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Some Kind of Wonderful
by Maureen Child
(St. Martins, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-98727-7
****
Some Kind of Wonderful is kind of corny, very touching and pretty romantic. All in all, it is a well-written character study that gives a reader the warm fuzzies when it is finished. If this is the kind of romance you like, this is a good one.

Christmas, California is the setting for this poignant tale – a place that celebrates Christmas all year round for the tourists. It is a feel-good small town with lots of connections and families that have lived here their entire lives. Just the kind of town Carol Baker was looking for – the kind of town that could fill her need for love and belonging following a life going from foster home to foster home to group home after her parents were killed when she was only ten. She has been here a couple of years with her Irish wolfhound Quinn and her lovely little Christmas shop she called Christmas Carol’s.

Her life changes when she discovers a young baby (only a day old) in the manger at City Hall on one of her midnight strolls with Quinn. Unwilling to condemn this baby to a life like hers, she agrees to give it a temporary home, and is determined not to love it. With a great sense of humor and because of an obsession with sci-fi shows, she names the baby Liz, short for Lizardbaby. After all, the baby seems to have appeared out of nowhere and who knows if it isn’t an alien! But she grows to love this child and can’t imagine life without it. At the same time, she is slowly falling in love. And this is just as rough a ride as trying not to love Liz.

The man drawing her affection is Jack Reilly. Jack is ex-LAPD. He grew up in Christmas and is the oldest of the Reilly clan. His mother runs the local Ho-Ho-Hotel and Reindeer Café, his sister Maggie is the Social Service worker, his sister Eileen is about to have baby number three, his brother Sean is the local parish priest and the baby of the family is 18-year-old Peggy. Jack is back to recuperate from a tragedy that occurred on the force and to cover for the local sheriff who had a heart attack. He has shut off his emotions and is wallowing in self-pity. None of the family’s efforts to pull him out of himself has worked. He is just waiting for the sheriff to return so he can take off.

Carol sees the tender side of Jack as he helps her care for the baby when she finds herself not knowing what to do. He rents a room from her, putting them in very close proximity. Sexual heat flares, even though both are willing to acknowledge that nothing can and will come of it. But they both need healing and it seems they are meant to help each other mend.

The story is moved along by the discoveries they each make about themselves and each other as their relationship grows. There is also the mystery of who Liz’s real mother is and why she was abandoned. The story takes some twists that a reader can predict and a few that are unpredictable too. Jack’s story is tragic and sad. Carol’s upbringing could have landed her a cynic and cut off from the world. But she chose to go searching for more, and I found myself rooting strongly for her happy ending.

The story starts off a little slow, and there are a lot of loose ends that develop slowly. I do have to comment that the reality of finding an abandoned baby and the ease in which Social Services allows Carol to take the baby is a little farfetched. There is another scene when Jack takes Carol with him to break up a drunken party full of teenagers. While it is nice, it is clearly not by the book. But hey, this is romance world, not Law and Order.

What sets this apart from other stories of the “tragic, angst-filled hero” is that Jack’s story really is sad and would tend to make anyone feel the way he does. And once the pair starts to connect, their uncertainty and reluctance to love are reasonable. The resolution hits the right touch between heartwarming and smarmy…a good way to end a good romantic tale.

One of the strong points about this story is the characters. Carol and Jack are good together and it is fun to see them dance the romance dance. Brothers and sisters are the perfect foil, written with just the right amount of family nuance. And the baby’s mother’s story seems realistic and not too out of kilter with the rest of the action going on.

Some Kind of Wonderful could have been overly melodramatic and too sweet for consumption. But Maureen Child has found the perfect balance to make an endearing romance.

--Shirley Lyons


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