Once In a Lifetime is book #9 in Jill Shalvis's Lucky Harbor series. Shalvis delivers yet again with this funny yet emotional story about second chances.
Book shop owner Aubrey is known for being the town bad girl. It's true that she hurt a lot of people when she was younger, but now that she's a little older and wiser, she wants to be a better person. Through a comical series of events, Aubrey accidentally wanders into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, despite the fact that she's not an alcoholic. While there, Aubrey learns about the concept of making amends to the people she has wronged in the past. Sparked by this idea, Aubrey creates a list of everyone she wants to make amends with in Lucky Harbor.
Meanwhile, Aubrey finds herself in a simultaneously contentious and flirtatious relationship with Ben, who she went to high school with and who's back in town for the time being. Ben is a civil engineer who builds water systems in developing countries. He has seen his share of the damage that violence and war can inflict. Ben also has a troubled past. He's a widower on the run from grief, which he tries to avoid by taking job after job overseas.
After Aubrey accidentally throws a drink in Ben's face at the bar (really, it was meant for someone else!), the two reconnect. When the story opens, Aubrey is revamping the book store, which she has taken over for her aunt. She dreams of making it a true community place where residents can meet for book clubs, knit nights, and other fun gatherings. Aubrey's uncle talks Ben into helping with the renovations. Soon, Ben is at the store every day working on the remodel. As Aubrey and Ben spend more time together, it's clear that they have a chemistry which neither of them can deny.
Maybe it should have been hard to sympathize with Aubrey due to her former mean girl status, but I found myself liking her quite a bit. For the most part, she owns up to the stupid, youthful mistakes of her past and does her best to make up for them in the present. I think that's an admirable quality.
Additionally, Aubrey struggles with the strained relationship she has with her father, who is never satisfied no matter what Aubrey does. He refuses to see that she's a better person now. Aubrey's mother raised her to be a beauty queen, but failed to ask Aubrey if that's what she really wanted to be doing. Needless to say, Aubrey has gone her whole life with others failing to see her true self.
I liked Ben as a character as well, even though he's rather brooding at times. He's clearly trying to reconcile his status as a widower with the kind of person he wants to become. Will he continue running from the past, or will he allow himself to be happy again? Ultimately, he's a very sweet guy who sees Aubrey for who she really is—not for the person everyone thinks she is.
As always, Shalvis's supporting characters help round out the story, including couples from previous books in the series. Town gossip Lucille makes another hilarious appearance and plays a pretty important role in this book.
There's some drama toward the end and poor Aubrey really gets a lot piled on her. There are some elements that I felt were unnecessary because I just wanted her to be happy already. Overall, though, the resolution and ending are satisfying.
Whenever I read a Lucky Harbor book, I find myself wishing it were a real place so I could go there. Once In a Lifetime is a great addition to the series and I highly recommend it.