Becoming Georgia by Emily Carmichael
(Berkley Sensation, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-19101-X
Emily Carmichael has made a name for herself crafting spunky heroines in frontier settings. Becoming Georgia follows this formula, with a heroine who is spit-and-vinegar from the first page to the last. She’s also quite endearing. Georgie Kennedy is the kind of character that lingers in a reader’s mind long after the book is closed.

Georgie has grown up in a series of mining camps and rough frontier outposts. Her father, a widower, did his best to provide for her, but he was always chasing the next gold strike. When the story opens, Georgie’s father has died and she is on her own, with only a Mexican woman named Esperanza for company. Georgie’s father left her two gold claims, and Georgie has sold one to fellow miner Cougar Barnes. With the proceeds, she’s purchased a real house in Prescott, Arizona.

Trouble arrives in the form of an attorney from Chicago. Seems that Georgie’s claims weren’t really hers to sell – they belonged to her grandfather, and now she must figure out a way to get them into her own hands. She’ll have to go to Chicago and have it out with him. How much trouble can one old coot be?

Plenty, as it turns out. Alvin Kennedy is determined to turn his cussing, shooting, riding, graceless granddaughter into a lady, hopefully one who will marry Alexander Stanford, enter into Chicago society, and help him cement a business partnership. To that end, he’s hired Elizabeth Whitney to tutor her. Elizabeth was born a lady but a family scandal has reduced her to a governess. She’s also in love with Alexander herself.

Georgie finds herself agreeing to stay for a year in return for the ownership of both claims. She also finds Alexander unexpectedly attractive. Then Cougar Barnes shows up, determined to show Georgie that she’s just fine the way she is. Who will succeed in winning Georgie’s heart now that she’s leaving “Georgie” behind and “becoming Georgia”?

Georgie’s transformation is not a quick makeover. In fact, she struggles against her basic forthright nature, and this lends the story a bit of realism. On the other hand, her behavior seems over-the-top in most respects, and I had a hard time believing that 1870 Chicago would do anything but turn its back on Georgie and her foul-mouthed clumsiness. Georgie, however, is never desperate for anyone’s approval, and this set exactly the right tone for the book. She’s willing to toe the line and try to behave, but for one reason only – those gold claims. I liked her a lot. I just didn’t believe everyone else would like her quite as much, given the time period.

Alexander and Cougar are fairly stock characters. One is intrigued by the new Georgia; one favors the old Georgie. Elizabeth, who starts out shocked by Georgie’s behavior and ends up wishing she could emulate her a bit, is much more intriguing. In a nifty twist, Elizabeth grows and changes along with Georgie, but in the opposite direction.

Becoming Georgia is Emily Carmichael in fine form. Fans of frontier romance have a treat to enjoy.

--Cathy Sova

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