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Tuesday, March 31, 2009:
"Smooth Talking Stranger" by Lisa Kleypas - review (2009)

Jack Travis leads the uncomplicated life of a millionaire Texas playboy. He makes no commitments, he loves many women, he lives for pleasure. But no one has ever truly touched his heart or soul. Until one day, a woman appears on his doorstep with fury on her face and a baby in her arms. It seems Jack is the father and this woman is the baby’s aunt. The real mother has abandoned the child to her more responsible sister. And now, Jack is being called upon to take responsibility for the first time in his life. With delicious romantic tension, characters so real they walk onto the page and into your heart, Lisa Kleypas delivers the kind of novel that makes you laugh, love; cry and cheer.

For those of you who are not familiar with her work, just so you get an idea of how amazing she is, Lisa Kleypas is one of those rare authors who could write poetry on toilet paper and I would gladly shell out good money to buy it. "Smooth Talking Stranger" is Lisa's 3rd contemporary, set in Texas, that revolves around the affluent Travis family. STS is Jack Travis' story.

As the older sister, Ella has always been the more responsible one, even moreso than her erratic, selfish mother Candy. Basically taking care of herself and her sister Tara without much parental guidance has left Ella with a few hang-ups, especially when it comes to the relationships in her life. Years later, as an adult with a degree, a job, and a steady boyfriend who has his own idea of what he wants and doesn't want in a partner, Ella has carved out a satisfactory, if not quite fulfilling, life for herself.

But one day, a bomb is dropped into her lap in the form of an innocent baby boy, and Ella is faced with all kinds of decisions that have utterly foreign and intimidating to her. Yet with resolve and determination, she realizes that the most logical step involves going back to the beginning, and that would involve finding out who the father of this baby actually is.

Ella's search takes her from Austin to Houston, and into the path of one very impressive and larger-than-life Texas tycoon, Jack Travis. Now tracking Jack down wasn't so difficult, but getting the opportunity to actually speak with him is quite another story. Besides being a rich playboy and heir to a dynasty, Jack is also a very powerful man in his own right, and not an easy man to get an audience with. But armed with a newborn baby and perserverance, Ella's not one to give up easily, and manages to catch the attention of the most vital, exciting male she's ever seen in her entire life.

Despite their dubious first encounter, Ella finds an unlikely ally in Jack, and soon they are working together for the welfare of one tiny baby, and as they grow closer, Ella begins to question some of the choices she's made in her life, most especially the one about never having children of her own. Little Luke has managed to worm his way into her heart without even having to try, and soon Ella's every action and consideration is based on what's in the best interests of this litle boy, no matter how difficult the choices are going to be for her to make.

Jack is fascinated by Ella, as well as incredibly attracted. This unique, independent woman has the physical appearance of a very sexy librarian and some very open and unconventional ideas about commitment, brought on by her upbringing, which vary greatly from his own traditional values on family. A man like Jack is extremely possessive and cannot fathom the idea of sleeping with her and then letting her go back to her boyfriend. That's just not how he's programmed, not when he wishes to stake a claim on Ella for himself, drat the stubborn woman. Yet as much as she drives him crazy, he also sees the love she has for Luke, and admires her for taking on such a huge responsibility when she is sure to have her heart broken in the process.

Regardless of what happens between them, Jack is going to help Ella in any way she needs him, that's one thing he's perfectly clear on. He may not agree with some of her choices, but when he decides to do something, he follows all the through. Because Jack, being Jack, and I paraphrase his own words from page 228: "...never does anything in half measures, including falling in love."

My thoughts:

This was a challenging review in the sense that I didn't wish to include any spoilers about the book, and also because it's a Kleypas, and my thoughts never seem adequate enough to express the way in which Ms. Kleypas can immediately hook me in with just a few short sentences. "Smooth Talking Stranger" is no exception.

What I love about these stories is that despite the eye-catching and deceptively simple titles, they are so much more than that. When I think of a smooth talking stranger, I'm expecting a heated one-night stand between two good-looking strangers who end up going their separate ways, without regret. But when you dive into these pages, you are getting something so much richer, more poignant and real, and it's a story that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

I've read all 3 of Ms. Kleypas' contemporary novels, which are set in Texas and revolve around the charismatic Travis family, and have found something to love about each one. I will admit that upon my initial read, this was probably my least favorite of all three, but not by much, and it is mainly because I had difficulty warming up to Ella for quite some time. After a quick re-read, I did have to re-evaluate my opinion and give her more credit.

