REVIEW: Sarah Morgan’s SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL

Some_Kind_Of_WonderfulMiss Bates doesn’t understand why Sarah Morgan’s North American Puffin Island romance is marketed in a double-rom volume with Susan Mallery’s Ladies’ Man. If there was ever a romance that deserved to stand front and center on a cover, it’s Some Kind Of Wonderful. Which is why Miss Bates features the U.K. edition’s pretty, whimsical cover.

Morgan’s Puffin Island series has already given us two wonderful romances, one of the best HPs Miss Bates and friends have read, Playing By the Greek’s Rules, and First Time In Forever. Continuing the story of three bosom friends, Some Kind Of Wonderful tells Brittany Forrest’s tale, Brittany whose grand-mother bequeathed her Castaway Cottage on Puffin Island, the college besties’ summer hang-out and sanctuary when things go awry. Brittany returns to Puffin Island after breaking her wrist excavating Aegean Bronze Age weaponry in Crete. Dr. Forrest’s troubles go from “single spies to battalias” when her private plane ride to Puffin Island comes in the form of one silent, sexy stunner, ex-husband of ten years, Zachary Flynn – the bad boy who abandoned her ten days after their marriage.

Sarah Morgan’s Some Kind Of Wonderful wrung Miss Bates’s heart and hung it out to dry. She read it in three hours of reader-empathy heartbreak for Zach and Brittany, especially Zach. It captured her from the opening lines:

Zachary Flynn should never have been born … at the age of eight someone had asked questions about the recurring bruises and broken bones and he’d been sent to live with a foster family … after that he’d been handed from family to family like a baton in a relay race.

Morgan melded Zach’s childhood abuse and its emotional repercussions with the reunited-husband-and-wife trope. Miss Bates loves the trope for its bittersweet poignancy: two people whose youthful failure at commitment and love is suddenly brought to the forefront. They reexamine where and why they went wrong and renegotiate their relationship by taking the past and their human flaws and failings into account. Romance is often derided for its plot-moppet use, but Miss Bates believes that child-characters in romance furnish it with pathos, through their vulnerability and need for care. In Some Kind Of Wonderful, Morgan achieves this by interweaving Zach’s failed marriage and present emotional stoniness with his vulnerable child-self, the child who didn’t receive the love, care, and safety that is due every child.  

Zach’s vulnerability is balanced by the hurt he caused Brittany. She is rightfully angry with him, though she initially tries to react with sangfroid. Zach’s need to protect himself, the age-old pattern of heart-shut-down that’s kept him safe is antiquated emotional reticence: “And sometimes, Zach thought, it never got better. Sometimes, the trauma was so great you learned how to stop caring.” He doesn’t need it anymore, but he doesn’t know how else to be. He also bears the guilt of what his abandonment meant to island-golden-girl Brittany: “She wasn’t interested in permanence, either in her relationships or where she lived. Better to move on … Even in her short, ill-fated marriage, she’d never had emotional intimacy.” Zach’s desertion led to Brittany’s peripatetic archaeologist life, but not all has been a loss for Brit. She gained a fabulous career and saw and experienced the world’s wonders. Nevertheless, Brittany-before-Zach was a girl who believed in love and Brittany-post-Zach is a woman who doesn’t hold out much hope for it. Brittany seeing Zach again after ten years says it all:

The shoulders under the crisp white shirt were broader and thickened with hard muscle, the glossy black hair cropped shorter, but he had that same “don’t fuck with me” attitude that had drawn her adventure-seeking eighteen-year-old self all those years before … she’d gone after bad boy Zachary Flynn. On an island bursting with fresh fruit, he’d been the one bad apple … she’d given him everything, all of herself, he’d walked away with a shattering disregard for her and she’d crashed so hard.

Though Brittany’s hurt was deep, she was never without the love of friends and family, the support of her tight community, and her academic aspirations. One of the thematic beauties of Some Kind Of Wonderful is Brittany’s growing empathy for Zach, what he suffered, how that left him without emotional resources, and what it did to him when she came along with her “expectations” of husband and marriage. Not for a moment, however, is the reader deprived of heroine vindication. Brittany gets to give it to him and give it to him good: her anger is righteous. Zach was an ass and she tells him so, only to realize that whatever she heaps on him is way less than what he heaps on himself.

