When It's Perfect
by Adele Ashworth, historical (2002)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-81807-8


Spoilers are present. You know what to do.

Sequel of sorts (aren't they all nowadays?) to Someone Irrestible.

Like its prequel, this book seems to suffer from abrupt mood swings and jarring plot revelations and even more bewildering contradictory behaviors towards these revelations that this book feels like a badly edited piece of work. That or the editor has removed some scenes and the author has forgotten to patch things up over the removed scenes.

Mary Marsh is a lingerie designer hired to do a Mary's Secrets trosseau for a bride, Christine Longfellow. She and Christine become friends of sorts, so when Christine dies and her brother Marcus returns from Egypt, it seems natural that he ropes her in for his investigations. Sparks fly, and Mary becomes an impromptu model for her lingerie, much to Marcus' approval. But can a seamstress and an Earl find love? But if not Mary "I'm not worthy because I'm not a virgin" Marsh has her way.

Yes, this is another Importance Of Being Virginal story. Even if her state of non-virginity is a circumstance that isn't within her control, Mary beats herself up badly even after he asks her to go back with him to Egypt. The man has asked, but no! Perfect Spine-free Mary insists! Class differences, she is not a virgin, blah blah blah. Why not just commit those barbaric murder rituals on these "shamed" rape victims and be done with it? At least then I'd be spared of the whining.

Mind you, Marcus is a very lovely hero. He's gorgeous - a given - but he says some really lovely and romantic things here and some of his actions just sing. Everything's ruined by that midget-brained Mary "I Insist You All Hate Me - You Must! - Because I'm Not Perfect" Marshmallowbrain, alas.

But a bigger flaw is the choppy plot flow though. Plot twists - not pretty ones, I must say - are revealed abruptly, and the characters' reactions to these twists more often than not contradict their entire behavior until now. When Christine's secret is revealed, the mother's character is assassinated for no rhyme or reason, Mary's entire spinal cord congeals into mush, and it is poor Marcus who has to try valiantly to keep the story from falling apart to pieces. Add in the rest of Mary's formulaic, typical pity-me-dud behavior - sex yes, marriage no, et cetera - and Marcus is facing an almost impossible task.

But he almost succeeds. There are a few really powerful scenes of intimacy here, not necessarily explicit ones but powerful nonetheless. Marcus signing a note using his given name, in one scene, and Mary's reaction to the whole romanticism of that gesture is one I find more romantic than anything else in this book. Maybe it's because I'm a sad, twisted lady, but I can't resist a nerdy hero who falls in love irrevocably and acts grandly on his emotions.

Of course, whether or not it's crass to fall in love when your sister is barely cold in her grave is something I'm still mulling over.

But ultimately, the choppy pace and abrupt revelation of plot twists, twists that come without any build-up or foreshadowing, and the contradictory actions of some of the main characters that follow really annoy me. When It's Perfect feels like a much longer book badly snipped and cut to meet its word count. Maybe it's time Ms Ashworth and her editor do some nice pow-wow bonding like taking aerobic classes together or something, so that her next book will flow a little more smoothly.

(I guess there's nothing to be done about those Little Miss Punish-Me-Please-I-Insist Martyrs, do I even dare to ask?)

Rating: 67


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