has also reviewed:

Hidden Blessings

Forever Always by Jacquelin Thomas
(Arabesque/BET, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-58314-007-7
Carrie McNichols was introduced in Jacquelin Thomas' first novel, Hidden Blessings. She was not a very likeable character. She caused problems for that novel's heroine, Brandeis Gray. Carrie's self-esteem was in short supply and she slept around...a lot. Let's face it, at the beginning of the story, Carrie was a hoochie. After an ill-fated liaison with villain, Martin St. Charles, she has tried to turn her life around. Forever Always is her story.

Forever Always begins nearly three years after the close of Hidden Blessings. Martin St. Charles is dead. Carrie has given birth to their son, Mikey. Brandeis and Jackson Gray, who now live in Virginia, are Mikey's godparents.

Carrie still lives in Brunswick, Georgia, where most of the action of Hidden Blessings occurred. While Carrie has tried to turn her life around, there are those in town who refuse to forgive and forget. Not wanting her son's life to be tarnished by his mother's reputation, she hastily decides to take a mysterious job offer and moves to Los Angeles.

Government agent Ray Ransom also lives in LA. He was Carrie's first lover. He also has the dubious distinction of being the first man to disappoint her. Ray has just divorced the woman responsible for that disappointment. Ray broke off with Carrie when he thought a former girlfriend was pregnant with his child. It turned out to be a ruse to trick him into marriage. By the time Ray learned the truth, it was too late.

As Carrie is getting settled into her new apartment in California, Mikey's busy meeting the new neighbors. Guess who lives next door? Ray and Carrie's son bond immediately and Mikey wants to know if Ray can be his "new daddy." While Carrie wants nothing to do with Ray, he thinks fate has given him a second chance and tries to win her love.

Forever Always is a novel of second chances and several big misunderstandings. There is a hint of mystery thrown in to sweeten the plot. It is Jacquelin Thomas' third novel and, I think, her best.

I must confess, it took me a while to understand Jacquelin Thomas' work. And, as a result, I may have been harsher in my reviews of her earlier novels. I think I "get it" now. Jacqueline Thomas' novels are about heroines who survive seemingly insurmountable odds. Their strength, faith and perseverance see them through. After disappointments in relationships, they are able to pick up their lives, put their experiences into perspective and accept love.

Her novels are also about self-love and being happy with the person you are even when others around you may not understand. For these heroines Brandeis, Daryl and Carrie the happily ever after is so much sweeter.

The characters are well developed and work together for the common good. Ray and Carrie's story is the central focus. Ray's large and loving family, Brandeis and Jackson Gray and Carrie's son, Mikey, all support the main characters without getting in the way. There is a very interesting secondary romance that Thomas has put on the back burner for a spinoff of this novel.

Forever After marks another step in the evolution of Jacqueline Thomas' writing. The plot is tighter and the story flows better than in her two previous attempts. I think I finally understood her message, because her focus made me get it. While there were still elements of the plot that were too pat, the growth in her work is evident.

I strongly recommend Forever After and eagerly await the next book in this series.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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