Series: Chicago Stars

March 23, 2017

Review | First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Review | First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsFirst Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars, #8
Publisher: William Morrow, August 2016
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
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Piper Dove is a woman with a dream—to become the best detective in the city of Chicago. First job? Trail former Chicago Stars quarterback, Cooper Graham. Problem? Graham’s spotted her, and he’s not happy.
Which is why a good detective needs to think on her feet. “The fact is...I’m your stalker. Not full-out barmy. Just...mildly unhinged.”

Piper soon finds herself working for Graham himself, although not as the bodyguard he refuses to admit he so desperately needs. Instead, he’s hired her to keep an eye on the employees at his exclusive new nightclub. But Coop’s life might be in danger, and Piper’s determined to protect him, whether he wants it or not. (Hint: Not!) If only she weren’t also dealing with a bevy of Middle Eastern princesses, a Pakistani servant girl yearning for freedom, a teenager who just wants to fit in, and an elderly neighbor demanding Piper find her very dead husband.

And then there’s Cooper Graham himself, a legendary sports hero who always gets what he wants—even if what he wants is a feisty detective hell bent on proving she’s as tough as he is.

From the bustling streets of Chicago to a windswept lighthouse on Lake Superior to the glistening waters of Biscayne Bay, two people who can’t stand to lose will test themselves and each other to discover what matters most.

Don’t judge this book by it’s cover…or rather, it’s title. I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little put off by the nursery rhyme title (even M raised his eyebrows at me when he saw the cover), but First Star is one of SEP’s best.

Why? Her characters.

Like each of her novels, First Star is entirely character-driven. I loved Piper Dove, struggling private investigator with a soft heart but stubborn nature. Cooper Graham, retired star quarterback who is trying to break into the nightclub business, appears to be her exact opposite, but they are essentially two peas in a pod: soft on the inside, hard on the outside. And believe me, that made for some intense tension.

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But Phillips didn’t rely on that tension to carry the novel. It’s the wacky characters, from Piper to her elderly neighbor Berni, to Cooper and Jada, the teenage “assassain” who befriends Piper when she moves in. There’s an element of reality in the wackiness, one that both brings the characters and story alive.

I loved how both Piper and Coop go through separate heroic journeys, yet use each other as support. Piper’s initial friendship with Coop allows her to slowly let down her defenses she’s held up for so long, and Piper’s instinct to protect him lets Coop realize it’s okay to rely on someone else (well, someone who’s not in football pads).

The cameos from other characters in the Chicago Stars series cracked me up, especially Heath‘s role in Piper and Coop’s relationship. It created a kind of closure in the series, and since I think SEP originally intended this to be the final Chicago Stars novel, it fit.

Whether you are kinda into contemporary romance or a major fan (*raises hand*) First Star is simply a must read. From the hilariously relatable characters and original plotlines to the breathtaking romance, SEP’s latest is a must.

5 Stars

Posted March 23, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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March 3, 2016

Review | Match Me If You Can by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Review | Match Me If You Can by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsMatch Me If You Can by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars, #6
Publisher: Avon, January 1970
Pages: 388
Format: Audiobook, Paperback

You met quarterback Kevin Tucker in Nobody's Baby but Mine. Now get ready to meet his shark of an agent, Heath Champion, and Annabelle Granger, the girl least likely to succeed.
Annabelle's endured dead-end jobs, a broken engagement . . . even her hair's a mess! But that's going to change now that she's taken over her late grandmother's matchmaking business. All Annabelle has to do is land the Windy City's hottest bachelor as her client, and she'll be the most sought-after matchmaker in town.
Why does the wealthy, driven, and gorgeous sports agent Heath Champion need a matchmaker, especially a red-haired screw-up like Annabelle Granger? True, she's entertaining, and she does have a certain quirky appeal. But Heath is searching for the ultimate symbol of success -- the perfect wife. And to make an extraordinary match, he needs an extraordinary matchmaker, right?
Soon everyone in Chicago has a stake in the outcome, and a very big question: When the determined matchmaker promised she'd do anything to keep her star client happy . . . did she mean anything? If Annabelle isn't careful, she just might find herself going heart-to-heart with the toughest negotiator in town.

Remember the last time you read a book that left you breathless? Left you with the need to flip back to the front and start all over again? I’ve read Phillips’ Match Me If You Can entirely too many times, and each time, I have the urge to start all over again and dive back into Annabelle and Heath’s story.

