Smooth Talking Stranger, Lisa Kleypas

smooth-talking-stranger-by-kleypasSmooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas (2009) is the latest contemporary romance penned by the author of last year’s Blue Eyed Devil. This is a contemporary romance set in Texas. Also, this is my first time reading a contemporary romance from this author.

Ella Varner is a advice columnist for Vibe who prides herself on her independence and control. She’s managed to survive a bad childhood with the help of a therapist and has a successful career and personal life. Ella and her younger sister, Tara grew up in a single parent household. Their mother wasn’t a very good parent. She allowed men to come and go out of the home and was emotionally abusive to her daughters and affectionately distant. She also pitted the two sisters against each other by labeling Tara “the beautiful one” and Ella “the smart one.”

The lack of a father figure coupled with the rest seemed to have affected Tara the most compared to her sister because Tara winds up having a baby out of wedlock, abandons the baby with her mother and then she just disappears. Ella’s mother calls her from Houston, insisting that she come and fix the situation because having an infant around is seriously cramping her style. Ella reluctantly goes home to Houston but her boyfriend, Dane, doesn’t want to have anything to do with the baby and doesn’t want to be entangled in Ella’s family problems.

So Ella goes to Houston, alone, for three months, to take care of Luke, the baby that her sister seems mentally unstable to handle right now. Ella immediately calls some friends and tries to learn who the father of the baby might be. She gets a list of names with Jack Travis sitting at the top. He was the most recent and he’s also the most wealthy. Her goal is to get each of the men to take a paternity test and to secure Luke’s future financial support.

Jack Travis is apart of the mighty Travis clan, led by Churchill Travis, a billionaire investor and a most demanding and ornery patriarch. The family comprises of Haven (Blue Eyed Devil*), Gage (Sugar Daddy*), Joe and Jack. Jack is considered the more laid back of the Travis family. He’s a hard worker, uncomplicated and a successful businessman who also has an active social life. His dates usually consists of airheads and models. I had a difficult time seeing how Tara and Jack would fit into the same social circle.

Ella tracks down Jack first. Without an appointment she meets with him at his office and tells him about Tara and there’s no other way to say it, but she practically accuses him of being the father of the baby. Jack denies paternity but appeases her with volunteering to take a paternity test. It is revealed quite early that Jack is not the father. The mystery of who the real father of Tara’s baby is remained so for quite sometime. The revelation of it wasn’t all that surprising and added nothing.

Ella and Jack’s romance starts off with Jack doing a lot of favors for Ella. He sets her up with an apartment in Houston, helps her out with the baby and helps her forget she’s a vegan and has a boyfriend back in Austin. Dane’s lack of support of Ella is not exactly heroic although I could understand his side of it. Some people just don’t always do the right thing but that doesn’t make him/her amoral or a bad person. However, Ella and Dane’s brief separation provided some revealing insight into their relationship.

Most of the story show Ella and Jack getting to the bottom of Tara’s disappearance and they find out that a pastor of a “giga church” is footing the bill for her hospital stay at a rehabilitation center. Tara plays the stereotypical victim of a bad childhood well. She’s defensive, reflective, irresponsible and stupid while Ella won everybody’s sympathy by playing the responsible adult who set aside her own needs and rushed to do the right thing for the baby.

Aside from the bad childhood and it’s adverse effects on adults there is a romance buried in here. Ella’s romance with Jack was nice but was fraught with silly assumptions and self-inflicted barriers. In Ella’s mind, their romance was something that wasn’t ‘built to last.’ She thinks she’s just the ‘flavor of the month’ to him even though Jack introduced her to his siblings and shared apart of himself that he would never have shared with an airhead. Also, she wants to cling to her independence and wants to remain in control and doesn’t want to depend on anybody. In her view, people disappoint and so she chooses to remain detached to avoid being hurt.

I could list a lot of the problems I had with this book but overall, I liked this story’s message of taking risks but could have did without the direct or indirect speeches about responsibility. I liked Jack a lot because he introduced Ella to having fun because she was so uptight and stuffy. I liked how he was blunt in telling Ella how he felt about her. I liked how he was possessive of her, too. There were some good scenes in here, such as their heated arguments (foreplay) and there were some skim worthy scenes as well starting with Tara’s babbling woes, among others. There are several sex scenes in here that were quite hot. The chemistry could have been turned up a notch though. Lisa Kleypas has always written her sex scenes well, this book is no exception.

I bookmarked a couple of favorite scenes of which this is one where Ella and Jack share with each other their idea of the perfect day and here is Jack sharing what he thinks Ella’s ideal day would be like although they are really speaking about each other.

