Saturday, October 25, 2008

Paradise by Judith McNaught *****

Paradise is the first of several connected contemporary romance novels by Judith McNaught, and was published in 1991. It's also on the AAR Top 100 and the TRR Top 100 - so it's obviously a well-loved story. And I like it too!

It's almost an epic, at 700+ pages, although only spanning a 16-year time period. It starts with Meredith Bancroft, department store heiress, as a gawky teen with a crush on a slightly older friend of the family, Parker Reynolds. She goes from gawky to beauty over the next 4+ years, but it isn't enough to keep Parker interested. At a country club affair, she learns he's planning to marry.

One of her country club buddies introduces the group to Matt Farrell, a steel-worker that the buddy's father has hired. The buddy is trying to embarrass both his father and Matt by trying to pass him off as good enough to attend the country club - and Meredith, feeling sorry for him because she recognizes what it's like not to fit in, takes Matt around, introducing him as though he were one of her set. They have a passionate kiss on the grounds of the club where her father - the tyrannical, suspicious, unyielding, autocratic bastard - catches them, and tells Meredith to get rid of him.

In her anger, she decides to show Daddy who's in charge, and takes Matt home where she allows him to seduce her. Unfortunately, this results in her pregnancy. Matt, ever the honorable guy, and truly having feelings for her, marries her, much against her father's wishes. There's a confrontation, Daddy tries to bribe him into leaving her, some mean words are exchanged... It's not pretty, especially considering these guys are practically 2 peas in a pod in stubborness.

Matt has a job in Venezuela, and plans to have Meredith join him there after he is settled. But in the meantime, Meredith develops problems with the pregnancy. She loses the baby - and she loses Matt, who sends a telegram asking for a divorce. Daddy handles the divorce as secretively as possible, and assumes all is forgotten.

Fast forward 11 years - Meredith's childhood sweetheart Parker, now divorced, is now her fiancé, and she is on the fast track to step into her father's shoes as president of the department store. Matt is now a rich tycoon, CEO of a megacorporation that buys and sells properties and companies - still single, but pops up in the tabloids with various famous women on his arm. Life is good for both of them. Then on a fateful evening at the opera, Matt and Meredith meet up again.

This is a long, involved tale of corporate intrigue, and Meredith's father is at the center of it all. He's not only an instigator, he's also a target because of his overbearing, tyrannical, suspicious nature that makes all sorts of people have a motive to do him and the company harm. He was the reason Meredith and Matt broke up to begin with - withholding their letters, and sending a telegram to Matt in Venezuela "from Meredith" saying she had an abortion and wanted a divorce. What a sleezoid. Are there really daddies out there doing that to their baby girls??

Now Matt is in a position to buy the department store and wreak revenge on Daddy... But at what cost?

It was a fun, engaging read - there was suspense, and re-direction (you know, where the author puts in some clues that make you look in the wrong place or at the wrong person!!), and intrigue and mystery and even a murder, and there was the intense chemistry between Meredith and Matt. McNaught also writes well-rounded secondary characters, and she built up a strong support system for Matt with family and friends that helped keep him from being the truly evil bad guy that Meredith's father REALLY is, even if in the end he ends up apologizing. (I found Daddy to be truly boo-and-hiss worthy.)

I liked it - in fact, it went above a 4 star read for me, but I can't say it's a solid 5 - rescue it from the fire - type keeper. Since I round up, though, I'm going with 5 stars.

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