When Stars Collide

by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

**spoilers**

This one started out lighter and more fun than SEP’s previous book, Dance Away with Me. I was happy about that, even though I don’t mind a little darkness in my women’s fiction. Olivia Shore, a great opera diva, and Thad Owens, a second-string but respected and popular quarterback for the Chicago Stars, are thrown together for a month to promote a prestige watch brand throughout the country. Right away there is a mystery. Why does Olivia seem to hate Thad so much? Why is she so hostile? It turns out someone lied about him to her, and to SEP’s credit the truth is revealed pretty quickly with no “big misunderstanding” trope that is so overused in romances. From then on as they get to know and like each other, their relationship develops into strong attraction and then Love. A few mysteries emerge. Olivia is attacked and Olivia and Thad are briefly kidnapped. It seems they are being continually followed. Olivia keeps getting threatening notes.

We also learn early on that Olivia’s ex-fiancé committed suicide only 2 weeks before their promotional tour began and his sisters made a scene, blaming her, when she attended the funeral. This was a big disconnect for me. This juicy story was never latched on to by the tabloid press that they continually have to deal with, and she is never asked about it on their press tour. Although Olivia’s legendary voice has been affected by the trauma she otherwise never really acts like a woman justifiably ridden with paralyzing guilt. She dumped her fiancé a few days before their wedding causing his suicide. Only 2 weeks ago. I mean, that’s a pretty heavy burden to bear. But she is funny, goes on adventures, fights with Thad, flirts with him and his protégé, has fun, etc.

Although well-written with some really delightful passages and snarky sparring, this book never really took off for me until they got to Chicago, the last leg of their tour where Olivia is set to star in Aida. At this point, SEP starts to bring things together. Even more mysteries start to unfold. Why is her good friend and fellow diva Sarah giving her the cold shoulder? Will Olivia be able to pull off her role in Aida with her voice problems(Susan created some real suspense here)? Will Thad and Olivia be able to work out their relationship which has legitimate issues, not phony ones? The final answers are surprising, a little twisty, and totally believable. Susan did not take the obvious easy routes. I found this to be an uninspired 3-star book until a little over halfway through. From there on it was a solid 4 and a smidge stars. So 3 1/2 stars.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

July 7, 2021

Dance Away With Me

by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

“Just to make sure I understand . . . We’re not only running a clinic here, but you’re now teaching sex education classes in my house?” “Write down any questions you have. It’s important for boys to be as well informed as girls. And I didn’t invite them. They showed up. And before you go into your whole Prince of Darkness routine, you should know that two of those girls are teenage pregnancies waiting to happen.” “That’s not your problem.” She touched Wren’s cheek. “Don’t worry about that bad man, sweetheart. I’ll slip some garlic in your blankie.”

The first sentence of this book, “Tess danced in the rain.” and the subsequent “meet-cute” gets this book off to a very corny start. Luckily, it got much much better. Although SEP’s worst books are still very entertaining and have a lot to admire in them, I was disappointed a little bit in her last 3 novels. This one, I think, pulls her out of the little tiny rut she was in. Some of the reviewers comment that this was a rather dark book. I didn’t find it dark at all. It is not a comedic romp and there was one tragic and horrific happening, true. But there was a lot of humor, snark, and wit as well. All of SEP’s heroes and heroines have issues. Some of them have very serious issues. A few of her early books have a lot of darkness despite the happy endings. Dream a Little Dream anybody?

Tess has come to the small mountain town of Tempest, Tennessee to recover and heal from the death of her young husband. Of course, she finds love and healing both with a difficult sexy artist and a newborn baby. She runs roughshod over the townspeople with all of her big-city judgements. And she eventually finds love and healing with them too. Fair warning: if you believe in abstinence-based sex education and disapprove of birth control for teens, you will find a lot to get offended with in this book. Or, heck, you might find yourself questioning your point of view.

A lot of the humor arises from the good citizens of Tempest and Tess’s interaction with them. And there is some really nice character development there as well. The antagonists either change and grow or are handily dispatched. There is an interesting survivalist family we get to know. You can’t say that about most “chick-lit”! I liked the development of the romance: neither too much or too little, for me, anyway. There is an interesting little switch up at the end. Usually, the heroine gets all twisted up because the hero has never told her he loved her in so many words and she rejects him even though they have a great relationship. This happened in First Star I See Tonight and it annoyed the heck out of me. In this one, it’s the hero who gets all boo-de-hoo-hoo, and I’m pretty sure this was a deliberate wink from the author at romance fans.

It was an excellent comeback for one of my top 5 automatic-buy authors. And the big fat ole happy ending epilogue was truly the icing on the cake. Whether she goes back to her romantic comedies or continues along the more women’s fiction path a la Kristan Higgins, I will be there along for the ride.**4 1/2 stars**

June 21, 2020

First Star I See Tonight

By Susan Elizabeth Phillips

First Star I See Tonight is good fun. The witty dialogue and funny “inner voices” of the main protagonists flow as easily as always from SEP’s brain. The humor is never forced or labored. One can tell she is really a funny person rather than just someone who tries to write humor. In fact, this one is funnier than many of her more recent books. Her characters are likable and quirky without being overly precious about it. I loved glimpses of past characters from preceding novels.

