The Ugly Duckling

( 65 )

Overview

If fate suddenly made you more beautiful that you ever dreamed possible, would it be the beginning of a fairy tale, or your worst nightmare?

The brutal attack should have killed anybody, but Nell Calder did more than survive. She emerged a woman transformed, with an exquisite beauty found only in fairy tales. Nell Calder deserved a happy ending. Instead, her descent into terror has just begun.

Her attacker is still on the hunt, determined to ...

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Overview

If fate suddenly made you more beautiful that you ever dreamed possible, would it be the beginning of a fairy tale, or your worst nightmare?

The brutal attack should have killed anybody, but Nell Calder did more than survive. She emerged a woman transformed, with an exquisite beauty found only in fairy tales. Nell Calder deserved a happy ending. Instead, her descent into terror has just begun.

Her attacker is still on the hunt, determined to finish what he's started. And Nell, protected by a new face, is just as determined to fight back and take her revenge. But to catch her prey, she will have to expose herself—even if it makes her a killer's prime target.

The Ugly Duckling is the story of an ordinary woman who, after tragedy strikes, becomes a moving target--and a stunning beauty entangled in a precarious world of sinister intrigue and desperate desire. Ads in USA Today. National TV ads. National media. HC: Bantam.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A spectacular tale of revenge, betrayal and survival." —Publishers Weekly

"A real knockout...[an] intense thriller...bravo!"—Atlanta Journal

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
With this spectacular tale of revenge, betrayal and survival, Johansen (Lion's Bride; Forecasts, Dec. 4, 1995) shows why, after 50 paperback originals, she is at last getting hardcover treatment. Nell Carter is plain and plump-and, for some mysterious reason, the target of a drug cartel hit that maims her but wipes out her husband and young daughter. Her world destroyed, Nell wills herself to die, until a stranger gives her a purpose to live: revenge. The mysterious Nicholas Tanek, once master of his own criminal network, will do anything and use anyone to destroy the drug cartel that, he tells Nell, murdered a 'very close' friend. But recruiting the vengeful woman proves a big mistake for Nicholas, for she awakens in him new and unsettling emotions that threaten his mission. Given a new face and identity, Nell throws herself into guerrilla and martial arts training with Nicholas. The two become lovers, but that won't keep Nell from finding and punishing her daughter's killer-with or without her lover's help. The romance here is suspenseful, and the suspense is romantic; for fans of each, this is a keeper.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A woman seeks revenge on the drug cartel that maimed her and killed her husband and child. (Dec.)
Library Journal
A tale of romantic suspense from the author of The Beloved Scoundrel LJ 12/93.
Brad Hooper
In Johansen's hands, the romantic suspense genre is done a good turn. Nell Calder was born plain of face, and her mother let her know in no uncertain terms that "this" ugly duckling would "never" turn into a swan. Flash to the present day, and Nell, despite her mousiness, is married to a handsome executive on the rise and has a wonderful little daughter. Nevertheless, she is never "not" self-conscious about her lack of dazzle. At a big social-business affair on a Greek island, the party is attacked by masked assailants, and Nell is horribly wounded and her husband and child killed. She emerges from the resultant plastic surgery as the stunning beauty she could never imagine being. With a new intrepidness to match her new looks, she sets out to find the man who slashed her face and murdered her daughter. And, of course, at the same time, there is a burgeoning love interest.
Kirkus Reviews
In a successful hardcover debut, megaseller Johansen abandons the lush historical romances that have made her reputation and stakes out the proven market of Nora Roberts and Sidney Sheldon.

Nell Calder is the Ugly Duckling—plump and plain, with mousy brown hair and a "predilection for chocolate cake." Her world revolves around her four-year-old daughter, Jill, and not around her arriviste banker-husband Richard. Why then would a ruthless French drug lord target such a mouse for assassination at a glamorous party on a private Greek island? And why—as a bejeweled crowd cavorts below—would a psycho killer throw Nell off her balcony, shoot her husband, and knife her young daughter to death? That's what dark and sexy Nicholas Tanek wants to know. Nicholas—gentle with women, deadly with enemies—is pursuing the drug lord, who murdered his mentor/surrogate father by infecting him with an unspeakably awful South American virus that slowly devours the organs of its victims. Interestingly enough, meantime, the fall has completely destroyed Nell's face. And so, in order that she doesn't "live the rest of her life looking like a gargoyle," Nicholas takes her back to the States to plastic surgeon Joel Lieber, a genius who transforms her into Helen of Troy. Newly gorgeous and bent on vengeance, Nell persuades Nicholas to take her to his well-protected sheep ranch in Idaho (three electric fences) to teach her martial arts. Formerly a great flower arranger, the once "ugly little mouse" now turns into Bruce Lee. As Johansen quick-cuts back and forth between the good guys and the bad, in tried-and-true Sheldonesque style, the plot eventually delivers just deserts to all—thanks to inventive surprises and a large broad sword.

