Once and Always
I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Hoyt’s historical romances, so when I heard she was releasing another contemporary romance I was pretty excited. I try to be optimistic in general life, so I refused to consider that one of my favorite authors could do anything less than excel at her venture into a different part of the romance genre. Unfortunately, my optimism was misplaced, and I found myself less than satisfied with Once and Always.
Maisa Burnsey and Sam West have been dancing around each other for ages. Every time that Maisa comes to Coot Lake, Minnesota to see her uncle, she ends up running into the sexy sheriff. They had a one-night stand some time ago, but since then Sam hasn’t been able to pin Maisa down long enough to do more than bicker flirtatiously. This is a conventional enough setup, and easy to believe. When the book opened with a confrontation between Maisa and Sam, sparks were flying and I was happy.
But then the Russian mob entered the picture. And there was a whole mix-up with suitcases, pink diamonds, and fake Native American artifacts. Within a few chapters, Sam and Maisa were so busy trying to save their small town as it was besieged by hit men that they couldn’t even find the time to fall in love. Or at least, that’s how it seemed to me. Naturally, Sam and Maisa felt otherwise.
Now, I don’t always mind characters being improbably amorous in life-threatening situations. If there’s the right chemistry between them, I can look past that. Unfortunately, it seemed that with this book, the more effort that was put into developing the external plot and secondary characters, the less effort was put into maintaining the sparks that once flew between Sam and Maisa. By the time the couple were officially declaring their love for each other, I was looking at them and wondering how in the world they felt close enough to do that. Their “connection” didn’t seem strong enough on which to build an entire future, in spite of the book’s promising beginning. I’m sure it’s difficult to build a convincing love story in 368 pages, but I’ve seen Ms. Hoyt do it before in her historicals, so I know she has the ability.
Aside from the ultimately lackluster romance between Sam and Maisa, I found that Once and Always toed the line between charmingly unrealistic and annoyingly so. I mentioned the mess with suitcases and Russian mobsters—I’m sure you can imagine that a plot involving these elements can be either hilarious or over-dramatic, depending on how seriously the author presents it. At times I was both amused and annoyed with the unlikely situations the characters found themselves in, and looking back now I just feel sort of “meh” about these the external plot elements. They weren’t hilarious, but they didn’t make me want to throw the book at the wall either. This translates to an overall grade of “C” and a hope that Julia Harper, aka Elizabeth Hoyt, will bring more to the table in the future. She certainly has the requisite skills, so I have faith she will rate better than “meh” with future works.