Once in a Lifetime – Jill Shalvis

Date read: 4th January 2014
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Release Date: 18th February 2014
Length: 368 pages
Format: E-book
Source: I received this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review

Once in a Lifetime cover

Goodreads description

New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis continues with the ninth installment in her beloved Lucky Harbor series.

SOMETIMES WRONG IS OH-SO-RIGHT

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?

My review:

This book is the ninth in Jill Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor series. I’ve read the first (Simply Irresistible) and the fifth (At Last), but you don’t need to have read the series in order to enjoy the books. There are a few mentions as to previous characters in the first book (and by extension, the second and third, given that they revolve around the same characters – I didn’t spot any references to the fourth, fifth and sixth but may well have missed them.

There was one universal truth in Lucky Harbor, Washington – you could hide a pot of gold in broad daylight and no one would steal it, but you couldn’t hide a secret

The first thing I’d like to emphasise is that I love the world of Lucky Harbor. I pine for living in a town like it, even with its propensity to gossip first, think later. The combination of beach and mountains sounds just about perfect to me, and with its newly revamped bookstore and seemingly unending parade of gorgeous men, what more could a girl need?

It was so easy to sympathise with our main characters, Aubrey and Ben. Shalvis does a clever job of building their relationship, from antagonism, to wary friendship, to a hell of a lot more. I did think that Aubrey beat herself up a lot about her past, but the idea of making a list and making amends with everyone whom she’d wronged was the centrepiece of this story, along with her refurbishment of her aunt’s bookstore, and the road was certainly rocky along the way. And Ben was such a well-rounded character, still in the process of getting over his wife’s death, and learning to accept falling for someone else – put like that it sounds like a bad cliché, but somehow it never felt like that – all his deliberations and hard-headedness never felt unnatural, as the below quote hopefully displays:

He hadn’t always been like that. In school, he’d been the first to land himself in trouble, but he’d been fun-seekind, not tough as nails and impenetrable. Even through college. Afterward, he’d been an engineer for the city and had led a nice normal life. Then his wife had died, and he’d taken off like a bat out of hell, living a life of adrenaline and danger as if survivor’s guilt had driven his every move.

And do not even get me started on the wondrousness that is the minor characters – although I hate to call them that, as they feel like so much more than that. Pink and Kendra, two five-year-old twins that Ben takes under his wing. Lucille, the town busy-body. Carla, Aubrey’s sister (I definitely think she may be a candidate for a further book…). Dee, Ben’s aunt, and her unasked for hugs and breakfast. Sue, the cranky judge who was the victim of Aubrey’s…Aubrey-ness during high school. Yes, Lucky Harbor is a splendid world indeed, and I just may have reserved the other books in the series from the library… *innocent face*

Story of a Girl – Sara Zarr

Date read: 22nd August 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown
Length: 192 pages
Format: Paperback
Source: Library

Tommy leaned on the cash register and watched me. “You’re not even going to say hi to me, Dee Dee?”

His voice shot through me. It’s amazing, the things your body will do just when you don’t want them to: heart speeding up, fingers aching. I’d always liked his voice, low and laid-back, the kind of voice that made you listen, a voice that still caused me to teeter when I heard it saying my old nickname.

2013 is most definitely destined to go down in my personal history as ‘The Year Hannah Rediscovered The Library’.

It sounds stupid, really. Many of my happiest childhood memories revolve around my grandma taking me to the library, back in the days when you could only take out six books at a time. My library card had a light pink strip at the top, my grandma and grandad’s cards had a custard-yellow strip, and the library had an amazing smell (which is still has today, FYI, despite its recent renovations) of books and amazingness.

But then, when I was about 14, I forgot to take books back, and let my membership lapse, until I was in my mid-twenties, desperately saving to escape and travel the world, and yet unwilling to let the pleasures of new books disappear. So, I re-registered at the library and made full use of it until I left.

In the years between then and now I’ve borrowed a few books, but it wasn’t until my Amazon wish-list suddenly became out of control that a lightbulb went off above my head, and I suddenly decided that I should search the library database to see if I could reserve some of the books on my list to save me money.

The library service in my county is linked to four others, which covers most of the south-west of England = much potential.

Hence, my reading Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr.

I’ve read Sweethearts by the same author before, and was left heartbroken and yet slightly uplifted by the ambiguous ending. Her writing isn’t flowery or overly-descriptive – but yet Zarr leaves you with a very definite feeling of unsettling doom, of times of change, and of the lack of hope that Deanna feels, especially when her long-cherished plans fall apart and she can’t see any way out of the no-hope town – or, for that matter, situation – that she’s in.

The basic premise is that she was caught by her father fooling around with her brother’s friend in the back of a car. She was 13 and the guy – Tommy – was 17. Since then, she’s never been allowed to forget it, either by her father, whom she adored, or her fellow schoolmates. But over the course of the summer between her sophomore and junior year, she takes a job at a dead-end pizza restaurant, where Tommy happens to work.

I love how other themes invade the book slowly yet surely – whether Deanna loves her best friend Jason enough to displace her newer friend – and Jason’s girlfriend – Lee. Whether her brother Darren and sister-in-law Stacy can cope with being new parents in a far from ideal situation. Whether Deanna’s father can forgive her for what happened so long ago and pull himself out of his depression.

Nothing is wrapped up neatly at the end – it feels as though we’ve left all the characters right at the start of their new beginning, but there’s no promise of happily ever after. And that’s so refreshing to find, even though I was wishing and hoping for it – life doesn’t suddenly provide resolutions to everything difficult all at once, we have to work for it, and hope that things fit into place one by one.

I’m really looking forward to reading The Lucy Variations once I can get hold of a copy – here’s hoping the library gets one soon…

Rating: 8/10