has also reviewed:

Sleeping Alone

Once Around by Barbara Bretton
(Berkley, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-425-16412-8
"[A] powerful and intriguing story of one woman's journey out of a dependent marriage and into a new and independent life." This quote began Cathy Sova's review of Sleeping Alone, Barbara Bretton's 1997 novel. It could easily begin this review as well, except for the fact that I did not find Once Around especially powerful.

Sleeping Alone and Once Around have much in common and some differences as well. In both novels, the heroine has married the "right" kind of husband, a man with all the right credentials. In both, the marriage ends abruptly. And in both, the heroine finds happiness with a man who does not have an impressive resume, but who does have a loving heart.

The heroine of Sleeping Alone leaves her abusive husband; the heroine of Once Around is left by hers. Molly Chamberlain thought she had it all. A lawyer husband, a nice job as an editor, a new house in Princeton, and now, finally a baby on the way. But husband Robert is not pleased. Rather than decorating the nursery, he informs Molly that he wants a divorce and moves out. He not only leaves; one day while Molly is at her doctor's appointment, Robert and a couple of friends show up with a U-Haul and cart off all the furniture. Robert the Rat is too nice a nickname for this louse

. When Molly walks into her now mostly empty house, she is needless to say, stunned and devastated. Into this scene of desolation walks Rafe Garrick, who had been hired by Robert the Rat to remodel the basement. Rafe comforts the distraught woman who sees her life destroyed. Since Robert paid Rafe half the remodeling fee and since Molly clearly can't afford to pay the rest, Rafe agrees to work off the money he has been paid by doing yard work and fix-up jobs. He decides to take this lovely but lost lady under his wing.

Molly is finally convinced that Robert is not coming back and finally (after three months) goes to see a lawyer. Spencer Mackenzie is the scion of a socially and politically prominent family who feels he can never measure up to his deceased elder brother's legend. So he has made his career not in public service but as a divorce lawyer. He had met Molly before and is somewhat taken by the beauteous woman. To help her make ends meet, Spencer suggests that Molly take in a boarder. And he finds the perfect candidate in the person of Dr. Jessy Wyatt, an intern at the local hospital.

Jessy is tiny and nondescript. She comes from a poor southern family and has worked her way out of rural poverty by dint of her own ability and her mother's determination. But Jessy feels tremendously out of place in upscale Princeton and sees Molly with her beauty as everything she both envies and despises. But when she sees Spencer, it's like the proverbial coup de foudre. And being goal oriented, Jessy sets out to get her man

. You have now met all the dramatis personae. And the way the four each end up with the right partner is the essence of the story. I read Once Around with some enjoyment. I especially liked Rafe, a wonderful "blue collar" hero, who had been gravely wounded by his first wife and who wants nothing more than to have a family. One can easily believe that Rafe would care for and care about someone who had suffered such blows as Molly.

The reason I ended up rating Once Around as acceptable rather than recommending it has to with the characterization of Molly. I suppose I prefer heroines with more gumption than Molly displayed. It was a bit hard for me to understand why Rafe fell in love with her, other than her beauty and her need to be taken care of. I actually found the secondary romance between Spencer and Jessy more interesting.

Once Around is the work of a talented author who knows how to tell a story. It is a perfectly acceptable contemporary romance, but, for this reader at least, it lacked that certain something that would lead me to recommend the book to others.

--Jean Mason

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