrey. For her part, Aubrey is trying hard to atone for a high-school career straight out of Mean Girls, righting all her past wrongs in order to live a happier, more positive life.  Whilst Ben is definitely one of Lucky Harbor's favourite sons, Aubrey is not everyone's favourite daughter and she has a lot of work ahead of her in convincing the town that she's changed.

At first Ben and Aubrey don't seem to be the most obvious couple, but their chemistry is undeniable. Ben's determination to not get involved is challenged by the protective feelings that emerge towards Aubrey, his heart touched by her quest to make things right. Aubrey's past misdemeanours and voyage of redemption might be a little cliched for some, and perhaps a little forced at times, but it is Ben's realisations about the truth of his marriage that add a deeper and more contemplative hue to the book.

Whilst the journey that Ben and Aubrey take could be classified as 'sweet' it has also got its fair share of drama and heat that add that little bit of bite to the novel. Shalvis also provides plenty of laughs with her excellent peripheral characters, the meddling townsfolk and the introduction of 'craft corner' at the book store are sure to bring about a smile in most readers. One of my favourite aspects of the story was actually the culmination of the friendship between Ali, Leah and Aubrey, and for established fans of the series it's great to check back with our previous loved up couples.

Shalvis is, in my opinion, the queen of small town romance and Once in a Lifetime is a wonderfully enjoyable instalment, where each character might very well get their happy ending but they have to work hard to get there.

Once in a Lifetime is out today but check back next Monday for a Q&A with author Jill Shalvis and an exciting chance to win a copy all for yourself.

*ARC copy received from Netgalley in return for an honest review

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