Just Once by Karen Kingsbury


The #1 New York Times bestselling author “known for her deeply heartfelt novels” (Woman’s World) writes a sweeping and unforgettable World War II love story about a young woman torn between two brothers.

In 1941, beautiful Irvel Ellis is too focused on her secret to take much notice in the war raging overseas. She’s dating Sam but in love with his brother, Hank, and Irvel has no idea how to break the news when the unthinkable happens—Pearl Harbor is attacked. With their lives turned upside down overnight, Sam is drafted, and Hank wants to enlist. But Sam insists Hank stay home, where he and Irvel take up the battle on the home front.

While Sam fights in Europe, an undeniable chemistry builds between Irvel and Hank but neither would dare cross that line. Then a telegram comes, and the news is devastating. Hank enlists the next day and has just two weeks until he ships out. Will either brother make it home alive? Or will Irvel lose everything?

And can love find a way, even from the ashes of the greatest heartbreak?



Rating: 3 out of 5.

Just Once by Karen Kingsbury

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A very sweet read. Classic Karen Kingsbury with a historical aspect that I enjoyed. I’m looking forward to discussing this one for book club.

Thank you to Book Club Favorites at Simon & Schuster for the free copy for review.

Expected publication: November 14, 2023.

The Story
Is a very tender storyline with a backdrop of events that served to build up portrayal of uncertainty, bonding, loyalty, and love.

The layering of story, as told through dual timeline, to gauge the changing perspective as told in present time and the past was nice to read through. Between complicated relationship, which was lovely to follow, though not entirely unique on its own, read as a legacy of sorts. Because it was a notable idea in needing to tell the story itself, as part of the preservation of “story of us” type element. Added a special dynamic.

I have not read a book by Karen Kingsbury in years. Probably almost 15-20. So this was very refreshing. Felt like a homecoming because it was definitely recognizable. A real delight.

Some references to hard times were more engaging than others. Mostly focused on just a few aspects of their lives at hand. That said, I don’t know if I connected to this one as much as I thought I was going to. The substance was there, events well-researched also there, but delivery was connected, yet withdrawn in some way. Particularly because much of first 50 pages were reminiscing and largely dedicated to an accidental falling into a river, where retelling in some way became less meaningful and stagnant, albeit significant, probably would have been fine having only been told about it twice. Expanded into what was becoming details about something that I became less interested in over time, each time these things were told.

The agent dynamic was least visited to the depth and role I was expecting.

Messaging was great.

Although felt spiritually sappy. I’m not sure if it was because this aspect, which is usually a big draw for me, especially as told in Karen Kingsbury style, uplifting and dear. Instead felt a bit formulaic and patchwork in this one. Was yo-yo and unstable. Which is fair given the uncertainty in any doubting effort or solidification, but it was the dialogue and placement. Whether internal or interpersonal. Was just stuck in there with verses and explanations without much leading emotion, trailing story, leaning, or grasp of what was in reach or what was to come unique and applicable to the character. I suppose to describe, is like it was a list of joys or tragedy with versus pulled out of a verse generator. Because by the time the scenario led up, felt superficially placed out of highest algorithmic matching or obligation or duty, rather than as intimate, relational, and impactful in the way that the story was unfolding specific to each character.

Faith affirmation to faith-crisis felt stuck in there, for almost scrupulous compulsion, or maybe perhaps felt overly dramatic. I’m not sure. Because it’s an aspect I always enjoyed in past reads, but the propulsion to overcome and relate didn’t have trajectory in this one. I suppose to sum up, didn’t feel personal in this way. Bare elements were there, but were just bare. Lacking connectivity from visionary love to drive and determination, or from disappointment and grief to despair and distrust, or from excitement and abundance to comfort and peace. Instead because of skipped chronological direction and when there was direction, it lacked progression, skipping ahead to an emotion, so the effort in getting there was amiss and made for shallow importance, low priority, and low impact. Perhaps because there were less spiritual aspects going into the story, at the beginning, maybe that’s why this felt this way.

