What do women really want?
Journalist Allegra Fielding has a problem. She’s pitched a story to her boss – how to transform a not-so-perfect man into Prince Charming – and now she has to deliver! But where is she going to find a man willing to take part in a makeover? Time to blackmail her flatmate, Max…
But Allegra’s cunning plan backfires spectacularly when Max refuses to be ‘perfected’! He’s a guy who knows what he likes, and he’s going to enjoy proving to Allegra that there’s nothing hotter than a man who’s a little rough around the edges…
This month’s prompt for the Multi-Blog Reading Challenge was to read a Contemporary Romance. Actually, this is where the “challenge” part of a reading challenge comes into play, because it made me pick up a book in a genre I don’t read much any more. I admit, I have probably welched on it to some extent though, because the book I picked up was a) something a couple of my AAR colleagues rated very highly, so I was pretty sure I’d like it, and b) a category romance, which meant it was something I could whip through in a couple of hours. That wasn’t because I didn’t want to read something longer – I did actually have another book in mind – but I was running out of time and didn’t want to miss the deadline.
Mr (not quite) Perfect is a charming and sexy friends-to-lovers story which, while it may be eminently predictable, is elevated into something a bit special by the quality of the writing and characterisation. I know that Mills and Boon/Harlequin books take a lot of flack sometimes for being too simplistic and/or too formulaic, but they have a good number of writers in their stable who are able to freshen up those formulas by means of intelligent and inventive writing; and I have a huge admiration for those among them who are able to do that while also putting out 4-6 books a year.
Allegra Fielding is a junior feature writer for a fashion magazine called Glitz and is longing for the opportunity to prove herself to her fearsome editor and earn herself a promotion – and at the beginning of the book, she thinks she has come up with the way to do just that. Given that many women bemoan the fact that the men in their lives are lacking in some way (they don’t dress well, don’t cook, aren’t romantic enough…) Allegra hits on the idea of turning a “Mr Average” into a “Mr Perfect” and writing an article about it. In order to do that, of course, she has to find herself a willing guinea pig – who takes the form of Max, her best friend’s brother.
Allegra and Max have known each other for years; she thinks of him as her friend’s straight-laced, boring brother, and he sees her as his sister’s ditsy, frivolous friend. Max has recently split up with his fiancée and has temporarily moved into the house Allegra shares with his sister while she is away in Paris. Allegra tells Max this is her big chance, her breakthrough article – and mentions that it will involve him going out with a famous underwear model, which is certainly an added inducement, but Max can also see how important this is to Allegra and he agrees to help her.
Of course, this throws them more into each other’s company, which they both believe accounts for the fact that they are beginning to look at one another differently and to feel a pull between them of something other than friendship.
For a category romance, the characterisations are surprisingly deep. Both Max and Allegra have perceptions about each other which are challenged as things progress, and Allegra has a very interesting relationship with her mother, who is a kind of female Jeremy Paxman (a British journalist well known for ripping politicians to shreds on the TV every night!). Max is a lovely guy – ordinary, perhaps, but not boring, and one who sounds and thinks like a bloke (something that doesn’t always occur in romance novels!), but isn’t afraid to put himself out there when push comes to shove.
The friendship between Max and Allegra is extremely well written, the dialogue feels very naturalistic and much of it is very funny. The sexual tension between them builds beautifully, and when they finally do give into their urges and hit the sheets, the language is far from explicit but the scene is hot enough to blister paint.
One of the best things about the book is that, by the end of it, both Max and Allegra have grown a bit and come to realise that sometimes the thing you want (or think you want) isn’t necessarily the thing you need. Max learns that perhaps making an effort occasionally isn’t a bad thing while Allegra comes to see that ‘ordinary’ doesn’t have to mean ‘boring’ or ‘unexciting’. Mr (not quite) Perfect is a superb read from start to finish, and is certainly worth a few hours of any romance fan’s time.