Once Upon A Mattress
At one point in Once Upon a Mattress, the heroine’s best friend explains a recent break-up with her boyfriend this way: “No sparks.” That basically sums up why this perfectly reasonable little book falls just short of a recommendation. There’s really nothing wrong with it. It gets a number of things right, and there are certainly worse ways to spend a few hours. It’s just missing that extra spark of something special to make it more than a just-above-average read.
Ben MacAllister was always the adventurous, carefree son, too restless to stay and work at the family mattress company like his father and brother. When his parents’ divorce finally brings him back home to Dallas, he’s ready to prove himself. It isn’t going to be easy, since no one takes him seriously, especially Hilary Sinclair.
A new executive with MacAllister Beds, Hilary is so uptight that Ben can’t resist teasing her a bit. He wouldn’t mind starting something with her, but after being burned by a bad relationship in Atlanta, she’s not interested. A leak in Hilary’s Victorian fixer-upper leaves her bed buried under a pool of water and she seeks refuge on one of the mattresses in the company’s testing center. Ben, trying to prove himself responsible (even though his position as Director of Security is a token one), decides to solve the “who’s been sleeping in our bed” mystery by spending the night in the testing center himself. Imagine the surprise both Hilary and Ben have when they discover they’re in bed with each other.
Thankfully, O’Reilly dodges a potentially troublesome point by not having the characters have sex once they wind up in the wrong bed together. This is an especially good choice because Hilary is doped up on cold medication at the time. It’s a cute spin, and one of the better ones, on the “Wrong Bed” promotion Once Upon a Mattress is being sold as, and a good jumping off point for the romance, as Ben begins to pursue Hillary in earnest.
Both Ben and Hilary get off to a rocky start character-wise. Ben is introduced in an annoying opening scene where he comes off like a bit of a jerk. Hilary is so uptight she isn’t that likable at first. Fortunately they do settle down after a while, and as they become more three-dimensional, it’s easier to empathize with them. Although his parents seem perfectly content with their decision to divorce, Ben struggles with it, and struggles as well with his plan to earn some respect when everyone in the company treats his interest like it’s a passing phase. Hilary is still embarrassed that she remained in a go-nowhere relationship for so long back in Atlanta and is skittish about once again getting involved. They’re easily relatable motivations, if a little too clear-cut and simplistic.
That’s really the case for the entire book. Like I said, there’s really nothing wrong with it. It’s one of those books where everything’s a little too easy. The secondary characters are too broadly drawn. They’re likable, given believable and sympathetic character issues, but they’re still flimsy. Everything falls into place in a paint-by-numbers manner so that there’s little compelling or surprising to keep a reader reading. As for Ben and Hilary, their developing relationship is nice enough, but it’s missing that extra spark that would make it a recommended read. It isn’t until the very nice climactic scene that the author delivers the heartfelt emotion their romance lacks for most of the story.
Once Upon a Mattress is a decent enough little book. The characters are likable, and after the first few chapters, their story isn’t filled with any of the usual annoyances. It’s a perfectly acceptable, easy read to spend a couple hours with, but don’t expect to remember it for long after you’ve finished the last page.