REVIEW: First Time in Forever by Sarah Morgan
Dear Sarah Morgan,
Perhaps it was unfair but I started reading First Time in Forever when I was in a bit of a reading slump. I’m sure I read the first few pages of some perfectly good books but I found I couldn’t settle on anything. In the end, I decided I needed to just “push through” and your book was the one open at the time I made that decision. While First Time in Forever had a bit of a lacklustre start for me (most likely due to my own reading mood more than anything else) by the middle of the book Emily and Ryan had managed to win me over. That has to count for something, right?
Your new series is based around three women who met at college and became BFFs. Brittany, the archaeologist, inherited Castaway Cottage on Puffin Island, Maine, from her grandmother and upon doing so, immediately presented her friends, Emily and Skylar (artist/jewellery designer), with their own key. They made a pact to always be there for one another, no matter what.
When Emily’s estranged half sister, famous actress, Lana Fox, dies in a plane crash, Emily is suddenly named guardian of her six year old niece Juliet (but known as Lizzy on Puffin Island). Emily had never met Lizzy before and had never imagined raising a child. After a tragedy in her own childhood, Emily made the decision not not let herself get close to anyone, not to let herself be vulnerable.
Tears hadn’t featured in her life for twenty years. She’d made sure she didn’t care about anything enough to cry about it.
Of course, if she had really not let herself get close to anyone, she wouldn’t have let herself get close to Brittany and Skylar either, but I went with it for the sake of the story.
Prior to assuming guardianship of Lizzy, Emily had been working as a business consultant for a large Manhattan firm. Her role fell victim to a round of downsizing and around the same time, her boyfriend of three years, Neil, announced she was too cold and dumped her. By the time the story starts, Emily has no reason to go back to Manhattan and no strong ties to any other place, except maybe Puffin Island, which holds some treasured girlhood memories from her summers there with her friends and Brittany’s grandmother.
Because Lana was so famous, the paparazzi are being extra greedy and obnoxious. One even broke into the palacial mansion Lizzy was raised in and scared her pretty badly by talking to her and trying to take her photograph. The grief counsellors have advised Emily to take Lizzy somewhere safe, where she can heal and not be hounded by the press, so Emily takes Lizzy and heads to Puffin Island and sanctuary.
Ryan Cooper is a friend of Brittany’s and because he owes her one, he agrees to check on Emily and keep an eye out for her. He is the eldest of four children. His parents died in a car crash when he was only 13. While his grandmother, Agnes, moved in to take care of them, as the eldest child, Ryan took on a parental role to his nine year old twin siblings and his four year old youngest sister, Rachel. His horny teenage years were spent going to school plays and parent/teacher nights and making sure Rachel’s beloved stuffed puffin didn’t get lost. As much as he loves his family (and he really does), by the time he went off to college he just wanted to get as far away from Puffin Island as possible and stay away. After college, he embarked upon an adventurous globetrotting career until a serious injury had him returning to Puffin Island to recover. To his surprise, he found that he didn’t want to travel the world so much anymore and the island was just where he wanted to be. He plunged all his money into renovating and extending the marina and opening The Ocean Club and he spends his time running his business, sailing and hooking up with various sexy women who cross his path. He isn’t in the market for a relationship and a woman with a child is a deal breaker. He has done the parenting thing already and has no plans to do it ever again.
It does take a while until the details of Emily’s trauma are revealed and even longer before the reader knows exactly what happened to cause Ryan’s injuries. I did find myself a little frustrated by this early on, especially Emily’s secret because it was constantly being alluded to. Emily is terrified of the sea so we know that has something to do with it but I thought the complete story was a little long in coming. I did mostly work it out beforehand though.
Despite himself, Ryan is enchanted by Emily and by her stiffness toward him. He is determined to get under her skin and ruffle her up a bit. Fortunately, Emily is not a pushover and makes him work for it.
“Do you think she knew?”
“That I was talking dirty to you five seconds before she arrived? Probably. She doesn’t miss much.”
“I’m going to have to move back to the mainland.”
“Hilda had six children of her own, so I doubt that sex is a mystery to her. You have ice cream at the corner of your mouth. Am I allowed to lick it away?”
“Only if you don’t mind being punched in public.”
Ryan is also charmed by Lizzy who reminds him a lot of his youngest sister at the same age, even though he has the ‘no children’ rule.
Emily is not a person who decided not to have children because she just didn’t want kids so I didn’t read the book as asserting that anyone will become a natural parent if they are forced into that role or that all women secretly want children. Emily is a woman who has deliberately closed herself off from close relationships (except for Brittany and Skylar) as a means of self-preservation. So, I could accept that she would eventually change her mind about close relationships in general and Lizzy (and later, Ryan) in particular, as she laid those ghosts to rest. I did think she recovered from her lifelong fear of the ocean rather quickly. Yes she was determined but this was a phobia borne of significant trauma (for which she had never had any therapy) and which had been in place for more than 20 years. I just don’t see it disappearing in the space of a month or six weeks.
Skylar makes a few small appearances and it is fairly clear who her hero will be; same with Brittany (it will be a second chance at love story *grabby hands*) but they didn’t intrude too much on Emily’s book. I’m hoping you will write a romance for Lisa the ice cream shop owner – maybe the mysterious boy she met when she was 17? *hint*
Puffin Island is fictional but appears to be based on actual islands in Maine and the book has a delightful sense of place. The island has a small and very close knit community and unlike my own experience of such places where a “newcomer” is a resident of 10 years’ standing (I’m not bitter or anything), Emily is welcomed and adopted very early on. I especially liked the part where Emily is using her consulting skills for someone one the island. She describes it thus:
“It’s probably driven by a selfish need to feel competent at something I’m doing. That certainly isn’t child rearing. I need a crash course.”
Actually, I thought it was good for the reader to see Emily this way too, and not just struggling to keep her (literal and metaphorical) head above water.
The conflict in First Time in Forever will come as no surprise to romance readers and neither will the resolution to it. However, even though I thought the romance between Emily and Ryan moved a bit fast, I found myself charmed by the story anyway. Yes, it isn’t ground-breaking but good writing, appealing characters and sexy banter go a long way in this genre and what it does, it does well. I give First Time in Forever a B.