Why did Miss Bates love Some Kind Of Wonderful? Because it’s a romance with two wonderful, memorable protagonists. Because it captures second-chance romance perfectly. Because Zach and Brittany give each other what they need. They heal the past. They get better at working things out. And they do so with a quality rare in romance, with humility, especially Zach, when he says to Brittany, acknowledging her love: ” ‘You have a thing for damaged creatures.’ ” Zach does as well, he just doesn’t know it. Morgan has several wonderful scenes with Zach and hurt, or frightened children and animals that show us the man he will be with Brittany once he breaks down the walls of his heart with the help of her capable archaeological hands. Brittany excavates to Zach’s vulnerable child-core until he accepts love (because he’s been giving it all along, but has to learn to name it, say it) and shines his light on her and his community.

In a final note, Miss Bates will reiterate what she’s said of Morgan elsewhere. Morgan is one of the best love-scene writers in the genre. It’s not in the acrobatics, techniques, or locations. It’s not in the actions, so to speak, but in the way she’s able to show the hero and heroine’s relationship-progression. Morgan creates love scenes which reflect a couple’s emotional growth, in the dips and swells of her bodies the ebb and flow of a relationship. Morgan’s Some Kind Of Wonderful meets Miss Bates’s criteria of three-C’s-love scenes: culmination, commitment, and celebration … and the HEA? Pretty glorious! The only bee in the missbatesian bonnet was cutesy besties’ convos and small-town shenanigans by Puffin Island denizens. They’re minor quibbles. With Miss Austen, Miss Bates finds in Sarah Morgan’s Some Kind Of Wonderful evidence of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.

Sarah Morgan’s Some Kind Of Wonderful is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on December 29th, 2015. It may be purchased in e-format in tandem with Susan Mallery’s The Ladies Man. (Miss Bates has noted a single volume release date for November 24, 2017.) Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Harlequin, via Netgalley. 

27 thoughts on “REVIEW: Sarah Morgan’s SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL

  1. I enjoyed this one a lot – the chemistry between Zach and Brittany was sizzling (I can overlook/forgive a whole host of minor sins if the hero and heroine strike sparks off each other as they did here) and Zach just stole my heart. I guess I’m just a sucker for a story of an emotionally stunted, closed off hero who comes to love wholeheartedly and with glorious enthusiasm. Despite disparate family history, both Zach and Brittany had a lot to learn about trust and how to love each other. Though a good foundation had been laid by Phillip and Celia, Zach’s learning curve to feel safe loving and being loved was much more challenging and daunting than Brittany’s (she did, at least, have a loving grandmother), having to begin almost from ground zero. Because of this, I felt Some Kind of Winderful was more a ‘his’ book.

    I found the shenanigans (love that word!) of the Puffin-ites a little too saccharine sweet, but I was more bothered, disappointed or perplexed when Brittany got her nose out of joint because Zach told Phillip and Celia ‘I love you’ before he said the words to her. That struck me as whiny, a bit selfish, and somewhat shortsighted. They were, after all, the first to offer him love, they were the impetus that allowed him to begin to open himself up him to love her, the ones to give him a boost in the right direction toward acceptance, forgiveness, and recognizing that he can be safe and love.

    But despite these little niggles, I liked this one a lot especially Zach who was a compelling hero. Speaking of more Puffin Island, One Enchanted Evening (Skylar’s book) will be available the 26th of this month but is again offered up in a pairing with a Lori Foster story. Why????

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    • I loved it too! And I agree that it is more a “his” book; it was easier for Brittany. She had all that security and love and could build on it. But Zachary was one I loved when he flew Lizzy in First Time In Forever. I think you make a good point about Brittany’s over-reaction to Zach telling Philip and Celia he loved them. I thought it was churlish, but I attributed it to Brittany’s hurt from Zach’s abandonment. I could see where she might lack confidence in his ability to express love.

      I really don’t get what’s going on with these Morgan books. “What the heck, Harlequin?” I didn’t even know that Skylar’s book was out this month. I’d like to see Skylar and Alec: the sparks are obvious in the first two books! I really don’t want to buy a Lori Foster book: that’s one author who’s NEVER appealed to me. Kathryn’s comment has a lot more info.