Are you sensing a “but” coming? Well you would be right. This one does lack those heart-tugging moments that Phillips usually incorporates into her novels. There are no genuine hardships to overcome, or past demons to slay. Piper does have “Daddy issues”, but Daddy is dead, so there is no dramatic confrontation or closure to anticipate. Also, I’ve just about had enough of the hero and heroine having great sex, lots in common, great fun and friendship despite their conflicts, and then the heroine being devastated by figuring out that she is in love. Of course, this is a great calamity, and the poor hero has to spend the last quarter of the book convincing the stubborn girl that they can have a HEA.
But, what can I say? It’s Susan Elizabeth Phillips, It’s a Star’s book, and it’s a solid 4 stars.

July 7, 2016

Heroes are My Weakness

by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

First things first. I love the iridescent dust jacket and endpapers. I am glad that the publishers are doing Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s books right. Heroes Are My Weakness is built on the tropes of a Gothic Romance novel. It folds in a little Rebecca, Jane Eyre, Mistress of Mellyn, and probably a good many others. The book is dedicated to Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, and Phyllis Whitney among others. It was fun to figure out the many homages in this books to the various gothics I have read. The Hero (Theo) at first, seems dark and cruel, but of course we know the mystery of his past will be revealed and it will turn out that he is really a pussycat. I figured out the dark secret pretty quickly thanks to my familiarity with Rebecca. Annie, the Heroine, is all SEP: too quirky to live, and aided by, as in This Heart of Mine, some imaginary friends. In this case, not characters in a children book series, but puppets. I am glad to say the Puppets are actually fairly entertaining, and not annoying like Daphne and Benny in THOM. The typical Phillips humor is alive and well, much of it in the humorous way she plays on the clichés in a Gothic Novel. She could have wrapped it up a little sooner; the last few chapters kind of dragged a bit, but I guess she just couldn’t resist inserting just one more scene common in many Gothics. I did love the setting on “Peregrine Island.” It wasn’t too hard to figure out that it was based on Monhegan Island, Maine. All in all, an entertaining read; Not her best, but well worth the time. I give it 3.5 stars, bumped up to 4 out of love and gratitude to the author for the many laughs and entertainment over the years. **3 1/2 stars out of 5**

September 2, 2014

The Great Escape

by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

This is not her best, but it’s still pretty good. I didn’t find “Panda” or Lucy as compelling as Ted and Meg, but it was still written very well with her stock in trade wit and humor. The side stories of Mike and Bree were great. The character of Mike, the flashy real-estate developer, especially, was a real hoot. A very unusual “type” for a romantic hero. Usually characters like this are figures of fun and contempt. I was brought to tears during the last 1/4 of the book when Toby and Bree are finally reconciled, and how it was done. I would like to see more of these non-stereotypical heroes in romances. The story did flag at times, but Gosh, no book or author is 100% perfect 100% of the time; But SEP surely comes close, this book included. I laughed and I cried. Most romance authors have one or two good books in them, but by their 5th or 6th, it’s like their voice disappears and you wonder who is writing the books now. Not so with Susan Elizabeth Phillips. **3 stars out of 5**

July 27, 2012

Match Me if You Can

by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

I think that it’s safe to say that this book represents SEP, as much as any other, at the height of her powers. When she got in the groove with writing contemporary chick-lit, she tended towards more angst and dark overtones. They were still funny, with feisty heroines and Alpha-male heroes, and very romantic with sometimes hard-won happy endings. She got a little lighter and a lot funnier, but her heroes tended to be a bit rapey and women found themselves (or put themselves) in demeaning and cringe-y situations. I’m sure they were not unusual for their time, but in this more enlightened age, they can be quite uncomfortable to re-read.

Match Me if you Can hits a sweet spot. Both the hero and heroine are appealing and hilarious, and the plot is fresh and unusual, but not contrived. The hero had a sad childhood which has affected his ability to be emotionally open and accept love, but the reader doesn’t have to wallow in darkness. The heroine is sweet and kind but a force of nature as well. She also has a difficult-to-deal with over-achieving family who seems not to approve of or appreciate her or anything she does. More on that later. There is a secondary romance that is unexpected and funny. It is a true romantic comedy.

Throughout the novel, one of the recurring themes is Annabel’s formidable and critical family. The reader learns to really resent them and hope they get their comeuppance and to see Annabel for the shining star she is. When Annabel brings Heath, the hero, who is impressive in all of the ways her family holds dear, to her 31st birthday party as her date, we wait in anticipation for them to be properly chastised courtesy of Heath and for the scales to fall from their eyes. Instead, something totally unexpected happens in a well-played twist. Brava, Susan E. Phillips.

For those who love closure, like me, there is a nice epilogue, in which absolutely everyone is assured of a happy fulfilled life forever and ever. The only thing missing, unfortunately, is a final resolution and understanding between Annabel and her family. Although we know everything became fine between them, it would have made a delicious scene or two, and I missed it.

Anna Fields, as the narrator, is one of the best. Her acting with all of the characters was spot on, although she does tend to exaggerate men’s and children’s voices a little bit more than necessary. **5 stars out of 5**

May 11, 2021