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Almost a Family coverDonna Alward’s Almost a Family is a self-published romance from 2014. I’m a fan of Alward, and the gentle mix of realism and fantasy in her books. This one did not disappoint, though it sailed dangerously close to cliché a few times.

Molly and Jason were high school sweethearts, and lovers through university, but when Jason proposed, Molly said no. Jason had their life together completely planned, and she had her own dreams.

Molly goes to law school, and settles in Calgary, a successful corporate lawyer. Jason goes to veterinary college, and returns to Fredericton to work at a clinic. Six years pass. Jason pines for Molly, and Molly focuses on her work.

Then Molly’s sister, Kim, is badly injured in a car crash. Kim is a single mother, and asks Molly to come back to Fredericton to look after her three-year-old daughter Sarah. Kim doesn’t tell Molly that Jason now lives next door, and is already helping look after Sarah.

The set-up ensures that Jason and Molly are thrown together, with a shared goal of looking after a child. It’s what Jason always wanted, and a trial run of family life for Molly. She likes it, but the old problem of Jason dictating how their relationship should go reminds her why she left in the first place.

As usual, with a couple who have been apart for years, I wonder why neither of them moved on. Molly has done some non-serious dating, and Alward delicately implies that she has not spent every night alone since Jason. However, Molly does not want a relationship, and is focused on her demanding career. Corporate law offices are not known for encouraging employees, especially women, to have lives apart from work. Jason wants a wife and children, but has made very little effort to find someone else. His devotion is somewhere between romantic and creepy.

With Jason and Molly back together, there are lots of happy memories recalled, and lots of sexual tension and suspense. Our couple repeatedly find themselves a little too comfortable with each other. To stay together, one or both are going to have to compromise, but who, and how much? I was afraid it was going to be Molly, giving everything up for Jason, since she so readily takes on the mother role, and starts to doubt the path she is on.

Molly starts off as a successful career woman who enjoys expensive hotels, fine clothes, and expensive make up. She has no idea how to look after kids and is challenged by baking cookies. In a few short weeks she decides there are things more important than a high-paying career. It always bothers me when a plot pushes a working woman into being a proper wife and mother. However, Molly’s reconsideration of priorities is organically motivated by a sobering and wonderfully understated plot point, and accommodating Jason and his plans is the last thing on her mind.

In the end, both characters make decisions based on growth they have experienced, and the compromise is more complex than I feared it might be. Unfortunately, the final scene, set at an airport, also has clichés I’ve seen in too many movies, and you don’t have to be reading the book on a flight, as I was, to be aware if how unlikely it is to be heading for security screening when they call boarding for your flight.

In among the too-cute kid scenes and too-good-to-be-true family moments (family sledding invariably includes crying from cold, tiredness, and/or injuries), the platonic relationship between Jason and Kim, Molly’s sister, stands out for its realism and depth. These two people deeply care for each other – heck, they love each other – but as friends, notwithstanding an awkward moment or two that makes their relationship more real. The friend relationship also complicates the relationships between the siblings and the lovers.

One of the reasons I love romances is that they show happy endings for lovers – it does give one hope. Family reconciliations, in this case between the sisters, are another common and hopeful feature. In Almost a Family, Alward shows a third happy situation – a close relationship between a man and a woman who are friends. Jason and Molly have their romantic HEA, but it was the love between Jason and Kim that left me weepy.

As I write this, the book is free on Amazon (click the title above), and if you are weary of millionaire muscled heroes or scene after scene of sex with little else (or even if you are not), I strongly recommend it as an introduction to Alward.

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