by Alissa Johnson, historical (2009)
Leisure, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6156-0
Tempting Fate doesn't have a compelling back cover synopsis and its cover, while pretty, doesn't stand out to me, so this book would have languished a while longer in my book pile were not for... luck, I suppose. My eyes happened to fall on this book while I was rummaging through my books for something to read. "Alissa Johnson?" I muttered, not having heard of her before. Heck, I couldn't even remember when I bought this book. I sat down, opened the book to the first page, began reading... and was hooked from start to finish.
Whittaker Cole and Mirabelle Browning have known each other since they were kids, and they have always disliked each other. Each of them will tell you a different story on how their feud started, but one thing is for certain: they may profess not to like each other much, but they certainly enjoy their attempts to get the better of the other person. Since Mirabelle is very close to Whit's family, they are constantly bumping into each other, heh.
All that slowly changes as this story progresses. Whit's mother decides that it is time Whit and Mirabelle acknowledge the chemistry between them, and if she has to enlist a bunch of allies to her cause, so be it. But even without her machinations, Whit and Mirabelle are going to see each other in a different light soon enough. Let's face it, they have been going at it for so long, something has got to give.
This story doesn't have many external conflicts to get in the way of the developing relationship between Whit and Mirabelle. Even the matchmaking antics aren't intrusive. Actually, it seems to me that the couple have fallen in love anyway with or without the matchmaking antics, which is good as a couple that are forced to get together by artificial means will never make a believable romance story.
What I find adorable about this story is how refreshingly down to earth and normal Whit and Mirabelle are.
Whit is not a secret agent or rake - he's just a normal Earl without any angst or superlative adjectives pegged to him. Don't think Whit is boring though, because he's definitely a fun hero here. I especially love how jealous he can be, his violent passions so at odds with his everyday bloke personality, and how he commits all these romantic grand gestures toward Mirabelle without putting much thought to them, as if carrying the heroine all the way back home when she's injured is something that comes naturally to him. Who says nice guys are boring? They haven't met Whit, I'd say.
Mirabelle is also a fun heroine. She too doesn't have any over the top angst or martyr complex despite being saddled with an unpleasant uncle. She can take care of herself as best as a genteel lady can and, when it comes to thinking power, she can definitely put two and two together. I also enjoy how she may be sheltered but she isn't some cock-eyed twit who does stupid things in the name of sexual awakening. She feels desire, she accepts it, and she certainly doesn't turn hysterical or read stupid things in the hero's actions. Mirabelle doesn't come to obviously wrong conclusions and she also doesn't believe that she is ugly or unlovable. Mirabelle is just an ordinary lady whose refreshing normalcy actually turns her into a very memorable and interesting character.
The romance is really enjoyable to follow because it's about two sometimes smart, sometimes silly, but always adorable people falling in love on equal terms and in a somewhat level playing field. There are some events in this story that may feel contrived (this is a story with matchmaking machinations in the background, after all), but the romance feels like the most natural thing in the world. Full of light-hearted banters and joviality in the prose, this book is too much fun to read.
The more action-packed events in the more climatic parts of the story aren't the most interesting I've read, but that is fine since the romance is so much fun that a little silly suspense subplot can't hurt. My bigger issue with this story is how some scenes, designed to be foundations for future books, leave me scratching my head. For example, for a protective fellow, Whit allows a young female guest in his house to be stalked by his more emo buddy, an act that is out-of-character for him. But again, I am willing to overlook these scenes because hey, Whit and Mirabelle have fallen in love and I love every minute of it.
If you are a fan of romantic comedies by authors such as Julia Quinn or if you adore the heroes and heroines who are normal people even if they have titles, and you haven't heard of Alissa Johnson before, hey, now you do. The next time you see this book in a bookstore, spare a moment to flick through the pages to see if it's to your liking. Tempting Fate is one book that I feel is a hidden gem just waiting for an appreciative audience to take notice of it.
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