Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas

Title: Smooth Talking Stranger
Author: Lisa Kleypas

Type: Contemporary Romance
Published: 2009

Blurb: Ella Varner has it all--a successful career as an advice columnist, a handsome boyfriend, and a circle of friends in Austin. When anyone has a problem, Ella knows the answers.

But one night she receives a call that changes everything. And as Ella's world is turned upside-down, she meets a man who is the opposite of everything she ever wanted . . . a man who will offer her the most irresistible challenge she has ever known . .

Why: Kleypas is an auto-read for me.

Uh-oh: Well, I had this vague recollection that I hadn't liked the first two books in this series. So off I went to see what I had posted about them. Found a short, drive-by blurb about Blue-eyed Devil--wherein I expressed my misgivings AND admitted that I had not yet read Sugar Daddy. And never did apparently. No subsequent posts about it and no entry--anywhere--in my books-read-log. Kind of good news. Cuz I really enjoyed Smooth Talking Stranger. And now I don't have to wait another year for more of this family.

Thoughts: Enjoyed this one very much. Kleypas offers a first-person narrative that is both economical and seamless. The pages turn themselves and at no point is the reader bogged down in lengthy, introspective passages or tugged off on distracting tangents. It's clean--for lack of a better word--and well-written. Kleypas' words engage, right from the start.

I'm happy about that, as a reader. I'm not a huge fan of contemporaries, but I think the handful that have appealed to me lately have done so because they featured an author voice that is mature and to-the-point--in a modern, grown-up way. Without that level of intelligence, and some degree of plausibility, I can't enjoy myself.

So here, aside from the caricature evangelicals, Kleypas served up the right voice and believability factor. I was easily drawn into the story, relaxed and open-minded. I moved beyond both--going straight to captivated--when Kleypas introduced Luke and, in just one or two scenes, showed readers how inexplicable the relationship between infant and caregiver can be. She captured those moments beautifully, stunning both the heroine and reader in the space of a few words. Like her treatment of domestic abuse in Blue-eyed Devil, Kleypas offered an intuitive and honest portrayal of what it means to parent an infant.

That portrayal also provided the most telling emotional insights to the heroine. Yes, she narrates the story, but because she is self-trained in the art of holding back, we never get to the raw stuff beneath the facade. We learn why she internalizes but, like her, we accept her patterns as healthy enough. She enjoys men, sex, the responsibility of a job and the ability for unconditional love. Good enough. Another reason, I think, that Kleypas' matter-of-fact voice serves the story so well. BUT, in those private moments between Ella and Luke? Meaty stuff.

So, I liked the heroine as much as she allowed and respected her beyond measure for her love of Luke. But the hero? Adored him, even without his POV. To be honest, I was half in love with Jack because he reminds me of someone I know. Same thing happened to me in Rachel Gibson's Not Another Bad Date last year. Strip life's circumstance from the gentleman I know and he could be either of these heroes. Southern drawl, bone-melting charm and innate protectiveness. Here, it was the perfect counter-part to Kleypas' pent-up-but-not-really-pent-up heroine. They enjoyed a natural attraction and their romance held all of the humor necessary in the modern world--especially about sex. Honest, funny stuff.

On his own, the hero added measurable portions of the maturity and intelligence I cited earlier. He was the calm assurance, everywhere. Very sexy and probably the most desirable aspect of their romance, IMO.

As for secondary characters, I thought the ex-boyfriend and the mother were believable--despite the exaggeration of their faults. Not caricatures exactly, but just a hair over the top. And I'd have to say that both went that way later in the book. In the beginning, both walked and talked for me. It wasn't until later, when neither Ella nor Kleypas had to tolerate them anymore, that they thinned to stereotypes. The sister and her TV evangelists held less of a presence for me--other than to demonstrate (more through memories than actual interaction) the relationship between Ella and Tara. All in all, the supporting cast held up their end without too much distraction. Not a complaint--like I said, Smooth Talking Stranger appealed to me most for its clean, get-to-it voice and manner.

On the Travis side, we get a little time with pretty much all of them. (For me--the most shiny of these are all the scenes with Hardy in them. I liked him--not his book so much, but definitely him.) At the book's end however, it's all Travis family--and it worked well enough. It wasn't a total construct, but it was somewhat of a convenient means for the wrap-up.

Overall, Smooth Talking Stranger was a fast, clean read--with enough depth and charm to warm and please. And yeah, I think I'll go check out Sugar Daddy now.

Testament to Kleypas' reader-base, there is far more Word on the Web that I can accommodate here. A sampling though...

KristieJ, 4 out of 5

Stacy, I like what she has to say about Jack

Christine, A-

Brie, A-

Dear Author, B+

Book Smugglers, 5 out of 10

Lady of the Review, A-

Dear Author, Comfort Read

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