“You and the guy go driving through the mountains to see the color of the leaves, and you find a little town where there’s a crafts festival. You stop and buy a couple of dusty used books, a pile of handmade Christmas ornaments, and a bottle of genuine maple syrup. You go back to the hotel and take a nap with the windows open.”
“Does he like naps?”
“Not usually. But he makes an exception for you.”
“I like this guy. So what happens when we wake up?”
“You get dressed for drinks and dinner and you go down to the restaurant. At the table next to yours, there’s an old couple who looks like they’ve been married at least fifty years. You and the guy take turns guessing the secret of a long marriage. He says it’s lots of great sex. You say it’s being with someone who can make you laugh everyday. He says he can do both.” (pg. 170)

The ending was a little over dramatic and the epilogue was a bit too sweet but some readers are going to love this story or not. I liked it. B-. Low, low B. I was annoyed with Ella as the narrator. She kept comparing her boring, safe boyfriend with Jack. I also didn’t like how she would analyze everything, judge people and their circumstances and intervene on their behalf. I felt she carried herself above everyone else sometimes as if she was perfect. I can’t recall if she had any serious flaws other than surviving a bad childhood and being pitied for it and always wanting to be in control. Her mom played the stereotypical bad mother bit well and Jack was a hero to drool over. He was the one that I liked and the main reason why I kept reading. Smooth Talking Stranger aptly describes the hero in here because even I was hard pressed to put this book down whenever Jack entered the scene. B-.

*Gage is the featured hero in Sugar Daddy, the first book in the Travis family series followed by Haven’s story in Blue Eyed Devil. Both characters make appearances in this story. St. Martin’s Press has not released this book in ebook so it is currently only available in hardcover at your favorite retailer.

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22 Responses to Smooth Talking Stranger, Lisa Kleypas

  1. Jessica says:

    “In Ella’s mind, their romance was some­thing that wasn’t ‘built to last.’ She thinks she’s just the ‘flavor of the month’ to him even though Jack intro­duced her to his sib­lings and shared apart of him­self that he would never have shared with an air­head. Also, she wants to cling to her inde­pen­dence and wants to remain in con­trol and doesn’t want to depend on any­body. In her view, people dis­ap­point and so she chooses to remain detached to avoid being hurt. ”

    Two of my least favorite obstacles. I read the first two Kleypas contemps but was meh about them, and recall almost nothing about them now. I will be skipping this one. Great review!

  2. Tee says:

    I totally loved “Sugar Daddy,” disliked “Blue-Eyed Devil,” and “Smooth Talking Stranger” probably ended up a C for me–not that good, but not horrible. If you ever have the opportunity (or time) to read “Sugar Daddy,” it would be interesting to hear your comments, especially since you rather liked her third contemporary. A little ironic, but the heroes in the last two books turned me off, as a matter of fact, but the one in “Sugar Daddy” worked really well for me.

  3. Avid Reader says:

    @Tee: I wouldn’t mind reading Sugar Daddy but it will be awhile and I despised Blue Eyed Devil as I didn’t care for the topic at all. It read like a manual on dometic violence. Surprised Jack was a turn off. I didn’t have a problem with him and I usually can’t stomach alpha heroes or rich alpha heroes. Seems nobody has a regular job anymore.

  4. Janicu says:

    oOoOOoo. I was looking forward to this review after your comments on twitter. Now of course I want to read this book to see how I feel about it. I DON’T think I’ve read a Lisa Klepas book, but I did borrow a lot of books from a Klepas fan back in college so maybe I did. I’ll keep this book in mind. I have to read that Sheckley book you sent me still. Yes I am so bad. It is on top of TBR I swear (top 3). But suddenly not reading much this past week.

  5. Avid Reader says:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that Kleypas’s contemporary voice and I just don’t suit well. I much prefer her historicals and Janicu, GRAB that Sheckly book out of your TBR and read it NOW because it’s GOOD. Nuff said.

  6. Renee says:

    Great to hear your take on STS. I thought it was very good, but not great. But, yes, Jack was the best character in the book!

    However, Sugar Daddy is my all time favorite contemporary romance. I think that’s partly because it was while it was a romance, it was also the story of Liberty’s (the heroine’s) life.
    Hope you try it sometime in the future! 🙂

  7. Tee says:

    Renee: How­ever, Sugar Daddy is my all time favorite con­tem­po­rary romance. I think that’s partly because it was while it was a romance, it was also the story of Liberty’s (the heroine’s) life. Hope you try it some­time in the future!

    Yes, Renee, I agree that’s why Sugar Daddy worked so well for me too. Although it was a romance, it was also more than just that. And Kleypas surprised me that she was able to carry that theme through. Too bad her sequels were not as well done. It’s not my all-time favorite contemp, but it’s definitely one of the best from Kleypas and a thoroughly enjoyable read all around.

  8. SarahT says:

    Whew! So I’m not the only one who was underwhelmed by STS.

    It was a ‘C’ read for me. I had huge problems with Jack and found him arrogant and overbearing. I was also frustrated by Kleypas’s failure to follow up on the plot thread involving Luke’s father. This had so much potential.

  9. Avid Reader says:

    SarahT: I was also frus­trated by Kleypas’s fail­ure to follow up on the plot thread involv­ing Luke’s father. This had so much potential.

