Pandora's Box

Miss Wonderful

Loretta Chase
2004, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Berkley, $6.99, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425194833
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

There is a staff review of this book as well

Loretta Chase's long awaited Miss Wonderful brings together a seemingly mismatched couple, Alistair Carsington and Mirabel Oldridge. A hero from the Battle of Waterloo, Alistair is embarrassed by the adulation he receives on his return home and works hard to disguise his permanent injury. As a third son, the fashionable dandy has been an expensive burden for his father, the Earl of Hargate, who gives Alistair six months to make something of himself or marry an heiress of his father's choosing.

Alistair forms a partnership with a long-time friend to build a canal and immediately runs into a wall of opposition in Mirabel, who has been running her father's estate for over 10 years. Mirabel has given up much for the sake of the estate and she is determined not to let Alistair's project spoil its beauty. In spite of their running battle over the canal that would divide her land, and of the determination they both have to avoid entanglements, Alistair and Mirabel find that their emotions are not so easily buried.

Linda:   It has been a long wait for Loretta Chase to do another Regency-set historical, but in the case of Miss Wonderful the wait was worth it to me. I was caught from page one and ended up finishing the book at 3:30 this morning. I just couldn't put it down.

Blythe:   Linda, I really loved it too. I think I am a real oddity where Chase is concerned; I am one of the few people I know who traded Lord of Scoundrels back to the UBS but kept The Last Hellion. I'd actually be curious to reread LOS since it's been many years and I don't know if my reaction would be the same. Lord of Scoundrels is not only considerred a classic romance by many, it was voted the best romance of all time by our readers the last time we polled. But that's neither here nor there. Miss Wonderful is a delightful read with a hero to die for. Like you, I couldn't put it down, and I didn't want it to end.

Linda:   I was overjoyed at the end when I realized Alistair had two younger brothers for us to read about. This is one trilogy that I won't want to miss. Alistair was a hero to die for, but Mirabel was a wonderful match for him. Their dialogue just sparkled. I also liked the fact that she was 31 to his 29.

Blythe:   I liked the age difference too, and also liked that no one really made a big deal out of it. Sometimes I am a little leery of trilogies and series because they are so common and because it can be hard to maintain quality and interest as they go along. But I am really looking forward to the other books. I like that Alistair's father is mostly a shadowy, background figure. He's very much a presence but is only on stage just enough to whet the appetite. But by far, my favorite character of the lot is Alistair. He's a type of hero I really enjoy - the previously irresponsible hero who needs to buckle down and see what he's made of. I loved how he treated Mirabel, I loved how he fell in love easily, and I loved that he was a total dandy who rode through a storm for two hours to get home because he wouldn't have clothes for the next day.

Linda:   Yes, Alistair is a wonderful creation and I too love the reformed rake. But, there is a lot more to Alistair then the carefree dandy he presents to the ton. As he is reminded of Waterloo, it's heartbreaking to learn what he endured. That part of the book reminded me of the wonderful Carla Kelly book we read with the hero who survived Badajoz - One Good Turn. But, the tone of this book is much lighter and it is more action packed. About halfway through I thought to myself that Chase had come up with a completely fresh Regency-era historical, even if the characters were some of my "Regency stock" favorites.

Blythe:   Alistair didn't make me think of the Kelly book, but it did put me in mind of two others: Danelle Harmon's The Wild One and Julia Justiss' Wicked Wager. What each of these characters have in common to me is a sense of irresponsibility and youthful indiscretion that they must overcome. They are thought of as careless or useless in some way until circumstances force them to change. I didn't think of Alistair as a rake, reformed or otherwise. I actually liked the conversation he had with Mirabel when he explained that he was not a rake.

