by Iris Johansen

January 1997
ISBN: 0-553-56991-0
Reviewer Graphic Button Bantam Books
Mass Market Paperback

Nell Calderís mother had always told her that she was an ďugly ducklingĒ and that real life wasnít like fairy tales because ugly ducklings never grow up to be beautiful swans. Now, Nell is all grown up and even though she still canít lay a claim to beauty, she has found happiness with her handsome husband and a child she adores. Sadly, Nellís happiness comes to an abrupt end when an assassin targets her and kills the husband and daughter her life has revolved around and horribly disfigures Nellís face.

Fortunately, Nell does have someone on her side Ė Nicholas Tanek. Nicholas has reasons of his own for seeking revenge against those responsible for Nellís tragedy so he helps her by having a world-renowned plastic surgeon transform her into a stunning beauty. With her family gone, Nell could care less about what she looks like and feels she can only be truly healed by avenging their deaths. She persuades Nicholas to align himself with her to achieve their common goal of retribution. What begins as a partnership formed out of hatred of the enemy soon becomes something more between Nell and Nicholas. But can love grow in a minefield of danger and revenge?

Upon reading the synopsis, I was a bit leery that The Ugly Duckling would focus excessively on Nellís beautiful transformation and that because of that change, her life would instantly change for the better. To my delighted surprise, this wasnít the case and Ms. Johansen instead concentrated on the change Nell made inside Ė by gaining strength and spirit after her terrible tragedy.

Nell and Nicholas, the main characters in The Ugly Duckling are very believable and easy to like while the villains are just as easy to hate. There are also interesting secondary characters with an ensuing secondary romance in the story. The plot moves along quickly and has several surprising twists along the way.

The Ugly Duckling has something for everyone. It is a great combination of suspense, romance and mystery. Some romance fans might find the romantic aspect of The Ugly Duckling to be a bit lacking and while it does take a back seat to the suspense and drama of the story, it is present enough to be satisfying and not missed with this page-turning thriller.

Reviewed in March 2002 by Nicole.

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