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REVIEW: Almost Perfect by Susan Mallery

Almost Perfect by Susan MalleryDear Ms. Mallery:

As you might have guessed, I have a love/hate relationship with your books.   My favorite is Simply Irresistible and I don't know if I could pinpoint exactly why but it is a contemporary I recommend with some regularity.   (I tried to give it to some reporter for NBC at the RWA in San Francisco but I can't remember if she took it or not).   The problem I had with the first book in the series is that I felt that the premise didn't match up with the way the story played out. Luckily I had no such problems with Almost Perfect. (As an aside, if you don't want to read my review, read natuschan because her review reflects most of my feelings about this book).

Almost Perfect is an amalgamation of popular contemporary romance tropes.   It has the secret baby.   The small town girl from the wrong side of the tracks making it big and coming home to win the heart of the town's golden boy.   The small town ostracizing the bad girl and then coming around to protect her.

Liz Sutton was a pretty girl whose mom is the town bicycle and because of her looks, her mother's promiscuity, and their poverty, Liz is targeted in high school as a slut.   She isn't, though, and doesn't give up her virginity until she falls for Ethan Hendrix, back from college.   Ethan is the son of one of the town's founding families.   He urges her to keep their relationship secret. One day she overhears him being asked if he is seeing her and he denies it and denies ever wanting someone like her.

Liz is crushed and runs away only to discover she is pregnant.   She returns to Fool's Gold   but finds Ethan in bed in his tiny apartment above his parent's garage with another girl, a girl who was mean and horrible to Liz in high school.   Liz runs away again.   Five years later she returns, feeling guilty about having kept their son a secret.   Only Ethan isn't there and he is married so Liz tells Ethan's wife about the son and in return receives a letter from Ethan telling her he wants nothing to do with her or her son.

Fast forward 6 years.   Liz is now a successful mystery writer but returns home to Fool's Gold when she discovers her nieces have been abandoned by their stepmother after their father (and her brother) was sent to prison.

Everyone in town treats her like she pariah.   They never thought much of her before and they despise her even more for keeping Ethan's son away from him.   In turn, Liz can't wait to shake the dust of Fool's Gold off her feet fast enough.

Like Nat, I thought the kids were realistically portrayed in the book.   Liz was a great parent and her son, Tyler, is really well adjusted but finding out who his dad was throws a wrench in things and suddenly Tyler thinks he loves his dad more, maybe even wants to live with his dad.   Then there are her two nieces.   Liz hasn't been much of an aunt before and these two girls are very gunshy when it comes to parenting adults.   They don't welcome Liz wholeheartedly.

I also appreciated the showing of how difficult parenting is, particularly when Ethan is forced to realize it isn't all pizza parties and take out.

I was a little disappointed at how quickly Liz fell back into bed with Ethan.   I recognize she had been alone for a long time and that despite the way Ethan had failed to be there for her, repeatedly, throughout the years, that she had a lot of feeling for him.   But more importantly, they did not use a condom.   WHAT THE HELL!   She had gotten pregnant with Tyler being with Ethan in high school and had to raise the kid by herself for 11 years.   She never once thought to use a condom?   I guess it was to show how swept away by passion they were, but seriously?

I liked Evan less than I did Liz.   Like Nat, I felt he was incredibly selfish and rarely thought about anyone else's feelings but his own.   He had a strong code of honor yet it was never employed for the benefit of Liz.   In fact, throughout the book, he continually acted in a manner that seemed unconsciously designed to hurt Liz.   Eventually he comes around and makes a grand gesture, but I never quite felt like he loved Liz like she was his one true love.   He seemed like   one of those guys who just wants to be in a relationship and so long as that relationship provided him with a comfortable life, he would be satisfied.   I wondered whether he knew himself.

Still, I did understand Liz's attraction for Ethan.   He represented all that she never had: safety, security and respect.   Add in that she was sexually attracted to him; he was her first love and the father of her child; and it all made sense why she was with Ethan.     There was a weird suspense plot at the very end which I think served to distract from the coalescing of the romance than further it.     It came out of nowhere and I don't think it was needed to propel the characters to the end point.

