My rating: 3 of 5 stars
To make a note on this review, I honestly didn’t expect to read and review two Megan Hart books in a row, somehow I just ended up picking “Dirty” and “Stranger” out of the blue to read and going with what they offered between catching up with some of my ARC readings. I didn’t expect Hart’s “Dirty” to impress me as much as it did, so going into reading “Stranger,” I had somewhat high expectations. Particularly when considering some familiar characters from “Dirty” resurfaced in this book, some as side characters (Dan and Elle make a brief appearance in a few scenes), and some as major characters (Jack returns as a major character in this book).
“Stranger” didn’t wow me, in so many words, and I think I understand one of the reasons why it didn’t work as well as some of Hart’s other stories. I was waiting for a moment to click with the narrator, Grace, a little more than when she was initially introduced, and that moment never came. She’s a funeral director who has to deal with a lot on her plate – between taking over her father’s business, dealing with the clients and the nature of the business and occasionally stepping in to help her sister (who seems overwhelmed with juggling her family life). But Grace’s no stranger to (no pun intended) spending her own funds for pleasure. For such pleasure, she hires men to take her out as she’s not in any committed relationship of any kind. Sometimes it leads to dinner, other times it leads to sex (sometimes both, given the price). In the beginning of the book, Grace mistakes a random stranger she meets in a bar (hence the name for the book) for one of her clients. And we meet the dark haired, long legged Sam. Sam throws a wrench into Grace’s plans for a non-committed relationship, and even aside from that – her actual client (Jack) seems to be in her circles as well, and she’s not exactly certain what to make of her relationship with them, though it’s clear she cares for them both in different ways.
I don’t think the primary characterizations really popped off the page that much. Perhaps it was for lack of a centralized conflict that was able to draw me into the narrative (at least with “The Space Between Us” and “Dirty” – the conflicts were front and center and came with some heavy costs). Here, it isn’t as much, but there are moments that I saw some intriguing sparks of character dynamic and I liked them in the stronger moments. The sensual encounters are well written, as per Hart’s usual flare for showing the chemistry between the characters, but I felt that Sam and Jack’s actual characterizations, as well as Grace’s, could’ve been shown more than what they were, and it was clear – after a certain point – whom Grace would end up with.
Sure, Sam is charming and the dialogue he has with Grace is funny. I get that he’s supposed to be Dan’s slacker brother and there was even a time when Dan beats up Sam for something he did, but that’s told more in this story that shown, and the story doesn’t quite delve as much into his character as I would have liked to see in order to make me feel more for him. As well, Jack – whom I actually liked for the brief time I saw him in “Dirty” – is shown well enough and is a likable character in spurts, I still didn’t really get as much inside his head or experiences to really feel more for him than I did. Grace, for a protagonist, I understood her experiences but I didn’t necessarily feel connected to them. So the character intimacy (not the physical intimacy, rather the intimacy between reader-character) was lacking.
I did enjoy the secondary storylines this work had to offer. I was intrigued to see the issues that Grace’s sister was dealing with her family and closely guarded secrets, as well as the brief fling between the coworkers that were in Grace’s business. However, I felt they were a little too easily resolved/terminated toward the end of the novel, as nice as the build-up was for those particular plotlines. I expected a little more from them, and it’s something to say when there’s more direct conflict stemming from those plotlines than the primary one. There was just a lot more potential to be had from what I saw in the narrative than it delivered.
Still, I wouldn’t say that “Stranger” is without its intriguing points. I liked parts of the novel enough to say that I liked the read, but I think it could’ve amounted to more than what it provided.