by Candice Hern

January 2003
ISBN: 0-06-050562-1
Reviewer Graphic Button Avon Books
Mass Market Paperback

A practical, levelheaded widow, Mrs. Eleanor Tennant is having a tough time trying to rein in her headstrong niece Belinda from succumbing to her violent infatuation with a thoroughly ineligible rake. All of Eleanor’s pleas and persuasions fail to have any effect when the premiere agony aunt of the London periodicals, the all-powerful ‘Busybody’ replies to Belinda’s letter, encouraging her to “follow her own heart”. Thoroughly incensed at this dispenser of irresponsible advice to foolish and innocent young girls, Eleanor is determined to hunt her down and make her retract her words. No one is more surprised than Eleanor when she discovers that the Busybody is a gangly, red-haired and attractive man of the name Simon Westover! And no one is more shocked and dazed than Simon, when he realizes that his cover is blown!

After some not-so subtle blackmailing, Simon agrees to talk to Belinda, but they return only to discover that Belinda has already eloped with her paramour. Eleanor is determined to follow the feckless pair and rescue her niece, and Simon is forced to help her. So begins a journey across the breadth of England, as Simon and Eleanor, ably aided by a pair of Bow-street runners, follow the eloping couple in the direction of Gretna Green. Along the way, Simon and Eleanor have many verbal clashes, for they’re the penultimate opposites – he’s a die-hard Romantic, a man who’s in love with ‘Love’ and she’s an out-and-out cynic. But as the journey slowly progresses, their debates become less heated and more thoughtful. Many other incidents - some comical, some heroic - serve to make them respect and admire each other and ultimately they fall in love. However, they both have deep-rooted reasons for being how they are and though they’re now reconciled to each other’s natures, they’re however unable to change! What will happen when they reach this journey’s end?

What a marvelous story Candice Hern has penned! In most romances, the main protagonists meet and fall in love – no surprise there. But how they meet is a delicious revelation in this book, one that is comical in the extreme! Even the main protagonists break the mold of conventionality. For Simon is the complete antithesis of the typical romantic hero – being neither dark (he’s a redhead!) or dashing (he blushes at the drop of a hat and has cute dimples), though he is tall. But later on, as the book develops, we find that there’s a heroic nature hidden under all those freckles and despite his tendency to spout extremely purple poetry, his motives are as pure as gold. And Eleanor is that rarest creature of all, an unromantic woman! But her practicality makes sense, not only with reference to a woman’s dependent situation in those times, but also with the unhappy events of her own past. Theirs is not ‘love at first sight’ but rather a gradually developing respect and admiration, which later converts to love. While this may disappoint the die-hard romantics, it’s nevertheless more believable.

Once a Dreamer is a perfect mix of story, characters, plot, humor and sensuality.

Reviewed in February 2003 by Rashmi.

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