The Kiss

Elda Minger
2006, Contemporary Romance
Berkley, $6.99, 296 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425206815

Grade: B
Sensuality: Kisses

In The Kiss, author Elda Minger handles a tricky plot set-up with the even trickier setting of a road trip. For the most part, she pulls it off well. Readers should be warned that though there is romance, this is not a traditional romance novel. The main focus of the book is on the emotional journey of the main character, which is surprisingly satisfying.

At a bar trying to celebrate the night before her wedding, Tess Sommerville's got the jitters, and those unsettled feelings only get worse when she bumps into Will Tremere. Long ago, he was an exchange student staying at her best friend’s house and she had the biggest secret crush on him. Now he’s all grown-up and sexy - and he’s still got that adorable British accent.

Will is stunned to see how the sweet, painfully shy girl grew into a beautiful but still insecure woman. He’s disappointed to find that alas, she’s getting married the next day. On impulse, he gives her his phone number before they say goodbye…just in case. Will is only in town (somewhere outside of Chicago) to visit. He’s doing a favor for a friend by driving their van and dog back to California.

Later that night, Tess asks for a sign from above on whether she’s doing the right thing. She goes into a church to think, and happens to see her fiancé getting it on with the reverend’s daughter in the community room. Tess now needs to get away from the town, her step-mother - who will throw a fit at having the perfect match disrupted - and her fiancé, who will somehow manage to make her feel like she’s responsible. Enter Will. He readily agrees to let her join him for a long and cozy road trip across the United States.

It’s no easy feat what the author achieves here, and that is to balance out Tess’s recovery from a wrecked relationship, and the realization that she’s been a doormat for much of her life, with a growing relationship with the sweet and sensitive Will. It’s refreshing that Tess does not rush into anything with Will, nor does Will try to rush Tess. Instead, they get to know each other. As they pass through the different states and soak in the surroundings, Tess, with Will’s support, makes much progress in her struggle to come to terms with herself.

Though most readers probably wouldn’t want to see them jump into bed right away, they definitely shouldn’t read this book expecting much of that at all. (Note: The most explicit description of a couple making love occurs when Tess catches her fiancé cheating. Expect no more than what the title says.) Romance is put on the backburner for much of the story as Tess recovers and her friendship with Will grows oh-so-slowly as they travel together. Unexpectedly, I found this refreshing and sweet, because who doesn’t like a guy who is patiently biding his time as the object of his affection heals? Trouble is, the fact that the romance develops so slowly is both a virtue and a drawback. The focus on Tess’s emotional recovery means there’s little romantic interaction and it happens very late. I’m a bit torn, because I enjoyed the author’s writing and Tess’s journey. But given the cover and the description, I thought there would be more romance, so I was slightly disappointed there.

The author has a deft, humorous touch, and throws out references from everything from Mary Poppins and Machiavelli to Jane Austen and several Desperate Housewives. The dialogue is snappy, but serious when called for. However, the cheating ex-fiance hangs around for far too long and contributes to a silly subplot, as he and Tess’s wicked step-mother are determined not to let Tess have the last word. Unfortunately, this part of the story distracted me and felt contrived; I didn’t buy them as a serious threat, nor was the manner that Will and Tess reacted to the situation believable. It didn’t ruin the book for me, but it made it uneven.

This book had a strong Chick Lit feel that is worth nothing, though it’s labeled as a contemporary romance. I felt that there was too little romance for it to be a traditional romance, yet too much romance for it to be a Chick Lit novel. It’s an unusual balance, but I liked it. Tess’s girlfriends are supportive and very entertaining, and Tess is easy to empathize with.

In spite of the over-the-top fiancé and step-mother (and did I mention the psychic who not only predicts the future but can read the minds of pet dogs?), overall I found many things to like about the author’s style, especially since the road trip felt like a real road trip with actual locations visited. It’s far from a standard romance, but I will definitely keep an eye on what the author does in the future.

-- Joan Lee

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