Almost Perfect, the second in Susan Mallery’s Fool’s Gold series, is a frustrating read. The heroine is wonderful. I enjoyed reading about her relationships with everyone in the book except one person. Unfortunately, that person is the hero, who acted more like a selfish teenager than a thirty-something hero.
Liz Sutton, the daughter of a drunken, abusive mother, had a miserable childhood in Fool’s Gold. Assuming she was as promiscuous as her mother, her fellow students regularly tormented her. The one shining exception was Ethan Hendrix, the son of a prominent family. They had a brief affair, and Liz believed he loved her. Things fell apart when she overheard Ethan tell friends that she meant nothing to him. Liz ran away from Fool’s Gold, but returned three weeks later after she discovered she was pregnant. Liz intended to tell Ethan, but discovered him in bed with a town mean girl. She tried again a few years later, but was unable to see Ethan, so spoke to his wife. Days later, she received a letter from Ethan telling her to leave him alone.
Liz is now a best-selling mystery author in San Francisco. She has to return to Fool’s Gold for the first time when she discovers her 14- and 11-year old nieces have been abandoned by their step-mother, while their father is in prison. The girls are living in Liz’s childhood home, with the utilities shut off, stealing food to survive. Of course, on her first day back in town, Liz runs into Ethan.
Things quickly turn ugly. Ethan denies writing the letter, says he never knew they had a son. Ethan is furious about losing eleven years with his child and doesn’t believe that Liz tried to tell him. I really disliked Ethan’s behavior. He would say one thing to Liz, and then go behind her back and say or do things that were extremely hurtful. Despite Ethan’s behavior, Liz has sex with him rather quickly, but then recognizes that it’s a mistake.
I liked Liz and enjoyed her relationship with her son, her nieces, and her growing friendship with the women in town. There were clear changes in many of the characters in the book from the time Liz knew them as a girl to the present. No one was without fault, and many of the townspeople had true regrets over Liz’s treatment.
My problem is I truly didn’t care about her relationship with Ethan. He acted like a spoiled rich boy, with an excuse for every cruel thing that he said or did, but was unwilling to forgive Liz for anything. For a romance to work, I need to care about that relationship more than any other aspects of the book.
This would have worked as women’s fiction in which Liz dumped Ethan early on and encountered a nice, mature, male who was truly worthy of her. Liz is just too good for Ethan. I thought he acted like a petulant adolescent through most of the book, and only redeemed himself in the last few pages. At that point, it was too little, too late, for me.
I’m saddened to assign this book a grade of C, as Liz and the kids alone are worthy of a much higher grade. But thanks to Ethan, I simply can’t recommend this book as a contemporary romance.