Courting Carrie in Wonderland
Grade : A-

Are books read on vacation just better? While I wouldn't say an awful book would suddenly become riveting when read in the shade of a palm tree, I do have some particularly fond memories of vacation reads. I read Courting Carrie on a cruise ship, on my honeymoon. So, you know, it's kind of hard to top that. The fact that the book itself has something of a vacation setting - neither the hero and heroine is on vacation, but they spend time with those who are - added to the appeal for me. If you enjoy American history, unusual settings, or Yellowstone National Park, I really think you will like it too.

Sergeant Major Ramsay Stiles is still adjusting to having received the Medal of Honor and a new promotion when he is given the instruction to find a wife. He doesn't dismiss the notion out of hand, but he has given little thought to the idea over the years. His new promotion and assignment has him interacting with the soldiers, tourist companies, and hotels of Yellowstone National Park, finding out their needs and facilitating the army's assistance and response. The book is set in 1903, and at this point there is not yet a National Park Service - it's up to the army to keep the wilderness - which Yellowstone still is - safe.

Ramsay does not expect to find a potential wife so quickly after being asked to do so, yet on his first round of the park he finds Carrie McKay at the Wylie Campground. She serves him cherry pie so delicious it melts in his mouth, and is beautiful, kind, and practical besides. He likes her immediately. He also finds that she shares some of his views on nature and wildlife, which for the time are progressive and forward thinking. He quickly starts thinking of excuses to visit the Wylie Campground again.

Carrie is cheerful and hardworking, but has not had the easiest life. The Wylie campground is primarily staffed with teachers and students during the summer, and Carrie is among their number. She attends the Montana Agricultural College in Bozeman and needs every penny she earns to pay her way. She spent her childhood working in a hotel with a poor mother who worked as a cook and died young. She's known a lot of hardship, and her life is further complicated by a fellow employee with a grudge who spreads false rumors about her. When Carrie meets Ramsay, the attraction is mutual. He's attractive, gentlemanly, and interesting.

This is not the type of book where the hero and heroine play petty games, or misunderstand each other, or, forgetting they are in a romance novel and are destined to marry each other in any case, try to drive the other person away for his or her own good. They like each other and are up front about that. Their friends and allies all support the match and they are aided, abetted, and encouraged from all sides. So, if you've had your fill of drama and scheming and want to read about a hero and heroine solving problems together, Courting Carrie has a lot to recommend it.

They do encounter problems, though. Ramsay is charged with escorting a difficult, high-profile guest through the park and enlists Carrie's aid, which throws them together in a convenient way. Carrie also has her mean-spirited, gossipy nemesis to deal with, and Ramsey encounters a career problem toward the end that is serious and quite likely threatening to the relationship. However, both seem to realize early on that they are a team, and they approach their problems accordingly. I'd say that bodes well for future happiness.

The book's title is derived from Yellowstone's old nickname of Wonderland, and is is surely is a love letter to America's first national park. If you're a park enthusiast you will almost certainly enjoy that aspect of the story. As usual, Kelly's research is thorough, and the setting is integrated well into the romance. This is a story with a strong sense of place, not a wall paper western that could take place anywhere. That's not to say that it's dry or text book-like; I would describe it as richly textured.

It's also hard to imagine not caring about the characters, who are sympathetic and likeable. "Ordinary" characters have always been Carla Kelly's stock in trade, and she does an excellent job at showing how romance is not just the province of the wealthy, titled, and important. I particularly liked the Sergeant Major, and I couldn't blame Carrie in the slightest for falling in love with her handsome, brave man in uniform; he is a hero in more ways than one. I'd also like to give a quiet shout-out to the fact that he clearly has what we'd now call PTSD but what would then have just been something he had to deal with. Ramsay's Medal of Honor was awarded for assuming leadership after his lieutenant was killed and taking a cave in the Philippines during the Spanish American War. In his nightmares, he gets to retake the cave all the time. That's about how that worked then, now, and probably since the dawn of time. In Ramsay's case, observing park wildlife is part of his healing, but realistically, it doesn't ‘cure’ him. Because Carrie has her own issues from growing up in poverty, she intuitively understands something about how his brain works. And have you ever even seen another hero who is a Spanish American War vet? I've been reviewing for nearly two decades now, and I haven't. I tend to value novel settings (whether in time or location - and this had both) highly, so this was a big hit with me.

Carla Kelly has had a long and varied career, and quite likely if you're reading this review you're already a fan. If you aren't familiar with her books I would encourage you to give this one a try, particularly if you love nature, westerns, or military romances. I think you'll enjoy it, whether you're reading it on a cruise ship, a crowded subway, or the comfort of your own home.


Reviewed by Blythe Smith
Grade : A-

Sensuality: Kisses

Review Date : April 22, 2017

Publication Date: 03/2017

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Blythe Smith

I've been at AAR since dinosaurs roamed the Internet. I've been a Reviewer, Reviews Editor, Managing Editor, Publisher, and Blogger. Oh, and Advertising Corodinator. Right now I'm taking a step back to concentrate on kids, new husband, and new job in law...but I'll still keep my toe in the romance waters.
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