I had no problem with Ella being smart and independent and stubborn. In fact those were what made her so compelling when it came to the dynamic in her relationship with Jack, along with her unexpected sense of humor, which I think came from her being a more confident woman in his presence. And instead of melting into his arms and letting him get his way from the get-go, Ella asserted herself and continually kept Jack unsure of where he stood with her. That attitude I could appreciate, especially since she was't doing it because she wished to manipulate him to get her way, but because that's just the way she was, the way she thought she had to be.

What made it hard for me to initially relate to her was the lack of warmth she emanated at times, except when it came to her feelings for Luke. I understand that Ella had developed a protective shell over time in order to soften the hurt and frustration she experienced at the hands of her family, yet at times she came across as cold, and I didn't always like her. I tried very hard to rationalize her behavior because of her upbringing, but sometimes you have an affinity towards a character or you don't, and that's what ended up happening, at least in the beginning. It took me awhile to just accept her for how she was.

But then she'd have this wonderful conversations with Jack, and she started to open up and she was funny, sometimes vulnerable, and that's when she became more likable, more human. Some of the things she did or said were out of self-preservation, but when faced with real, solid love from a good man, Ella blossomed. She let herself be, and she was truly a wonderful person. I wanted Ella to find her happiness.

However the real star of the show here is Jack Travis. No doubt about that. (In fact Kati says it very well here when she talks about her love for the nurturing hero). Jack is the kind of guy who says what he means, means what he says, and more importantly, follows it all up with action. In fact the main reason I fell in love with him was not because of a bunch of sweet words or sugary compliments. It was because the man "showed" his love. Through his actions, he proved how he felt about Ella beyond what any words could have said. He was her rock, the person she could unequivocally depend upon without thought, and he could say "I love you" more eloquently with a profoundly heartfelt gesture than he ever could with a thousand words. That is the wonder that is Jack Travis. If he doesn't make your list of top 5 heroes of all-time, I will be sincerely shocked. Nobody makes 'em like Ms. Kleypas, and I have 25+ years of reading romance to prove it.

So yes, run thee to a bookstore, and grab yourself a copy of this engaging, heartfelt, sexy romance, and let yourself escape to a place where the hero is as unforgettable as the love story. You won't be sorry.

Rating: ***** out of *****

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  1. Perfect review, my friend!

    Oh! And hey everyone, Lisa is blogging at RNTV today. Come visit!

  2. Reviews are poppin up everywhere for this book!

  3. I've heard a lot of folks say that Elle is less than warm. Interesting. But I agree. I loved Jack in BED, so I'm going to pick this one up just for him. Good review!

  4. Sounds great, Stace! Thanks for the review.

  5. I have never read Lisa. I've even taken books out of the library but had to return them before i could actually read them! I think this summer I will rectify that with a glom. Right now I am reading SEPs 'What I did for love' and loving it.

    Oh--BTW, could get to PO last week. meant to go on Saturday but DH's lab burned down. literally. I will mail you soon though :)

  6. Another great review for this book. I just skimmed it because I am hoping to get this book soon!

  7. This book is in transit on it's way to me from the library, and I can't wait! I loved Kleypas's other two contemporaries.

  8. Thanx Kati. It was great "chatting" with Lisa. She is my idol *g*

    Amy, I srsly am blessed to have gotten a copy of this one. I must have done something right somewhere. But I woulda bought it in HC anyway.

    Lori, Ella was...her own person. And the way she protected herself isolated her from people. It took me 2 tries to get past her personality. And even if you don't end up caring so much for her, it's worth it alone for Jack.

    Thanx Kelley. Sorry I've been MIA at your blog. Gotta visit...

    Toni! Gasp! I love Lisa like I love Suz, but maybe even a little more. You gotta read her stuff. I hope everything's okay with regards to your dh's lab. Scary stuff. Don't worry about me.

    Marg, I do the same thing with a book I really want to read. I can't stand to inadvertantly find out something I wanted to wait for.

    Karen, I just bet you're gonna love it :)

  9. But when you dive into these pages, you are getting something so much richer, more poignant and real, and it's a story that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

    Stacy - that is one of the best descriptions of a Lisa Kleypas book I've ever read! I love how she delves into the emotional turmoil inside a character, the reasons behind what they do, how they act...

    While this may seem rather strange, I understand the self-preservation part...I'm rather looking forward to meeting Ella... *races off to check the library hold list*

  10. Very nice review Stacy. I got this one in the mail yesterday and am looking forward to reading it. Even more so now that I have read your wonderful review.

  11. Great review! I held out for a long time on reading her contemps cuz I was so afraid they'd be nothing like her historicals two of which are my #1 and #2 favorite romances of all times (and three of my top five favorite heroes are Kleypas hotties too)But I finally gave in and read Blue eyed devil and damn me if I'm not completely head over heels in love with the Travises. This one is on its way to me now I can't wait for it to arrive. Whew! I'm feeling all sorts of chatty today :)

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