Review: Ain’t She Sweet

Review: Ain’t She SweetAin't She Sweet? by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Published by Avon on January 25, 2005
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 384
Goodreads
five-stars

Book of Redemption, Forgiveness and Love

AIN’T SHE SWEET is a dangerous book. I started reading it at 11pm intending on only reading a chapter or two…next thing I knew it was 4:30am and I wanted to read it again. The story was complex and deeply satisfying with characters that were original and fascinating.

It is the story of dealing with pain and loss, complex motivations, revenge and forgiveness and how we all change. It is also the story of how the past changes depending on your perspective. Amazingly, it is also an incredibly funny book with witty dialog and one of the most amusing dogs.

Colin Byrne’s world was destroyed when he was in his early twenties. He had come to the US to write a novel and so he got the job as a teacher at a high school in the small town of Parrish, Mississippi. While he wasn’t the best teacher, he felt acceptance in the town for the first time in his life. Unfortunately, his life was destroyed by the queen bee of the high school who lied and accused him of sexually accosting her.

Ten years later, Colin returned to Parrish and now he has found a place in the community. He is a writer and is writing a series of non-fiction books about the history of the town. Everything is going well until the queen bee returns.

Sugar Beth Carey seemed to have the perfect life growing up in Parrish. She was the richest, most popular girl in town. She had the best looking guy. All that has changed in fifteen years. She has returned to town having been married three times. She is broke and is desperate to find a painting that is her only inheritance. The people in town who loved her now despise her but she is too proud and guilty to let them defeat her. Worst of all, her childhood home has been sold to Colin Byrne.

Colin begins the book wanting revenge. He hopes to humiliate Sugar Beth. As he gets to know her, however, he begins to begrudgingly respect her. There is no easy resolution to the pain that Sugar Beth caused others especially Colin. Colin’s character is the real center of this story. While Sugar Beth has changed through the years, it is Colin who has to accept and acknowledge her change. Sugar Beth cannot get on with her life without the forgiveness that Colin gives. The scene where Colin works his revenge upon Sugar Beth is the true turning point in the book. The subtle transformation of his thoughts in that scene make it a powerful moment in the book.

The complexity of this book is centered upon the characters. In order to see that Sugar Beth is not a bad person, we also need to see that all the other characters react, act badly, have their own prejudices and bad experiences that make them react in fearful and hurtful ways. Just as Colin has to forgive and understand what the driving forces are that form Sugar Beth, the reader goes on that same journey.

Honestly, I’ve had this book on my to read list for several months and while it was highly recommended the synopsis of the story repelled me. Sugar Beth sounded just like the type of character that I hated in high school and I really couldn’t imagine that I would be sympathetic to a character like her. I was so wrong. In many ways, my journey as a reader mirrored those of the characters in the book. I was introduced to a strong woman who had been hurt so much that she only knew how to protect herself from more pain. She hurt other people, but they had hurt her as well.

The secondary characters are essential to this story. The nice thing about the book is that ultimately all of the living characters are likeable. Many of them hurt each other and so they journey mirrors that of Sugar Beth and Colin. The book for me is about perspective. The more we understand others, the more their actions make sense. There is no justification of behavior. Sugar Beth knows that she had done horrible things. Colin knows that his revenge upon Sugar Beth is wrong. The secondary characters also have that journey to take. It is a redeeming book to see that all the characters can recover from mistakes and make a better life for themselves.

My ultimate determination is that this book is one that instantly is on my all time favorites. Sometimes I read a book that I keep thinking about and that I want to reread instantly. This is one of those books. When I awoke from my much delayed sleep, there were scenes and sections that just drew me again: Colin’s dinner party revenge, the repartee between Sugar Beth and Colin, Colin’s unfortunate marriage proposal, Colin’s ultimate plan to win Sugar Beth, and the wedding and honeymoon (which is at the same time both the saddest and the funniest ones I have ever read).

five-stars

Review: First Star I See Tonight

Review: First Star I See TonightFirst Star I See Tonight (Chicago Stars, #8) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars #8
Published by William Morrow on August 23, 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-stars

“All in all, it was still a good day to be Cooper Graham.  Except for one pesky woman.”

