Saturday, December 5, 2015

'At Love's Bidding' by Regina Jennings

After helping her grandfather at their Boston auction house, Miranda Wimplegate discovers she's accidentally sold a powerful family's prized portrait to an anonymous bidder. Desperate to appease the furious family, her grandfather tracks it to the Missouri Ozarks and makes an outlandish offer to buy the local auction house if they promise not to sell anything until he arrives.

Upon their arrival, however, they discover their new business doesn't deal in fine antiques, but in livestock. And its manager, ruggedly handsome Wyatt Ballentine, is frustrated to discover his fussy new bosses don't know a thing about the business he's single-handedly kept afloat. Faced with more cattle than they can count--but no mysterious painting--Miranda and Wyatt form an unlikely but charged partnership to try and salvage a bad situation getting worse.

It's a comedy of errors. There's one mix-up on the heels of another, and so on. The Wimplegates are a respectable, working class family of auctioneers facing big trouble. They accidentally sold the wrong item, and need to find the missing painting quick smart for the owners. Miranda accompanies her grandfather to follow the slight lead they have, but they don't expect to end up in hillbilly territory, where there are dangerous bandits as well as sweeping beauty.

The romance is thoroughly enjoyable. I'm sure many girls would be willing to travel to remote country towns to find some manly backwoods boy like Wyatt, but unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the way it works, in real life or novels either. Guys like him only seem to drop into the lives of girls who aren't looking for them. Miranda has a long held family understanding with Cousin Cornelius, the phrenologist who loves examining the bumps and contours on people's skulls.

I appreciate this type of novel, because sometimes it takes a good comedy to highlight the ridiculous aspects of life that we buy into with all seriousness. First, people rely on social standing, job status or other titles to feel good about themselves. Even though it may be more subtle in our era, the pressure still exists. Wyatt's fluctuations in fortune during the course of this novel pack a punch. He's in the perfect position to learn first hand how silly it is to wait for cues from others before you give yourself permission to consider yourself OK. 

Grandfather Wimplegate's condition is touching. Nobody calls it by any of its modern terms in this historical novel, but it's clear what ails him. Miranda grapples with the reasonable seeming question of why. If God is supposed to add wisdom with increasing years, what's the deal here? In spite of the poignant aspect, Grandfather's condition adds many of the comic moments to the story.

I'm looking forward to reading more novels in this whimsical, funny series.

Thanks to Bethany House and Net Galley for my review copy.

4.5 stars

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