So, my first ever review of my favorite author. SEP is not my first romance novelist, but she is the one everyone else has to measure up to. The quality of her writing sets the bar high.
I hope this will be informative enough while still being somewhat vague, not just a retelling of events (or a blurb). I know I will not do the book justice, but I have a lot more SEP to improve my writing on.
I would also like to point out that I am going to fill this post with spoilers and some curse words, so be warned.
Comparing our heroine Phoebe with Marilyn Monroe in one of the first sentences of the book sets the tone for her and her interactions throughout. Susan’s point is even more exaggerated with “it was a bimbos body” and clearly painted in “(she) was the sort of woman who was seldom judged by anything except appearances”. And doesn`t that say it all. Susan gives us exactly what we need in order to know Phoebe in this time and place, and setting her relationships with her sister Molly and her cousin Reed “the bully” up front end center manages to paint a picture of Phoebe’s lot in life in the first chapter.
When we meet Phoebe she is making “a spectacle” at her fathers funeral, and this being a romance novel we get to meet Dan in that first chapter too. Her freshly deceased father is described trough a fitting character assassination, and Phoebe’s unease around big men is used to bring out her “hot” persona. Dan being a “big, bad lion who carried himself with the authority of someone who had no patience for self-doubt” draws out the worst in Phoebe, naturally. So she takes out the big guns and messes up. Well her dog makes a mess, but that`s the same thing.
As with all good stories conflict helps us along, and at the beginning the biggest opposition to our heroine is her dead father. So he gives her his pro football team for a while to “teach her responsibility”. Something Phoebe sees as an attempt to control her life from beyond the grave. You can understand her reluctance to comply, which leads us to conflict number two. Phoebe vs. Dan, two apparent opposites.
Susan puts Phoebe in a situation where she is forced to deal with the kind of man she is most afraid of where Dan is pushed to deal with the kind of woman he most despises. If that is the place they have to start from in this endeavor, how do they get to happy ending?
Therein lies the brilliance of Susan Elizabeth. She knows her characters and she builds them up before making them share the stage. Or page, as the case may be. You get the feeling that she has gone trough each (and I mean each) character`s history, motivations and reasoning with a fine tooth comb so she can let them drive the story. Also, she treats them as people subject to change trough experience. How often do you run over a character who manages to stay the same exact mess beginning trough end? You know, the one that makes you scream “how have you not learned yet!!!” There is no such mess with Susan, even with the “sidekicks”. Each individual is important, just as each sentence is important. That is another brilliant thing about her writing. She will not hold your hand and there will be no picture painting for you to figure it out. You have to pay attention to what is going on in order to get why some thing happen. Just like you do in life.
One thing that happened, that some seemed to have a problem with is Dan and minor sex. He is a Ferrari driving douche, yet there is a page full of his reasoning and charity donations. He seems to be misogynistic, yet he clearly judges people by their actions (and you have to admit, Phoebe didn’t do so well). His dialog proves him to be a reasonable individual and his stated desire for a baby mama is in complete conflict with him picking up a teenager for sex. How do you not see something is not quite right with that one. Not to mention all you have to do is go back a few pages to have an aha! moment. Because all the characters Susan mentions, all the events that happen, all the attention she gives to something is important. Her books require some thought, she doesn`t write porn.
What didn`t make all the sense for me was a love interest for Dan, or should I say a potential baby mama. That part made me angry. My hero is clueless about romance. Oh the horror. I got over it quickly, we all know men tend to actually be like that. Points for Susan. Meanwhile, Phoebe gets to build a relationship with Ron, the GM of her “Chicago Stars”, revisits some old wounds with her slimy cousin and tries to be a big sister to Molly. Something is not equal there.
All is getting on when actual sexual sparks get acknowledged by both sides, and another incident reveals a lot more of Dan and Phoebe to one another. Which in turn leads to one of the most sincere sex scenes ever, eventually. I am used to fun sex scenes, but this one takes a somewhat violent turn at first. I was annoyed by that more than the fact that the first sex scene in the book does not include one of our main characters. But then I thought about it (as you must) and realized there is no way it could have turned out differently. On one side you have Phoebe, unused to enjoyment in sex, closed of and more afraid than anything, looking and acting like she has three different men each day. On the other side there is Dan, used to all kinds of games and sexual scenarios looking to rid himself of the sexual charge they produce together. Miscommunication happens.
Lucky for us, there is no diffusion of the sexual charge. Tensions get high and Dan acts like a dick again, but I forgive his lost soul for not knowing what he wants at this point.
So the story progresses, lots of other things (like life) happen and our characters change. They get to know each other, they figure themselves out, and Dan finally stops fooling himself during one of the most satisfying moments of the book. Phoebe takes her bimbo persona to the highest heights and wows the crowd. I don`t want to get into the details because it is one of my favorites to reread. If you read any of this book at all, these are the pages. Just look for the new stadium contract deal.
From this point the narrative speeds up a bit, which is logical because there is no more discovery to be made. Phoebe tells Dan about her awful experiences and then looses all faith upon meeting Sharon, the potential baby mama. Cue the post bliss conflict and final set change! Something all the writers seem to follow, on purpose or unintentionally.
Our hero and heroine are at the lowest point they have been and a fight gets them even lower. Susan Elizabeth creates a lovely contrast with their lives and relationship. All is going in the best possible direction except for the two of them as a couple, and you start clamoring for the grand finale just so you can breathe with ease.
And what a finale it is.
The time is so drawn out and(!) condensed, each tense minute described in detail, the unravel of the crescendo so fast that it snowballs and you can actually feel your heartbeat. Susan Elizabeth Phillips makes you feel things. She is a master of human nature and it shows trough her expert manipulation of the scene. She knows the effect she is going for and how to achieve it. In the end, she doesn`t leave you with questions and holes in the narrative while wrapping it up without it feeling rushed or staged.
It is very nice to read something and not feel frustrated when you get to the end.