Once a Charmer
Sharla Lovelace’s series about the small town of Charmed, Texas continues along prettily with Once A Charmer, a fine story about lifelong friends who become much more.
Allie Greene and Sebastian “Bash” Anderson have been best friends since they were very young and – aside from a drunken kiss they shared when they were in their early 20s – have never crossed the line between friendship and romance. Which is why a stressed and busy Allie – in charge of the failing family diner which she’s been running since her father was diagnosed with Alzheimers, and dealing with her rambunctiously rebellious teenage daughter, Angel, who continuously skips school – is utterly mortified when Bash starts showing up in her suddenly very erotic dreams.
Bash has been harboring desires for Allie ever since that kiss, but has been too worried about accidentally losing her friendship and his big brother-esque relationship with Angel to make a move and has thus bounced from empty relationship to empty sex-fueled relationship. When Allie learns that her father sold fifty-one percent ownership of the diner to lawyer Landon Lange to pay off some gambling debts and that Lange wants to turn The Blue Banana into something frou frou and fancy, she turns to Bash for help. Bash suggests they enter the town’s Honey Queen and King pageant as a couple; the cash prize being offered will solve the cash flow problems and will pay off the encroaching lawyer – if they can manage to put on a glamorous, united front for long enough.
As the pageant approaches and Allie’s relationship with Bash becomes closer (and her dreams get even hotter), the situation with the diner gets worse, and on top of it all, it seems Angel has a secret boyfriend with whom she’s planning to share more than just a couple of kisses. Allie has to learn how to seize control of her world – and the hero – to fully succeed.
Once a Charmer is a solid, involving and engrossing contemporary romance told entirely from Allie’s point of view in the first person. Thankfully it’s a good place to be; Allie is a character of interesting depths. Tough and vulnerable, anxious and silly, she’s very human and it’s easy to identify with her struggles as she tries to navigate life. Some of her choices irritate – no human being is perfect, even in fiction – but she’s easy to like and to want to see succeed.
Bash, meanwhile, is an excellent hero who cares about the heroine’s daughter, the heroine, and the community. He’s the right mix of rougish, heroic and charming, and sticks his neck out for his family quite often; he’s easy to fall for.
He and Allie have a perfect, relaxed chemistry that really feels natural; in general, they behave like a couple of best friends slowly falling in love, dealing with the fear of leaping into something major and living with the baggage trailing behind them.
There are a couple of moments where Angel feels amazingly authentic and a few where she seems more like an adult’s view of what a teenaged girl should be like. The rest of the characters are a mixed bag; Allie’s Alzhimers-stricken father is interesting without becoming a cliché or tragic figure, and her best friend Carmen rises above trailer trash stereotypes. Langdon makes a fine self-centered villain, though the whole messenger bag/purse joke was a bit much after awhile. Allie’s chief rival, however, comes off as pure cardboard cut-out.
Sharla Lovelace does a great job of capturing the authentic feeling of small town life, and a world where people are trying their best to succeed almost in spite of the odds set before them. That atmosphere, the breezy writing style and the likeability of the heroine all combine to result in a hearty recommendation from this reviewer.