Slick, knowing stuff. The myth of the ugly duckling is a seminal women's fantasy, exploited here in streamlined and product-tested style.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553569919
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/28/1996
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 408
  • Sales rank: 285,341
  • Product dimensions: 4.15 (w) x 6.85 (h) x 1.16 (d)

Meet the Author

Iris Johansen
Iris Johansen is the New York Times bestselling author of Killer Dreams, On the Run, Countdown, Firestorm, Fatal Tide, Dead Aim, No One to Trust and more. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia.

Biography

After her two children left home for college, Iris Johansen decided to devote her new found free time to writing. Since she loved reading romance novels, she penned a love story, and found to her surprise that "I was just as voracious a writer as I was a reader." During the 1980s, her name was emblazoned on dozens of slender volumes featuring spirited adventuresses, passionate mystery men, and smoldering love scenes. These days, Johansen is one of a posse of former romance writers dominating the New York Times bestseller lists.

Early on in her career, Johansen developed the habit of following characters from book to book, sometimes introducing minor characters in one novel who then become major figures in another. She developed families, relationships, and even fictional countries in her romance novels, which "stretched the boundaries of the standard formulas," according to Barbara E. Kemp in Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers. In 1991, Johansen broke out of category romance (a term for short books written to conform to the length, style and subject matter guidelines for a publisher's series) with The Wind Dancer, a romantic-suspense novel set in 16th-century Italy. She followed it with two sequels, Storm Winds and Reap the Wind, to form a trilogy, then wrote several more stand-alone romance novels before The Ugly Duckling was published in 1996.

The Ugly Duckling was her first book to be released in hardcover -- and the first to significantly broaden her readership beyond her romance fan base. Since then, Johansen's plots have gotten tighter and more suspense-driven; critics have praised her "flesh-and-blood characters, crackling dialogue and lean, suspenseful plotting" (Publishers Weekly). Some of her most popular books feature forensic sculptor Eve Duncan, who first appeared in The Face of Deception in 1998. But Johansen seems equally comfortable with male protagonists, and her books have crossed the gender division that often characterizes popular fiction. Indeed, Publishers Weekly called The Search "that rarity: a woman's novel for men."

Good To Know

Johansen rewrote the ending of Reap the Wind for its reissue in 2002. "I couldn't resist tightening and changing the climax to correspond with my changed ideas on plot structure but the story is basically the same," she explained in a Q&A on her publisher's web site.

Many of her early novels were written for the Loveswept series from Bantam Books; bestselling authors Sandra Brown and Kay Hooper also wrote for the series.

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Read an Excerpt

He had come for nothing, Nicholas thought in disgust as he gazed down at the surf crashing on the rocks below. No one would want to kill Nell Calder. She was no more likely to be connected with Gardeaux than that big-eyed elf she was now lavishing with french pastry and adoration.

If there was a target here, it was probably Kavinski. As head of an emerging Russian state, he had the power to be either a cash cow or extremely troublesome to Gardeaux. Nell Calder couldn't be considered troublesome to anyone. He had known the answers to all the questions he had asked her, but he had wanted to see her reactions. He had been watching her all evening, and it was clear she was a nice, shy woman, totally out of her depth even with those fairly innocuous sharks downstairs. He couldn't imagine her having enough influence to warrant bribery, and she would never have been able to deal one on one with Gardeaux.

Unless she was more than she appeared. Possibly. She seemed as meek as a lamb, but she'd had the guts to toss him out of her daughter's room.

Everyone fought back if the battle was important enough. And it was important for Nell Calder not to share her daughter with him. No, the list must mean something else. When he went back downstairs, he would stay close to Kavinski.

"Here we go up, up, up
High in the sky so blue.
Here we go down, down, down
Touching the rose so red."

She was singing to the kid. He had always liked lullabies. There was a reassuring continuity about them that had been missing in his own life. Since the dawn of time, mothers had sung to their children, and they would probably still be singing to them a thousand years from now.

The song ended with a low chuckle and a murmur he couldn't hear.

She came out of the bedroom and closed the door a few minutes later. She was flushed and glowing with an expression as soft as melted butter.

