Moonlight Over Manhattan
It’s no secret that I don’t read a great deal of contemporary romance, but I know that many have enjoyed the other books in Sarah Morgan’s From Manhattan With Love series, so when the latest instalment – Moonlight Over Manhattan – came up for review, I thought I’d give it a try. On the whole, reading it was a successful venture; I enjoyed the author’s upbeat, gently humorous style and both central characters; and while there’s nothing new here, this would certainly be a good option for anyone looking for a comforting and engaging seasonal read.
Harriet Knight (twin sister of Fliss from Holiday in the Hamptons) is fed up with being treated like she’s a little on the fragiie side by her twin and older brother. She recognises that their intentions have always been good, but realises now that their protectiveness has resulted in her never really having to tackle anything difficult, whether professionally – where Fliss handles the admin and the awkward clients of the dog-walking company they run together – or personally, so she’s never really had to step outside her comfort zone. This protectiveness originates from their childhood, which was a miserable one owing to the continual tension that existed between their parents, their never-ending rows and their father’s frequent verbal abuse, which terrified Harriet. The fact that she had a stammer just made things worse – and recognising her particular vulnerability, Fliss and Daniel always tried to divert their father’s attention and protect her from the worst of his vitriol.
With Fliss now settled in the Hamptons with her husband, Harriet feels somewhat adrift, and is determined to forge a new path for herself and take charge of her life. To this end, the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is designated as Challenge Harriet month, one month during which she will do things she doesn’t normally do or finds difficult – one day, one thing at a time.
One of those challenges is to go on dates. It’s not that Harriet is desperate for a man – although having someone in her life might be nice if it’s the right someone – it’s that she doesn’t find dating easy, and doing things she doesn’t find easy is what Challenge Harriet is all about. Unfortunately, however, by date number three, she’s pretty much had enough, and rather than tell the guy – whose online profile was very clearly misleading – that she thinks they should just go home, she instead makes her exit via the bathroom window, and twists her ankle when she lands outside. Painfully, she makes her way to the ER to make sure it’s not broken, and is seen by the sinfully gorgeous attending physician, Dr. Ethan Black (in spite of the difference in colouring – Ethan is dark haired and blue-eyed – my mind at this point immediately flew to George Clooney in the early days of ER… *sigh*) who tells her her ankle is badly sprained and to keep off of it for a while.
Ethan Black went into the family business, as it were – his father and grandfather are both doctors – but whereas those two gentlemen went into general practice in their home town – where they know everybody – Ethan decided he didn’t want that and has made a career as a trauma physician. A brief marriage with an equally career-oriented woman didn’t work and since his divorce, Ethan is realising that while switching off his deeper emotions is a necessity in order for him to be able to do his job, switching them on again isn’t so easy, and that if he’s not careful, he’ll forget how to do it completely. But then, he’s not too worried about that; he’s not cut out for romantic relationships anyway.
Or so he thinks. When his sister asks him to dog-sit while she leaves town to deal with a family emergency, he isn’t wild about the idea, but it’s one of the few things Karen has ever asked him for and he can’t turn her down. Fortunately, Karen’s dog-walker (guess who?) will be around to take Madi out, so she’ll be fine while Ethan’s at work. Except… Madi isn’t. On the first day, Ethan returns home to find his apartment looking like it’s been turned over, and in the middle of it is a young woman he doesn’t immediately recognise. Ethan prides himself on his even-temperedness and his ability to remain calm in a crisis, but this is too much and he explodes – and Harriet, furious that he could be so unconcerned for the dog, dishes it right back. Thankfully, Ethan’s natural calm reasserts itself and he realises how unjust he’s been; apologies are made, things are set to rights and hopefully Madi will be more settled from now on.
But that is proved to be a pipe dream when one of Ethan’s neighbours tells him that the dog howled all day and the day before while he was at work. Ethan doesn’t want to be asked to move out, so he asks Harriet if, instead of just taking Madi for walks, she will actually move in and dog-sit until Karen comes back. Harriet is unsure at first. Dog-sitting isn’t something she normally does, but in the spirit of Challenge Harriet she decides to make an exception. Madi is distressed at the loss of her family and familiar surroundings, and if there’s one thing that Harriet could never do, it’s abandon an animal in trouble.
Of course, it’s easy to see where this is going. Harriet is one of life’s natural ‘nesters’, her childhood experiences having made her determined to create warmth and tranquillity wherever she goes. She’s most definitely smitten with Ethan, but makes it very clear that the things she’s doing – cooking, making the place more homely – are things she’s doing for herself, and not in any attempt to impress or romance him. Ethan can’t deny, however, that he is impressed, or that he’s strongly attracted to Harriet. But given they both want different things from life, anything long-term between them is off the table. Isn’t it?
Ethan and Harriet are likeable, nicely-drawn characters, but although I applauded Harriet for her determination to challenge herself, at times, I found her a little naïve. On the whole though, I enjoyed watching her grow in confidence as she worked out what she wanted and what she deserved from life. Ethan initially comes across as rather cold and aloof, but deep down, he’s a caring, compassionate man whose defence mechanisms are in danger of pushing aside that part of him for good. Like Harriet, Ethan realises that he needs to challenge himself to do something different – in his case, by allowing himself to open up to another person and to believe that he does have what it takes to be someone’s ‘forever family’.
With its sweetly sensual romance, cute doggy pals and entertaining secondary characters – someone give Ethan’s colleague and friend, Susan, her own late-night chat show stat! – Moonlight Over Manhattan is a satisfying, undemanding story that delivers on both the romance and the Christmassy schmaltz, and is just the thing to curl up with on a cold, grey winter’s afternoon.