FINAL DECISION:  The emotional part of this book really snuck up on me.  I believed it was funny with bickering protagonists until the end which just ripped my heart open.  Phillips is a master at the quirky, funny, sarcastic characters that make me love them despite my intentions.

THE STORY: Cooper Graham has just retired as the star quarterback of the Chicago Stars.  Big man in the city of Chicago, Cooper is unhappy to find out his has a stalker, Piper Dove.  But Piper is not actually a stalker but rather a detective trying to make a name for herself. Her first job is to trail Cooper.  When she is spotted, she soon finds herself working as Cooper’s bodyguard — although he refuses to allow Piper to officially do that job.  Whatever her job title, Piper is determined to protect Cooper whether he wants it or not.

OPINION:  I am often surprised by my reaction to a Susan Elizabeth Phillips book.  She somehow manages to make me like heroines that I either hate or am iffy about when the book starts.  I wasn’t a fan of Piper when the book began.  Her pugnacious personality somewhat annoyed me as the book began.  So determined to do what she wanted, I didn’t see the compassion in her that I want from characters. Oh how wrong I was.  Under her shell, Piper is a woman who deeply cares.  And Phillips does an amazing job of showing that as her personality is slowly revealed to Cooper.  While Piper changes and grows, she remains true to her personality — and Cooper loves her for who she actually is.  By the end of the book, he understands and accepts her and puts himself on the line because he knows she needs it.

Piper and Cooper are the perfect pair.  Both are competitive and want to succeed.  They are somewhat single minded and don’t necessarily give up on bad ideas easily.  Stubborn to to the core — both of them.  I loved how their romance was not sweet and sentimental but rather combative and argumentative.  Just perfect for them.  In the end, their romance becomes deeply emotional and even sweet (for them).

This book is filled with so many engaging secondary characters.  The princess obsessed with shoes.  The widow convinced her Cheesehead wearing husband is still alive. The nerf gun toting teenager.   I love how so many intriguing characters inhabit his book and yet never overwhelm the main storyline.

I recommend this book if you like original, funny romances with unexpected heart.

WORTH MENTIONING:  I absolutely adore Heath Champion’s role in this book (MATCH ME IF YOU CAN).

CONNECTED BOOKS: FIRST STAR I SEE TONIGHT is the eighth book in the Chicago Stars series. While some characters from previous books make appearances, this book does not depend upon any knowledge of those books.  This book stands alone.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Natural Born Charmer

Review: Natural Born CharmerNatural Born Charmer (Chicago Stars, #7) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars #7
Published by William Morrow & Company on February 6th 2007
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 400
Goodreads
four-stars

Weakest of the Series But Still a Decent Read

NATURAL BORN CHARMER is the seventh book in Phillips’ Chicago Stars series. Dean Robillard is the quarterback for the Chicago Stars. While on vacation, he is surprised to come upon a headless beaver who turns out to be Blue Bailey. Blue has lived a nomadic life in order to protect herself from becoming attached to anyone because of her childhood being sent from person to person. Dean is also protecting himself from the grief of his childhood living with a rock groupie mother who was having sex, partying and doing drugs rather than caring for her son. The two travel together to Dean’s home in Tennessee. There they begin to encounter Dean’s family. Both learn to deal with their past and fall in love.

I liked this book that has many of the hallmarks of a Phillips’ romance — damaged, fallible people, a long journey to happily ever after, witty dialogue, quirky characters, secondary romance and poignant emotional discoveries. Unfortunately, this time these elements don’t come together as seamlessly this time. For me, there are just too many people involved as secondary characters. Therefore, the main romance suffers for me because I don’t think that we get as much time with them as needed to work out their deep issues. I liked this book, but I would have rated it lower if it wasn’t part of a series that I already love.