"I've never heard that lullaby before," he said.

She looked startled, as if she'd forgotten he was still there. "It's very old. My grandmother used to sing it to me."

"Is your daughter asleep?"

"No, but she will be soon. I started the music box for her again. By the time it finishes, she usually nods off."

"She's a beautiful child."

"Yes." A luminous smile turned her plain face radiant once more. "Yes, she is."

He stared at her, intrigued. He found he wanted to keep that smile on her face. "And bright?"

"Sometimes too bright. Her imagination can be troublesome. But she's always reasonable and you can talk to—" She broke off and her eagerness faded. "But this can't interest you. I forgot the tray. I'll go back for it."

"Don't bother. You'll disturb Jill. The maid can pick it up in the morning."

She gave him a level glance. "That's what I told you."

He smiled. "But then I didn't want to listen. Now it makes perfect sense to me."

"Because it's what you want to do."

"Exactly."

"I have to go back too. I haven't met Kavinski yet." She moved toward the door.

"Wait. I think you'll want to remove that chocolate from your gown first."

"Damn." She frowned as she looked down at the stain on the skirt. "I forgot." She turned toward the bathroom and said dryly, "Go on. I assure you I don't need your help with this problem."

He hesitated.

She glanced at him pointedly over her shoulder.

He had no excuse for staying, not that that small fact would have deterred him.

But he also had no reason. He had lived by his wits too long not to trust his instincts, and this woman wasn't a target of any sort. He should be watching Kavinski.

He turned toward the door. "I'll tell the maid you're ready for her to come back."

"Thank you, that's very kind of you," she said automatically as she disappeared into the bathroom.

Good manners obviously instilled from childhood. Loyalty. Gentleness. A nice woman whose world was centered on that sweet kid. He had definitely drawn a blank.

The maid wasn't waiting in the hallway. He'd have to send up one of the servants from downstairs.

He moved quickly through the corridors and started down the staircase.

Shots.

Coming from the ballroom.

Christ.

He tore down the stairs.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 65 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(45)

4 Star

(13)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(2)

Your Rating:

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 65 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 28, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Overall, an enjoyable, butt-kicking, fist-pumping, tear-jerking read

    This was unique. The heroine of the story has some serious psychological, mother-inflicted damage before the circumstances of her transformation ever arrive. She goes through what I can only imagine is the worst horror inflicted on someone, the loss of a child coupled with the loss of her spouse. Because of scars received during the attack on her family, she's transformed physically into a stunning woman. But her mind is conflicted by the internal vision she has of herself. So she goes on a violent spree bent on revenge. Uh, what?

    Although most people can understand the desire for revenge (especially in our heroine's case), I find the main character unbelievable. Am I really supposed to buy this timid, bent-low-from-an-overbearing-mother character suddenly becoming Lara Croft the Avenging Angel? Now if she went on a rampage because it had all been far too much for her delicate psyche and she snapped, then I could see it.

    So, why four stars? Because overall, it's an enjoyable, butt-kicking, fist-pumping, tear-jerking read. So you totally get hooked on the main character even if she's unbelievable.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Solid Work of Romantic Suspense

    Johansen, like Roberts and Coulter, is one of those that has made it onto the bestseller lists and can be found in other than the romance section--in this case, this novel was found in general fiction and works as a thriller and mystery, and it has a fairly clean style that can hold point of view. It fits in the standard revenge plot, as the titular heroine, Nell, works to avenge her family's death--plastic surgery upgrades her from ugly duckling to swan. Well-paced, often suspenseful, this story zipped along and I cared about the characters, including and especially Nell and her love Nicholas, who works with her against the villains of the story. Nice twist too at the end.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2007

    A reviewer

    I love to read and when the book is good, I don't stop, it really grabs me until the end. I was just starting Chapter 8 when I feel that the writer had a load of laundry to do or checks to fill out and speeded up the writing process with trite and tired 'mercenary' bologna. I sure hope it gets past this nonsense soon so that I can finish the book and realize all of the wonderful things said by former reviewers!!!! Hopeful.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2007

    A reviewer

    I thought this book was great. It's the second book I've read after Firestorm which is her other work. If it weren't for my delayed of days, I've would've finished it in a weekend. But anyways, yes, I gave it a four stars to recommend anyone who likes to read suspense books.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 1999

    A Must Read for Romance Novel Lovers

    I have been an Iris Johannsen fan from her first book and have read every book she has published. This one is by far her greatest work! The characters are believable and real, the plot suspenseful, and the book as a whole terrific! I couldn't put it down and have reread it several times. Go get this book!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2013

    Thus du us part

    Ugh sjsdffbgjhwbe

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2012

    Great

    Her mother was a meanie

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  • Posted September 6, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Great

    Great book please read it

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  • Posted June 18, 2011

    Read in one day

    Read the whole book in a day, great read!

