Miss 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.