The Dangerous Gentleman

The Devil's Love

The Ruthless Charmer

The Secret Lover

Wicked Angel

Beauty Queen by Julia London
(Berkley, $7.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-19524-4
Beauty Queen left me largely unmoved. Perhaps it was the giant leap needed to get past the heroine, who starts out as a spoiled, useless, wealthy divorcee with low self-esteem who wants to put meaning into her life. The idea of getting some job training or learning a marketable skill doesn’t really enter into the plot; instead, our heroine is looking for something a little higher-profile where she can use her skills. (What skills?) Whether you have the patience for this is strictly a matter of taste.

Rebecca Lear is a former Miss Texas who married well and settled into a tony life of parties and social events. Her husband turned out to be a snake and he eventually dumped her for another woman, leaving Rebecca with a vacation house on a lake near Austin and a small son. (Side note: Rebecca had apparently been married for some years before having this child, long enough to establish that her husband was a rotten SOB, so the “single mother” aspect didn’t garner much sympathy.) Rebecca wants to make something of herself, but the only thing she knows how to do is dress well and throw a great party. As her father caustically points out, she can’t do much of anything.

Rebecca is invited to help out with a political campaign for a family friend who’s running for state office. Rebecca immediately styles herself as a “campaign strategist”, a laughable move that blows up in her face when she’s actually asked to give an opinion. Matt Parrish, a fraternity brother of the candidate, is part of the campaign team. Matt is a high-profile attorney helping out an old friend, and he certainly didn’t figure on having to work with a dim-bulb socialite. Rebecca, for her part, thinks Matt is the rudest man she’s ever met.

Of course, they strike sparks but are secretly interested in one another. Rebecca has some smarts, she just needs to find them. Matt needs to let go of his preconceived notions and discover the intelligent woman under the gloss. Antics ensue.

Rebecca is not completely unappealing. She is written with a wry humor and more than a glimmer of self-loathing that translates into someone the reader ends up rooting for, albeit perhaps reluctantly. Rebecca knows she’s fairly useless in the job arena; the question is, what is she going to do about it? Her reluctance to get involved with another good-looking man who might be a rat underneath is understandable. What did continue to nag was the thought that this desire to be more than an ornament came only after she was forced into it by her husband’s desertion. A woman who, at thirty, is just now looking around to find she can’t do much of anything is not going to be universally sympathetic.

The romance is standard stuff. Matt and Rebecca “meet cute”, are attracted, push each other away, give in to lust, deny their feelings, etc. It’s well-written, we’ve just all read it before, and nothing here lifts it above the memorable. Rebecca, as readers might imagine, saves the day and exposes a scandal when nobody else can do it. And she does it with the help of her socialite background. Implausible, but kind of fun to read.

Beauty Queen is a difficult book to review because the premise is either going to work for readers or it’s not. The writing is good, the characterizations are decent, and the story is entertaining. If the heroine doesn’t turn you off, you may well be in for a fun afternoon.

--Cathy Sova

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