Once Upon a Bride
by Jean Stone
(Bantam, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-553-58685-8
**
Elaine, Jo, Liliy and Sarah were best friends in college.  Over the years they’ve lost the closeness they once had, but they have remained friends mostly due to their yearly girls’ weekend.  Now all four of them are together again in the Berkshires to help Elaine plan her second wedding. 

Quickly the friends realize that wedding vendors – dressmakers, florist, locations, etc. – all advertise to women in their 20’s.  What is a woman in her 40’s, like Elaine, to do for her wedding?  Frilly, poofy, and ruffled dresses are best left to girls in their 20’s.  Seeing a market opportunity, the four friends open Second Chances, a wedding-planning business tailored for second weddings.  They’ll use Elaine’s wedding to showcase their business.

Lily is a flighty socialite recently widowed by her very rich husband.  Without her husband, Lily finds herself bored with too much time on her hands.  Sarah is a flower power/New Age woman with Cherokee/Irish heritage.  She and her boyfriend have a teenage son.  As a jewelry designer Sarah has lots of creativity to add to the business.  Elaine is a stereotypical housewife who has devoted her life to house and home.  Elaine has two grown children and an ex-husband.

While the book is about all four women and their struggles in life, the main focus is Jo Lyons.  Jo is a local, voted “Most Likely to Succeed,” who became a successful public relations specialist in Boston.  Jo and Brian Forbes were involved in college before he vanished from her life.  Recently Brian came to Boston where the two reconciled.  Brian had a plan for a new business and just needed money to fund it.  Jo willingly gave him money more than once to support his business.  When Brian disappeared, Jo found herself broke.  After losing her money and career, Jo is looking for something different until she finds out what happened to Brian.  She’s embarrassed to admit her situation to anyone.  When Second Chances hits challenges, Jo has to decide whether or not to tell the truth to her friends.

Andrew Kennedy is a single dad who has taken a sabbatical from being a college professor to write for a men’s magazine.  The premise of his article each month is about “Real Women.”  But how does a guy figure out how real women think and feel?  This is a question men have been battling since the first caveman dragged a woman to his cave.  Andrew’s solution… pretend to be gay and become the receptionist at Second Chances.  His solution has a definite drawback – he finds himself attracted to Jo, who knows him as a gay man.  Not really a good opening for a romance.

Typically a reader tries to identify with or understand the heroine.  In Jo’s case, I never understood her or identified with her.  Brian dumped her after college.  Then she took him back years later because she never got over him.  How, over the 20 years in between, did she not realize he was a jerk?  After he disappears the second time, she thinks something happened to him and files a missing person report.  It’s obvious to anyone with a brain that he has conned her out of her savings.  Yet she continues to hold out hope of the police finding him.  I would have been pissed off whereas she just missed him.

Andrew was not much better.  He enlisted his eleven-year-old daughter’s help in pretending to be gay.  Asking his daughter to lie and to call him “Uncle Andrew” won’t win him Father of the Year.  When the women’s business gains some momentum, Andrew sabotages them to maintain his cover.  This won’t get him Employee of the Year.

The friendship between the women is the redeeming factor in the book.  All of the women have secrets they’ve kept out of sheer embarrassment.  Like real friends, the women band together when those secrets come out.

The blurb on the back of the book asks a question.  “Can love, romance, and marriage really be better the second time around?”  The answer would have to be a no. Once Upon a Bride is the first in a series about the women of Second Chances. There doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason to give the series a second chance.

--Terry Lawrence


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