    Oh, see, I assumed that that plot was going to be picked up in another book. Maybe I’m being presumptuous? Maybe. Only time will tell.

  10. SarahT says:

    Avid Reader: Oh, see, I assumed that that plot was going to be picked up in another book. Maybe I’m being pre sump tu ous? Maybe. Only time will tell.

    Unfortunately, I think this plot thread is not due to continue in a subsequent novel.

    Lisa Kleypas was interviewed by Sue Grimshaw at Borders Book Club http://www.bordersmedia.com/trueromance/kleypas
    and also at RomanceNovel.tv http://www.romancenovel.tv/wordpress/2009/03/31/im-not-a-big-fan-of-the-secret-baby-plot-by-lisa-kleypas/

    If I understood correctly, she currently has no plans to continue the Travis family series and her next contemporary series will be set in Washington State. I was pleased to hear that she plans to write it in the third person.

  11. Avid Reader says:

    That was a long epilogue at the end. Tx for the info.

  12. animemiz says:

    Ahhh.. Lisa Kleypas. I use to read her historical romances.. and this book definitely looks kinda interesting, but kinda formulaic as romance books go.. ^_^

  13. Jill D. says:

    I am not sure if it is a good thing or a bad thing that you read Smooth Talking Stranger first before reading Sugar Daddy or Blue-Eyed Devil. On the one hand, I felt that this was the weakest of those three books, but only because I had read the first two and felt that they were outstanding. Had I read Smooth Talking Stranger first I am sure I would have liked it and may have given it a higher grade than I did. But after having read the first two books, my expectations were considerably high and this one just didn’t live up to the others. Was I entertained? Yep, definitely. But, I also didn’t like how Ella’s issues were glossed over in this story. I do agree that Jack was great and I loved how he was open about what he wanted and his possessiveness. I think Kleypas is mega talented and I will continue to read anything she writes in what ever genre she chooses.

  14. Bev Stephans says:

    I finished Smooth Talking Stranger last night. I liked it. Typical ‘brain candy’, but everyone needs that occassionly. Sugar Daddy was definitely the best of the lot, but I also enjoyed Blue-Eyed Devil.

    I haven’t read any of Kleypa’s historicals as I was given to understand that they are Regencies and I hate Regencies. Maybe it was the fact that that bloated frog had taken over the throne from his mad father and just made the whole era disagreeable to me.

  15. Jessica says:

    I loved it!! I want more of the Travis family, I thought her next book might be about Joe Travis. I hope so!!!!

  16. Mandy says:

    Okay, so I read Blue-Eyed Devil frist, then Sugar Daddy. I loved both of them, but even though i was so excited for STS it completely underwhelmed me. Ella was her weakest heroine from all 3. Liberty was so well fleshed out and Haven had a unique voice. Ella was faded, vague, weak. No unique voice at all, except when it came to vegan lifestyles. Loved Jack, though. A disappointed for me as well.

  17. Avid Reader says:

    I loved Jack too and agree with you completely on Ella’s character. She was the weakest it seems compared to the other two women who had their own stories (Liberty and Haven).

  18. Briana L. says:

    Lisa Kleypas is probably my favorite author. I own all her books. Love her historical books, but nothing compares to the Travis saga…it’s a toss up between sugar daddy and blue eyed devil. STS was my least favorite, but i still enjoyed it. I don’t want to think that is where it ends. What about the other brother and HELLO… Liberty’s sister…Come on Lisa! Don’t leave us hanging.

  19. Avid Reader says:

    @Briana L.: Hi. I have _yet_ to read Sugar Daddy so I must tackle this book sometime in the future. Thanks!

  20. hagu says:

    i have to agree to all of you, STS is the weakest of the Travises series, with sugardaddy as no 1 and blue eye devil as a close no 2. i was so excited when STS came, and the things i go through to get this book earlier (i’m currently in UK) – i almost got caught in a very bad,cold wet wind just so i could get my hands on this book. so you could imagine my disapointment when it didnt measure up to the previous two books. both Liberty and Haven were strong female characters, you could see clearly how the charcters grow in stories. but Ella just seemed weak to me. i hate the way she seemed to judge other people especially her sister, and managed to feel that she was the one who got the short end of the stick, when its clear that she was the lucky one.

  21. Kelly says:

    I guess I am the odd one out. I hated Sugar Daddy. I didn’t like the plot of the book, and I didn’t like the heroin. Loved Gage, but not Liberty. I didn’t want to read Blue-Eyed Devil at first, but I ended up reading. Loved Blue-Eyed Devil, and enjoyed Smooth Talking Stranger. I would take Ella any day over Liberty. I hope Lisa changes her mind, and writes Joe’s story. He had a bigger part in STS, and I want to read about his life.

  22. Avid Reader says:

    @Kelly: Yes he did re Joe. I was surprised to learn that STS was the last book.

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