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  2. I really enjoy Sarah Morgan’s books. And I was also really annoyed with Harlequin because 1) they made the decision to pair the last two Puffin Island books with other authors’ (reprinted) books and 2) make the Puffin Island books the secondary titles in the pairing (even though they were the new releases) and 3) they pushed back the North American release dates by months (the original release dates — which were for planned single title releases were within a month of the M&B release dates). Way to support an author, who I believe is becoming a star for them.

    There was of course no reason given for these dumb changes so I just went to Book Depository and ordered the M&B single title versions (with the cute, chick-lit covers) — they cost more but it was worth it to have the final 2 Penguin Island Books in single title formats and to have Skylar’s story to read at Christmas holidays (which is when the story is set) rather than in May.

    Really what is Harlequin thinking with these poorly marketed, poorly done releases in North America of Morgan’s final 2 Penguin Island books?

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    • Oh, thank you so much for giving us the full info on the Puffin books. And what a great idea you had to get them as single titles through Book Depository. I noticed a cute Christmas cover on Morgan’s website and didn’t realize that it was already out. I would’ve loved to read Skylar’s Christmas-set rom. I LOVE Christmas-set roms!

      Like you, I just don’t get it. Harlequin should be falling all over themselves for Morgan in North America. It’s like when they dropped Jessica Hart, one of their best Harlequin Romance line writers. Morgan’s Puffin book releases make as much sense as that. I’m going to assume that their expected sales for First Time In Forever were … well … not what they expected?! Maybe that’s what precipitated these weird N. American releases?

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  3. Take this for what it is – merely a theory and wild speculation on my part. My guess? Harlequin is packaging Morgan with Susan Mallery and Lori Foster to boost her profile and sales. Maybe? It’s hard to say since I don’t really have first hand knowledge of Morgan’s sales figures. Mallery and Foster have both hit the NYT, I don’t know if Morgan has yet (although she has landed on USA Today’s). Some librarian I am.

    The one thing that kind of helps support this theory? Looking ahead to Morgan’s upcoming From Manhattan With Love series – we have a novella out in April – then full length novels in May, September and December. An aggressive publishing schedule. It feels like Harlequin is throwing everything up against the wall to promote Morgan and waiting to see what sticks…

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    • This makes a lot of sense to me. I thought it had to do with marketing. It’s interesting that I’ve never read Mallery or Foster. They’re in the same category as LLMiller. BUT I think you’re right because I think it’s a way of mainstreaming narrower rom writers. Thank you for your expertise!

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      • Yes I’m willing to wait for the Harlequin NA releases of the From Manhattan with Love series because the books are all single titles and are not coming out nearly as far behind as the M&B releases.

        And I think Wendy is right that someone at Harlequin thought bundling 2 &3 in the Penguin Island series with the Mallery and Foster books and delaying their releases was a good marketing decision — but it also feels like a snap decision made at the very last minute (well after book 1 came out) and not really well thought through. Otherwise why release the last one in the Puffin Island series (One Enchanted Moment) after the first one in the Manhattan series (Midnight at Tiffany’s)? It’s just going to confuse those new readers you are trying to attract (they pick PI 3 thinking it’s the next in Manhattan series and find out it’s the third in a different series).

        Furthermore I bet there are Morgan fans like me who are not interested in the Mallery or Foster reprints and so are not happy about buying books 2 & 3 bundled with 2 totally unrelated books. So you just alienated those readers as well. The whole management of the Penguin Island series releases in NA by Harlequin seems well mismanaged.

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        • I’m one of those readers who is not particularly thrilled at the pairing of Foster with Morgan. I’ve read Foster years ago, but that phase soon ended. It does feel like mismanagement of this series and one that is likely to backfire. Which makes me even more sad and puzzled.

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          • I had the same experience with Foster: read one, really didn’t like the ethos, wouldn’t go back. If we’re all wrong and doing this will gain Morgan readers, well then, so be it. But if not, it is mismanagement of a great romance writer’s books, which well deserve a broad readership.

