Stranger by Megan Hart

In brief: Grace is not interested in the strings that go with a relationship. That’s why she sleeps with strangers. But one stranger didn’t want to remain that way…

The good: Pleasantly surprised at the in depth thoughts of life, love and depth – more than just a spicy book!

The not-so-good: I felt the subplot with Grace’s sister Hannah needed either more – or less – time spent on it.

Why I chose it: From Harlequin, who obliged my request to enter into the Spice subgenre.

Year: 2009 (2013 for Australia)

Pages: 395

Publisher: Harlequin Spice

Setting: America

My rating: 8.5 out of 10

Last year, a significant proportion of my friends were reading Fifty Shades of Grey and were quite bemused at my reluctance to finish the trilogy. ‘Why don’t you read another book like it?’ they asked in dismay, proceeding to recommend authors to me. Megan Hart was one of the names suggested, so when Harlequin offered me a copy of Stranger, I decided to try the erotic/spicy subgenre of romance again.

Let me tell you now – Megan Hart trumps Christian Grey any day of the week. This lady writes spice WITH a plot and for that I am grateful that I now have something to discuss with my friends!

The blurb immediately captured my interest – Grace Frawley runs a funeral home. Unusual. She also pays to sleep with strangers. Definitely unusual – we never hear about women paying for sex. Why does Grace choose to sleep with strangers? What happens when a meeting with Sam wrecks her stranger theory and attempts to capture her heart?

Yes, this book is spicy – we open with Grace’s hook-up in a hotel and there’s hot sex very early on in the novel. But then sex takes a backseat as we find out why Grace chooses to live this way. After all, she’s young, pretty and smart. What’s stopping her? Grace sees death every day and also sees the extreme grief as couples as involuntarily parted. She had a fiancé once, but now that’s it. Rent boys fill her needs without the relationship obligations. There’s a lot of musing about death – what could be after and the different reactions of the bereaved. I found this fascinating in addition to how a funeral home actually runs. Hart treats the topic with extreme sensitivity and a deep insight – this alone is worth reading Stranger.

Stranger also looks at the different relationships between men and women – it seems that all the main characters have got problems, which to Grace seems like a good reason to stay away from coupling up. Her office manager Shelly is with a nice-but-boring boy – should she take a chance for a more exciting relationship? Grace’s dad has just retired and is under her mum’s feet. Plus her sister Hannah is distancing herself from his husband…add a widow who wants to bury her husband cheaply so she can go on a cruise and it’s no wonder Grace is wary!

The stranger in the book is introduced within the first few pages – Sam. Grace thought Sam was the man she paid for, but it turns out he was just in the bar at the right time! Sam doesn’t quit, he wants a relationship with Grace, no matter how corny the route to convince her is. He’s a nice guy, but one with a few issues to work through. Luckily Hart has provided several strong male characters, such as Jared, Grace’s apprentice. He’s the friend, witty and hardworking. He starts to disappear as the novel progresses, but I did wonder if he and Grace could have a romantic future. There’s also Jack, a young man looking to make some money offering ‘services’ before going to university. Grace takes a shine (and a few other things) to Jack, teaching him the ways of the paid relationship business. I liked Jack – he was eager to please, honest and a realistic hero.

Hart writes very well – there’s no awkward sexual clichés and there’s also plenty of plot. I don’t think constant spicy reads are for me, but I’m quite happy to take the occasional dip into worlds Megan Hart creates.

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