The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes
by Jennifer Crusie, Eileen Dreyer, and Anne Stuart
(St. Martin’s, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-31294098-X
Authors working as partners under one name is nothing new in the romance world. The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes is an unusual collaboration in that it’s not an anthology, and all three authors helped craft the book. It works surprisingly well. Fast paced, slightly offbeat, and with a full load of humor, this story of three sisters who discover their true loves and their full witchcraft powers is a summer delight.

Dee, Lizzie, and Mare Fortune are the daughters of famous TV psychics. As children, they were forced to take part in the show, especially Dee, the oldest. Twelve years earlier, the parents died in mysterious circumstances, and Dee believes their Aunt Xanthippe murdered them to absorb their powers. Dee took her sisters and went into hiding, moving from one small town to another and hoping Xan wouldn’t find them. For the past few years, Salem’s Fork has been their home. Dee works in a bank, Mare manages the local Value Video!! store, and Lizzie mostly takes care of the house, when she isn’t accidentally blowing things up experimenting with her magic.

Now Xan is approaching menopause and her powers are beginning to wane. The three sisters have never mastered their witchcraft, having had no tutelage. Xan hatches a plan. She’ll send each girl her True Love, and in exchange, the girls will be glad to give up their untested and out-of-control powers in order to lead a normal life.

Dee transforms into various creatures, both human and otherwise, when under stress - especially sex. Needless to say, this has put a serious damper on her love life. Lizzie can change objects into different forms - shoes into bunnies, for example - but can’t control it. She’s working on turning straw into gold in order to help their financial situation. Mare, the youngest, can levitate things. None of the girls are particularly satisfied with her life, but their sisterly bond precludes anything else.

Then four men turn up. Danny is a researcher who is investigating fraudulent psychics for an upcoming expose by a famous author. He wants to know all about the girls, especially Dee, and their parents. Elric is a wizard sent to keep an eye on Lizzie, as her uncontrolled experiments have sent shock waves through the magical world. Christopher, aka “Crash”, is Mare’s long-lost love, gone five years and now a motorcycle whiz living in Italy. Jude is an executive with ValueVideo!! ostensibly sent to find out why Mare’s store is so successful, but really the True Love selected by Xan.

Xan’s plan begins to go haywire when Danny turns out to have some psychic power of his own, Elric decides to help Lizzie learn to control her magic, and Crash just wants Mare back. Plus Jude is annoying the hell out of Mare, and she still loves Crash, who isn’t supposed to be her True Love. And why is Elric falling for Lizzie, when he spurned her, Xan, who is beautiful and accomplished? To top it off, Xan’s assistant, Maxine, keeps bungling her part of the assignment, causing the whole town to fall under a Libido Spell, for one thing.

For all that this novel is pretty far up the Kooky Scale, it took some careful plotting to pull all the threads together, and these three romance veterans do it in superb fashion. Mare and Crash are laugh-out-loud funny at times and obviously heavily crafted by Crusie. Her trademark style of breakneck pacing and wisecrack humor are all over the place. She’s also one of the best around at crafting dialogue that a regular guy might actually speak. Mare is a delight and probably the most sympathetic character in the story as she struggles to shape her future and figure out what she really wants, besides Crash.

That’s not to say Dee and Lizzie aren’t just as enjoyable. Dee, as the oldest, has borne the brunt of holding the family together, and when Danny offers her a chance for a life and love of her own, she barely knows how to say “yes.” Their romance is touching and satisfying. I actually rooted harder for Dee than anyone else.

Lizzie, the middle sister, felt a bit sketchy, maybe because she’s portrayed as more ethereal than the other sisters. Elric is a good foil for her, but readers barely learn anything about him, so they make less of an impression. Of the three sisters, Lizzie was the one I knew the least when I closed the book. What there was of her was charming, just not very deep.

Xan is appropriately conniving, Maxine is a hoot as the klutzy assistant, and the whole Value Video!! thread will keep readers grinning as Mare and her sales assistant, Dreama, craft video nights like no other, complete with Corpse Bride costuming. Readers, grab a copy of The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, sit back, and enjoy!

--Cathy Sova

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