Some Kind of Wonderful
Some Kind of Wonderful is a generic, mediocre title for an equally generic book. The one-size-fits-all-cover features a man and woman on the beach at sunset, and it only adds to the generic feel (especially since the hero and heroine don’t ever walk on the beach together at sunset in this book). You would never know from either the cover or the title that this book is set in a tourist town called Christmas where yuletide cheer is a year-round phenomenon. What a wasted opportunity.
Carol, whose last name is either Foster or Baker depending on which page you’re on (I’m hoping a decision was made for the final copy), had a rough childhood. Her parents died in an auto accident when she was ten, and she became a ward of the court, bouncing from foster home to group home and back again. She managed to make a successful life for herself once she hit adulthood, and now owns a little Christmas gift shop in Christmas, California. The small, festive town suits her to a T. She loves having her Christmas lights up year round, and her wardrobe consists of skimpy tank tops adorned with Santa, elves, or reindeer. One night when she is out walking her dog, she discovers a real newborn baby in the manger of the town’s nativity scene.
It doesn’t take her long to fall head over heels for the newborn, whom she nicknames Liz, short for “Lizard Baby” a la V (the early 80’s SF miniseries starring Marc Singer and former soap star Jane Badler) – she’s a big SF fan. She’s appointed temporary foster parent, and begins caring for the baby. Since Liz was abandoned, the town’s sheriff investigates the matter. Ex-LAPD cop Jack Reilly is actually acting sheriff, filling in while the regular sheriff recuperates from a heart attack. Jack doesn’t want to be sheriff. He does not want to be in Christmas. He does not want to be pleasant to friends, neighbors, acquaintances, or strangers. Jack does not want to be alive. Something bad happened in his life, and he figures the best way to handle it is to punish himself and anyone else unlucky enough to cross his path. He’s been living with his mom, but he decides to move into an apartment across the hall from Carol, just so he can get away from his family’s stifling, overwhelming love.
Of course, he falls in love with Carol instead. She’s beautiful, generous, and she jingles when she walks (she has bells on her sneakers). But he really doesn’t want to be in love with Carol, because he doesn’t deserve love. Carol doesn’t really want to be in love with him, but he’s handsome, and she apparently falls for surly masochists. Jack does, eventually, forgive himself, in no small part because of the great sex he’s getting. But by that time a problem comes up with the baby, and just when Carol needs him most Jack seems poised to disappear.
Let’s just get this out of the way right now: I really have a problem with heroes like Jack. Bad stuff happens to everybody, and some people get an exceptionally raw deal. Being depressed about it is one thing, but taking it out on every person you meet is another. Jack isn’t just “tortured” – he’s a big jerk. As I read page after page of his rude snarling, I tried to imagine who would find it romantic. I’m still thinking. Fortunately, the good sex does seem to improve his disposition somewhat, so he becomes tolerable in the second half of the book. That’s more or less what saves the book from a D.
Aside from Jack’s off-putting behavior, the main problem with the book is just that it’s fairly pedestrian. The plot is nothing new, and the relationship between Jack and Carol is nothing to set the pond on fire. Carol’s a nice enough person, but she’s not terribly compelling. This is one of those books that’s very easy to put down and not all that easy to pick back up again.
The writing itself is fairly competent, but overly given to metaphor. Metaphors can be incredibly powerful literary tools, and it’s neat when an author throws in an especially vivid and appropriate one that makes you think of something ordinary in a new way. Regency author Elisabeth Fairchild is terrific at that. However, too much of anything – be it metaphors, exclamation points, or one word sentences – quickly becomes distracting. Child’s metaphors and similes come at you like baseballs in a batting cage. After a while they become so distracting that they are all you can see.
Two things saved this book from being a total wash. The first was that Christmas was the first romance small town in recent memory that I’ve found interesting. I have no idea if there’s a town like it anywhere, but it reminded me a bit of Solvang, California, where it’s all Danish, all the time. I’m not a fan of small-town romances as a rule, but this town had actual personality. The second was that Carol fit into the town. While I didn’t particularly find her interesting, I did like that she overcame a difficult past, succeeded in school and business, and found herself a home where she fit in – all without wallowing in self pity, like, say, Jack.
All told, this is really not something I’d go out of my way to read. It’s okay, and the Christmas thing is fun, but that’s about all there is to it. Do yourself a favor and see what else is out there.