Avon, $6.50, ISBN 0-380-80170-1
Paranormal Romance, 1999
Constance O’Day-Flannery’s Once in a Lifetime helped me through a hard phase in my life, for which I’m always indebted to her. However, while I keep buying her books because of that, her quality, I must say, can be uneven. When she’s at top form, she weaves some heartwarming philosophy between pages of wonderful romance. When she’s not, the book comes off an awkward mismatch of hackneyed advice and lackluster romance. Once and Forever, I’m afraid, is one of the latter.
Maggie Whitaker is in the midst of a financial and emotional turmoil. She’s spreading herself thin between her recent divorce, the increasing heap of bills, and her retrenchment from her job and inability to find a new one. When her dear Aunt Edithe sends her an invitation to visit to England, Maggie gratefully accepts. A 10-day escape from her current madness of a life sounds divine.
They visit an Elizabethan recreation fair where Maggie sees a child with a rose laughing and teasing her with advice like Follow your heart. She follows the girl into a maze and comes out to find herself in a forest in 1598. She bumps into Nicholas Layton and is mistaken for “Lady Margaret” who is supposed to marry the landlord of the place she’s at. But she and Nicholas are soul-mates. They’d be darned if some silly oaf would stand in their way.
The message of this book is that soul-mates are eternal and love is a force even time would stand still for. And one should live for today, for we can never be sure if tomorrow will ever come. Heartfelt sentiments that will usually move me, but this book, however, falters in delivering them. Wise Aunt Edithe/Aunt Elthea (the 1500’s version of Edithe) delivers her sermon like a gravedigger swinging a pick-ax on my head in a manner that really disrupts the storyline. Likewise, most of the time I would settle down to enjoy the story when thwack! Someone would give an impromptu sermon that doesn’t gel with the flow preceding or following it. It’s akin to finding the Pyramids in the middle of New York City. Rather distracting and really disorientating.
The use of “thee” and “thou”, interspersed with more conventional (to me) “I” and “you” is also rather distracting, as one moment Nick would burst into flowery “Thee thy thou thum!” only to follow it with “I smell the smell of an Englishwoman!” in all its modern lingo glory.
And add to that a really surprisingly lifeless and devoid-of-chemistry romance between Maggie and Nick and the whole story begins to drag. Nick’s a dreamer who is in love with the woman he has seen in his dream and recognized as his soul mate and he sees her as Maggie. Unfortunately, most of the time these two people are either talking about anything but their relationship or wham! They’re in love. No conflict there.
Hence, this story drags. I would love to love this book, but it’s unfortunately rather flat and dull.