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Archive for the ‘Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Category

I have been reading romance novels of late.  More specifically, the excellent, highly entertaining, amusing novels of Susan Elizabeth Phillips.  And not just one or two – eight in the last sixteen days.  No wonder I haven’t been posting reviews of other books: there haven’t been many.

In order, I’ve read:

What I Did For Love (2009) – so many Hollywood plotlines thrown together in one wonderful muddle.  The hero and heroine (Bram and Georgie) have known and hated each other since they were teenagers, costarring on a long-running sitcom.  Bram’s bad boy behaviour led to the show’s cancellation and they went their separate ways, Georgie eventually marrying one of Hollywood’s leading men.  Cue the Jen-Brad-Angelina storyline that destroys her marriage.  The book begins as year after that, when Bram and Georgie unexpectedly reenter one another’s lives.  One thing leads to another and Bram and Georgie wake up married in Las Vegas.  As you do.  Georgie, who can’t face the idea of more public pity, convinces Bram to keep up the sham of a marriage, though they still hate each other.  We all really know though that ‘hate’ means ‘clearly will fall in love and make everything way too complicated for themselves.’  Huge cast of supporting characters (many of whom are key characters in other Phillips novels), which only makes it more enjoyable.        

Ain’t She Sweet? (2005) – painful.  I should know by now that books set in the American South irritate rather than intrigue me.  Why do I never remember this or, when I do, why am I so freakishly optimistic?  The heroine is named Sugar Beth – enough said.  And the hero, Colin, is incredibly unappealing.  Cruel, overly dramatic, vain and, at least at one point, long-haired…none of it is remotely alluring.  To be entirely honest, I picked this up because it was mentioned in Crystal Renn’s memoir Hungry as one of her favourite books.  Stupid Claire, taking recommendations from models. 

Glitter Baby (revised 2009) – Hollywood, Paris, New York.  Errol Flynn.  Supermodels and movie stars.  Over-the-top glamour.  Can you tell this was originally written in the 1980s?  The novel focuses perhaps too much on Belinda and her twisted relationships at the expense of her daughter Fleur, the heroine of the novel.  One of the major plotlines, dealing with Belinda’s French husband, is intensely dark and uncomfortable, almost gothic.  This is definitely the bleakest of Phillips’ novels that I’ve read, but still enjoyable due mostly to the incredibly strong main characters, Fleur and Jake.    

Natural Born Charmer (2007) – On his way to Tennessee, NFL quarterback Dean Robillard picks up a woman dressed as a beaver on the side of the road.  Together, Dean and Blue (sans beaver costume) clash and sizzle their way through a number of unexpected family reunions.  Weak start but definitely picks up as you go along.  The focus here is much more on family than on the romantic relationship between Dean and Blue (their storyline made less and less sense as the focus shifted).  The misunderstandings between them were a little too contrived – but communication issues in relationships always bother me because I’m so ridiculously blunt myself. 

Match Me If You Can (2005) – Annabelle Granger inherits her grandmother’s match making company (and, with it, her geriatric clients) but is determined to turn it into a success, starting with sports agent Heath Champion who knows exactly what he wants.  Heath is wonderfully selfish and unapologetically masculine – none of that touchy-feely, all-he-wants-is-a-little-woman-and-a-few-kids business.  Annabelle could be a little flighty and insecure but only a little – she’s not one of those Chick Lit too-dumb-to-live heroines.  Anyone who can take charge of a house full of drunk football players is worth some respect.  The supporting cast here was mostly composed of the heroes and heroines of Phillips’ other Chicago Stars novels – always fun to see characters either a few years after or before their novels take place.   

