Theme: Small Town
Sweet Talkin’ Lover opens with several tropes I dislike and yet it charmed me so very much that I read the whole book and enjoyed it (especially when it subverted at least one of those tropes I so dislike). The first in a series about a group of women who are long time friends, the book follows an enemies-to-lovers, big city vs. small town interracial romance.
I’m just going to let the cover blurb explain the plot:
Marketing manager Caila Harris knows that the road to success in the beauty industry doesn’t allow for detours. She’s forsaken any trace of a social life, working 24/7 to ensure her next promotion.
When grief over her grandfather’s death leads to several catastrophic decisions, Caila gets one final chance to prove herself: shut down an unprofitable factory in a small Southern town. But as soon as she arrives in Bradleton, she meets one outsized problem: the town’s gorgeous mayor.
Wyatt Bradley isn’t thrilled about his nickname, Mayor McHottie. He’s even less happy to learn that his town might be losing its biggest employer. If he has to, he’ll use some sneaky tactics to get Caila on his side. Yet even as he’s hoping she’ll fall for Bradleton, he’s falling too—right into a combustible affair that shakes them both with its intensity.
Our story begins with Caila and her friends having one of their annual vacations together. I love stories about female friendship and after a rough beginning I fell in love with this group. By “rough beginning” I mean that Caila’s friends tell her that she works too much and needs to find a man, which is one of my least favorite tropes of all time. Happily, much of this is in jest and the friends come through so beautifully later on that I forgave them.
Caila goes to Bradleton, which is a cute town with cute stores and homey traditions. Wyatt thinks he can show Caila around Bradelton and she’ll learn to love it and agree to recommend to her boss that the factory stay in business (the factory manufactures a line of cosmetics for her company). Caila and Wyatt fall in love despite the fact that both of them know she will be leaving for Chicago soon. There’s also the problem that both people are lying to each other. Wyatt has hidden vital information from Caila to keep her from closing the plant. Caila is telling everyone that all she’s doing is gathering information for her boss when in fact the boss has already decided to close the place. So there’s plenty of conflict going on.
This book charmed me in spite of myself because of its mix of whimsy and realism. The town has a lot of cute features yet the book doesn’t shy away from noting class differences in town, the way being “known” can have pros and cons, and the dangers of relying on a single industry. As a Black woman, Caila worries about her safety and has to deal with Wyatt’s racist parents (Wyatt is White). Wyatt experiences pressure to meet the expectations of people who long ago formed opinions about who he is and what he should do and never changed them.
I very much enjoyed the ways in which Wyatt and Caila bonded over family. With Wyatt’s support, Caila is able to cry about her beloved grandfather’s death for the first time, and Caila is able to realize that it’s legitimate to take time to grieve. Meanwhile Caila challenges Wyatt to confront his family, especially his not-so-beloved grandfather, about their controlling and demeaning behavior. Caila and Wyatt both have friends who encourage them to stop trying to please others (Caila is in a toxic workplace and Wyatt has a toxic family) and those friendships round out the romance, making the characters feel real. Like their friends, I found myself wanting very much for Caila and Wyatt to end up together even though the challenges seemed like real challenges.
Alas all is not entirely well with the book. I’ve never been a fan of the “woman should spend less time on her career and more time looking for love” thing, although it is resolved in the book to my satisfaction, allowing Caila to gain more confidence and more awareness of the toxic qualities of her workplace, while also not shaming her for continuing to prioritize her career. There’s also a subplot about Wyatt’s evil ex (actually a woman with whom he went on a single date) that I could have done without. The HEA is more of a Happy For Now with a high probability of future HEA. I thought this was realistic but some readers might be frustrated if they want a more conclusive ending.
Despite its awkward spots, this book charmed me with food and clothes, and with the friendships, the complicated families, the glory that is Olivia Pope from Scandal, and the emphasis on female mentorship, especially but not exclusively among women of color. Caila and Wyatt had great chemistry and a strong friendship, they respect each other, and I want them to do well.