Smooth 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.