Monday, February 08, 2010

Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas

Sugar Daddy (Travises, #1) Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Sugar Daddy was one of those books that I dreaded reading, in all honesty. Let me tell you why.

1)I do not like chick lit or women's fiction. I like a story that has a defined beginning and a defined end, that has landmarks, and ends on a happy note. To my understanding, chick lit and women's fiction does not need to meet these expectations.

2)I was dismayed that one of my most beloved authors was leaving the historical romance scene (my most beloved subgenre within my favorite genre) to write contemporary novels. I feared that the amount of quality historical romances would be that much more diminished than before with her leaving it behind.

3)Because I am such a big fan of Kleypas, I was afraid I would read this book, and truly hate one of her books for the first time.

4)Let's be honest, I abhor love triangles. Whenever I pick up a book, and it has the phrase, 'torn between two lovers,' it goes back on the shelf. I won't buy it. I like my romance predictable in this sense. I want to know who the heroine ends up with before I start the book.

So, having said all these reasons I put off reading Sugar Daddy so long, I am very glad I read it, and I found it to be an excellent book. Was it perfect in meeting my expectations? To say yes would be a lie. I did have the following issues with Sugar Daddy:

1)The beginning seemed drastically different from the end. The book starts out as a coming of age story about a young woman, Liberty, and her journey through life, the good and the bad, and her all-encompassing, soul-defining love for her sister. The end becomes a romance story in which Liberty has to decide which man was right for her. The large shift was quite jarring for me as a reader. Although I dislike chick lit/women's fiction, I am a great big sucker for a great coming of age story. I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte last year, and that is probably one of the best I've ever read. I'd also put forward Where The Heart is by Billie Letts, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, and of course, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee as my top list of coming of age stories. I loved this aspect of Sugar Daddy. I was transfixed by the story of this young girl, and how her life evolved. Then, all of a sudden, it became about which man would she end up with. One could argue that this was part of her story, and yes, it is. But I felt the focus had shifted from Liberty's journey to explaining which man was right for her, almost a bit of show and tell, to me as a reader. I would have liked to see more of Liberty putting the pieces together and coming to a more organic understanding of the man she belonged with. Also, there seemed to be less focus on Liberty's relationship with Carrington towards the end of the story. It was noticeable, because of how prominent a character Carrington is earlier in the book. It's not that I didn't want to see Liberty have a life and a love outside of her sister, but I thought the tone should have remained consistent. Fundamentally, I was left with the feeling that I didn't know what kind of book Ms. Kleypas was trying to write here.

2)This evolves out of my first issue. I felt that the romance aspects were slightly underdeveloped. In my opinion, more time should have been spent on developing the romance between Gage and Liberty. In my opinion, much more time was spent on the romance (or at least the evolution of Liberty's love for Hardy) between Hardy and Liberty. I could see in a general way, why Gage was right for Liberty, but I really needed more for my heart to accept on a deep level that he was the right choice. Part of this unsureness came from the fact that I think having Hardy betray Liberty was a bit of a cop-out. Yes, we know that Hardy was committed to getting ahead by any means necessary. But it didn't quite ring true for me. Hardy was shown as a very good, honorable person growing up (even if he didn't believe it about himself). Yes, he was a bit of a skirt-chaser, but he stuck with girls who were up for the game. His caring for his family and for Liberty and her family didn't match up with how he acted when he returned to Liberty's life. So I was left feeling that, perhaps Liberty would have chosen Hardy, if he hadn't betrayed her that way. That didn't convince me on the romance between Gage and Liberty. Don't get me wrong. Gage was definitely the right man. Although I didn't get quite as much of a fix on him as I did Hardy, I could see his appeal and why he was the man that Liberty would fall in love with as an adult. But more narrative on him, definitely would have been appreciated.

