Before I begin the review in detail, I want to say something to Harlequin. Thank you for my gift certificate! While I’ve been a romance reader for years and years, I hardly ever read category novels. Nothing against them personally, I just got most of my books from my library and we don’t buy that many category novels. So, I didn’t read that many. I can remember reading only a couple, from friends who wrote or for school papers.
I regret that now.
I am now a converted category reader. I’m horrified to think of how much money I’ve given Harlequin in the past month since I’ve gotten my Sony Reader. I went from not buying books to thinking nothing of dropping $30 on categories. Evil, evil, evil. When Sallie Mae asks where my student loan check is, Harlequin, I will send them to you.
Back to business.
Once Upon a Valentine’s is everything I expect a sweet, contemporary romance to be. It’s touching, funny without being ha-ha, and when you end the book, there are warm fuzzies traveling your body from tip to toe.
Carly Lewis celebrated her divorce by torching the couch she caught her ex-husband having sex with his secretary on. The couch got it’s revenge by setting both her shed and her neighbor’s shed on fire. Carly had already paid her neighbor for his shed and was prepared to have the infraction and arrest on her record, but the judge had other ideas. He assigned Carly, who had just finished nursing school and was studying for her boards, to do community service with Lieutenant Charles Jefferson (Chuck) at area schools during January safety fairs.
Community service, on top of her already work and studying schedule, two kids, and their absent father, is almost more than she can handle. Being assigned to work beside Chuck, who was the first officer on the scene after her arson and so saw her cry, is too much. She agrees to have dinner a Chuck’s parents’ house only so that she can needle the judge, Chuck’s brother-in-law. She has a good time and agrees to let him be her boy-toy, just until her community service is up. He doesn’t do long-term relationships (occupational hazard) and she doesn’t want to have her soul taken over by another man just as she’s learning who she is.
Then she starts liking Chuck. Really liking Chuck. And her friends like Chuck. And she likes Chuck’s parents. And her kids like Chuck. She might love Chuck. She doesn’t want to love Chuck. She doesn’t want to be in a relationship, they still seem scary to her.
If all this sound like your average contemporary romance plot, it is. But Once Upon a Valentine’s manages to be so much more. The magical extras that transform Once Upon a Valentine’s from average to excellent are found in the completely believable characters. Carly is not an out of this world character. She’s not the top of her nursing program, fabulously wealthy, or unbelievable hot. She’s average. Cute and funny, but otherwise average. Chuck is good looking, but he doesn’t spend his days kicking criminal ass. He works in PR for the police department. Carly and Chuck are two average people who fall in love and you fall in love with them as you read it. Their romance does what romance is best at—reminding us that love is out there and you don’t have to be perfect, rich, or aristocratic to get it. A romance like theirs is possible for you and me.
I knew this book was going to be different when it inspired me try a button I’d not yet tried on my Sony Reader—the bookmark button. Here is the section that inspired my finger to press “bookmark” before my brain even had time to register:
“I don’t know anyone who’d recover completely from something like that,” Chuck assured her. “You’re a good mom not putting the kids in the middle.”
“You sound surprised.”
Chuck was pretty sure he had the beginning of frostbite on his hands. He tried to keep his teeth from chattering as he answered, “In my line of work, I’ve found most divorced couples spend so much time hating each other they rarely have time to spare a thought for their kids and what the animosity is doing to them.”
Carly cocked her dead to the side, studying him. She let out a long, low whistle. “Lieutenant, you are officially even more jaded than me.”
There’s nothing fancy about that excerpt. There is no flowery language or outpouring of emotion, but I could picture everything from the cold to the way Carly cocks her head. Jacobs doesn’t have to tell me how Carly and Chuck are feeling as they are talking to one another, its so real that I can feel it. The novel continues like this. There is just enough detail that my imagination can take over and not so much that the detail and my imagination are fighting for preeminence. I had an excellent sense of who the characters are in the novel and why they act the way they do without them being predicable.
Once Upon A Valentine’s made me laugh with and at the characters. I rooted for them at every moment (I’ve rooted against some heroes and heroines in the past—hoping they got eaten, fell off a boat, whatever). I wanted Carly and Chuck to work out, not just because this is a romance and they are supposed to end happily dammit, but because I wanted these two specific characters to get their happily ever after. The novel made me hope that somewhere in this world there is a Carly and a Chuck who get their HEA. I don’t always feel that way. Oftentimes, even when I love a book or author, I really, really hope there is nothing remotely like it happening in the world (Lisa Gardner—I’m looking at you).
I loved this book enough that I’m going to buy the first two books in the series and I’m sure I’m going to enjoy them.
So why, after a page and more of babble about how much I love this book did I not give it an “A” grade?
Hello epilogue. Often I find epilogues superfluous to the novel. Most novels are complete without the epilogue. IMHO, if a romance needs the epilogue, then the HEA was not finished in the meat of the novel and the information needed to reinforce the HEA should be integrated into the novel, not left for an epilogue. For the entirety of Once Upon A Valentine’s epilogue, I was saying “Cheese! Cheese! Oh, cheese!” in my office and annoying my coworkers. The novel was completely with out cheese and the epilogue was nothing but. It didn’t really ruin the novel for me, but it did make me wish I’d just ignored its existence.
Gentle readers, give Once Upon a Valentine’s a try. My grade: A-