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four-stars

Review: Match Me If You Can

Review: Match Me If You CanMatch Me If You Can (Chicago Stars, #6) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars #6
Published by Avon Books on October 13, 2009
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 388
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Great Addition to the Series

MATCH ME IF YOU CAN is the sixth novel in Phillips’ Chicago Stars series. It is the story of Heath Champion, the high powered agent to athletes and Annabelle Granger, a matchmaker. Annabelle has just taken over her grandmother’s agency and wants to land Heath as a client. Heath is looking for a elegant, sophisticated wife that will help him with his career and demonstrate how far he has come from the trailer park he grew up in. Although Heath is attracted to Annabelle, she does not fit his image of his wife. Of course, ultimately the two end up together.

I enjoyed this book although I think that this one is better for fans of the series than reading as a stand-alone. It was wonderful catching up on all the other characters from the previous books, but someone who was unfamiliar with the series might struggle to keep up with everyone. Also I was not as engaged in the secondary romance as much as I have been with those in past novels.

Despite this, however, I absolutely adored Heath. I just love having these high powered alpha types be completely undone by love. I also enjoyed how Annabelle and Heath change each other’s lives as they journey together.

I recommend this book and recommend it highly to fans of the series.

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four-half-stars

Review: This Heart of Mine

Review: This Heart of MineThis Heart of Mine (Chicago Stars, #5) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars #5
Published by Avon on February 5th 2002
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 432
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Witty Story of Two Kindred Souls

THIS HEART OF MINE is the fifth novel in Phillips Chicago Stars series. Molly Somerville is the younger sister of the owner of the Chicago Stars. She has always been so perfect except for times when she has changed her hair — and then a reckless, self-destructive person has emerged. Kevin Tucker is the quarterback for the Chicago Stars and Molly has had a long-time crush on him. The two end up together and Molly takes advantage of Kevin while he is asleep. She ends up pregnant and they end up married. That is where the romance actually begins.

This book is not for everyone. Molly, in essence, rapes Kevin while he is sleeping. This premise will probably turn off some readers. Having lived through the bodice ripper romances, however, this did not prevent me from enjoying the romance. There is also a miscarriage and its emotional aftermath that I thought was dealt with in a realistic manner. Ultimately, I enjoyed this story of two people who want love so much but are afraid of being hurt. Phillips has a way of making a story funny and yet serious. The characters in her story make serious mistakes on their way to happiness, but I liked the journey. A Story that can make me smile ans sigh at the same time is special indeed.

I’d rate this a 4.5.

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four-half-stars

Review: Dream a Little Dream

Review: Dream a Little DreamDream a Little Dream (Chicago Stars, #4) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars #4
Published by Avon on February 1st 1998
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 400
Goodreads
five-stars

A Story of Love After Loss

DREAM A LITTLE DREAM is the fourth novel in Phillips’ Chicago Stars series. It doesn’t actually deal with the Chicago Stars team, but rather is a spin-off of NOBODY’S BABY BUT MINE. DREAM A LITTLE DREAM is the story of Gabe Bonner, the younger brother of Cal Bonner in NOBODY’S BABY BUT MINE. Two years ago, Gabe suffered the loss of his beloved wife and son in a car crash. If not for his family, Gabe would have nothing to live for. He has abandoned everything in his life and is merely existing. Rachel Stone has come back to Salvation, North Carolina. Rachel is the hated widow of a discredited televangelist, but now lives in serious poverty with heroine year old son.

Gabe and Rachel are two people who have been smacked down by life. Both have great pain that they have to deal with in their journey to happily ever after. This story is more poignant and less funny than the other books in this series. It is not always easy reading about the relationship that Gabe has with Rachel’s son. Gabe is not very nice. I appreciated the realism of the story. It is a longer journey for Gave and Rachel’s so than for Gabe and Rachel. I really enjoyed the story and I was happy to get an update on Cal and Jane. There is also a sweet secondary story involving the youngest Bonner brother Ethan.

