Desert Isle Keeper
When The Ideal Bride came out last year and everyone began raving about it (including LLB, whose taste is very similar to my own) , I rushed out and bought a copy. I read the book. I enjoyed it. But I didn’t love it and I didn’t get what all the fuss was about. Why all the raves about Nonnie St. George? After reading Courting Trouble you can call me converted. It made me smile and laugh and sigh. St. George’s incredibly fast and sharp dialogue is spoken by a hero and heroine who are as delightful as they are intelligent, and the supporting cast sparkles. Add in hilarious spoofing of some of the romance genre’s hoariest clichés and you have a winner.
The Duke of St. Fell has to marry for money. Not that that’s a problem. He’s charming and drop dead gorgeous. Oh and did I mention he’s a duke? When he meets Mr. Joseph Swann, second wealthiest merchant in England and the father of two eligible daughters, St. Fell decides the time for marriage is now. And since the younger Swann daughter, Diana, has been spoken for by his friend Lord Belcraven, St. Fell decides he will marry the other.
Miss Arabella Swann has come to London to meet eligible men and fall in love. Her father promised she could have her choice of any of the eligible men she meets. Trouble is her father hasn’t let her meet any men at all. Her sister Diana is no help. She took one look at the man Joseph Swann brought home for her, Lord Belcraven, and fell in love. That’s not going to happen to Arabella – even if the man her father picked is a handsome duke who’s rumored to be a rake. So what if he’s funny and clever and sees her for who she is within a matter of moments? So what if the sight of his hands or the little hitch he does with his shoulders makes her pant. She’s not going to marry the first man her father brings home.
Now I’ll be the first to admit the plot doesn’t sound all that groundbreaking. Hero marrying a merchant’s daughter for money, convinced that it won’t affect his life in any way. Heroine determined to marry only for love. In less sure hands Courting Trouble could have gone spectacularly wrong or been astoundingly boring. But it didn’t and it isn’t. That’s entirely due to St. George’s incredible writing. While the humor is ever-present, Ms. St. George also creates small moments of tenderness. I knew that Arabella would love the Duke and vice versa as soon as they started talking to each. Perhaps even earlier. Not because this is a romance, not because they’re the hero and heroine and of course they’ll fall in love, but because of the way it’s written. Every word counts.
In addition to the increasingly amusing and witty banter (think Bet Me by Crusie) the author includes a lot of affectionate pokes at the romance genre and romance readers. When Arabella’s aunt and father are trying to sell her on St. Fell:
Aunt Ophelia dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief. “In any event, everyone knows rakes make the best of husbands. Just ask your papa. He used to be a rake.”
Papa shrugged. “Times were different then. Used to mean something to be a rake. Nowadays every man who can waltz thinks he’s a rake.”
And later, when St. Fell’s mother is trying to determine if Arabella will be suitable:
“Of course, I am assuming she has all the qualifications to become a duchess,” his mother continued, still refusing to spontaneously combust. “Intelligence, determination, firm opinions, and a monkey. Well, it doesn’t have to be a monkey,” Mother said. “I had a python when I met the duke. Any unusual pet will do. Either that or she curses.”
A running joke is the fact that everyone reads Minerva Press novels but won’t admit to it.
“Arabella sniffed. She had no idea why her aunt insisted on reading them, they were such rubbish. Arabella would be mortified to be seen with one herself. In any event, she had already read this one yesterday whilst Aunt Ophelia was having a dress fitting.”
Lest you think this is nothing but slapstick, rest easy. I said the writing was incredible, didn’t I? On the surface this could read as simply light and breezy. But there’s much more here. As often as the writing made me laugh or smile, it made me think. The play on words and ideas is nice, but what’s nicer is the relationship that forms. This is a man and a woman who respect each other even while they’re each trying to get the upper hand. Because they’re intellectual and emotional equals, neither can truly get that position of power but it was fun watching them try.
My one wish for the author’s next book is that it dials the humor back just one notch. Too much of a good thing can become overwhelming. And in this case there were times where I would have liked to see longer emotional pauses amongst all the cleverness. Okay, quibble aside, after writing this review I feel the need to pick it up again. I recommend you do the same and be sure to read every page. You’ll find a couple of amusing nuggets on most pages if you do.