In the end, though, I agree with Nat that Liz is what makes this book.   She refuses to be intimidated, she accepts responsibility for her actions, and she stands up to her critics whether it is Ethan's mom, the town or even Ethan himself.     B-

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

22 Comments

  1. Randi
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 16:12:38

    Hmmm, based on the description, those tropes can easily get on my last nerve and it certainly sounds like they would. I enjoyed the Titan series (Lip Service, Under Her Skin, Hot on Her Heels, and Straight Fronm The Hip), but this doesn’t sound like my cuppa.

    Thanks for the review!

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  2. orannia
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 16:25:18

    Thank you Jane!

    The lack of use (or mention) of a condom in a contemporary is a black mark in my book, especially if the heroine previously fell pregnant from not using said item! She (the heroine) has had 11 years of the consequence of that decision – would she really do it again?

    My favourite Susan Mallery book is The Seductive One (the final novel of the Marcelli Sisters trilogy). I don’t like the taste of wine at all, but find the wine-making process fascinating. And this book just worked for me.

    I also love Holly & Mistletoe, which is also the last book in a series IIRC.

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  3. Jane O
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 19:29:54

    Who is Nat?

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  4. May
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 20:10:21

    I too have a love/hate with Mallery… and it sounds like this one would grate on many of my peeves. No condom after a secret baby? Pass.

    Thanks for the great (now money saving) review!!

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  5. Jane
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 20:53:51

    @Jane O The person I linked to at the beginning who also wrote a review.

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  6. Bev Stephans
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 00:33:50

    I just got the book, so I guess I’ll have to read it to see if I agree or disagree with you. You’re right about the condom. Dumb, dumb, dumb!!!

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  7. Edie
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 06:12:19

    But none of Susan Mallery’s books have condoms in it do they? The unplanned pregnancy seems to be a fairly common component of a Mallery book.

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  8. SarahT
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 07:29:06

    I liked this book a little more than you did (I gave it a ‘B’).

    The part with the condom (or lack thereof) bothered me, but Susan Mallery’s heroes never use condoms and her heroines usually forget to take the pill. Plus they’re super fertile and always seem to get pregnant on the first go.

    I liked ‘Almost Perfect’ a lot more than I did ‘Chasing Perfect’. I’m wary of the premise of the third book, ‘Finding Perfect’, but I’ll give it a go.

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  9. Chicklet
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 08:32:07

    The part with the condom (or lack thereof) bothered me, but Susan Mallery's heroes never use condoms and her heroines usually forget to take the pill. Plus they're super fertile and always seem to get pregnant on the first go.

    Oh, that kind of behavior bugs the shit out of me. Guess I’ll be avoiding all Mallery books, then.

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  10. Jane
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 08:34:09

    @SarahT Does Mallory have a philosophical aversion to condoms? The heroine in this story was on the pill.

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  11. SarahT
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 08:45:49

    @Jane: LMAO! I don’t know if she has a philosophical aversion to condoms, but her heroes certainly don’t tend to use them. Linda Howard’s heroes also seem to be allergic to latex.

    I realise some readers find the presence of condoms in sex scenes off putting, but I have the opposite reaction. I can (sort of) deal with no direct reference to the use of condoms, but when it’s obvious that they weren’t used, I think less of the hero and heroine. Obviously, I’m not referring to established couples who choose other forms of birth control, or deliberately use none.

    OK, that’s me done being judgemental for the day. :D

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  12. Jane
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 08:47:52

    @SarahT But in this particular scene, they have a condom fight afterwards in which the heroine accuses the hero of “never using a condom” or something like that so it’s not like they don’t acknowledge it. I just found it strange and not very credible that the heroine would be sooo swept away that she wouldn’t use a condom with the horrible deserter that she presumed Ethan to be.

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  13. SarahT
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 09:01:56

    @Jane: Yeah, that was odd. You’d think she’d be extra careful with Ethan given their mutual history.

    I’m going to have to go back and read that scene again. I have a feeling I’m confusing it with one from ‘Chasing Perfect’.

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  14. Sunita
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 11:25:49

    Maybe it’s common to a particular style of book, because I read a Sheryl Woods book where the hero got someone else pregnant when he was living apart from the heroine. Which would be fine, they were both very young and he was surrounded by baseball groupies, EXCEPT the hero’s doctor father left his mother when he got his nurse pregnant! And the hero hated his father for doing that to the family. So why would he not be obsessive about wearing one? Of course, if he had been half the plot would have gone away, but still.

