by Emily Carmichael, historical (2003)
Berkley, $5.99, ISBN 0-425-19101-X
Becoming Georgia is a really good book until its last few chapters. For a while, I am in heaven. Here is at last a book to end my good book draught, I think, as I turn the pages in rapture. It's good. For a while, Becoming Georgia isn't a conventional romance as much as an extraordinary woman's coming of age and self discovery. I never expected Emily Carmichael, whose last few books have been more of the conventional, formulaic romance sorts, has it in her to come out with a book like Becoming Georgia.
Georgie Kennedy is a tomboy type who spits, cusses, and plays with the boys hard and well when it comes to staking a claim in Lynx Creek, Arizona, and she even beats the hunkiest guy of them all, Connor "Cougar" Barnes, in arm wrestling. Life is good - she has sold part of her land to Cougar and with the money she has bought herself a real house (not just some shack) and a mule. Then comes the bad news. Her estranged grandfather Alvin's lawyer finds her at last and delivers her a letter. The letter explains that Georgie's late father borrowed a huge sum of money from her grandfather to start his gold-mining project, so the lands Georgie believes she owns actually belongs to Alvin.
Ooh! So mad that she can spit, she goes straight to Chicago to rip a new one on the stupid old coot. Alvin, a wily one, actually wants to make up with his granddaughter and more importantly, polish her up and marry her off the son of the businessman he so dearly wants to form a business partnership with. He uses the claims to get Georgia into staying for one year in Chicago. Chicago's own My Fair Lady is about to start.
Alvin hires genteel and impoverished Elizabeth Whitman to tutor Georgie in lady-like manners. To turn Georgie into Georgia, if you will. However, Elizabeth harbors a crush on the man Georgie is being paired up with, Alexander Stanford. Meanwhile, back at Lynx Creek, Cougar becomes more antsy as he realizes his feelings for Georgie may not be entirely platonic. Complications really ensue when Alexander develops genuine admiration and fondness for Georgie and the poor gal is torn between the two men in her life.
The love triangle isn't exactly a love triangle in that the story rarely concentrates on the men in Georgie's life. Becoming Georgia is more of the heroine's story than a love story - it concentrates on Georgie's discovering her real heritage and in the process, learning to change and grow without compromising her values. In the end, Georgie and Georgia are one and the same, she's still the same spitfire and strong-willed woman who can take care of herself anytime and anyplace, and how she manages to turn her grandfather's Chicago on its heels without making any apologies for her upbringing and her roots is one fun read.
I also like how Alexander is depicted as a character in his own right rather than some caricature of the other guy. In fact, by the end of the story, he has become more interesting than Cougar, who rarely figures in this story until it's too late and I don't really care anymore. Alvin is also pretty fun for a manipulative SOB - at least while he's an SOB, he isn't blind to the strengths of his granddaughter and is proud of her no matter what.
Georgie, strong and funny and all-out spitfire, is such an adorable heroine that it is a jarring screech of a misfire when the last few chapters arrive and the story is plunged into a depressingly mediocre and rushed formulaic finale, catalyzed by Cougar's extremely annoying and high-handed "I know what's best for Georgie" BS. Everything gets wrapped up in a rushed closure and every character I like - Elizabeth, Georgie, and Alexander - is cheapened and dumbed down for a forced happy ending. Love - or the author's equivalent of it - sucks out every brain cell from poor Georgie's head, because the Georgie at the start of the book would have never let Cougar does the crap he does with her. That Georgie would know that Cougar isn't worthy - he's just a stupid Daddy's boy who runs out to the Wild West to play at being a cowboy while Georgie is the real thing. Why the heck should she care what he thinks she must and must not do?
Until those horrible last few chapters, I am more than willing to give Becoming Georgia my two-thumbs up. It's a fiery and very bouncy read starring an irrepressible heroine. It is the author's attempt to inject some unnecessary formulaic elements in her story during the last few chapters that ends up almost destroying everything enjoyable about it. The moral of the day is very obvious: either write gems that won't sell or write crap that sells, but please don't try mixing both - chances are it will never work. See Becoming Georgia.
Still, for readers looking for a really fun heroine who undergoes some delightful fish out of water adventures while keeping her head on her shoulder, never mind the lukewarm romance, Becoming Georgia is calling out for a look-peek.
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