Anne Gracie's Regency romances are definitely a notch above the average. Her "Perfect" series follows five sisters, all named after virtues (Prudence, Hope, Faith, etc.), as they find love. Although a series, it's not necessary to read the books in order to enjoy any of the individual stories - they work fine as standalone books, this one particularly.
The Perfect Stranger focuses on Faith Merridew, twin sister of Hope, whose life at the outset of the book is a complete disaster. She has been tricked by a violinist into a sham marriage and has escaped him only to find herself a social outcast, sleeping on the beach and in danger from various men. When chased by some men bent on rape, she finds herself rescued by Nicholas Blacklock, a former soldier. All this happens right at the beginning of the book, and it's a lively start to what becomes an engaging tale. Nick looks after Faith and soon offers her marriage to help her socially and to quiet his mother, who has been trying to get him to marry for years. However, Faith, once she feels a little more in control of her life, isn't willing to just wave goodbye to Nicholas as he journeys to Spain and Portugal on a mystery personal mission.
She decides to travel along with him, hoping to turn their marriage into one more than name only.
Faith is a feisty heroine, a woman able to overcome incredible challenges; perhaps she's even too good to be true. Nicholas is the traditional tall, dark and handsome but troubled hero
who Faith wants to understand and help. The reader knows all along that there's something more going on in Nick's life; although most of the point of view of the story is Faith's we also occasionally dip into Nick's view. We also learn a little more about Nick's two companions, including the misogynistic Scotsman Mac, and there is even a side romance involving one of these characters.
The joy of this story is the way in which Nick and Faith come to know each other,
particularly the way Faith manages to overcome her past (not particularly dwelt on in the story, we learn more of this in Prudence's story, The Perfect Rake) and learn to be a suitable wife for a soldier. Of course, there's a shock in this story which is trailed from fairly early on, and its resolution in some ways
is slightly unsatisfying, but overall it is a very enjoyable story with a different setting than usual - no balls, country houses and duels in this story.
Instead, we read of traveling by foot and horse through France to Portugal, with our characters sleeping on beaches and in open ground, suffering injuries and getting sunburned.
This is very different from Anne Gracie's other "Perfect" series books to date, mainly in terms of the setting. The love story is sweet and not beset by the usually obligatory Big Misunderstanding or mutual hatred - our characters have other things going on to take their attention
- and that makes for a slightly different, but nonetheless enjoyable, read.