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Friday, April 9, 2010

Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas

For all that I will defend Romance as a valid genre that is nonetheless mocked and denigrated (often with a disturbing element of misogyny), I don't read very much of it. I want to like romance novels, and I periodically check out recommended titles from the library, but more often than not I am disappointed. Even the best ones -- the ones well-written and without the sexism that shows up in the worst of these -- often leave me bored halfway through.

That changed with Smooth Talking Stranger, which I read about at Smart Bitches Trashy Books (devoted to Romance novels and the industry). I devoured it in less than two days. The book wasn't that different from others I had read, and certainly many cliches of the genre were present -- the heroine with the tragic past, the old boyfriend not at all right for her, the ridiculously wealthy hero, the bitchy ex-girlfriend, an abandoned baby, the clash of different worlds, and so on. But Kleypas managed to use these elements in a different, more thoughtful way. The old-boyfriend was a little eye-roll-inducing, but a genuinely decent guy. The heroine was aware of what her childhood had done to her, had sought help, and was neither perfectly healed nor in denial. The hero was surprisingly not douchey for an alpha male type, and the relationship between the heroine and the baby was touching and real (in fact, the author herself said the true romance of the book was between them, not the heroine and hero). The bitchy ex-girlfriend had no redeeming value, but you can't win them all; significantly, she was not the source of any stupid misunderstanding between the characters. The book has the happy ending one expects in this genre, but Kleypas made a point of showing that not all aspects of life are happy, not all bad people have a change of heart or are justly punished, and that one needs to let it all go and do the best one can. This added depth to the book, and made it the best romance I can remember reading. I will be checking out other books by Kleypas, for sure.

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