Ooooh, Jude Deveraux, you sneaky little devil. I see what you did here. You’ve combined the worlds of Edilean with the monolith known as the Montgomery-Taggerts, and now those series are joined forever. For those of us afraid we’d never see our favorite Edilean characters again, it looks like we’ve been granted a reprieve…plus, the M-Ts are moving into Edilean. (And why not? I don’t think they had a major presence in Virginia. Maine, Colorado, California, Washington State, Florida, Nantucket, England, and Lanconia, but not Virginia. Unless I’m drawing a blank, which is always possible.)
THE PLOT: Once upon a time in 1994, a Taggert novella called “Change of Heart” was published in an anthology of romance stories. This story featured a duo of precocious children: Eli, a super genius, and Chelsea, who was rich and spunky and smart enough to hang out a with genius. They worked to solve various social injustices, including the problem of Eli’s mother, a soft-hearted pushover who let anyone and everyone walk all over her. The plot was to hook her up with Eli’s hero, Frank Taggert, a cold-hearted businessman (who also happened to be the brother of super-Taggert Michael, of Sweet Liar, and his twin brother Kane, of the novella “Just Curious”). And of course even though it took Michael, his wife Sam, and the kids to give them a push to an isolated mountain cabin, Miranda and Frank figured it out in the end. Got all that? Mother + Taggert = happily every after.
Fast forward 20 years to find out what happened to Eli and Chelsea. And here’s where things begin to fall apart for me.
Turns out that Chelsea’s family moved out of town when she was a teenager…but not before she went batcrap crazy with her raging hormones, dating every pretty football player she could find, and treating skinny nerd Eli like…well…her best girlfriend. So Chelsea leaves town, stops writing to or even emailing Eli, becomes a supermodel, and basically abandons Eli to bloom under his new Taggert relatives and their endless trips to the gym.
Now a bulked-up Eli works for the government, and he’s never lost hope of getting back in touch with Chelsea. He writes to her and invites her to his biological father’s hometown of Edilean (yep, he’s one of THOSE Harcourts, check the Edilean family tree!) and Chelsea is bullied into going by her parents. What follows includes shenanigans such as mistaken identity, switching identities, attempts to catch a criminal, the realization that eating junk food solves everything, and friending a brand-new generation of Robin and Marian Les Jeunes (hopefully preventing them from following the mistakes of Eli and Chelsea).
MY TWO CENTS: For those who are wondering: the original novella takes up about 40% of the book and the new story is the other 60%. You’re getting more than half new book. One of the only two changes I can find from my old battered book is that Miranda, poor Miranda, was called “Randy” back in the day, and we’re all thankful that’s no longer the case. When I hear Randy now, all I get is this:
The other “major”change is that in the original, Chelsea was a brunette; now she’s blonde. And I’m not even going to question why anyone thought that change was a good idea. I’ll just say I think it was completely unnecessary.
As far as the story goes, is it realistic to believe that the Chelsea we knew as a child, the one who worked to fix social injustice and punish bad people, became a self-centered, shallow airhead who only cared about looks? I had a VERY hard time with this. I’ve seen Jude Deveraux post that readers complain when a hero or heroine isn’t perfectly chiseled, perfectly skinny, perfectly buff, perfectly coiffed. And she certainly makes sure not to anger these readers here. We hear often about Chelsea’s long, slim legs and her perfectly golden hair. We see Chelsea’s interest perk up when a mega-hot guy walks into the room, and she’s stunned to eventually realize he’s Eli, who may now be worthy of her attention. We’re treated to great detail on Eli’s transformation to muscled hunk.
To answer my earlier question: Maybe it IS realistic to think that the hot girl discarded her geeky friend, and then only pays attention again once he’s built some muscle. But that doesn’t make her an appealing character. I can’t identify with her. I didn’t root for her. In fact, I pretty much disliked her and hoped she spent a lot of time throwing up from all the bread Eli made her eat. I’m sad that she couldn’t have loved Eli for what he already was, instead of what he had to become (really, she couldn’t even stay his friend? She was just too beautiful?) And I’m glad that two other geeky guys were able to snare their dream girls without first spending quality time at the Edilean gym.
BOTTOM LINE: A must-read for fans of Jude, Taggerts, and Edliean, but be warned: the characters became physically attractive but emotionally shallow. It leaves me feeling sorry for readers who honestly think that only pretty people deserve romance. After all, gentle reader, how long and slim are YOUR legs?
TEACUP RATING: Lukewarm tea, maybe three out of five teacups. The original novella is on the higher end of the grading scale, the new portion on the lower.
ON SALE DATE: Available in paperback and e-formats on October 21, 2014.
Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.