When I picked up this book, I thought there was no way it could be as humorous as the back cover implied. Well, I was right, but it wasn’t lack of humor that subtracted from Dear Stranger’s many delightful qualities. In many ways, Dear Stranger is a gentle, somewhat humorous look at the developing romance of two wonderful people. If that had remained the book’s focus, it would have gone onto my all time keeper list.
Lily Adler is not a beautiful woman. Nor does she consider herself to be young. Instead of facing a life without knowing certain things about men, Lily and her two “spinster” friends rename the Junior Altar Society, of which there are just three members, to “The Society for the Exposure and Examination of Mysterious Male Parts,” and set out to study as many specimens as they can. Oliver Worth, recently from Boston, infiltrates Lily’s home by becoming her father’s secretary. He is there to clear his father’s name – the home in which Lily lives once belonged to his family. Lily finds Oliver to be untrustworthy, but also finds him very attractive, and vows that Oliver will be her first “specimen.” Oliver decides that he must gain the trust of his employer’s rather homely daughter, but figures she is addled enough that getting into her good graces will be easy.
What they both find (and very delightfully) is that they are both mistaken. Lily is extremely smart, and, although never will be a diamond of the first water, those that truly know her find her to be subtly lovely. Oliver, as he learns more and more about her, finds her irresistible. Not that she is making it too hard for him – her goal is to learn about those “Mysterious Male Parts” after all. Lily learns that although Oliver has been deceiving her, he is truly an honorable man, and one who is easy to love. As they get to know each other they have to suffer the appearance of Lily’s long-time suitor, a couple of attempted murders, and the search for the treasure that ruined Oliver’s father’s name. Lily also learns that those “Mysterious Parts” are pretty nifty to have around.
If you haven’t already guessed, I am really fond of these two characters. The hero and the heroine are easy to like. Lily is headstrong, intelligent, and aggressive. Oliver is protective (without being too much so), intelligent, and, of course, honorable. Their scenes are humorous and passionate. Very passionate.
There are also some not so delightful parts of the book. Lily’s supposed fiancé, “Revolting Reggie,” used to live at her estate until his father had to sell it due to some debt or other, and he wants it back. With the help of his friend Cecil (who has his own agenda) and his step-sister Virtue (who, as we all expect, is not virtuous at all), Reggie tries to force Lily to marry him. These are three totally inept and very disgusting people. I mean, sex between step-family? Yuck. Cecil is portrayed in some parts as the mastermind of the whole thing and then in others as a totally inept coward. Reggie is portrayed as a drunken idiot, and yet he is supposed to have enough intellect to seduce Lily’s aunt for blackmail and information. Virtue serves no purpose except to be the other active participant in skanky sex. Yuck, yuck, yuck. The book already has one hidden villain who is done very well. The author would have served the book better by making Reggie some sort of pompous, ineffective character and nixing the other two, who really served no purpose except for the above mentioned skanky sex.
Let’s hope that Stella Cameron moves away from the skanky sex angle, and returns to do what she does best – focus on relationships and dialogue.