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  • Posted June 17, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Okay Filler...

    I was looking for a book to fill in a gap while I took a break from a series I was reading. This did the job and I enjoyed the story, but it wasn't the author's best that I've read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2007

    A reviewer

    Nell Calder was shy and she wasn¿t pretty, but as the wife of an upwardly mobile financier, parties and dinner engagements were a given. An evening of socializing was not Nell¿s idea of fun, but she rose to the occasion with a smile on her face. She had her daughter and her husband¿s affection. She didn¿t need to be the belle of the ball to be content. While attending a party on a Greek island, Nell was attacked by the drug cartel¿s hit man. The knife wielding maniac killed four people including her husband and daughter. Nell was left for dead. Nicholas Tanek, a known enemy of the cartel¿s top man, knew something was going down, but hadn¿t reacted fast enough to save Nell. Riddled with guilt, he flew her to safety and paid for the necessary plastic surgery. The ugly duckling was transformed into a swan. With her husband and daughter dead, beauty wasn¿t reason enough to go on living, but revenge was.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2007

    Great story exciting

    Nell Calder was just an ordinary woman whose world revolved around her child and the simple things of life. Nell was stabbed and pushed from a balcony and the life as she knew it changed. In her new life she found new friends and love, but she ached for revenge on the person who killed her daughter. Nicholas Tanek helps Nell through her trials. Nicholas, who was once a big time smuggler and thief, uses his his knowledge of the underworld to actually help someone as well as getting his own revenge. Nell and Nicholas are a match of fire that cannot be unflamed. This book is about secrets, lies, bravery and a new found look at life. A must read!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2007

    A fabulous love story and a devastating tragic tale

    From the moment you begin to read the story grabs you and places you heart in a death grip. Senses whirling you travel along side a desperate woman as she seeks revenge while rediscovering that life does have meaning and beauty can be found in us all.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2006

    Great from cover to cover

    This is the first Iris Johansen book I had the great pleasure to read. Now I have read all of her suspence novels. This is the one that got me hooked. I an not an avid reader so for a book to grab me and not let me put it down is GREAT. I have passed it on to many friends.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2006

    Recommended to read

    This was without a doubt a really great book. I loved it so much I had to read it again. There are so many surprises in it your never bored with it. Also just picture tanek as a really hot guy and the book will be so much better.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2006

    Wasent that great

    When i first started to read The Ugly Duckling by Iris Johansen, it seemed interesting. A girl,Nell, who was brutally attacked, transformed into a beauty. After that her life should of gotten better, right? And after this transformation it seems like she should be able to 'fit in' with all the people who teased her and face her fears that she couldent before.* I would somewhat reccomend this book. If you like storys that have characters become what they always dreamed and face their fears, then i reccomend this book. But, if you like storys that tend to be mysterious and have the main character catch the culpret her/himself and really make you think, i dont reccomend this book. The title may seem like the whole book is about a longtime dream of being beautiful and making that wish come true, but its more of a novel that tells of a girl who takes action and dosent let the man who almost murder her get away. Overall, i think this book was okay. I wouldent read it again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2005

    Excellent Book!

    This book was really good. I loved the chemistry/love hate relationship between the two main characters.Very easy to read. Probably the most enjoyable book I've ever read. Can't wait to read it again!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2004

    A Great Book by Iris Johansen

    I liked this book because it held you on the edge of your seat. There were alot of different characters in the book. The main character of the book goes thru many physical and emotional problems starting with her husband and child being murdered at a party. She is thrown over a balcony, hardly surviving and is taken to the hospital of a agent who is trying to protect her. When she is better she begins to learn about the murderer and has revenge on her mind. She learns how to deal with anything that is thrown at her. I had a hard time putting this book down until I was done with it. Every time I had a free moment I would find myself getting this book out to read. I love Iris Johansen's books and am looking forward to reading some more of her work.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2004

    Captivating

    I just truly enjoyed this one. It is the fourth I've read by Johansen, and have loved all of them. If you enjoy drama, violence and surprising twists, the Ugly Duckling is a novel for you!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2003

    The Absolute Best

    I would love to see this made into a movie. I have read and re-read this book about 5 times, if not more. I read this book at least once a year. It has got to be about the best book I have read.

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