TW: contains mentions of child abuse.
I probably would have given this three stars if I hadn’t enjoyed the first book so much. Unfortunately I did; I loved Prue’s story and so I started this book with pretty high expectations, wanting to read more about the Merridew sisters. This time the story revolves around one of the twins, Hope, who’s pretty and loves dancing and laughing. Sebastian Reyne wants to marry so his orphaned sisters will have a mother figure, and he’s planning to court someone older, plain and responsible; but obviously the moment he sees Hope he falls in love with her at first sight because she’s sooo pretty.
To say that this book doesn’t live up to the first is an understatement. The characters are flat, the plot is trite and bland. The Perfect Rake had me laughing out loud, The Perfect Waltz had me yawning and skipping ahead. The biggest downfall is probably the hero. Sebastian Reyne is, to put it bluntly, kind of an ass. He refuses to explain himself, ever, and then gets pissy when his actions are misunderstood or when people think ill of him. He almost never says sorry or thank you, either. At some point I hoped he’d end up stuck with Lady Elinore so Hope could marry his friend Giles instead, but then Elinore turned out to be likable and the poor dear didn’t deserve Sebastian. All Sebastian deserved was to go back north and reflect about his rudeness, honestly. He’s got this stupid alpha male complex about having to save poor helpless females, like when he “saves” Hope from her horse, and does he even apologize when she tells him that the horse was under control and she was only doing a trick? No, he scolds her for being reckless and tells her not to do it again. This to a woman he’s barely met, whom he’d dismissed as useless and pampered and living a sheltered life. (Yeah, let me sink that in: he scoffs at Hope for being sheltered but doesn’t want her to do something reckless like riding a fast horse. Also he’s perfectly happy to make assumptions about someone while judging anyone who even dares to make assumptions about him. What a good hero.)
The whole thing about Sebastian wanting a wife for his sisters was supposed to home in how loving and caring and selfless he was, but to me it just read as if Sebastian’s precious pride was wounded because he hadn’t been able to provide for his sisters when he was younger. He cares about his sisters and wants them to be successful in life because that’ll mean a success for himself. Conversely, I got the feeling that he didn’t give a shit about the other orphans. He makes such a fuss about his sister Dorie smiling for the first time but doesn’t bat an eyelid at a roomful of grim-faced orphan girls. (What a good hero.) I can hardly believe this is the same author who gave me Gideon in the last book. (I love Gideon. He showed up for maybe two pages in the last chapter, still stupid as ever, and those two pages were more fun that the rest of this book put together.)
I could write more, but enough about my hate for Sebastian. Hope was… okay. Conventionally pretty, her worse trait is apparently that she’s clumsy, though I don’t recall her ever displaying clumsiness in this book or the one before. It could be that she’s not really clumsy and it’s just something Evil Grandpa told her, which makes sense, but then she’s a heroine without any flaws and that’s kind of boring. I never found myself rooting for her as I did for Prue. I just didn’t get what she saw in Sebastian, apart from physical attraction and infatuation. In the end I was more invested in the beta couple.
TW: contains mentions of rape and terminal illness.
Urgh, this book. It’s not as bad as its predecessor, but not nearly as good as the first one either. It’s like Anne Gracie is taunting me with one single delightful book followed by a slew of trope-ridden mediocrity. This time the sister getting hitched is Faith; in the last book it was mentioned offhand that she had a crush on a certain disreputable Hungarian violinist, and that this was a Bad Idea, so it didn’t really come as a surprise that the book starts with Faith stranded in France after being seduced and abandoned by the violinist douche. Who (gasp!) isn’t even Hungarian. Apparently he stole someone else’s identity and passed himself off as Hungarian instead of Bulgarian and nobody even noticed — not that anybody could have noticed anyway, because one foreign nation is pretty much like another in this book. But I digress.
So Faith is now a Fallen Woman but, luckily for her, while bemoaning her stupid notions of romanticism and the fact that she’ll bring shame on her family, she meets our valiant hero. Nicholas, like his two predecessors, looks like a jerk on the outside but he’s actually wonderful and sweet and caring. Or so we’re meant to see him. Personally I had some trouble seeing that because, like Sebastian in the previous book, he tends to act like an utter ass. Yes, he means well, but his actions are misguided and he’s bossy and demeaning and a lot of times he ends up doing more harm than good. At least, unlike Hope in the previous book, Faith has no qualms about calling him out on his bullshit and refusing to let him make decisions about her life. That alone made this book much more tolerable.
About the setting, this book is not a typical Regency romance because it takes place on a roadtrip through the French and Spanish countryside. I have nothing against roadtrips, per se, but in this case it’s so romanticized that they might as well be taking a stroll through Kensington Gardens. The author tries at first to talk about the hardships of travelling on horseback in a foreign country, but after a while she stops bothering and the protagonists just amble along from convenient inn to convenient inn, where they can without fail enjoy a warm bath and delicious food and a soft bed. Yeah, about the bed. There was a lot of sex in this book. It wasn’t very well written. Most of the scenes went something like this: he kissed her boob and then put his man-stick inside her lady-cave and they diddled. Which might be pretty hot stuff for, I don’t know, someone from my mum’s generation, but I’ve read better. The only reason why I’m only complaining about the bad sex after three books is that in the other two the sex scenes were relegated to the last couple of chapters and so they were easy to ignore, but this time whenever the hero and heroine were alone I groaned because I knew he was about to ~take her to paradise~ in a flowery and uninteresting way.
The sex also meant that there was a lack of UST, and since they got married straightaway and it was obvious that they loved each other and were only refraining from saying it… I didn’t get the point of the book, honestly. Only Nick’s sheer stupidity is in the way. Oh, yes, there’s also one (vaguely spoilery) plot thing, but that gets solved faster than you can say deus ex machina at the end, so when they finally got their happily ever after my only thought was “took you idiots long enough”. Other niggles include the stereotypical treatment of other nationalities and ethnic groups, the usage of “male” and “female” and similar (as in, “his masculine smell”, “her female curves” etc) at least twice a page, shoehorning a beta romance because apparently all of this author’s books must have one, and the fact that characters from the previous books are once again relegated to the epilogue so this might as well be a collection of standalone novels.