Miss Bates hasn’t ever warmed to Sarah Morgan’s contemporaries as much as she adored her categories (Playing By the Greek’s Rules is a must-read). The longer roms have been uneven, but Morgan made up for a lot when she penned New York, Actually. Its chicklit vibe and hokey opening weren’t auspicious and Miss Bates came close to DNF-ing. But she stuck to it … because Morgan … and, in the end, was captured by some clever, interesting things Morgan did.
We meet the heroine first, “Aggie”, aka Molly Parker, behaviourial psychologist, English beauty in New York, and writer of the love-lorn-seeking-help blog, “Ask A Girl.” In the opening, Molly’s extolling the praises of her sound-asleep faithful companion, which Morgan makes us think is a man, the heart-shaped-nosed Dalmatian, Valentine. After a terrible, online love experience that saw Molly leave England three years ago, she’s sworn off men, deeming herself incapable of falling in love, of feeling, and a self-designated femme fatale: mess with Molly and you’ll be hurt. Molly now makes other people’s HEA her business, “Happy Ever After Together was her goal for other people. Her own goal was Happy By Herself,” and with her dog, career, and a few neighbourly friends.
In the meanwhile, our hero, Daniel Knight, successful Manhattan divorce lawyer, is begging to borrow a dog to walk in Central Park from his twin sisters, owners of the dog-walking company, the Bark Rangers. Fliss and Harriet reluctantly agree to Daniel’s request. They can’t help but indulge the brother who took care of them during “the cracks and the shifting emotional landscape of their parents’ marriage” and subsequent ugly divorce. This also explains Daniel’s reluctance for commitment. We have one unfeeling heroine and equally unfeeling hero, and two loveable dogs. Fliss and Harriet lend Daniel an adorably dysfunctional German shepherd named “Ruffles,” which Daniel, protective already of “Ruffles”‘s dignity, renames Brutus. Daniel’s espied the beauty running in Central Park with Valentine. One borrowed dog, one successful ruse-meet-cute, and love-em-and-leave-em committed to bachelorhood heartbreaker Daniel is sitting on a park bench, sharing hot liquids with Ms Iced-Heart Molly.
New York, Actually‘s attractions are its hero and heroine, their comeuppance by love, and how their true selves, loving and committed, are represented by their relationships to their dogs rather than each other. Their frozen hearts’ sources lie in their childhoods. Molly is the child of a mother who abandoned her; despite an exemplary, loving father, she is wounded. A painfully broken relationship served to further ensure her response to a relationship as the road to “trauma and trouble.” Daniel’s backstory is more interesting. He’s the product of a highly manipulative father and helpless, loving mother. Daniel grew up protecting his sisters and mother. He stays away from romantic entanglements and enjoys his bachelor life. Molly, I-have-no-heart meet Daniel, I’m-a-heartless-lawyer: match made in heaven? Molly and Daniel seem to think so. There’s wooing and convincing and scorching attraction. There’s also this air-clearing: Molly’s ” ‘I’ve never been in love. I can’t fall in love’ ” to Daniel’s ” ‘ … there is no chance of you breaking my heart … I’ve been told a million times that I don’t have a heart. Not only does that make me safe from your badgirl tendencies, it also makes me your perfect date.’ ” Morgan pokes gentle fun at Molly and Daniel’s anti-love protestations.
In the meanwhile, Morgan portrays Daniel’s care and affection for Molly as she does Molly’s regard and fondness for Daniel. Romance isn’t terribly interested or good at sharp irony, but this gentle version of Morgan’s is lovely. Molly and Daniel may say one thing, but their actions do very much the opposite. Morgan adds another layer representative of their true, loving selves in portraying their devotion to their dogs. Daniel and Molly lavish oodles of love, attention, and care on their pets (Daniel’s denying of Brutus as his pet makes this even more amusing) that it’s easy to imagine them doing the same to a spouse and children. They’re good people. They’re decent, kind, loyal, supportive, and endearing. Their “doth protest too much” only makes them more so as the reader feels she knows things they don’t. Morgan’s New York, Actually is sexy, funny, and gently lays on some truths about vulnerability, about two people whose hearts are big and tender, but whose fears have to be overcome. Pets help. Friends help. And the most important aspect of romance helps: physical and emotional intimacy. Sarah Morgan’s fourth From Manhattan, With Love novel is a delight. With Miss Austen, Miss Bates says of New York, Actually,”there is no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.
Sarah Morgan’s New York, Actually is published by HQN Books. It was released on May 30, 2017, and may be procured from your preferred vendor. Miss Bates received in e-ARC from HQN Books, via Netgalley.