I didn't think it was possible, but I think I drank too much caffeine yesterday. I can't be expected to resist the siren song of Republic Of Tea Rose Petal Tea. Of course, I probably didn't need to drink like three pots of it. Just sayin'. So when I couldn't sleep, I hit the living room couch and plowed through the last 300 pages of Stranger by Megan Hart. I'm still working out my feelings about this one, so bear with me.
Grace is a funeral home director, a family business she took over when her father retired. Her job essentially entails helping people through the grief process. It's because of this grief that she sees every day that she's gun shy about personal relationships. As in, she doesn't have any. She's single, and instead of getting emotionally invested with a boyfriend or husband, she pays strangers for sex. OK, not strangers per se. Male escorts. Still, strangers. She's at a local bar one night to meet her latest stranger, and in walks Sam. They have mind blowing sex, and after the fact Grace realizes she slept with the wrong stranger. Oops.
What basically follows is Grace's story. Her relationship with Jack, the stranger she was supposed to boink that night, and who she continues to hire over the first half of this book. Then there is Sam, who comes back into her life when his father passes away (side note: Sam is the brother of Dan, the hero from the author's debut Spice novel, Dirty).
I want to start this review by saying I liked this book, and I continue to enjoy Hart's writing. I love that her Spice novels feature emotionally messy and stunted characters. I'm a sucker for characters with baggage, and hers have it in spades. I also enjoy watching all of the characters (secondary characters included) orbit and crash into each other over the course of her stories.
My main issue with Stranger was the same issue I had with Tempted. It felt "over long" in parts. Like it could have been edited down by a good 50 to 100 pages. I really felt the author spent too much energy on Jack. Not that Jack isn't a nice guy and all - but I wanted less of him and more of Sam. I wanted a lot more of Sam and Grace and a lot less of Grace and Jack. Now I don't want to mislead anyone - this is NOT (I repeat NOT) a love triangle book. Which is probably where my frustration came in. It's apparent that Jack isn't our hero. I wanted a lot more hero.
Because of this I felt the ending was a bit abrupt. I needed "more" of Sam working through his issues, and likewise, working through his issues with Grace. Because of all the time devoted to Jack, I felt like the conclusion of the Sam and Grace romance got a bit of a short-shift. I closed the book thinking, "That's it? That's all there is? There ain't no more?"
That being said, it's the second half of the novel that really sells this book for me. Once the author is past Jack, and Sam and Grace are working on being "together" is when this book shines for me. Because all their baggage, all their issues, come tumbling out in the open. There are some great scenes between them towards the end, and I wanted them (desperately!) to get their happily ever after.
So where does that leave me? It leaves me with no idea how to grade this book. Usually grading comes really easy for me. I just "know." I liked it better than Tempted, and I graded that a B+. But I'm not sure Stranger is a B+. So maybe both it and Tempted are a B? Yeah, let's go with that for now. Although don't be surprised if I change my tune during my End Of 2009 Reading Recap and bump this up to a higher grade.
Final Grade = B