A Perfect Groom
Grade : C+

Justin Sterling, the hero of Samantha James’s A Perfect Groom, is a tortured sort. We meet him in a long prologue, in which we see that his mother was unfaithful and died while trying to run off with a lover. Justin’s abusive father constantly told him that because he looks like his mother, Justin must be equally wicked. He grows up to be a rake who believes he doesn’t deserve love.

Arabella Templeton is a feisty-but-insecure heroine. She is tall with red hair. She had an awkward adolescence and is secretly convinced that she is completely unattractive, even though she is the toast of the Season and has eager suitors falling all over themselves to propose to her. Arabella rejects these offers because she will only marry for love, like her dear Mama and Papa.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Because I felt like I’d read it all before. Honestly, I don’t know how many heroes I’ve read about who are handsome as sin, rakish as all-get-out, and secretly long for love but know they can never deserve it because of their mothers’ infidelities. Or the stunning heroine who for some reason doesn’t know that she’s beautiful. These characters are quite well-drawn and the author does quite a bit to make them three-dimensional, but to tell the truth I wasn’t very interested. I’d seen them before.

The storyline follows a familiar path as well. Justin disliked Arabella when she was a girl, but is instantly attracted to the woman she’s become. Arabella is attracted to him, too, but objects to his rakish ways, so she tries to give him a stinging set-down. There ensues much verbal sparring, followed by a passionate kiss on a terrace that is witnessed by Arabella’s aunt. Arabella and Justin are forced to marry for the sake of her reputation, and are soon enjoying connubial bliss. They fall in love but don’t tell each other so, because he doesn’t deserve love and she thinks he married her only because he had to. A couple things crop up to keep them apart before the HEA ending, which is duly crowned with an epilogue populated by adorable children.

None of this is poorly written. Arabella is a sympathetic heroine, and Justin is as desirable and vulnerable as any romance reader could wish. Their repartee is brisk, and their love scenes are quite hot. But there’s no freshness to it.

It’s not fair, really. If this had been the first (or even the tenth) time I’d read a romance that featured this formula, I’d have been pleased enough. But I’ve seen it a lot more than that and, as well-written as this novel is, it remains just a bit stale. If Ms. James turns her talents to a more original story, I’ll be there in the front seat, but my reaction to this book was never more than lukewarm.

Reviewed by Jennifer Keirans

Grade: C+

Sensuality: Hot

Review Date : December 9, 2004

Publication Date: 2004

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