Miranda Blue Calling
by Michelle Curry Wright
(Avon Trade, $13.95, G) ISBN 0-06-056143-2
Miranda Blue has a knack for picking the wrong men. When her latest ill-fated beau punches her in the face, she literally gets some sense knocked into her. She packs her bags and moves to Otnip, Colorado – a dusty little town in the middle of nowhere. Determined to go on a “man fast”, Miranda starts up her own business – a telephone companion service catering to senior citizens – and settles in for a life of seclusion.

Too bad she moved across the street from a sexy distraction. Widower Billy Steadman has been living in Otnip since his young wife succumbed to cancer. A hydroponic farmer specializing in tomatoes, he is immediately and shockingly smitten with Miranda. The only problem is that she’s keeping him at arm’s length and it’s driving him to distraction.

This sounds like a cute book doesn’t it? The premise is clever, and I’m a sucker for “lonely damaged people finding each other” plots. It’s also commendable that Wright takes what is categorized as a Chick Lit novel and puts a new spin on it. Miranda isn’t a city gal sipping cosmopolitans – she’s damaged goods living in the middle of nowhere. Billy isn’t a boyfriend with a big bank account – he’s Beta to the core and so darn sweet I wanted to take him home to my mother.

So it’s really too bad that the author employs some of the more infuriating conflict clichés that are staples in sub par romance novels. That’s right, not only do we have miscommunication but there’s also The Big Misunderstanding! These two couldn’t talk to each other if they had a road map. Miranda doesn’t trust herself around men since the punching incident, so when Billy pursues, she runs. Run Miranda run.

After a while Billy gets a little tired of this (and really, can we blame him?) and decides to have a little fun at Miranda’s expense. He proceeds to push her buttons by telling her he grows the “wacky weed.” This gets Miranda’s dander up and further results in more bantering, more misunderstandings, and more rubbing of my temples. Billy sums up Miranda’s personality the best when he states, “You wanted to by lied to! You wanted to believe what you considered the worse about me.”

And ultimately that’s the main sticking point. Miranda keeps running and hiding through the whole book and never really “gets” it. By this point I start to question Billy’s sanity and begin to liken his behavior to that of a toddler’s – he wants what he can’t have. I wanted to reach through the pages and shake them both senseless.

Admittedly this book sat in “think twice” two-heart territory right up until the end – and then the author redeems the whole thing by writing the sweetest ending I could imagine. While we don’t actually “see” Miranda wake up and smell the coffee, we are left with the feeling that just maybe she will. It’s also commendable that the author has a lovely writing style, with her descriptions of the desolate western landscape particularly beautiful.

Too bad a book that might be considered innovative by Chick Lit standards wallows in tired romance conflict clichés. For readers who aren’t annoyed by lack of communication, or The Big Misunderstanding, Miranda Blue Calling is at times quirky and heart-felt. If you feel an inkling of a “hot button” being pressed though, it might be wise to steer clear.

--Wendy Crutcher

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