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06 June 2006

Miss Wonderful (2004)

By Loretta Chase

From the back cover: "Alistair Carsington really, really wishes he didn't love women quite so much. To escape his worst impulses, he sets out for a place far from civilization: Derbyshire - in winter! - where he hopes to kill two birds with one stone: avoid all temptation, and repay the friend who saved his life on the fields of Waterloo. But this noble aim drops him straight into opposition with Miss Mirabel Oldridge, a woman every bit as intelligent, obstinate, and devious as he — and maddeningly irresistible. Mirabel Oldridge already has her hands full keeping her brilliant and aggravatingly eccentric father out of trouble. The last thing she needs is a stunningly attractive, oversensitive and over-bright aristocrat reminding her she has a heart - not to mention a body he claims is so unstylishly clothed that undressing her is practically a civic duty."

Sweet goodness but Chase is great! I have not been this impressed with an author in years and years. Her characters are wonderful - not at all the sawdust-filled, hackneyed contrivances of even moderately effective authors - and her plots seem packed with endless (genre) originality.

And it has been years and years, indeed, since my actual age was less than that of the heroine. The character of Miss Mirabel was 31 and - gasp - handsome young Mr. Carsington was only 29. Shocking! More shocking still was an accidental premature release on Alistair's part - a definite first for flawless romance heroes.

While Chase did not force me to suffer through any BIG MISUNDERSTANDINGS, Chase did rely on an old standby: the BIG OBSTACLE. I was used to this device when reading Civil War romances in my youth. Northern solider, Southern belle (generally a spy or a woman who smuggled medical supplies - never guns!), and divided loyalties - that sort of thing. However, Chase handled the issue with gentle aplomb and originality. The BIG OBSTACLE was nothing more ornate or unusual than industrialists' designs on building a canal through bucolic farmland. Carsington was the industrialist and Mirabel was the countrywoman set against his plans. Simple, but real.

In addition, Chase never allowed the two main characters to stay at odds with each other, keeping them well away from BIG MISUNDERSTANDINGS. When Alistair discovered that Mirabel suggested to his family that he was losing his mind and should therefore return to London, out of her hair, he confronted her directly. And she apologized! They hugged. They made out. They resolved to care for each other, still, while working toward a common solution. Seriously! Wonderful!

Chase is a very skilled writer, technically speaking. She never allows sloppy prose to spoil her characters' special, witty charm. She utilizes semi-colons and very proper grammar, rendering her descriptive paragraphs as charming and antique as the dialogue. I love the full effect of the tale she created, even down to the correct usage of the word "whence." So much fun for a silly grammar nerd like me.

As in the other Carsington brothers books, Mr. Impossible and Lord Perfect, the hero's esteemed and influential parents made minor but significant appearances. They are instrumental in insuring their sons' romantic successes, which makes me smile. Again, it lent a certain perspective in a genre that is generally obsessed with the ONE + ONE story; a solid grounding amongst loving family members tends to lessen the claustrophobia of the tale and suggest that - although they are newly in love and it seems the most unique experience in the world - these scenarios are as old as time.

Grumble. I have run out of Carsington books. Two brothers remain, so Chase must be working on them as I write - which makes me smile. I will return to this fun, diverting world next spring! In the meantime, back catalogue - here I come.

Blogger Kate R said...

isn't she the business? this was the first Chase book I read and I immediately went on a major glomming spree. I read all of her books within a month and didn't get tired of her characters.

Blogger carrie_lofty said...

I found her very, very refreshing! Characters who acted like.... um.... people! I'm on Captives of the Night right now, which hasn't grabbed me as forcefully, but I'm hooked on Chase. I'll give the time she needs!


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