Almost Perfect by Susan Mallery
published by HQN Books in June 2010
Back in high school, Liz Sutton was the girl from the wrong side of the tracks. Then she'd stolen the heart of the most popular boy in town, and their secret romance helped her through the worst of times. Until Ethan Hendrix betrayed her and everything they'd ever meant to each other. Devastated and pregnant, Liz left Fool's Gold, California-forever, she thought….
Now Liz must return to town and face the man who doesn't know of their son's existence. And this time she won't have the option of making a quick getaway. Ethan and Liz can't deny their passionate attraction, even after all these years. But will their desire be enough to spark a second chance at love?
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: Fool's Gold, Book #2
The Story: When Liz was 18 years old, she was secretly dating Ethan who was back from college for the summer. That lasted till Ethan denied their relationship in company of his friends, saying that she wasn't worth his time. Liz packed her bags and left... and then found out that she was pregnant. She came back to inform Ethan, but he was in bed with someone else.
She tried to tell him again a few years later, but there was a misunderstanding and she walked away believing that Ethan didn't want to know his son or even lay eyes on them. As a result, Liz swore not to set foot again in Fool's Gold. Now a successful writer, Liz has carved out a life for her son, Tyler, and herself in San Francisco. However, when she receives news that her 2 teenage nieces are on their own through her fan mail, Liz does not hesitate to move back to Fool's Gold in order to access the situation... and quickly discovers that Ethan was not aware of Tyler's existence and he's not happy to have missed his son's childhood...
My Opinion: Ms Mallery is a hit and miss author for me. I love her writing and settings, which is why I keep reading her, but sometimes, I really have issues with the characters. Chasing Perfect, the first book in the trilogy, was a bit of a disappointment for me as I felt Ms Mallery was setting patterns in her series... However, I'm glad to say that Almost Perfect was a hit and that I greatly enjoyed it :)
What really made this book enjoyable for me was Liz' character. Liz is a great mom, a great aunt and a great woman. She raised Tyler alone and has a great relationship with him. You can see the love between mother and son, their connection. I loved the fact that she did not lie to him. Instead, whenever Tyler asked about Ethan, she would say that she did not want to discuss it. She tried to contact Ethan in order to provide Tyler a father and that took a lot of courage and guts. I also liked the fact that she did not hesitate packing her stuff and rushing to her nieces' aid when they contacted her. It's really a big step considering that Liz' family has never been close to each other. However, it was realistic because Liz didn't fly to their rescue, but instead, went to assess the situation. See what would be best for the girls - whether she should take them in or someone else could. In the end, she became a great mother figure for them :) There is one instance when she catches her oldest niece, Melissa, stealing money and while shocked, Liz does not get mad at Melissa and instead, asks her niece how much would make her feel safe. I really liked that scene because it showed how understanding Liz is. She hasn't gone through exactly the same thing, but she knows how it feels. I also really appreciate the way Liz dealt with the whole situation of Ethan's learning about his son and everyone passing judgment on her actions, from Ethan's mother to strangers. Liz was reasonable and rational and she always had Tyler's best interest in mind. She never tried to make it difficult for Ethan or deny the father and son relationship. She was honest with both of them and herself. I'm telling you, a truly amazing and good woman.
The kids were also a great element in this book. They were very realistic in their behaviors. For those who don't like children in their books, I still think you should give Almost Perfect a chance. None of the children are babies anymore. There is no baby talk, not precocious 5 years old. Instead, we're talking about two pre-teens and a teenage girl who act their age :) They really added to the story; in fact, they were central to Almost Perfect and were great characters.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Ethan. I understand that Ethan is angry at Liz and at the missing years. However, I felt he was too selfish. It was too much of "me, me, me." I wished he would consider the whole situation from Liz' point of view. Liz tried twice to tell him and she truly believed the second time around that he didn't want anything to do with them. She has suffered rejection from him once so it was not far-fetched to believe he was rejecting her a second time and as a result, I don't feel she was obligated to try again. I'm sure she wanted to spare her son the same feeling. Ethan kept saying how it was unfair that he had to forgive Liz for not telling him about Tyler, but that Liz would not forgive him for not acknowledging their relationship all those years ago... But life is unfair. The biggest issue is that he rejected Liz and really broke her heart. He did not try to go after her, to find her... he just let her go. That moment shaped their lives and Ethan has to take responsibilities. I was really happy that Ethan jumped in fatherhood, that he really wanted to know Tyler... but I felt at time, he was not level-headed enough and that led to some poor decisions ^_^;
The romance in Almost Perfect also wasn't the best. I didn't feel the chemistry between Ethan and Liz. It was really hard to believe they still love each other after so many years. Perhaps if they haven't fell into bed again so quickly, if they had spent more time getting to know the new Liz and Ethan, it would have been more believable. I mean, the situation is complicated and they're not really feeling lovey dovey towards each other, but they'll still succumb to lust? Hmm, I don't think so. In addition, I think the ending was too abrupt - I liked Ethan's grand gesture, but I don't like that the book ended on it. A few more pages or an epilogue would have helped the romance in my opinion.
Something that I really liked about Almost Perfect is how it could be a stand-alone. There's very little connection to Chasing Perfect. It allowed the story to focus on the current characters and plot, instead of catching up on previous characters :)
The Grade: B. I really enjoyed Almost Perfect. As I said, Liz really was the star of this book and made it good. It's unfortunate that Ethan and the romance did not measure up :(