    Pursuing my theory: Do Robyn Carr’s heroes wear condoms?

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  15. Randi
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 11:41:51

    @Sunita,

    not often. LOL.

    I have to purposely ignore all mention of contraceptive use or non use in contemp Romancelandia. Because *yes* it totally peeves and skeeves me. I just put on blinders when I’m reading a romance novel. In fact, I will insert my own “puts condom on” sentence in novels where there isn’t one.

    I am always surprised at how often authors ignore the condom in non-erotic contemp romance (the amount of condoms in erotic romance is astounding). Even one of my all time favs, NR, will occassionally lack a condom.

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  16. Randi
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 11:43:26

    Also, I’ll note that Robyn Carr does have the trope most people hate: infertile heroine suddenly get preggers from hero’s super sperm!

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  17. FD
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 14:45:00

    This has nothing to do with the book, which doesn’t sound like my cup of tea. (I find I get less and less patient with double standards in contemporaries.)

    However, I recently read a statistic which suggested that nearly half of all pregnancies in the USA are unplanned, and the majority of those pregnancies stem from the failure to use contraception, not failure of contraception.
    Even though I personally believe that contraceptive and std protection should be a de facto element of any sexual relationship, the numbers suggest that that is not what happens in real life. With that in mind, (despite the fact that most of the time when this comes up online, it’s because it’s being decried as unrealistic) I have to wonder if authors who write contraception-less sex scenes are actually adhering more accurately to real world practise.

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  18. Annmarie
    Jul 04, 2010 @ 22:17:12

    I actually loved this book. I love secret baby stories. Could be that my love for the secret baby stems from starting to read category romances before I hit double digits.

    I do agree that Liz is the stronger and more sympathetic character. I found myself crying for her several times throughout the book. If a romance novel can make me cry, laugh out loud or generates happy sighs, I consider it worth my money.

    As to the condomless sex… I notice when the author doesn’t mention a condom because I figure it’s a plot device. No condom usually leads to unwanted pregnancy. That Mallery didn’t write Liz pregnant AGAIN by the condomless Ethan was a surprise.

    Also, despite knowing how important condoms are in preventing a host of issues, my guess is that a high percentage of sexually active women have had one encounter (hopefully not more) where condoms were forgotten.

    I bet Liz made an immediate appointment for a full assortment of tests/preventative measures. That’s how I explained it to my disapproving left brain, anyway.

    Of the two books in the Fools Gold series so far, Almost Perfect is my favorite although I really liked Chasing Perfect.

    FINALLY (I know you we’re probably tired of my comment 5 paragraphs ago), I am impressed with the marketing Mallery has for this series. The website is fun, interactive and consistently updated. I would recommend other authors to check it out for inspiration.

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  19. susan
    Jul 05, 2010 @ 20:41:40

    I was disappointed with the book. I have not come across a more unappealing “hero” in a while. It took until the last three or so pages for him to finally own up that he had any responsibility for what went wrong. I would have like to see a stronger heroine who stands up for herself. He got an easy pass for denying her in front of his friends. Never could get past that…

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  20. Darlene
    Jul 06, 2010 @ 16:18:43

    I simply could not move past the fact that Ethan is an ass. I could deal with him denying their relationship when he was in high school….we were all dumb then. However, as an adult, he consistently did/said things that were stupid, hurtful and selfish. Everyone in his life told him what an idiot he was….why Liz didn’t kick him to the curb is beyond me. As many books as I have read, I’m rarely unhappy with characters to the point of pure annoyance. As much as I enjoyed the author’s other books, this one is NOT a keeper.

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  21. Jane
    Jul 06, 2010 @ 16:25:15

    @Darlene and @susan: I think I cut Ethan some slack because he wasn’t involved with his kid for 11 years and that has to be painful even if this was, in large part, due to his own stupidity.

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  22. susan
    Jul 06, 2010 @ 20:49:29

    I cannot seem to get off Ethan’s case! I just finished the book. I just sense that if she did not become “famous” and hence now good enough for him and the Hendrick name , he would still not spare her the time of day – in public. 18 is old enough to know right from wrong. The child aside, there is no indication at all that he ever attempted to make things right with her ( letter, phone call, etc) until he happens to see her in a crowd.

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