When a novel involves a snowstorm, a stranded hero and heroine, and a baby, Miss Bates is all over it. Well, she could take or leave the baby part … but still. Kathleen Creighton’s One Christmas Knight started it for Miss B.: an over-the-top snowstorm in the Texas panhandle (an account of an actual!), eight-months-pregnant Mirabella Waskowitz and long-haul trucker and single dad, Jimmy Joe Starr, one of Miss Bates’s favourite romance fiction couples. Wouldn’t you love these two just on the basis of their names? Creighton’s category romance set the bar high and Miss Bates has had trouble finding its match since. She likes Janice Kay Johnson’s Snowbound well enough, but finds it more sombre than Creighton’s warm-hearted little gem. Because Scarlet Wilson’s English Girl In New York has the same beloved elements, Miss Bates had high hopes for it. Sadly, a promising start led to a lagging middle, which led to a flat, if viable, ending; but the entirety proved to be saccharine. (She is also annoyed at the deceptive tourist-selfie look of the cover, which bears no connection to the narrative, much less a resemblance to the protagonists.)
Wilson’s romance novel started well, with a catchy opening chapter. Carrie MacKenzie, ex-pat Brit, rides the NYC subway to her company’s apartment. She’d jumped at the opportunity to travel to NYC on behalf of her employer, leaving behind her “annus horribilis,” wherein she’d lost a child and experienced the dissolution of a five-year relationship. As Carrie puts it, “A chance to escape everyone she knew, her history and her demons.” A freak October snow storm descends on NYC and Carrie suspects she’ll be stuck in her West Village brownstone. Slogging through the snow from the subway station, her red suede boots ruined, Carrie witnesses an accident, a dump of snow falling on passers-by. However, a cop saves the day and is buried under the deluge. This is a fine little opening.
Carrie settles into warm pajamas and tea in her apartment only to be disturbed by mewling; possibly a cat trapped in the snow? Instead, on her front stoop, she finds a newborn. Carrie is overwhelmed, nay crushed, by memories of her loss. She is, however, a soft-hearted, loving person and immediately takes the baby and rings her neighbour’s door for help. The man who appears at the door is none other than snow-rescue cop, Daniel Cooper, sexily bare-chested and sporting a pink cast on his wrist, the result of the accident she’d witnessed hours before.
Thus begins a novel that is akin to the “flour, or sugar” sac baby lessons schools implement in hopes they’ll teach students about the responsibility of childcare and prevent teen pregnancy. Carrie and Dan, stranded by the storm, embark on the sleeplessness, constant care, and vigilance that a newborn entails, all the while more and more attracted to each other, despite the squalling, aromatic diapers, and projectile vomiting. If this doesn’t entrench a relationship (or break it) Miss Bates doesn’t know what can. Carrie and Dan rise to the occasion.
The reader’s engagement, after this cool little opening, wanes; the narrative, from hereon, winds down like an old phonograph record, like refrigerated molasses. Wilson sets up an unlikely but interesting premise to the story only to allow the internal ruminations and back-stories of hero and heroine to dominate. Her protagonists are so overwhelmed by their respective traumas, work so hard to recover from their mindsets, that the movement of the narrative is sacrificed to therapeutic recovery.
They get along so well that Wilson needed a rift to create tension. Miss Bates is uncertain as to whether it worked that well. Dan and Carrie carry their traumatic experiences into a debate regarding the abandoned baby’s mother: Carrie argues that the mother acted out of desperation, and the hope that her baby would have a better chance with strangers than with her; Dan argues that the mother acted out of neglect at best, disinterest at worst. How the debate is resolved is key to the HEA. Miss Bates admits that this is one of the strengths to the ending of the novel: alas, it’s the only one.
Although the narrative was flat overall, Wilson does have scenes of humourous and fun banter between Dan and Carrie. When she does, her narrative shines. Witness this exchange between Dan and Carrie, respectively: ” ‘You come down here with your innocent smiles, woolly socks, and grandma pyjamas … You’re not really a grandma-pyjamas girl, are you? … you’re really a sexy negligee kind of girl.’ ‘What’s wrong with grandma pyjamas? They hide a multitude of sins.’ ‘You don’t have any sins to hide.’ ” Not bad, not bad at all.
Too often, however, when things are becoming lighter and sexier, the narrative veers off into heavily angsty, or unappealing directions. The most disconcerting one is how the hero, whose good looks and charm almost win you over, turns into a prig. This is how he compares Carrie, the “good” girl to the women he’s known thus far: “Carrie just wasn’t that kind of girl. And instead of lessening the attraction it only heightened it;” also, “He was used to women throwing themselves at him, in pursuit of either a relationship or something far hotter. It was just the way of the world these days. But truth be told, it wasn’t Dan’s world. It wasn’t really the family values his grandmother had taught him … ” Some readers might enjoy this and more power to them; but for Miss Bates, the words “family values” have her running for the hills.
This romance novel felt like it would never end. For a category romance, that’s pretty damning. Wit, banter, and humour were at a minimum; the endless internal ruminations at a maximum. It does not fall into utter badness territory, but it definitely doesn’t leave a mark. It is most unfortunate that it does not live up to its promise. It is, at most, “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.
Scarlet Wilson’s English Girl in New York has been available from Harlequin Romance since January 7th. You’ll find it in the usual places and formats.
Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin Books for an e-ARC, via Netgalley, in exchange for this honest review.
Despite this less-than-stellar read, Miss Bates is still enamoured of the “snowed-in” romance. What are your favourites?