I highly recommend this book.

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five-stars

Review: Nobody’s Baby But Mine

Review: Nobody’s Baby But MineNobody's Baby But Mine (Chicago Stars, #3) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars #3
Published by Avon Books on February 1st 1997
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 374
Goodreads
four-half-stars

NOBODY’S BABY BUT MINE is the third novel in Phillips’ Chicago Stars series. Jane Darlington is at the crossroads of her life. A genius, she has never fit in. At thirty-four, she desperately wants a child of her own. That desperation leads her to decide to masquerade as a prostitute in order to trick Chicago Stars quarterback Cal Bonner into fathering her child. Cal is also at a crossroads in his life. He is thirty-six and while it is obvious that his career is coming to an end, Cal refuses to accept it. When he finds out that Jane is pregnant, he is furious, but insists on marriage to protect the child. The two end up traveling to Cal’s hometown where their relationship becomes more complicated.

Upfront I want to say that I really found the premise distasteful and it made it difficult to like Jane. The first time that I read this book, I could not accept the premise and it colored by view of the entire book. As I read the book again, however, I was able to accept the premise as part of the exaggerated, melodramatic style that Phillips employs in this series. With that aside, I enjoyed these characters who are witty and strong and are a perfect match to one another. The battle of wills between them made me laugh and the resolution was hard fought and heartwarming.

I’d rate this a 4.5.

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four-half-stars

Review: Heaven, Texas

Review: Heaven, TexasHeaven, Texas (Chicago Stars, #2) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars #2
Published by Avon on April 1st 1995
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 384
Goodreads
five-stars

Witty Novel About Opposites

HEAVEN, TEXAS is the second novel in the Chicago Stars series. It tells the story of Grace Snow who at the age of 30 is just beginning to live her life. She takes the job as an assistant for a movie company. Her job is to make sure that Bobby Tom Denton, one time star receiver, makes it to his first acting job. Bobby Tom, however, has no intention of listening to the mousy Grace. Grace is determined, however, and Bobby Tom for the first time in his life has met a woman that he cannot immediately win over.

Wonderful, wonderful novel. Phillips’ characters just leap from the page and the story while sometimes outlandish, is funny and heartwarming. I kept smiling throughout the book. At the same time, I thought the story was deep and emotional. The characters have to travel to reach their happy ending. This is a book to read again.

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five-stars

Review: It Had to Be You

Review: It Had to Be YouIt Had to Be You (Chicago Stars, #1) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars #1
Published by Avon on March 5th 2002
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 376
Goodreads
five-stars

Wonderful Charmer of a Book

IT HAD TO BE YOU is the first book in the Chicago Stars series. It is the story of Phoebe Somerville, who inherits the Chicago Stars football team from her father. Her father attempts to manipulate her from the grave by making the condition that Phoebe has to take over control of the team and have the team win the AFC Championship — an almost impossible task for the team. Phoebe’s father disagreed with her life choices, but Phoebe is running from a rape as a young woman and has constructed a shield of an aggressive sexual woman to hide her pain.

Dan Calebow is the coach of the Chicago Stars. After a divorce, Dan is looking for a sweet, motherly type to marry and have children. While Dan is attracted to Phoebe, he knows that this maneater is not for him. Of course, the two are soon striking sparks off of one another.

I absolutely loved this book. The story was funny at times but the pain that Phoebe feels was so visceral that I cringed at her reactions. I loved the relationship between Phoebe and Dan. The two are so well matched for one another. At times the storyline seems over the top and unrealistic, but it was so enjoyable that realism didn’t matter to me. I haven’t read many Phillips books so I don’t know how this book compares with others, but I enjoyed this book tremendously and will continue with the other books in the series.

I’d rate the book 5 stars.

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five-stars