Miss Parker's Ponies by Victoria Hinshaw
(Zebra, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-8217-7538-3
***
While Iím a longtime devotee of Regencies, Miss Parkerís Ponies is the first one Iíve read by Victoria Hinshaw. She succeeds in creating vivid characters and humorous dialog, but the story has an uneven gait.

Miss Caroline Parker meets Thomas Ogden when he comes to inspect (and possibly purchase) some horses owned by her cousin, Ned. Caroline herself owns and trains six ponies. Their meeting is unusualóCaroline drives a small curricle led by two ponies as a prank against Ned. Enchanted by the ponies and their driver, Thomas slowly begins a friendship with Caroline.

Subsequent chapters reveal that Caroline has planned to make her come-out with her cousin Isabel. Instead, she receives a letter from her mother saying that she is to have a London season that year and she is expected to marry well (i.e., someone wealthy). Thomas Ogden finds himself in similar circumstances. He has been a part of London society for many years, but this season he must marry a woman with money so he can rebuild an estate.

Thomasí inheritance comes as a surprise; in fact, Thomas himself doesnít learn about it until chapter three. His response when hearing the news: ďIím not sure I understand. I may be the heir to a title and unknown property in a location we cannot precisely identify?Ē He asks the question with some humor and validity. Hinshaw does identify the location and the complicated lineage, but the circumstances seem manufactured to advance the plot.

This leads to my main criticism ó the story falls short in a few places, notably at the beginning and end of the novel. I was several chapters into the book before it grabbed and held my interest.

But once Caroline arrives in London and begins the husband hunt, Miss Parkerís Ponies hits its stride. Caroline and Thomas join forces to help each other on the path to matrimony, and they discuss lists of Carolineís Eligibles and Thomasí Suitables. Hinshaw depicts these conversations with great humor.

Indeed, the strength of the story lies in the relationship between Caroline and Thomas. They start with a mutual attraction that progresses to friendship and evolves into love. A scene toward the end of the novel where they acknowledge their feelings for each other is particularly poignant.

The resolution was less convincing ó it seems too easy considering the significance placed on money (or the lack of it) throughout the story.

Still, Victoria Hinshaw is a talented writer and the Caroline/Thomas romance is both fun and interesting. Patient readers looking for a light enjoyable romance may want to put Miss Parkerís Ponies through the paces.

--Alyssa Hurzeler


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