Review: Once Upon a Kiss by Jayne Fresina

Review: Once Upon a Kiss by Jayne FresinaOnce Upon a Kiss by Jayne Fresina

Series: #1 Book Club Belles Society
Genres: Historical Romance
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on June 3, 2014
Pages: 414
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
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three-half-stars  

A small village Regency Era Romance about five girls in a book club with this first story taking on the retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice?  Count me in!  I was very enthused to try this new author and this new series.  It has a light romping tone to it and the connection to Pride & Prejudice is visible though it has much originality too.  I really wanted to like this one wholeheartedly and I liked most of what had drawn me toward the story, but the heroine didn’t completely do it for me.

The story opens with a series of catastrophic escapades surrounding the person of Miss Justina Penny.  She leaps into action before giving much thought to the consequences, her tongue is just as impulsive and varies between sharp, startling statements and embellishments, and her outlook on life is decidedly unconventional. She is the opposite of her beautiful, serene sister who would never dream of thinking, saying or doing half of what Justina does.  And she suffers in the comparison of her mother and most people’s eyes. She is ripe for a new adventure because life in her small village bores her.

Justina’s wishes come true in a most unexpected form.  Through a desire to escape his matchmaking step-mother and step-sister and a need to sort out the affairs and property of his late uncle, Darius Wainwright escapes to his uncle’s country estate.  Darius is a rigid fellow who has an unvarying routine and a strong sense of propriety and rules of conduct that he feels balances out his missing brother the rakish adventurer.  Only when he encounters the pig-stealing, property invading, saucy tongued Justina Penny who has already proved herself scandalous the year before by jumping into his bed naked, he hauls off and impulsively kisses her even though he is angered and disgusted by her behavior.  She turns his world upside down.  He fights the attraction, but with each new encounter he is drawn even more strongly to her.

The two have a stormy series of encounters with many misunderstandings that eventually lead them to see themselves, each other and others more clearly, but this may not be enough as other circumstances come into play.

Much of this story was just adorable and fun.  I loved the setting of the small village and its quirky, charming characters.  I loved the idea of a classical book getting a retelling and of course a book club is my thing.  As to the romance line, the idea of a stormy opposites attract was a big draw.  I love it when characters have to grow, change and grow together to have their romance.  And the tone of this historical romance is a cunning blend of sweet and spicy.  I loved so much about it including the main characters with one slight exception.

In a contrary way, I both enjoyed Justina and I was annoyed by her.  At the beginning and through a good portion of the story, I saw where the author was going with it and there was some humor in her character for me, but mostly Justina’s antics came across as childish, spoilt and over the top.  So while I could enjoy seeing her grow and mature, I couldn’t imagine her as a serious love interest which led to many of the scenes with her and Darius just irritating me- not all of them which redeemed the story somewhat.  I mean come on, you jump naked into a guy’s bed even if you mistook him for another holding it against him because he isn’t impressed with your botched teen girl femme fatale gig?  You run his carriage off the road into a ditch doing something stupid and don’t apologize or care that he could have been hurt, but get snippy and mad when he is upset. Lord, spare me!  A bit of obliviousness and spirit, getting into unintentional trouble, wanting to unsettle a guy like Darius, I get and its fun, but it was just slathered on too heavy for me to enjoy it all.  To give her her due, I will say that I loved Justina’s spirit of adventure, her need to be herself and not conform especially to a mother who favored her other child and I thought Justina’s personality was a good thing for the starched up Darius.  I don’t think she will be a problem for everyone and I didn’t completely dislike her mostly just didn’t buy into her.

Darius was an interesting character.  He had my sympathies early on even as I knew he needed a makeover.  He grew up with an indifferent parent who only was pleased because Darius worked hard in the business, a brother who poked fun at his appearance and shyness so much that it gave him hang-ups and a wrong woman who caused him to close off and guard his heart and feelings tightly.  He is used to being sought out only when people want something and he knows well that the ladies are more impressed by his friend and brother.  Justina is a confusing breath of fresh air in his life, but it takes him a long time to loosen up and see her worth to him not that I blame him the way she was for more than half of the story.

To pull it all together quickly, it was fun, irritating, spicy and sweet and I would definitely come back for more of this series.  I’m going to recommend this for those who enjoy a historical romance that doesn’t take itself too seriously, gets up to some romps, offers some quirky characters and a romance that is seasoned with sweet and spice.

My thanks to Sourcebooks and Net Galley for the Opportunity to review this one in exchange for my honest review.

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I was born and raised near Sacramento, CA. I have read since I was four years old and developed tastes that run the gamut of literature. I went away to college and have a degree in education, a certificate in family history research, and a certificate in social work. I worked for a non-profit agency with low income families for 20 years which included being responsible for the children’s library and promoting/teaching adult literacy. I have lived in Southeast Michigan for the last 18 years and I am currently a book addicted homemaker with a cat and husband who keep me grounded. Recently, I made it a challenge to review each book that I have read as a favor to author friends who said reviews are important. I have done reviews for Good Reads, Amazon, eBay, and Smashwords, but mostly at Goodreads and Amazon.

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  • I picked up the freebie intro the other day after you mentioned it. This one does sound cute. I love when the hero is kinda taken unawares by his heroine like that. I do love a spirited heroine too but hrm yeah maybe not quite so thickly done. Glad that didn’t totally botch the read for you though!

    • I grabbed it too. This book references back to that incident as embarrassing, but arousing on both sides so I’m curious.

      It was funny and cute and even steamy, but it tipped over into too much for me. It’s probably just me and I did enjoy most of what was going on. I want to see how the other girls’ stories turn out. This is another one of those where the author takes the book from book club and the story parallels the book. Guess its a trend. 😉