All Annabelle wants to do is carry on her grandmother’s matchmaking business, but to get a foothold in Chicago’s matchmaking world, she needs to land a big client: Heath Champion. Heath is the top sports agent in the country, a self-made man’s man who is looking for a wife to finally earn the perfect life he’s always dreamed about. He usually only hires the best of the best, but there’s something about Annabelle’s hairbrained scheme that pulls him in.

I loved how their relationship developed in Match Me – instead of an immediate, hot romance, it’s a slow friendship, finding a kindred soul inside another. Due to the nature of their relationship (falling in love with your client won’t do to begin with, but especially not when you’re a matchmaker), both ignore their feelings and send the tension of the book skyrocketing.

Match Me made me laugh. I found myself looking forward to my commute every day when I got to listen to Heath and Annabelle battle it out, or Annabelle try to convince the neighborhood bum, Mouse, to come out from under Sherman (her car. Yes, I’m serious). There’s a lightheartedness to the narrative that lifted my spirits.

The depth of each character – not only Heath and Annabelle – was extraordinary. Phillips developed out the side plot of Portia (Annabelle’s competition in the matchmaking business) and Bodie (Heath’s go-to guy) to create an oddly sweet contrasting story. Even other characters from the Chicago Stars series, making brief appearances, played a role in the plot.

It’s the focus on happily-ever-after that keeps me coming back to this story time after time. It’s sweet, endearing, funny, and wistful, a.k.a. the ultimate romance.

5 Stars

Posted March 3, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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February 26, 2016

Review | Dream a Little Dream by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Review | Dream a Little Dream by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsDream a Little Dream by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars, #4
Publisher: Avon, February 1998
Pages: 400
Format: Ebook
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A Desperate Young Mother
Rachel Stone's bad luck has taken a turn for the worse. With an empty wallet, a car's that's spilling smoke, and a five-year-old son to support, she's come home to a town that hates her. But this determined young widow with a scandalous past has learned how to be a fighter. And she'll do anything to keep her child safe—even take on. . .

A Man With No Heart
Gabe Bonner wants to be left alone, especially by the beautiful outcast who's invaded his property. She has a ton of attitude, a talent for trouble, and a child who brings back bad memories. Yet Rachel's feisty spirit might just be heaven-sent to save a tough, stubborn man.

Dare To Dream
Welcome to Salvation, North Carolina—where a man who's forgotten what tenderness means meets a woman with nothing to lose. here two endearing lovers will set off on a funny, touching journey of the heart. . .to a place where dreams just might come true.

Imagine you had no one else in the world. It was you, your five year old son, and every belonging you have in the world piled in the back in of your broken-down car. Rachel Stone knows exactly how that feels. Her car has just broken down outside of the Pride of Carolina, a closed drive-in in the town of Salvation, a place Rachel hoped she would never have to return to.

Phillips’ works blow me away because she creates these intense, in-depth characters and throws them into the worst possible situations. In Dream a Little Dream, Phillips takes a down-on-her-luck single mother who has a single-minded determination to overcome the adversity and hatred she’s faced since her televangelist husband, G. Dwanye Snopes, died and left her in the mess of his affairs and matches her with an out-of-work vet who hasn’t recovered from the loss of his wife and son in a horrible accident. Her perseverance against his need to hide inside himself created a magical romantic tension that kept me hooked.

Don’t get me wrong – the romance in Dream is absolutely outstanding. Rachel and Gabe’s slow trust creates a beautiful relationship that brings them both to terms with thier pasts and their future. But the relationship that brought tears to my eyes was Edward, Rachel’s son, and Gabe’s. Gabe’s relationship with Rachel slowly helps him heal from the loss of his wife, but the loss of his child is only emphasized by Rachel’s own little boy. Edward, in turn, doesn’t remember his father and isn’t all too sure about Gabe. The journey their relationship takes is absolutely stunning and honestly left me in tears.

When she returns to Salvation, Rachel faces the hatred her husband created with his false faith healing. I found it a bit ironic how healing reshapes all three of the main characters and ends up saving them in more ways then they could imagine. Dream emphasizes that healing and God isn’t always found in churches or holy places – it’s in every day relationships and love. (This isn’t a religious book by any means, but with a name like Salvation and a preacher’s widow, there are discussions about God).

To put it simply, I loved Dream a Little Dream. Phillips’ books leave me breathless and her tale of Rachel and Gabe is forever a winner.

