Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Almost Heaven by Judith McNaught ***

I have a sort of hit-or-miss record with Judith McNaught's books - and Almost Heaven, #3 in her 1800 series, is a near miss for me.

I enjoyed a lot of the story. We have a young, virginal, naive, titled-but-impoverished heroine, Elizabeth Cameron. Her parents are dead, her father practically gambled away the family fortune and what was left was gambled away by her half-brother who has a different father (so he isn't the heir). Elizabeth is sent to London for a season at age 17 to find a rich husband so her family (just brother and evil uncle) won't go under and she won't lose the family home and property. Lucky for Elizabeth, she's beautiful beyond reason. She's also real smart but that's not an admirable trait for the ton so she's told to play dumb.

And boy is she naive. She goes to a house party with her buddies not realizing it's got a fast crowd in attendance, including the rake/rogue Ian Thornton, half-Scot, no title, handsome beyond reason, and not poor. Her buddies put her up to getting him to ask her to dance. Usually, Ian avoids virgins and innocents, so he tells her he won't ask her to dance. Later she defends his honor at cards, and he's fallen "half in love" with her (his own words) and decides they should meet in private, not really for a tryst as much as to avoid gossip. Ahhh, if only that would work. As it turns out - her "buddies" are nasty gossip-mongers out to ruin her specifically to get her almost-fiancé. She does meet him in private, sorta by accident, which does get found out - then one of the bad friends sets up another tryst where they are found by everyone - and Elizabeth is ruined. Ruined!

The Brother comes in on them and challenges Ian to a duel, the crazy fool. He has already signed the betrothal contract with the fiancé, which Elizabeth didn't know but Brother announces to them both. Now Ian feels the fool - Elizabeth was playing him! Dang!

Almost 2 years go by (now she's all grown up - 19!) - the Brother has disappeared, possibly to avoid debtor's prison; Elizabeth has had to sell almost everything to pay off the debts and is now managing her property on a song and a prayer; Ian has tripled and quadrupled his wealth; and the Evil Uncle is determined to sell Elizabeth to the top offer, and sends out letters to her former suitors (including Ian). Even though he intended to turn the offer down, Ian's secretary accepts the uncle's offer to have Elizabeth visit to see if they still suit, and when they get together he realizes he's still in love with her. He decides to acknowledge his true heritage - he's the grandson of a duke - so he can offer for Elizabeth, since the Evil Uncle insists on wealth and title.

Ok - up to this point, I've been enjoying the story. Ian is an honorable if stubborn fellow, and he's logical, in control and reasonable. Elizabeth seems to be The One and it looks as if things will work out for the lovers. Whew! That's what we like about romance!

But wait! There hasn't been quite enough controversy! We need more angst! I guess when the story goes to 500+ pages, and the lovers are set to get married in the 300s, you gotta expect another obstacle. What could it be? We've already resolved Ian's problem with his grandfather, got the ton accepting both Elizabeth and their marriage; gotten rid of the Evil Uncle. Oh - remember the Brother? Elizabeth hired a PI to find him - and on the wedding day, the PI comes in begging her not to marry the Evil Ian who has apparently done away with her brother!! She struggles, and decides to marry Ian after all - and their marriage is fairy-tale perfect. In spite of her complete lack of knowledge about sex - which is really weird considering how smart she is - they have a perfect wedding night, lots of orgasms, and sex is perfect for them. He is dripping in wealth; he allows her a lot of freedom; she completely restores the family property. Life is good.

But wait! The Brother shows up, convinces her (but not me) that Ian is indeed The Source of All Evil, and she runs away with him. At this point I decided she was really TSTL and about threw the book against the wall. Here I was, enjoying the story. Suddenly, out of nowhere, her niggling doubts caused her to run away from the best thing that ever happened to her? WTF?

Does it get worse? YES. spoilers ahoy - Ian is brought up on murder charges - did he murder his young wife and her brother?? Yeah, as if. Sweet Jesus, if any reader thought Ian was evil, I'm a monkey's uncle. There's no suspense here - we've known all along what Ian did to the brother, and where the brother is.

So what is the theme of this story? That gossip and the media rule and ruin. That in spite of how she actually felt in her heart about Ian, she didn't trust herself - Elizabeth didn't know how to process information and was a complete idiot in spite of being genius-smart. And frankly, Ian should have smacked her and left her to rot for her idiocy.

Good news for romance readers, there's a HEA - Ian is truly forgiving in spite of what we've been told. Elizabeth hopefully redeemed herself, matured and never doubted him again... Well, the author doesn't really address that part, so I'll just imagine it.

So I went with 3 stars because I liked most of it and I wanted Ian to be happy.

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