Monday, February 19, 2007

Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

SEP never disappoints. I loved Natural Born Charmer. Its leads, Dean and Blue, and its zany, supporting cast captured my full attention. If allowed, I would have read this book in one sitting. As it was, I read it within 24 hours of picking it up from my local library. And now I’m struggling to give over my attention to any other book. Love and hate when that happens.

Chicago Stars quarterback Dean Robillard is the luckiest man in the world: a bona-fide sports superstar and the pride of the NFL with a profitable side career as a buff billboard model for End Zone underwear. But life in the glory lane has started to pale, and Dean has set off on a cross-country trip to figure out what's gone wrong. When he hits a lonely stretch of Colorado highway, he spies something that will shake up his gilded life in ways he can't imagine. A young woman . . . dressed in a beaver suit.

Blue Bailey is on a mission to murder her ex. Or at least inflict serious damage. As for the beaver suit she's wearing . . . Is it her fault that life keeps throwing her curveballs? Witness the expensive black sports car pulling up next to her on the highway and the Greek god stepping out of it.

Blue's career as a portrait painter is the perfect job for someone who refuses to stay in one place for very long. She needs a ride, and America's most famous football player has an imposing set of wheels. Now, all she has to do is keep him entertained, off guard, and fully clothed before he figures out exactly how desperate she is.

But Dean isn't the brainless jock she imagines, and Blue -- despite her petite stature -- is just about the toughest woman Dean has ever met. They're soon heading for his summer home where their already complicated lives and inconvenient attraction to each other will become entangled with a charismatic but aging rock star; a beautiful fifty-two-year-old woman trying to make peace with her rock and roll past; an eleven-year-old who desperately needs a family; and a bitter old woman who hates them all.

As the summer progresses, the wandering portrait artist and the charming football star play a high-stakes game, fighting themselves and each other for a chance to have it all.

Dean and Blue fit the SEP mold:

  • Gorgeous, leading sports star meets adorably dysfunctional sprite.
  • What she lacks in appearance—at least until she cleans up—she makes up for in spirit.
  • Where he is expected to pass by on his way to the at-the-ready stereotype—big boobs and platinum hair—he slows for the entertaining distraction.
  • He spends an inordinate amount of time taking stock of her haphazard appearance—clothes, lack of makeup, scraggly ponytail.
  • She finds him devastatingly handsome, but doesn’t let on, refusing to feed his ego.
  • He realizes early on that he needs her as a buffer between him and the hounds at his heels (in this case, an estranged family).
  • She falls hopelessly in love with him but, knowing it would never work, plans to leave him anyway.
  • He falls hopelessly in love with her, but doesn’t realize it or see it for more than a short-term relationship.

    That’s where the similarity between this and the remaining stories in her Chicago Stars series ends.

    In NBC, Phillips lays bare Blue’s vulnerabilities almost immediately. You ache for this woman, but understand her need to deal alone. Her self-preservation skills are traced very realistically back to childhood heartbreak and SEP clues readers in efficiently but poignantly. IOW, no background info dump used to neatly explain character behavior. Nothing contrived to make her particularly appealing to Dean. We see and feel through Blue from beginning to end.

    Dean is equally appealing, in a “what you see is what you get” kind of way. Phillips establishes Dean as a decent guy with her trademark wry sense of humor. On the surface, he appears very much like previous SEP Chicago Stars heroes. His intentions toward Blue are not exactly honorable, his goal to bed her not all that mature. Unlike his predecessors however, he derives only a fraction of the enjoyment in his pursuit of Blue. He simply doesn’t have as much time for it. Instead, he spends the bulk of his time wrestling his own emotional baggage. Watching him alternately avoid and deal with his bizarre family was entertaining and touching.

  • His bizarre family, the bulk of his emotional baggage, comprises a wonderful supporting cast of characters. SEP easily fleshes out each character without miring the reader down in tangents. The developing relationships between each family member, Dean and Blue lend color and depth to the story. And SEP layers and blends, mixes and matches until every character is essential in the telling of the story. These relationships also provide one of the greatest sources of humor—Blue’s reaction to Dean’s rock star Dad. It is nothing short of hilarious. Throw in a cantankerous old broad down the road and you have a melting pot at high boil, spewing venom laced one-liners at perfectly timed intervals. This is SEP at her best.

    I also found NBC to be more sexually charged than previous SEP titles. She takes their physical relationship a bit beyond the traditional, highly anticipated consummation of their attraction. Through the power of suggestion, SEP actually sways toward the erotic, with allusions to kink, spanking and even anal stimulation. Far sexier than the explicitness of true erotic titles.

    Overall, the perfect romantic read. I fell in love. Then felt bereft when it was all over. If I could experience this with more of my romance reads, I’d be a happy woman.


    1. One of the best reads so far this year and I predict this one to be in my top 10 of 2007. Hilarious, emotional, zany, and fun. A most memorable read.

    2. I just received this in the mail today and will move it to the top of my reading queue. Sounds like a real winner and I have been in a funk lately.

    3. I'm still # 6 on the waiting list at the library. (Yes, my library actually has 1 whole copy of this one!)

      I really liked Dean in MMIYC. Can't wait to read this one. SEP has really grown on me with this series.

    4. Anne, AngieZ and Lori - Like I said, she NEVER disappoints. And always, amidst the laughter, I fall in love.

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    6. I ordered this Tuesday and it arrived yesterday and I read it in one sitting last night.

      I loved it. I'm a huge SEP fan, I think she's incredibly skilled at character development and yes, this one was very sexually charged.

      One thing that bugged me was that at the end, I think Dean was a dick. The way he acted when his friends came to visit and then with his ultimatum really made me mad and I'm not sure he suffered enough. It makes me take half a star off, LOL.


    Have you read it? What do you think?

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