Almost Perfect
by Julie Ortolon, contemporary (2005)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21640-7


Almost Perfect is the first book in what the author most defiantly calls The Perfect Trilogy. The trilogy revolves around three friends who learn that their college roommate had gone ahead and written a bestselling motivational book that used the three of them as examples of women who let life pass them by because they are too afraid. The three women realize that this person is actually correct and to overcome their fears, they make a pact to challenge their fears within a year.

This is Madeline Howard's story. She is the artistic type who has apparently let her fear of failure prevented her in the past from making a go at being a professional artist. To begin her baby steps in getting her art work displayed in a gallery, she decides to accept the position of arts director in a summer camp called Camp Enchantment in order to take a crack at making some connections in Santa Fe. The thing is, the camp director turns out to be Joe Fraser, her high school sweetheart that she dumped when he wanted to marry her and she decided that graduating from high school to become somebody's wife wasn't what she wanted for herself.

Almost Perfect bewilders me because the characters, especially Joe, seem to be ripped out from a feel-good talk show about facing one's fears. When Maddy first encounters Joe again, he behaves like a complete nut, wanting her fired because he is still holding a grudge against her for daring to turn down the honor of becoming his child bride. And then, in a transformation that happens so abruptly, he is insisting that he would have respected her wishes and what not if she had married him back then. Oh, that mad man. They were both teenagers. What the hell did he know about respect and love back then? And then, when he learns that she had spent the last few years being married to some old man (don't ask) instead of becoming a fabulous artist, Joe, an ex-soldier who served in Iraq recently, loses it.

Maddy's decision to choose an art career over him may have ripped him apart, but he'd never doubted that she would make it. So when he'd needed something to cling to, he'd pictured her in his mind, drinking champagne at some gallery show with patrons raving over her work. The frustration and bone-numbing fatigue of an operation would fade, leaving room for conviction to return. That became the reason he risked his life. Not just for the lofty concepts of freedom, democracy, and justice - although those were powerful ideals when a man was surrounded by oppression and fear - but that image of Maddy the successful artist became his personal talisman, something to conjure up when he needed to draw on his last ounce of strength.

He'd risked his life, sweated blood on foreign soil, so people like Maddy could live free and go after their dreams.

And last night she tells him she didn't do it?

That was not acceptable.

Oh no! Maddy didn't become an artist so the terrorists have won!

And yes, there are some dodgy mix-ups of past and present tenses in the above excerpt, but I didn't type them in - blame it on the author and the editor for that, heh.

Sorry, Ms Ortolon, but I swear, the above few paragraphs are some of the most stupid things I've read in a romance novel, and I've read plenty of stupid things in romance novels.

Joe is just weird and creepy as this obsessed fellow who seems to think that Maddy should have done everything he thinks and feels that she should do. He's like a control freak and a stalker all rolled into one, although I suspect that Ms Ortolon would like to imagine that Joe is just some supportive sage hero for the heroine to lean on. Add in some ridiculous hyperboles and plenty of conversations that are straight out of a talk show and Almost Perfect is anything but.

Rating: 51


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