Tess Sommerville is due to be married to the man of most parents’ dreams. Successful, rich and powerful, Paul Atherton blew into Tess’ life and swept her up in a whirlwind courtship. While out with her best friend Brooke the night before the wedding, Tess begins doubting her decision. This is of course the moment Will Tremere, her high school crush, decides to walk back into her life.
Later that night, Tess stumbles upon Paul in a highly indiscreet position with another woman - in the very church where the wedding is to be performed. In a moment of panic, Tess calls the number Will gave her and offers to join him on his drive to California. And thus begins The Kiss, a new contemporary romance novel from Elda Minger.
The Kiss has many standard features that propel the plot forward: the getaway from and chase by the evil fiancée, a super-controlling family, the road trip as metaphor for Tess’ personal journey of discovery (and development of a backbone) and, of course, the blossoming romance between Tess and Will. So what is there that sets this contemporary romance apart from the rest and makes it worth the reader’s investment of time and money?
More than anything else, what recommends The Kiss is the vibrant cast of secondary characters. Favorites by far are Toby and Sugar, the canine companions for the road trip, and Elaine, the psychic who communes with them from the West Coast. Rather than making this a groan-inducing plot feature, Minger infuses the characters with enough kookiness to keep the right level of camp and fun.
Her deft writing and sense of timing ensures the novel never goes so far over the edge as to be unredeemable. Elaine, Brooke (the best friend), and Kim (Brooke’s cousin) are the needed balance for the stock characters played by Paul and Madeleine (the controlling stepmother).
There are two areas where The Kiss disappoints, and addressing these would have definitively moved this novel into a league of its own. First would be further development of Paul and Madeleine’s characters. By moving beyond the standard mold set by the genre, Paul and Madeleine could have ceased to be cardboard stereotypes and become full-scale antagonists, perhaps even evoking some sympathy from the reader. Given that The Kiss runs 304 pages - and that 30-40 of those pages could have been edited to create a tighter novel - Minger had room to explore their motivations in greater depth.
The second area where Minger could have differentiated herself is in Tess’ breakdown. Readers can certainly sympathize with her pain and understand the need for her to have time to heal. But having it last nearly half the novel wears thin and threatens to pull The Kiss into the realm inhabited by many of the “poor me” genre of chick lit. This reader wanted Tess to hit the anger phase earlier and found patience quickly vanishing with her lack of backbone.
Elda Minger is well known for her bestselling romance novels (more than two dozen) and has been the recipient of numerous awards, including Romantic Times' Best American Romance. While she has written many types of romance novels, her recently published works are contemporary in style and setting. The Kiss is sure to please both ardent fans and win her some new ones.