Posted in: AztecLady Reviews
Tags:Karina Bliss, TBR Challenge
I can’t remember who recommended this book to me, but having read and enjoyed at least two other stories by Ms Bliss, I was happy to get my mittens on it. Of course, like countless other books I am ecstatic to get, it then languished in the humongous TBR Mountain Range—until SLWendy’s TBR Challenge brought it to mind. Happily so, I might add.
Mr. Imperfect, by Karina Bliss
Published in 2006, the cover claims that this is Ms Bliss’ first published novel.¹ I have to say, it’s a wonderful start to a career. Let me begin with a couple of warnings: There are some tropes in this story that usually drive me nuts—for example, if you haven’t seen a person in fourteen years, it’s not likely you can still love them. You love your memories of them and of the two of you together, but you don’t know the reality of that person in the present so…
Then there is the ‘well, because of the will’ that sets up the current conflict between the protagonists—contrived barely starts to describe it. Finally, the cute kid—I’m one of those curmudgeons who usually prefers to have no children or babies in her romances. Sue me.
Despite all of the above, I thoroughly enjoyed Mr Imperfect.
Here’s the back cover blurb:
A simple IOU. And now he’s stuck.
It takes a funeral to drag bad boy Christian Kelly back to his rural New Zealand hometown. He’d do just about anything to blow out of town for the last time. And never see Kezia Rose again. His first love. And the only woman he’d ever hurt.
But when they find out Kezia’s going to lose her family’s century-old hotel, Christian genuinely wants to help. Except Kezia won’t let him. And neither will her grandmother—according to the last will and testament, and a long forgotten IOU he’d given the dear, exasperating old woman.
So, what next?
If the will says he can’t buy out the hotel, he’ll just have to turn it around by the end of the month. And maybe by then Kezia will understand why he left…and why being near her is breaking his heart all over again.
What if you discovered that all you ever wanted was the things you left behind?
I think it’s important to note that the novel is set in Waterview, a small rural town in New Zealand. The main employer in the area is the Waterview hotel, original founded by the Rose family. Muriel, Kezie’s grandmother and the matriarch, has just died, and the novel starts during the funeral:
“Christian Kelly cried at funerals. For a man who never wept it has been an appalling discovery. He figured the combination of sober hymns, gentle sobbing and church rituals struck some sentimental Irish chord and caused him to blubber like a baby.
He solved the problem by never attending funerals…”
A couple of decades prior, Muriel Rose had taken rebellious, unruly and neglected Christian under her wing, determined to at least give him the love his surviving parent is obviously withholding from him. Mind you, Muriel wasn’t your typical do-gooder, and Christian was definitely not the most overtly grateful of protégés, but despite separation, distance and time, they managed to remain friends through the years since he shook the dust of Waterview from his shoes. His relationship with Kezia after he leaves town is…well, almost the opposite.
Kezia’s parents are life-long aid workers.² They help the needy in some of the poorest spots in the world, and have always put their daughter and her needs in a distant second place in their priority list. After falling deathly ill with hemorrhagic dengue, they ship her back to New Zealand, in the care of the grandmother she has never met. Unconventional, fun, flightly, Muriel is a world apart from what Kezia has known before.
And so is bad boy Christian.
Once sweethearts, his ultimatum—and her reaction to it—on the night he left are still raw in both their memories, and their hearts: come with me, or it’s over.
Now, over a dozen years later, Christian is a very wealthy man, a tourist mogul known as much for his affairs as for his money. His scars are old and so well hidden, even Muriel didn’t know of many of them. Kezia’s scars are different but no less real, and now the only way she can hang on to her grandmother’s legacy is by accepting Christian’s help. Then there is the fact that the hotel is the main employer in the area—if it goes under, so do forty or so families.
None of this explains the child on the cover, though, so allow me to introduce you to the rest of the characters. The little boy is supposed to be John Jason, son of Marion and Joe. Marion has been Kezia’s best friend since she first moved to Waterview. For the past few months, since Joe took off for parts unknown, both have lived with her in the decrepit and mostly empty hotel. (By the way, I really liked how this subplot was handled, even if its resolution is a bit too easy, too neat. See, the reader is privy to only three characters’ point of view: Kezia’s, Christian’s and Joe’s.)
There is Bob Harvey, farmer, borderline alcoholic and opportunistic, but not necessarily villainous. Marion’s older sister, Sally—who by the way, knows how to hold a grudge. Bernice May and Don, longtime friends of Muriel, Kezia and Christian.
Joe and Marion’s marital issues not so much parallel as highlight both Christian and Kezia’s relationship issues—lack of trust, pride, fear of pain, the need to outgrow the past.
I’m tempted to say that it’s the characters that made the book for me, but while it’s true that I enjoyed and liked all the characters in the story, it’s Ms Bliss’s voice that kept me reading past the moment when the contrived conflict is set up.
As far as the conflict goes, it only takes Christian a week to come with a work around the supposed legalities. What bothers me about that solution is that it goes against the spirit of the will—or rather, against Muriel’s explicit wishes. And that bothers me because we are told that it’s only because of Christian’s love of Muriel that he’s involved at all, so it seems just a bit inconsistent.
It would be spoilery to say how the conflict between the main characters is kept going after this point, so all I say is that Kezia’s overgrown sense of responsibility, while logical given her upbringing, got on my nerves rather a bit at times.
Beyond that, I have objections to the rather…well, fairy-tale-ish solution of Marion’s situation and another, albeit a minor one, to the epilogue (mostly because I object to epilogues in principle, this one is fairly easy to swallow actually).
Mr. Imperfect gets an 8 out of 10 from me.
* * * * *
¹ I didn’t realize it at first, but this is actually the first in the Lost Boys trilogy and a loose prequel to Second-Chance Family (review here)
² I don’t believe the word ‘missionaries’ is used in the novel, but that’s pretty much what I got from the references made.