Linda:   As I recall, the hero of the Kelly book was a reformed alcoholic who had been the semi-villain of Kelly's previous book and I just loved him - with all the books I read it is not easy to recall details of most books, but that one stuck with me and I thought Alistair just as wonderful. I haven't read the two you mentioned, but the reformed rake who once was a complete screw up is always a favorite for me. I also loved Mirabel, a woman who sacrificed love for responsibility earlier in her life. Her thirst to experience love even as she knew that Alistair's canal project would forever keep them on opposite sides made for such great conflict! I loved her climbing the ladder to Alistair's room and seducing him, I was laughing so hard as she flung her undies at him; while he stared at his boots and tried to be honorable - he was doomed from the start. But, this scene took a familiar ploy and turned it on its head by having the woman be the one climbing the ladder for a seduction.

Blythe:   Wicked Wager was a Pandora book - the one you didn't like, and I chose as my favorite book of last year.

You know who I totally loved? Mirabel's father. I loved his obsession with botany, and I loved his roundabout way of speaking. He totally knew what was going on, but his obscure comments and botanical allusions made almost no sense to anyone else. At the beginning of the book, Mirabel tells Alistair that she thinks her father's epitaph should read, "Beloved Father, Detained Elsewhere." That had me LOL.

Linda:   LOL, I guess I disliked

Wicked Wager so much I blocked it from my mind.

I loved MW so much and as I read it I just keeping thinking how great it was to read a completly fresh story. I have read all of Chase's Regencies and I think that romance readers have really missed her work. I was laughing from the first page as Alistair read from his father's "Episodes of Stupidity" list. I liked Mirabel's father too, especially the fact that he always present and on time for dinner. He did have insight and his comments comparing Alistair's clothes and the spines on a cactus were very apt. But, the scene that really sent me into hysterics was at the dinner where Mirabel purposely looked awful to distract Alistair from his goal. It was brilliant and Alistair's agony at having to look at her was hilarious.

Blythe:   I thought that was funny too. Even funnier to me was his appearance on his wedding day. What I also liked about this book is that it was creative and well-written. Maybe it's just that I read a few too many 'C' level books last year, but at first I was just terrified that Chase was going to fall back on some annoying cliche or plot device. I was particularly worried when there is a problem concerning Mirabel's father toward the end. I thought for sure this was going to result in an annoying eleventh hour misunderstanding. When it didn't, I was so relieved.

Linda:   I too was worried that there would be either a hated 'Big Misunderstanding' or the equally awful, "Long Separation." Chase fell back on neither of these dreaded cliches and her non-reliance on these standards was part of what made this book seem so fresh. Chase seems to turn each cliche on its head. Mirabel and Alistair are three-dimensional characters whose vitality just springs off the page.

Blythe:   I'm actually feeling cautiously optimistic about historicals lately. In recent years, I've found good historicals somewhat hard to come by. But I've read several recently that really give me hope that the days of the great historical romance are not entirely in the past. Miss Wonderful is that kind of book. It manages to avoid tired plotting and that whole ‘been there done that' feeling. I couldn't help feeling really encouraged when I closed the book, especially since we will be hearing even more from Chase in the future.

Linda:   I have been on something of a roll lately in my reading, I just finished Amanda Quick's next book The Paid Companion due out in May and really liked it a lot. I also read a medieval by Terri Brisbin, The Norman's Wife that I really loved - the hero is the villain in her previous book and was my favorite beastly tortured hero. <g>

Blythe:   Another book that had me feeling encouraged was Diane Farr's book from last year, Under the Wishing Star. I read it in January and really enjoyed it. As it happens, the sequel, Under a Lucky Star, is the subject of our next Pandora. Obviously, I am really looking forward to it. I'm a huge Farr fan.

Linda:   I have three of Farr's books in my TBR pile based on online WOM, but haven't actually read one. I will try to read Wishing Star before I read the sequel, but I am really looking forward to discovering what all the wonderful buzz is about.

Blythe:   Most of them are well worth reading if you get the chance. I hope you like her as much as I do. See you next month, and happy reading!

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for

-- Pandora's Box

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