 

This Heart of Mine (2001) – Molly Somerville has had a crush on Kevin Tucker, the Chicago Stars’ handsome quarterback, for years though he can’t even remember her name.  After a few disastrous missteps, they find themselves married and trying to make sense of their feelings for other another while sorting out the camp site that Kevin has inherited (look!  Convenient, remote location in which hero and heroine are forced to get to know one another away from the pressures of normal life!).  The entire premise of this one is a little too much, so right from the start it’s difficult to form much of an attachment to Molly.  Naturally self-destructive, she doesn’t exactly grow on you as the novel progresses and Kevin is less well sketched-out than most of Phillips’ other heroes.  However, as escapist fantasy fiction it’s still good fun.

 

It Had to Be You (1994) – the very first of Phillips’ Chicago Stars novels.  In the wake of her estranged father’s death, Phoebe Somerville finds herself the owner of the struggling Chicago Stars football team (not to mention guardian to her younger sister Molly).  The blonde bombshell with a troubled past soon finds herself clashing with Dan Calebow, the Star’s attractive head coach.  It may not be Phillips’ most polished work, but there are still glimmers of promise.  Phoebe is a little too transparent, too simplified but she’s easy to sympathize with (even if she does look like Marilyn Monroe).  Dan is a textbook Phillips’ hero: strong, athletic, combative, intelligent, emotionally-scarred by parental neglect/abuse, and ready to settle down.    

 

Fancy Pants (1989) – Francesa Day and Dallie Beaudine – a penniless English socialite and a blue-collar Texan golfer with nothing in common.  Never thought I’d say this but I much prefer reading about football to golf (though I loathe watching both).  A rebel, playboy golfer is still a tough sell (despite “Tin Cup”), especially to a reader who thinks it’s the dullest sport on earth.  And the secret baby cliché is never a favourite and, provided he isn’t an addict or abusive, I invariably take the father’s side.  Francie only came of age because she struck out on her own, baby in tow, but she cheated Dallie out of 9 years of fatherhood.  Rather selfish (though Dallie –worst name every, by the way – made a rather big mistake by not telling her he was married). 

I think that, after reading eight of them with varying degrees of enjoyment, I’ve finally figured out what I like so much about Phillips’ novels.  It’s not her heroines, not even her heroes, and it’s certainly not her plots (her books have excellent dialogue but typically outrageous scenarios).  It’s the families she creates, the web of people she ties together so that no one is ever alone, not even minor, supporting characters.  And who doesn’t want that, all that unconditional love and security?

Tying in with all these romance novels, I borrowed Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches Guide to Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan.  As much as I love to read, I love to read about reading and, in this case, the various preconceptions and stereotypes active within a genre that I’m not overly familiar with.  And what a great introduction: crass and hilarious, fond and irreverent, it’s everything you needs to know about romance novel clichés, the people who read them and the people who bash them.

Reading Phillips’ novels after reading this was a revelation: the changes in genre conventions over the past twenty years are really echoed in her works, as the novels shift to focus more on the emotional development of characters in their own rights, rather than miraculously finding themselves because of some relationship they mind find themselves in.  Heroes have become more complex and far less likely to get away with the rapes so common to the romance novels of the 70s and 80s (and even early 90s).  The virginal (or semi-virginal) heroine, while still around, is far less dominant that she used to be as social conventions have changed and more and more contemporary romances have heroines in their late twenties and early thirties who have sexual pasts (sometimes more active ones than the heroes). 

One section of the book that brought me up short was this quote: “One African American romance reader said to us directly, ‘Black people like to read about other black people.  And I look for romance about black women in the black section of the bookstore” (p. 192).  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  Dear Americans, WTF?

There are some things only a reader of romance can understand and appreciate.  The bemulleted cover models.  The alpha hero whom you love to read about but who’d be fodder for COPS episodes in real life.  The heroines who are either so feisty they make your teeth hurt, or the embodiment of every virtue known to man, dog, and Chthonic deities. (p.2)

This lack of anything resembling common sense, coupled with the need to show us that the heroine has more than a limp noodle for backbone, often leads to annoyingly feisty heroines, who in turn are the precursors to the dreaded Too Stupid to Live heroines. (p.23)

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