Some Kind of Wonderful
by Barbara Freethy
(Avon, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0-380-81553-2
****
Barbara Freethy writes romance novels. Not romantic suspense, not romantic comedy, just good old fashioned romance. And she’s good at what she does. When I realized that there was a “secret baby” plot in Some Kind of Wonderful, I started to grit my teeth, but after a few chapters I relaxed and realized that, in Freethy’s talented hands, a solid love story was unfolding.

Apartment neighbors Matt Winters and Caitlyn Devereaux have never met, but they’re about to become very well acquainted. Matt returns home one night from his job at the San Francisco Herald to find a crying baby outside his door. Inexperienced and quickly overwhelmed by the squalling bundle, he persuades his attractive neighbor Caitlyn to help him out with the baby care duties. Matt soon discovers that the baby, Emily, belongs to his younger sister, Sarah, whom he hasn’t seen in more than 12 years. Matt promises Caitlyn he will track Sarah down, if she will just help him out for a little while.

Hey, wait a minute, where are you going? Don’t leave yet, it gets better, I promise. There are no cutesy scenes depicting the baby peeing all over Matt, or Matt trying to give a bottle to the wrong end of the baby. The baby isn’t adorable and “aww”-inspiring. In fact, she cries almost nonstop, while Matt and Caitlyn learn about creative ways to deal with colicky babies (I’ve been there, it’s not a fun experience). Meanwhile, Matt tries to find Sarah, while he reminisces about their difficult childhood and premature separation. Caitlyn, erstwhile fashion designer and owner of a bridal dress store, tries to cope with a persistent ex-fiancé and brilliant parents who seem embarrassed by her career choice. And both try to deal with their developing feelings for each other. Matt, veteran of a broken home, can’t imagine settling down, while Caitlyn, victim of a life-changing accident several years ago, believes she is less than a whole woman.

Freethy gets bonus points for making Emily a baby that is realistically difficult. She also gets kudos for creating two lead characters who aren’t afraid to communicate with other about their fears and hopes. Matt and Caitlyn are good people caught in a difficult situation, although on a few occasions I wanted to slap Matt for his pigheaded assumption that Caitlyn had nothing better to do than to help him care for the baby. I was also tempted to shake Caitlyn for her initial passivity at accepting this unsought responsibility. Freethy shows good insight into her characters’ behaviors and explores with an admirable lack of judgment the parent and child misunderstandings that leave unintentional scars. She even throws in a touch of the supernatural, but not enough to overwhelm the story and the characters, who don’t need any gimmicks.

If there’s a major weakness in the book, it’s the secondary characters of Matt’s sister, Sarah, and the young minister who takes her under his wing. Their relationship begins on an uneven note, with one character helpless and the other providing sanctuary, and when it starts to change into a mutual attraction the “ick” factor increases significantly. Fortunately, Freethy keeps the budding romance understated.

It’s impossible for both Caitlyn and Sarah to have the same happy ending they both want - the right to be mother to baby Emily - but Freethy wraps things up with a hopeful ribbon for all of the major characters. I finished the book, impressed that the author was talented enough to keep me reading when I was ready to throw it against a wall in the first chapter. If you hang in there, I think you’ll enjoy Some Kind of Wonderful as well.

--Susan Scribner


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