5 Stars

Posted February 26, 2016 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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December 14, 2015

Review | This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Review | This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsThis Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars #5
Publisher: Avon, February 2002
Pages: 432
Format: Paperback
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This Heart of Mine..

Molly Somerville knows she has a reputation for trouble. She did give away her fifteen-million-dollar inheritance, but, hey, nobody's perfect. Still, if anyone has an almost perfect life, it's Molly. While her Daphne the Bunny children's books could be selling better, she loves her cramped loft, her French poodle, and her career creating the fictional animals who live in Nightingale Woods. She even loves her sister, Phoebe.

True, it was a little tough growing up in her shadow. Phoebe is beautiful, blissfully married, and the owner of the most successful professional football team in America. But who other than your sister knows you're about to do something drastic every time you change your hair? Yes, Molly's happy about almost everything ... except her long-term crush on the daredevil quarterback for the Chicago Stars, that awful, gorgeous Kevin Tucker, a man who can't even remember her name!

One night Molly's penchant for running into trouble runs right into Kevin himself, turning her world upside down. Heartbreak follows, and just when she's certain things can't get worse, Kevin forces his way back into her life. If only the overpaid, Ferrari-driving, poodle-hating jock was as shallow as she wants him to be, she could get on with her almost perfect life. But Kevin's hidden depths and iron will propel Molly out of her comfortable existence into an unforgettable summer at a place called Wind Lake. Surrounded by paintbox cottages and a charming old bed-and-breakfast, she and Kevin battle their attraction while trying to cope with an aging sexpot actress, a cranky world-famous artist, and a pair of teenage newlyweds.

Their careers and lives are in crisis ... yet they can't seem to stay away from each other. Before the summer is over, will they be able to learn one of life's most important lessons? Sometimes falling in love hurts, sometimes it makes you mad as hell, and sometimes if you're very lucky it can heal in the most special and unexpected way.

True, it was a little tough growing up in her shadow. Phoebe is beautiful, blissfully married, and the owner of the most successful professional football team in America. But who other than your sister knows you’re about to do something drastic every time you change your hair? Yes, Molly’s happy about almost everything … except her long-term crush on the daredevil quarterback for the Chicago Stars, that awful, gorgeous Kevin Tucker, a man who can’t even remember her name!

One night Molly’s penchant for running into trouble runs right into Kevin himself, turning her world upside down. Heartbreak follows, and just when she’s certain things can’t get worse, Kevin forces his way back into her life. If only the overpaid, Ferrari-driving, poodle-hating jock was as shallow as she wants him to be, she could get on with her almost perfect life. But Kevin’s hidden depths and iron will propel Molly out of her comfortable existence into an unforgettable summer at a place called Wind Lake. Surrounded by paintbox cottages and a charming old bed-and-breakfast, she and Kevin battle their attraction while trying to cope with an aging sexpot actress, a cranky world-famous artist, and a pair of teenage newlyweds.

Their careers and lives are in crisis … yet they can’t seem to stay away from each other. Before the summer is over, will they be able to learn one of life’s most important lessons? Sometimes falling in love hurts, sometimes it makes you mad as hell, and sometimes if you’re very lucky it can heal in the most special and unexpected way.

 
I read This Heart of Mine back in 2013, but the urge to reread grabbed me a few days ago. I had loved Molly’s story then, but a few of the plot’s details had slipped my mind – all I remembered was the magic of the campground, the powerful romance, and the little bit of silliness that’s a SEP trademark. 
 
Molly has always been the good girl. Whether or not she actually needed to be, she felt the urge to be the one to not cause any trouble, to blend into the background with her book whenever the personal family drama raged. This is something I can completely understand; however, her uncontrollable tendency to act out was harder to connect with. As a kid, a teenager, and a young woman, okay. The decision she makes to crawl into bed with an asleep Kevin, a man she barely knows but loves from afar, was just an awkward moment for me. 
 
Aside from that odd lapse in judgement, I loved Molly and Kevin. They bring out the best in each other, even when they’re arguing or sorting out their own differences. This Heart of Mine showcases believing the best in people, second chances, and the possibility of happy endings. 
 
The focus on family in This Heart was a huge point in its favor. Both Molly and Kevin are forced to deal with their personal family issues. The positive focus on the power of family is something I’d love to see in more romances. 
 
I’m glad I reread This Heart – it reminded me of why I fell in love with Phillips’ work in the first place. This book is a must read for every romance fan.
 
4 Stars

Posted December 14, 2015 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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