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        • Mismanaged and annoying as all heck. I’d be one of those readers, BTW, if I saw the Morgan bundled with the Mallery, or Foster … I would eschew buying the series. Marketing does matter and reader loyalty was not at the forefront here. I’m also sorry that this particular book, even better than the first, will lose some readers this way. I’m not so sure that it’ll gain any.

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  4. What a lovely review! I’m a huge fan of Morgan’s romances, from the original Medicals through her single-title books. And like you, I was very taken with her last HP.

    My understanding is that Morgan’s single titles have sold better outside the US than within it. At least, that was true with her original HQN trilogy (before the HarperCollins acquisition), and the way they’re releasing the books in North America makes me think that disparity is still present, or was when they set up the publishing schedule. I think HarperCollins is more aggressive with their marketing, and I honestly don’t understand why her Puffin Island books sold better in Europe than NA. I thought they were excellent, retaining all the things I like about Morgan’s books as she expanded to a longer format.

    I have a long-standing M&B account and so I buy the ebooks when they’re released in the UK, and I pick up the hard copies when I’m over there. I enjoyed the novella a lot; it’s got that fairy-tale feel Morgan is so good at. I haven’t read Sleepless in Manhattan yet. I tend to save her books for just the right moment if you know what I mean.

    Disclosure: I’m friendly with Morgan, I’ve met her in person and we correspond sporadically. She’s just as lovely as you think she is.

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    • Thank you for your generous words!
      I think I like the HP and this second Puffin the best. I agree; if that is so, and they didn’t sell as well, I don’t get it. That was my assumption when I saw the Mallery name writ large on this volume. I thought Morgan’s Puffin Island, Maine-set, would be quite attractive to an American audience. I thought she got the feel of it right. But I’m not American, so I can’t be sure.

      It’s cool about your M&B account! Whatever interaction I’ve had with Morgan, just on Twitter, has been gracious and generous. A real lady, with lovely manners. I’m very impressed with her.

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      • Okay my grumble about the marketing is over and I did want to respond to your review, which I really enjoyed. I agree this book is more about Zach’s journey — learning to believe that he is really somebody who deserves love and learning to trust his positive feelings and not go with his learned response to distrust and reject others before they can hurt and reject him.

        And I agree that the final misunderstanding clunked and felt driven not by characters but rather by the plot’s need for a cute resolution that shows how the islanders now accept Zach as one of them and recalls and reframes the islanders’ traditional gesture of support from one of concern (which is what is was when it happened to Brittany in past) to one of humor. But as you say –this clunky bit was an easy fault to forgive because Zach and Brittany as a couple were great. I’m so glad that I purchased the M&B trade paperback copy of this and One Enchanted Moment. They are both worth it.

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        • I loved your grumble! It was superior informed grumbling. Feel free to grumble chez MissB. whenever you feel like it!

          The casserole … too cutesy. Kind of funny, I admit. One of the things I didn’t talk about in my review, an after-thought really, was how well Morgan does angst. She can be funny. Mostly, she can do marvelous pathos, key to writing a great HP, with a light humorous touch, a little tongue-in-cheek. Otherwise, as you know, HPs can easily derail. The Greek’s Rules and Twelve Nights Of Christmas are probably two of Morgan’s greatest HP samplings. But, here, especially with Zach, she really pulled angst off well. All our quibbles aside, Some Kind Of Wonderful offered the reader a great emotional journey. I do think that Brittany faded a bit. She was righteous anger interesting when she finally let the cool control slip. But as her anger abated and she turned to giving Zach the love and space and acceptance he needed to thaw, she lost a little of her zip. But that is the essence of love: to give something up for the other. And goodness knows, as I loved Zach, what she gets in return is pretty amazeballs.

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  5. I’m just popping in to say that I absolutely abhor being forced to buy another author’s book in a dual publication. I understand the different reasons that it is done but I am no fan. I didn’t read the rest of your review though because your praise in the first few lines was enough for me to place this one in my TBR. Once again, I want to see if our reading of the book aligns 🙂

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  6. It is not often that I get to feel smug about early releases in the UK – usually we’re waiting for ages, even years, after US releases. So I will just say that the New York series is as good as you’d expect from Morgan. I’ve read the novella and the first full-length book and so far, I think I like them even more than Puffin Island.

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