I’ve never realized before how simple and easy most historical romance novels are to get through. There is no real modern angst; no modern psychodrama, no therapy. None of that. Whatever twisted family history exists is part of the background, and while it may explain why characters act the way they do, the story doesn’t revolve around it. It just is. And in some ways, that leaves the reader free to explore only the fantasy side of the romance. There’s the dashing hero, the beautiful heroine and their love story. So when it comes to reading Lisa Kleypas’ contemporary fiction novels, set in Houston, it’s a little hard to make the shift. There’s definite effort involved, and the jury is still out on whether this is a good thing or not.
Smooth Talking Stranger is the third novel behind Sugar Daddy and Blue Eyed Devil, which feature the Travis clan of Houston; three brothers and a sister of privileged background and lots of money. This story is Jack’s. He’s the middle Travis son, with a reputation to live up to. He’s slow to trust, but when he does, he expects loyalty from anyone for whom he feels something. But he hasn’t felt anything until he meets Ella Varner, a love advice columnist from Austin who comes to Houston to care for her sister Tara’s newborn baby, Luke. While Tara is away dealing with a nervous breakdown brought on by childhood abuse and a mother from hell, Ella keeps Luke, leaving behind a comfortable relationship with a man to whom a baby is anathema. Ella hunts down Jack who she thinks is Luke’s father. Jack quickly disabuses Ella of that notion, and just as quickly falls in love with her. Ella resists falling in love right back because, and cue the therapist here, every relationship she had as a child has ended in heartbreak, therefore, it’s easier not to get involved to begin with. A near tragedy opens her eyes to Jack and she begins to see things his way.
The story is pretty formulaic. There were times when I absolutely loathed Ella, like when she made a further wrong assumption as to Luke’s paternity, and along with Jack, tried to strong-arm the hapless man into doing right by Tara without Tara’s permission. That whole scenario just rubbed me the wrong way. The other problem with the novel is that it’s told in the first person. For me, it reads more like a memoir than a fictional romantic story. Something was lost for me by narrating it in this way. I can’t put my finger on it, but it did not make me a happy camper.
Don’t get me wrong. Smooth Talking Stranger is a nice modern love story. The hero is dashing and the heroine, beautiful. The proposal (and there is one) almost brought a tear to my eye, it was so romantic. I’m just not so sure I like Lisa’s stories or cast of characters with a modern bent. I think they’d do much better for themselves (and for me) back in the early 1800’s.