So in case you didn't know, I started a romance book group on Goodreads called Unapologetic Romance Readers, and this was our first group buddy read. It seemed like an appropriate "first book" because Lisa Kleypas is a super popular author, chick lit is fairly accessible as a "gateway" romance novel, and the title is intriguing. Sugar Daddy? Hello, what's all this, then? >;D
I knew from the first line in this book that SUGAR DADDY was going to capture my attention. What I wasn't 100% sure about was whether this book should keep it. I needn't have worried, though. SUGAR DADDY may have been published in 2007, but it reads like one of those glorious epics from the 70s & 80s, that were usually centered around one girl and her tempestuous romances, spanning from her adolescence to womanhood.
Liberty Jones lives in Welcome, Texas, in a trailer park with her mother. She's half-Mexican, and her father died on an oil rig. Since her mother is blonde and blue-eyed, this has led to all sorts of speculation by inhabitants of the town. I'd like to take a moment to appreciate how the author went about building Liberty as a character. She isn't fetishized, and Kleypas doesn't do that annoying thing where any non-white character's appearance is described like you would a Starbucks frappuccino (tall, caramel, extra cream?); her biracial heritage is done in a way that you really understand how Liberty doesn't fit in with either group completely, and so is her shame at being unable to speak Spanish.
Her first love is with an ambitious young man named Hardy who lives in a trailer near-by, but their adolescent relationship - if you call it that - never really comes to fruition because Hardy doesn't want anything to tie him down to Welcome; he means to make something of himself one day, at any cost. What that means for Liberty is a string of unsatisfying sexual relationships where her only choices seem to be either to settle for less, or spend her life single.
Halfway through the book, she ends up becoming acquainted with a bunch of rich Texan tycoons: the Travises. I can't really say too much about this without delving into some major spoiler territory, but I loved all these characters, especially Churchill and Gage. Kleypas proves, with heaping doses of skill and finesse, that it is possible for someone to write a compelling and affectionate relationship between a man and a woman without any sex. Also, in case any of you are wondering, this is how you write a relationship with a billionaire done right. Some of the scenes in this book reminded me of Hana Yori Dango, which, if you follow me at all, I'm absolutely obsessed with. I feel like there's also undertones of Jane the Virgin in here, too: the balancing of a relationship with personal obligations and responsibilities, close relationships with parental figures and role models, the (real) problems that plague rich people, and the soapy, fun prose that is colorful and tongue-in-cheek, providing a fun atmosphere even when things seem like they're getting grim - I loved it!
I think my one qualm is that towards the end, Liberty makes some very selfish decisions that had me shaking my head at how selfish she was being. I couldn't understand how Gage was OK with what she did, since it seemed so out of character with what he said he was all about (plus he's an alpha, and that's his woman, dammit! yes, I'm putting my inner-feminist in the corner right now; this is romance, bitches, ain't nobody got time for that). I suppose it was supposed to show how much he cared for Liberty, that he was willing to give her the space to make her own decisions. But speaking as someone who was on the receiving end of that kind of behavior in the past, I can tell you that if you really care about someone, it hurts like a son of a bitch to be treated that way.
SUGAR DADDY is a really great book - it's not too light, so people who like drahma that is more complicated than the bitch-slapping matches you see on reality TV will be able to devour this greedily, and without remorse. It's also not too dark, so if you prefer your stories to have HEAs, or at least HFNs, you won't be disappointed. It was really great to see one of my favorite historical romance authors branch out, writing not just in a new time period, but also in a new style, and see her succeed at this experiment so beautifully.
4.5 out of 5 stars.