Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas
As I wrote in my last post, I'm a Lisa Kleypas fan. However, I was hesitant to pick up her contemporary Texas series. While I think her historicals are compelling, I really wasn't very impressed by her Friday Harbor series, which I frankly found a little boring. But after reading some promising reviews, I gave it a try. I first read Blue-Eyed Devil and then Sugar Daddy (out of chronological order, but it works). And the heroes in these books definitely rival some of her best historical heroes.
But there was something even more compelling than the hero in Sugar Daddy for The Reading Writer: the narrative form itself.
Kleypas has borrowed the now-popular first-person narrative voice from New Adult and the more female focus from Womens Fiction and brought it to comtemprary romance. This is a story about heroine Liberty's love life, not a story about the development of one relationship. In fact, one could even say there are two heroes, Hardy and Gage, in this book, and some reviews I've read find the romance between Liberty and Hardy even more compelling than the one that works out in the end.
Kleypas has broken a lot of unspoken rules of romance, most notably the expectation that we'll meet the hero in the first chapter of the book. Instead, we meet Hardy, then Gage's dad (and the nature of his interest in Liberty is unclear for a lot of the book) and then, over half way through the book, we finally meet Gage. You'll note this progression is against the rules when you go back and read the book blurb--Gage isn't even mentioned!
I found these twists refreshing--isn't this how real love life works? Sugar Daddy is one woman's exploration of relationships and love, starting from her first love, through a couple minor, unsuccessful relationships, to the crossroads of her love life. Unlike Womens' Fiction, the book keeps the romance in focus, but the story is complex and moves well without throwing in a lot of contrived plot twists. Though Sugar Daddy isn't literary fiction--the second half is definitely romance--the beginning actually has a literary feel; the reader has to meet the author half way.
I think Kleypas has done something great here, and it will be interesting to watch if more contemporary romance authors will take the same kinds of narrative risks and broaden the genre. I hope so.