Sarah Morgan’s Sleepless in Manhattan is another recent (2016) Harlequin that is discreet about its publisher. Like Lord of the Privateers and its Mira Books imprint, this one’s www.hqnbooks.com site redirects to Harlequin. This book is also part of a series, though the first, and it’s another second chance romance.
As the title suggests, this is a contemporary, set in New York City. In Morgan’s Forward, she notes that she loves New York, and that when she visits, “I always feel as if I’m walking onto a film set” because so many of her favourite movies are set there. I’ve never visited, but from seeing New York in so many movies it’s hard to believe it’s anything other than a film set, so I like her take on the city. And she says the setting worked liked another character. So I had high expectations for the portrayal of the city, but unfortunately they were not met.
Cities, especially New York, have both magic and grit. In Wish Me Tomorrow, I got a strong sense of that, particularly in the character’s residences. The heroine lives in a small shared apartment; the hero has a decent place in a building with a cranky elevator and power outages. The New York of Sleepless in Manhattan has the magic, but not the grit. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the residences.
The hero, Jake, lives in a modern Manhattan apartment where floor to ceiling windows provide a fabulous view of the Hudson River and the Brooklyn bridge. Paige lives in a Brooklyn brownstone, renovated into three apartments and owned by her brother, Matt, who lives in the upper two floors. Paige and her friend Eva share a one floor apartment, and their friend Frankie lives in the lower unit (and they all work together). The three women and Matt routinely get together on the lush rooftop garden for movie nights (often joined by Matt’s best friend – you guessed it – Jake). I’m sure places like these exist, but this is the New York of movies and dreams and very very rich people. A brownstone in Brooklyn is at least a couple of million dollars, and it’s questionable that Matt’s bought and renovated the place on his landscape architect salary (2017 average $56,738).
The cozy living arrangement, and limited use of other locations, gives the story a small town feel at odds with the setting, and weakens the romance story line. There are eight million stories in the naked city, but this one is about two people who met as teens, are already in love, already know all about each other, and see each other socially.
Just in case you are wondering where the eight million stories is from…
Since I’m going over what disappointed me about the story, I’ll also mention that the usual suspects were present – hero frequently has meaningless sex to distract himself from woman he really loves, heroine has minimal relationships while hoping to land the man she really loves, and there’s fantastic first time sex (hampered only by the hero’s apparently large penis). Matt and Jake both came from nothing to amass great wealth, especially Jake, and Paige’s new business becomes fantastically successful – after a money-is-no-object boost from Jake.
With that out-of-the-way, there were enjoyable aspects. The tone is light, and every chapter starts with a witty epigram from one of the characters. The plot starts with a wonderful dark note – Paige is expecting a promotion, but she and her friends are fired – and the writing is sharp. Despite the job loss and struggles to find new work, there is never any serious threat of poverty, and never any doubt that the couple will get back together. The tension, such as it is, consists of wondering when Paige and Jake will get back together, how, how steamy and frequent the sex scenes will be (steamy, but not excessively frequent) and what might cause the climactic hiccup in the relationship. It’s enough to keep the story moving along, and the starting a business subplot dovetails with the starting a relationship plot.
Paige does get rescued by Jake, in that he suggests the three women start their own business, and he helps get the business going, but she’s independent enough to do it, and skillful enough to succeed once the business gets customers. There’s character growth too, mostly on Jake’s part, and it integrates well with the plot.
In Morgan’s afterword, she acknowledges receiving a 75 published titles recognition from Harlequin, and thanks her readers. Perhaps it’s all the references to movies, made by the author and the characters, but this story would be great as a romantic comedy film. That I can imagine these characters and the plot events as a film is a tribute to Morgan’s great story telling skills. However, for me, this story was a little too rom-com.