But for another example, outside of the spiritual component, is similar to the way it read at other parts. Where I would have rather read about Sam’s character simply donning an old lucky baseball shirt or some action accompanied by descriptive connecting memory to shared brotherly hobby, than a whole separate paragraph dedicated to sports play as a child sandwiched between an inquisitive, anticipating moment about to become serious.

The Writing
Overall descriptions were lovely.

A bit of interruption here and there, by this interjection of detail or backstory that could have been rearranged to make the story flow better, as already I mentioned, as part of the trajectory of plot. Because timeline of events was a bit scattered. This is because it felt like facts in the postwar discovery, aftermath, was retroactively referred to in real time when the dramatic, or important, or draw-me-in scenes were just about to take place. Would make for a beautiful flash-back effect for a movie though. But in writing, is cumbersome to get through.

Or for example, didn’t need the level of detail such as location of a Kleenex box on a side table never mind that she took one during a tearful episode, because some things are just a given in describing the already detailed tearful episode, and does nothing to move the story forward to me. One or the other, in my opinion, unless it’s going to tell me something super important, super significant, or framing, context, interesting, etc… Instead becomes a distraction in a scene, bogging these tender moments down with too much detail.

I would have liked more scenes early on dedicated to having listened to the radio broadcast or reading a newspaper at start, as initial opening to the time and more integrative messaging piece to draw upon suspense since this type of media communication is a dynamic all on its own.

Certain verbiage could be more polished, although I did receive my copy as an ARC, so I won’t make much comment.

Enjoyed the intrigue and tension of the storyline, where characters were faced with unique dilemma, on a few fronts. The difficulties in making choices, maintaining relationship, loyalty, indifference, and uncertainty.

Loved the typeset handwriting communications.

It was a little difficult though to see the character growth through the thickness of overly detailed bits of certain scenes and memory recollection sprinkled into real time as the story was also being told. Yet I enjoyed the dual timeline, but as mentioned, was mapped out of linear chronicity, so I was feeling myself flip-flop in time, where the times didn’t always match up. Mostly because I think the interjection of after story or additional detail to explain, was simply to explain what was happening instead of being a part of the story as it was moving forward.

Felt the characters were not as well articulated in this sense as a result. Their journeys, their reach, their goals, all of everything could have been applied to any one of them, whether independently or collective. To some extent it makes sense for collective experience, but the personalities were not so distinguished as a result. Because it wasn’t aided so much without anchoring to who they were as a person, especially when it came to early understanding and determination, on top of not incorporating as many Bible verses until later on. As I would have liked to have known them from the beginning, even just a glimpse, if these elements were present from early on, to help support where the story was going and where the characters were coming from. Such as their weakness and strengths to get an idea of who they were, rather than what had happened to them.

Mostly because there was this intermix of information outside of respective timeline for what was happening in real time, what would be messaging, and what was known after the fact. So the revealing of events overall, felt a bit disjointed. Which the characters embodied, and could have been more dynamic from a psychological perspective to bring more fullness to each of their stories. For example, display of traits that would have qualified or disqualified one for the agency.

Was carefully navigated at many parts, well-researched on the historic timeline of events, but not as completely polished or refined into a cohesive statement of what the characters were doing with their lives, what they wanted, and where they were going, aside from what was happening to them. There was the love notion as a highlight, but it didn’t nod to any of the other areas of their life, whether quirk or hobby, or some special outside interest that would have weaved a bit more unique personality and deeper quality to the characters, to make them who they were and how I would have connected with them.

Overall, a lovely story to read, was very touching and thoughtful.

I’m really looking forward to discussing this one. Especially with the book club reader’s guide. Great questions proposed in them, which will be an excellent and deeply personal, connecting activity.

View all my reviews

<span class="uppercase">Hello, I'm Erica </span>
Hello, I’m Erica

Recipe developer, book reviewer, and artist. Expect delicious recipes both traditional and new, book reviews of all sorts of genres, a variety of creative expression, life musings, and much more!



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