Sweet and sexy small town success story
Sweet Talkin’ Lover (Girls Trip #1)
Avon, January 2020
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Cozy cafes. Supportive, quirky communities. Idyllic charm. Contemporary small town romance invites me into a world that is like my own small town life, with better clothes, and greater drama. My love of small town romance is long lasting, from my earliest romance reads by Jennifer Crusie, my devotion to Gilmore Girls, and my seasonal zeal for Hallmark holiday movies, for better and for worse.
One of my recent academic projects has been to explore the contours of the Hallmark holiday movie’s overwhelming whiteness and straightness. In December, I presented some of my research at a local, small town library, and was heartened by the support from the audience. They, too, want Hallmark to more accurately represent our small towns, which are always more diverse than they seem, in many ways. As I dip back in to small town romances, I want to read stories with communities that aren’t homogenous and purely idyllic, my biggest critiques of Gilmore Girls and Hallmark movies. I yearn for the romance shaped by the contours of the realities of small town life.
I was eager to read Tracey Livesay’s latest novel, Sweet Talkin’ Lover. I love the premise of the series, which focuses on the four college friends, “The Ladies of Lefevre,” who reunite each year for a girls trip, the series title. The backbone of friendship between the women reminds me of my own college bff’s, our getaways, and diverging and converging lives post-college. If anything, I wanted even more of the friendship, and am eager to meet more of these women in the next novels in the series.
We meet our heroine Caila Harris when she is vacationing with her friends; they challenge her devotion to work and distance from her beloved grandfather Pop-Pop, and then support her when she learns that he died. Caila’s grief causes her to stumble at work, where as a woman of color she has worked harder than anyone to achieve status and recognition. Sent to small town of Bradleton, Virginia on a heartless corporate project, Caila grapples with the ways that her professional drive have impacted her relationships. While this is a common trope that often ends with one of the characters—often the woman—traveling a lesser career path, Livesay brilliantly uses this tension to showcase Caila’s creative problem-solving and ability to achieve the seemingly impossible. The professional and romantic resolution in this novel intertwine in the most satisfying ways.
Our hero, Wyatt Bradley, is steeped in generational wealth, white privilege, and overall hotness that he’s somewhat aware of. As mayor of Bradleton, he has a vested interest in protecting the town from a factory shutdown that would devastate the community. His attraction to Caila threatens his ability to put the town, and his work as mayor, first. Livesay shows how Wyatt’s numerous advantages are actually a gilded cage, limiting Wyatt’s true passion, and stifling his ability to live on his own terms.
This slow burn read drew me in for the delectable romance between Caila and Wyatt. The novel also encouraged me to consider what we as individuals owe our families, communities, ourselves. Living in a series of towns that have seen numerous manufacturers close, leaving workers unemployed and diminishing the communities in various ways, the novel makes the case that corporations can creatively respond to multiple stakeholders, including the communities they inhabit, through woman-led creative problem solving. And that’s another happy ending I can get behind.