Once Upon a List
While not a perfect book, Once Upon a List is a charming one, and it pulled me out my recent reading affliction of preferring to play computer Hearts rather than read my review books. And for this, the author has my heartfelt thanks.
Over a decade ago Sebastian and Clara fell in love, and now they are making it legal with a wedding. However, less than two weeks before their wedding day, Sebastian is killed in an accident. Eight months later Clara is still free falling in her downward spiral, even though she has done her best to fight it – using legal and illegal drugs, individual and group counseling, acupuncture, kickboxing and dolphin therapy, just to name a few.
Reluctantly, and only bowing to pressure from her mother, Clara travels to River Pointe, a Chicago suburb for the Thanksgiving holidays. Waiting for her there is a surprised package. Upon opening it she discovered her fifth-grade time capsule from Ms. Jordain. One of Ms. Jordain’s explicit requirements was a list – a variation of a bucket list of things each student wanted to accomplish by the end of their lifetime. Having lost her father when he was thirty-five, Clara got it in her head that this was the age of passing and received special concession to modify her list. She is amused by her ten-year-old perspective of important items to accomplish by thirty-five. Along with “find a cure for heart attacks”, “learn Morse code”, and “become the President of the United States”, her list includes “kiss Billy Warrington.” So it seems almost kismet when she runs into Billy (called William now) while on an errand for her mother. Impulsively she seizes the moment and plants a big fat one on him. And thus begins Clara’s quest to complete her list.
The beginning of the book was a little uneven for me. The author almost scared me off with the lovey-dovey dialog between Sebastian and Clara, followed by the abrupt out-of-context funeral scene. However, by chapter three my interest was firmly hooked.
Not everyone has experienced a death of a loved one, but most of us have had situations like the loss of a job or a break-up that have caused us to falter, even though we knew we needed to snap out of it. Ms. Gold’s portrayal of Clara’s emotional instability is very effectively done – it doesn’t overwhelm the book, but still depicts her sense of helplessness and powerlessness. While the book does have some overt humor, most of it is subtle, creating a nice balance between Clara’s despondency and her determination not to be a quitter.
The list is fun and inventive. I was very much impressed with the plotting that circumvents the impossible-to-achieve items.
Some of the relationships seem almost too good to be true, verging closely on saccharine territory, like the heroine’s relationship with Sebastian and her brother. And then the final conflict, while realistic, is nearly too obvious. However, ultimately I realized that the overall emotions epitomized in these situations rang true.
The romance isn’t front and center for the first part of the book. The hero is more of an appendage to Clara’s journey but it works. The author successfully combines women’s fiction elements and romance for a satisfying read.
I am glad to say that I can that I can definitely recommend this book. I closed the book with a smile on my face.