3)I really disliked the scenes in which Liberty was exploring her sexality with Luke, who was her high school boyfriend, and the guy she dated as an adult before Gage. Now, I will admit that this ties into my dislike of chick-lit. I like to see a romance between two people, the heroine and the hero. I don't want to see them having sex and being involved with other people. If they had other relationships before, then I'd like that to be in the past, and not revealed during the book, other than a couple of lines of exposition, or through something that is revealed in dialogue. I knew that Liberty didn't love those guys, and she was a woman who wanted love. So it felt wrong to me. I especially hated the scene when she lost her virginity. I was really mad at her for that decision, although I could understand the pain that drove her to it. This would have went over better with me, had the women's fiction aspect of the story been continued through to the end, without the shift to a romance. But since the last 1/4 of the book was written as a romance, this left a bad taste in my mouth. I really didn't like the way things unfolded when Hardy returns into her life. The passionate kiss with Hardy felt wrong. Could you do that with an ex if you were deeply in love with a new man? Liberty wasn't the flighty kind of person who would do that. It felt out of character to me. Also the part in which Liberty decides to spend time with Hardy to find out if there was anything there. In my mind, if her feelings for Gage were so strong, would she have felt right doing that, even if he was a good enough man to let her? I don't know the right answer, but it didn't feel right to me. I think this is something that I would expect in a chick lit novel and not a romance.

One aspect of the book that I didn't really love, but I could see why it was done, was the attention to detail on the accoutrements of the upscale life that the Travises and their associates had. I think Ms. Kleypas did a great job of describing this through Liberty's eyes, but I was kind of 'meh' about it. To some degree, those of us who grew up with modest surroundings, do have a wide-eyed awe at what those who 'have' possess. But it is only so interesting. I think I would have preferred more time spent on showing Liberty's emotional interactions with Gage and his family, to a greater degree. Maybe dropping a designer name here and there, and describing things as needed could have sufficed. Perhaps this is unfair of me to comment on this, considering that Ms. Kleypas's phenomenal ability as a writer of beautiful, vivid description, is one of her strong points for me as a reader. I think in this instant, it was too much of a distraction from the emotional focus of this story.

So you may ask, how this book garnered a five star rating. I have to give it five stars, because it's a really good novel. It really affected me emotionally as a reader. And that is one thing that will always have a writer coming out ahead, for me. I found the love story between Liberty and Carrington to be the most beautiful and profound aspect of this story. The scenes in which Liberty takes on this responsibility and shows her love for her sister excelled. I cried numerous times reading this book.

Other reasons I give this book a five star rating: The beginning is excellent. The way in which Ms. Kleypas describes Liberty's life in a small town in Texas really resonated with me. It took me back to my time at this age. Hot, lazy summers, kooky relatives and neighbors. Having a family that wasn't always perfect, but loving them hard and strong, regardless. The awkwardness of being a girl who is in that stage where she feels ugly and invisible. This book could have been about a girl I knew growing up. Maybe a little bit of me, as well. That identification factor was so powerful, that I was sucked in as a reader. I wasn't going anywhere and doing anything until I finished this story.

And then there's Liberty. She's an unforgettable character. She had grit and determination. She had a unique way of looking at the world. She approached situations with the tenacity that I could not help but admire. Her strength was the best kind of strength to me. Not cussing out people or fighting at the drop of the hat, but hanging in there, enduring, doing what had to be done to keep going, and to achieve one's goals. I loved Liberty being that kind of person. And I wanted her to be happy. I cheered when she did get her happy ending. That's what I read this books for, after all.

Also, there are few writers who can create such appealing heroes as Ms. Kleypas. Gage had a magnetism that reached out of the book and slapped me in the face, in a good way, for all the short time he had in this book. Although he was a jerk to Liberty, initially, you could still see his appeal. I wanted more of him. And then there's Hardy. Well, I fell in love with Hardy as a young man. I could see why Liberty loved him so hard and so long. That's why I had some issues with the way he was written when he returned, because he made such an impression on me initially in this book. I know that I definitely have to read Blue-Eyed Devil to get more of him, and to see him become the man he should be, not who he thinks he is.

Well, for all the rambling that I did in this review, I feel that I could not have possibly expressed my feelings for this book with the clarity that I wish I could. It's so hard to unravel something so complex in such a short time for a review. But I feel that I have captured the essence of my feelings about Sugar Daddy. I do have to say a few things to Ms. Kleypas to end this review:

*Thank you for having the courage to write this book.
*Thank you for stepping out of the box and pouring your heart into this book.
*I'm sorry that I doubted that you could write a contemporary romance with heavy chick-lit leanings that I could enjoy.
*Will you please continue to write excellent books that challenge me as a reader, make me cry, and keep me up late at night because I can't bear to put the book down?

Lastly, I say from one huge Lisa Kleypas fan to another: if you have not read Sugar Daddy, read it. I think you will find much of value in this book.

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