Tuesday, 3 March 2015

For the First Time in Forever, or How to Capture Setting

 Windswept, isolated and ruggedly beautiful, Puffin Island is a haven for day-trippers and daydreamers alike.
But this charming community has a way of bringing people together in the most unexpected ways…  
It's been a summer of firsts for Emily Donovan. From becoming a stand-in mom to her niece Lizzie to arriving on Puffin Island, her life has become virtually unrecognizable. Between desperately safeguarding Lizzie and her overwhelming fear of the ocean—which surrounds her everywhere she goes!—Emily has lost count of the number of "just breathe" pep talks she's given herself. And that's before charismatic local yacht club owner Ryan Cooper kisses her…

Ryan knows all about secrets. And it's clear that newcomer Emily—with her haunted eyes and the little girl she won't let out of her sight—is hiding from something besides the crazy chemistry between them. So Ryan decides he's going to make it his personal mission to help her unwind and enjoy the sparks! But can Puffin Island work its magic on Emily and get her to take the biggest leap of trust of all—putting her heart in someone else's hands?
I love Sarah Morgan's books.

Like really love them.  

From her M&B Modern romances, starring Greek, Italian and Sheikh alpha heroes, to the sizzling Notting Hill Diaries, to her enchanting Snow Crystal trilogy, she is a master of both character development and the painting of settings...

And First Time in Forever is no exception.

Let us first take the characters...

Emily is the kind of romance heroine for whom the hashtag #strongromanceheroine was made.  She had a tough childhood and an even tougher experience involving the sea.  And so when the death of her half-sister finds her left as the sole guardian of a niece she's never met before, she takes her to the one place she knows she can keep her safe:  Puffin Island.

Perhaps the best thing about Emily, is the fact that she's not perfect.  Her fear of the ocean - one which is more than a little justified - leaves her terrified of leaving Lizzie, her niece alone, and in some ways can be seen as quite a self-centred.

That's not to say she's unlikeable.  We like Emily because of her fears and her determination to do the right thing - even if she's not always certain what that might be.

And then there's Ryan.  Ryan who knows exactly how to bring up a little child because of his teenage years, helping to bring up his much younger siblings.  Ryan who is determined not to get stuck with overwhelming responsibility like that again.

There's great healing in this book.  Neither of our main characters - nor the accompanying cast of characters we get to meet and fall in love with on the island - are two-dimensional.  It would be very easy to make them so:  the heroine with a past; the hero who shirks commitment; the wise grandmother; the two best friends who hide their attraction for each other...  But it's the details about their lives that make them come to life on the page.

And this is in no little way, partly due to Puffin Island itself.

Morgan is a master of setting - whether close-knit community, or exotic hideaway - and PI is no different.  The place is intertwined with a feeling of belonging which is impossible to shake off.  We get a sense of the trials and tribulations of the island, from the lack of tourism trade during the winter months, to the annual cook-out on the beach!

We are introduced to everyone, from the elderly book club, to the lonely ice cream shop owner, from the gruff harbour master, to the vibrant school teacher, as well as everyone in between.

Puffin Island is a place.  It is real in the pages of First Time in Forever and it becomes real in our hearts.