Dear Ms. Kleypas:
After 20 plus historical novels, you’ve decided to change course and write a first person contemporary woman’s fiction novel. Sugar Daddy is billed as a big story featuring a plucky innocent heroine and her dilemma between two rich, alpha businessmen. The narrator, Liberty is a charming and sweet girl who would have made a great Young Adult heroine.
Unfortunately this is not a young adult book, but rather a woman’s fiction novel. I had a hard time buying into the idea that Liberty Jones had grown up by the age of 24 when the book ended. Had the story focused on the female protagonist, her struggle to cope as a mother figure for her 2 year old sister and her mixed race heritage, rather than the choice between two rich men, it would have had greater meaning. Or perhaps if it had explored, in depth, the real emotional issue of being in love with two men, it would have resonated more. Instead, it is just an accounting of Liberty’s short life, from age 13 to 24, her two loves, and ending with a contrived conflict.
Liberty Jones and Hardy live on the wrong side of the track. They grow up together, falling for each other, but Hardy has big dreams and they don’t include staying in Welcome Texas. As time goes on, Liberty becomes involved with Churchill Travis, who is like Elvis in the financial world. Churchill and Liberty become very close friends, to the point that some start calling Churchill her sugar daddy. This angers eldest macho son, Gage, to no end.
No man is resistant to Liberty’s charms and Gage eventually falls for her (after she nurses him back from health, another romance cliche, like the characterizations of Gage and Hardy). The problem is that Hardy reappears on the scene about 60 pages from the end and Liberty has to make the right choice for her future.
The story opens with the narration of Liberty Jones at age 13 when her mother and her mother’s current boyfriend moved to Welcome Texas. The story, while told in the first person, is narrated at times in the present and, at times, by some older person in a retrospective manner. It had a disjointed feel to it. One minute we would be there with Liberty and the next minute, you would be commenting that “name belts were big back then.” There would be odd moments when Liberty, as a child, would make observations like “True handsomeness had escaped him by millimeters.” or that she wanted to touch Hardy, “not in sensuality but in wonder.” But pages later, Liberty could not figure out why her mother’s family wanted nothing to do with her just after being called a wetback. Toward the latter part of the book, the summarizing statements continued and I was never sure who the narrator was. Was it Liberty at the present time or was it Liberty years later recounting her tale?
As I stated earlier, Liberty is a charming narrator but she remained so innocent, so good, so perfect throughout the book, that she lacked realism for me. There were parts of the story that were very romantic with the two men serving as bookends for Liberty’s life. I felt that on the one hand, you were trying to reach an audience beyond the fan base you had built in romance and on the other, trying to satisfy the core romance reader which led to a kind of disjointed, unfocused story. I did like the voice of Liberty, however, and wasn’t displeased with her choice at the end. C+