has also reviewed:

In the Fairbourne Family Series:

The Captain's Bride

Cranberry Point

 
Wishing by Miranda Jarrett
(Sonnet, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-671-00341-0
*****
Miranda Jarrett's Wishing is a true delight. It's by turns suspenseful, dramatic, touching, tinglingly mystical, and most often simply a load of fun to read. The book is beautifully done and never hits a sour note. In fact, I somewhat wonder if I loved this book so much simply because I read it with a constant fear of sour notes that, happily, never came.

You know how it is – sometimes you pick up a book and read the back cover copy, and it just leaves you rather cold. The heroine sounds irritating, the hero sounds like a clod, and the whole thing seems like something you've read before and then wished you hadn't. But something (in this case, my editor) compels you to go ahead and read it anyway, and what you find is a sweet surprise.

Imagine that you'd expected a foot-stomping, fit-throwing heroine. You know the type – the ones who are always loudly proclaiming their independence while concurrently getting into all manner of dangerous predicaments, the ones who take undue umbrage at every little thing and make everyone's life miserable as a result, the ones who interpret all well-meant gestures as rude interference. Yes, we've all met those heroines before. Now imagine that what you meet instead is a heroine who's sensible, brave, strong, kind-hearted, intelligent, and mature. A little naοve, perhaps, but bright enough to recognize that trait in herself and behave accordingly. Hmmm… an interesting development.

Now imagine that you'd expected a true boor of a hero – the bellowing, unreasonable, high-handed, infuriating kind. And suppose that instead you meet a hero who is, well, a lot like the heroine in fact – sensible, brave, strong, kind-hearted, intelligent, and mature. He's got some misguided notions about women, true enough, and he's often in a muddle when dealing with them, but he's a good guy nonetheless.

And finally, imagine that you've got a plot literally teeming with opportunities for the dreaded Big Misunderstanding. But then suppose that, in this particular book, when those opportunities arise, the central characters actually (are you sitting down?) talk to each other! And when they talk, they actually manage to mention what's troubling them, and more or less resolve their differences! What an interesting approach to fiction.

So the point all this rambling has led me to is this: Wishing defied all my expectations, and defied them in the most wonderful sense. Now enough of all this imagining – let's get to the details.

The year is 1721 and Miss Polly Ann Bray is a plainspoken Massachusetts woman. Since her mother died in childbirth, she was raised by her fisherman father as the son he never had, fishing with him, dressing in practical boys' clothing, and learning all about ships, the sea, and the sailor's life. Her caring father always dreamed of the day he'd be able to dress his daughter in a lady's gown of silk, but he didn't live to see that dream come true. Now Polly seriously doubts she'll ever see such a thing herself, not that she's overly concerned. She's got no home of her own, no family left in the world, her late father's debts to pay off, and a lot of hard work in front of her. But she's also got a bit of fate coming her way, and in comes in the form of an ordinary rum bottle with a note inside.

The note was written by Samson Fairbourne, captain of a merchant ship, who had written a wrong-headed description of the "perfect" wife, stuffed it into a bottle, and tossed it into the sea. This was done in an effort to prove to his young cousin, Zach, the uselessness of wishing for the impossible. The perfect woman can't exist, you see, because all women are greedy, grasping creatures who live only for trinkets and gifts and fancy dresses. I believe I mentioned these misguided notions earlier, but all of Sam's notions are turned upside down the day he fishes one Polly Ann Bray out of the sea. The Caribbean Sea, that is. Now, however did a Massachusetts girl end up in the Caribbean? Well, that's part of the mystery. A more important question is – how is she to get home?

After some initial wrangling, it's decided that Samson will take her home, since he's headed to Boston anyway. It sounds simple enough, but what blossoms between this pair on the journey home is not simple at all. Samson is confounded by this woman who is so unlike any other he's met. She's like a man – like himself, in fact – in some ways, but unmistakably a woman in others. As for Polly, she doesn't understand Samson any better. She learns early on that he's not nearly as stern as he pretends to be, but what then is he, exactly? And is it possible that he could truly be interested in a poor, plain fisherman's daughter in breeches?

There's much more to the plot of this story that I won't go into – a dangerous Spaniard with a vendetta for Samson, the various fits and starts of Polly and Samson's relationship, and a touch of magic that's thrown into the mix. What I will say is that this book is grand entertainment. The characters – even the secondary ones – are realistically drawn and fleshed-out. The pace is lively, the dialogue crisp and often amusing, and the romance supremely satisfying.

If you're a fan of shipboard romances or colonial romances, welcome to heaven. Even if you're not, I urge you to give this one a try. It just might defy your expectations, too.

-- Ellen Hestand


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