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. Continue reading
Contemporary romance is a big and diverse animal. Its “infinite variety” inhabits a breadth of verisimilitude, from HP fantasy to the realistic, at times gritty, MC urban wasteland, which, MissB argues, meet and mate in the fantasy realm when the straight-line continuum is arced to a circle. All this to say that along realism’s continuum, where tropes work at one point, may fail on another. Sarah Morgan’s third “From Manhattan With Love” romance, Miracle On 5th Avenue, is an example in comparson to her HP, Playing By the Greek’s Rules (possibly MissB’s favourite HP were it not for that pesky Lynne Graham writing annoyingly good HPs, like The Greek’s Chosen Wife.) The Greek’s Rules contains a naïvely endearing, full-force of positivity heroine and brooding, cynical alpha hero, as does Miracle. What works in one doesn’t in t’other, or maybe imitation isn’t the highest form of flattery when an author imitates herself?
“Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world” says the inimitable, raspy-voiced Rick in Casablanca. And we in romance-landia think, with that statement, Rick capsized the HEA. World events, ideals and ideologies, peace, order, justice, and equality sitting in every HEA’s background and ensuring it, are imperiled. Then, individual desires for the domestic HEA that completes the romance genre’s narrative cycle, are subsumed by themes greater than those the genre embodies. Miss Bates concurs; recent events make reading fiction, much less romance, difficult. Focus is elusive and the safe spaces we once cocooned in are tottering and toppling. And yet, what greater gift can a free, open, and tolerant country offer its citizens than the safety to make choices, love, live in plenitude and generosity and offer something to the next generation in having or succoring children, plants, animals, knowledge, nature, or art. Embedded in the romance narrative is the conviction that every person has the inner resources, given safety and love, to live without crippling constraints, whether they are internal, or external. Though Miss Bates feels “itchy” and can’t always immerse herself in a romance, she still feels life-affirmation after reading one of its best practitioners. Though she started and dropped it restlessly, she read Sarah Morgan’s Sunset In Central Park, a quiet and lovely romance.
Miss Bates was never a fan of Sex and the City‘s cynicism about love. It was a show more about sex and friendship than love, despite its final concession to the HEA. One could say that Sarah Morgan’s first “From Manhattan With Love” series title, Sleepless in Manhattan, could be likened to “sex and the city”, but shouldn’t be. If it draws readers because it ostensibly echoes Sex and the City, then, so be it and more success and readership to it! But Morgan’s romances are never cynical, conceding to the HEA with one hand and nodding to the divorce rate with the other. Morgan’s romances are funny, loving, sentimental (MissB is tired of the pejorative sense given to the word), and hopeful. Sleepless In Manhattan introduces us to the series, which centres on three friends, originally from Puffin Island, the setting of Morgan’s previous series and possessed of two of her best recent roms, Playing By the Greek’s Rules and Some Kind of Wonderful. Paige Walker, Frankie Cole, and Eva Jordan work for Star Events, a Manhattan event-planning company … until they don’t. Meany office manager “Cynthia” fires all three. They make their way to the brownstone they share with Paige’s protective, supportive, and lovely brother Matt to drown their unemployed sorrows in wine, chocolate, and ice cream. Continue reading
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.
Small-town contemporary romance is ubiquitous. Miss Bates reads her fair share, especially when it’s by Donna Alward, or Virginia Kantra, who write wonderful contemporary small-town romance in their Jewell Cove and Dare Island series. Sarah Morgan’s Puffin Island series now takes its place next to Alward’s and Kantra’s. Morgan’s first title, First Time In Forever, doesn’t break any molds. It’s typical in characterization, narration, and setting. Miss Bates is interested in the small-town romance as a vision of utopia; she’d argue the hero’s/heroine’s role is complemented by the small town utopian ethos, even so far as to say some of the HEA work is done by its denizens. Our hero and heroine need help and the small-town comes through for them.
For now, Miss Bates sticks to plot and character basics. Emily Donovan arrives at coastal Maine’s Puffin Island a desperate woman, seeking sanctuary and anonymity, the anxious, uncertain, and recent guardian of a niece, six-year-old Lizzy. She meets boating/sailing club owner, tall, dark, and handsome Ryan Cooper, when he knocks on her door offering help, friendship, and smouldering sexy looks. Their encounter breaks open two people wary of love, commitment, and family. Their closed-off selves, cautious and doubtful, are healed as much by the virtues/values of small-town life as falling in love. Emily, in particular, experiences a conversion to small-town living. Ryan, by virtue of having been home for four years, is one of her guides. While he may be advanced in his journey, he needs to take the final steps to finalize/entrench his place on Puffin Island and those steps entail overcoming his commitment-aversion. Continue reading
Miss Bates’ introduction to Sarah Morgan was the lovely but unfortunately-titled medical category Dare She Date the Dreamy Doc? She read HP Twelve Nights of Christmas fast on its heels. The latter stayed with her: maybe because of its fairytale quality, a quality Morgan knows how to play, poking a little tongue-in-cheek fun at the HP Cinderella-trope, but affectionately, lovingly. Twelve Nights‘ opening prefigures Playing By the Greek’s Rules‘ elements: the making-ends-meet, Cinderella heroine moonlighting as a cleaner, billionaire hero sexy as heck but not alpha-holish, arrogant, or bossy; the funniest, most delightful dialogue, the heroine with-the-heart-of-gold who melts the icy hero. In Morgan’s two HP-category romances, the hero has everything, money, power, looks, status, but cannot match the heroine for irrepressible optimism, loving-kindness, and an unabashed élan of wearing her heart on her sleeve. The boundless felicity heroine Lily Rose takes in everything and everyone she encounters breaks down every wall of Jericho around hero, Nik Zervakis’s stony heart. Miss Bates cheered, laughed, and cried along with Lily and admired, once more, Morgan’s ability to create a heroine the reader adores as much as the hero is exasperated with – until blinded by the light of her exuberant sunniness and inexhaustible empathy. Continue reading
Maybe This Christmas is Sarah Morgan’s third contemporary romance in the O’Neill series, preceded by Sleigh Bells In the Snow and Suddenly Last Summer, both of which are in Miss Bates’ Teetering TBR. Starting with the third in the series did not deter from Miss B’s enjoyment. The start was a tad wonky with characters from the previous books showing up in various states of blissful couple-hood, as well as sundry O’Neill family members who’d obviously been established as secondary characters in previous books. Maybe This Christmas, gloriously-set in small-town-Vermont winter wonderland, in fictional “Snow Crystal,” is a friends-to-lovers romance narrative high on humour, but no less on gravitas in two hurting friends admitting to love. The heroine, Brenna Daniels, has carried a smouldering love-torch for Tyler O’Neill since they were best buddies in high school. Single-dad, former Olympic skiing champion, and notorious womanizer, Tyler, has in Brenna the one relationship with a woman he’s yet to abandon. Continue reading