by Anne Gracie, historical (2005)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 0-425-20680-7
Anne Gracie's The Perfect Waltz is another one of those "WonderHeroine Mary Poppins Saves The Day" romance. You know the deal - hero has kids that he needs someone to take care of and lo, here comes our heroine to show how infinite her capacity for eeriely perfect maternal instincts are. What frustrates me about this book is that there are some really poetic and whimsical elements here that would have made the book stand out, but ultimately Ms Gracie ends up delivering another tried-and-true Mary Poppins fantasy that doesn't try to be any different from the other stories of this ilk.
Our hero Sebastian Reyne is a mere member of the Cit, although he's of course loaded since he now has his own factories. He's a self-made man tormented by the fact that his sisters, left under the care of an unscrupulous neighbor while he toiled at a factory to make ends meet, vanished one day. Recently he has finally located them at an orphanage, but they are conveniently traumatized and unruly enough to drive away everyone that Sebastian hires to take care of them. In the meantime, he thinks he has a proper candidate for marriage in mind, but his libido keeps burning at the sight of the beautiful debutante Hope Merridew, whom he is convinced can't have the depths and maturity to be his wife as well as unpaid babysitter for his sisters. I'm sure you can guess what will happen next as Hope sets about to prove to him how wrong he is about her not being the perfect supermother and superwife.
The Perfect Waltz is a reference to Hope's whimsical beliefs about love and romance - she believes that all it takes is one waltz with the right man for her to know that he is the one. She soon discovers that life isn't as clear as her dreams make it out to be when it comes to finding the right man, but by then she is attracted to Sebastian so she may not be able to turn away now.
Don't worry about Sebastian's other candidate for marriage - let's just say that he has a best friend waiting in the wings to pick up the pieces. In fact, the core of this story is how Hope sweeps into his life and makes him literally cry with joy when he realizes that his girlfriend not only gives good fun in bed, she also mothers and nannies without complaining too much about her own wants and needs. When the man is blue, Hope is there for either pick-me-up sex or prep talk that will make Oprah green with envy. Sometimes I wonder whether the romance genre is catered to making a man's fantasy come true or a woman's, I tell you. Hope is of course a dream. She is naturally drop dead gorgeous but she of course has no idea that she is that way. Her past with her nasty grandfather only made her a self-sustaining wife to the point that I suspect she won't complain much if the husband decides to save money, fires all the staff, and asks her to clean the whole manor herself. It is, after all, what she does best, that Stepford wife routine of hers.
Now, let me make this clear: Hope does have some wit once in a while and she's not entirely a drab wet blanket of self-depreciation. I like Sebastian's thawing in the name of love - call me a sucker but I can't resist a man who grows to cherish Hope the way he does in this book. However, while there are some great scenes in this book, Hope and Sebastian ultimately never really deviate from the stereotypical roles they are created to play out even as the story follows along a very familiar path to its predictable end.
The Perfect Waltz is a well-written kind of sameness. If you like Mary Poppins stories, I believe you can do much worse than this book - some of the scenes here, in my opinion, sing - but if not, I suppose there's always the next book.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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