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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

'It had to be you' by Susan Elizabeth Phillips


From the BLURB:

The windy city isn't quite ready for Phoebe Somerville-the trendy, outrageous and curvaceous New York knockout who has just inherited the Chicago Stars football team. And Phoebe is definitely not prepared for the Stars' head coach Dan Calebow - an Alabama-born former gridiron legend and blond barbarian.

Calebow is everything Phoebe abhors - a sexist, jock tacskmaster with a one-track mind. The beautiful new boss is everything Dan despises - a meddling bimbo whose doesn't know pigskin from a pitcher's mound, So why is he drawn to the shameless sexpot like a heat-seeking missile? And why does Dan's good ol'boy charm leave cosmpolitan Phoebe feeling awkward, tongue-tied and frightened to death?

I really, really didn’t like this book, which is a shame. I actually had really high hopes for this contemporary romance. I liked the idea of a series being based around an American football team; a chance for some great contrasting characters and Alpha men. Not the case.

I really didn’t like the main character, Phoebe. She’s a ‘poor little rich girl’ with some genuinely awful incidents in her past. For one thing, her father was an atrocious parent – wounding her self-confidence from a young age and deeming her “his only failure” in her adulthood. For another, she was raped when she was 18 and never fully recovered. In response to her traumatic first sexual experience, Phoebe uses her sexuality as armor. She is very curvaceous and a proverbial ‘pin-up’ – but she hasn’t had sex in 15 years and at 33-years-old feels like a failure as a woman. She uses her curves as a defense against men – as a way to control them but leave them wanting and never suspecting that she never intended to ‘put out’ despite what her ‘come hither’ eyes were saying.

I can understand that Phillips wanted Phoebe to be a conundrum of a character. She acts like a ‘bimbo’ but underneath she’s really a shy, sensitive young woman who uses her sensuality as a defense against men and hasn’t been sexually active in 15 years.
I don’t understand why Phoebe couldn’t have been a woman who enjoys sex. I see no problem with women owning and flaunting their sexuality – it doesn’t make them ‘sluts’ or ‘bimbos’ – it makes them women who enjoy sex. This book was written in 1994, and I suppose women have undergone a transformation since then – strong, aggressive woman aren’t pariahs thanks to characters like Samantha Jones (‘Sex and the City’) or celebrities like Angelina Jolie who own their sexuality and aren’t afraid to flaunt it. But Phoebe was a lamb in wolf’s clothing, at least by my reckoning. I think she would have been a far more interesting character if she had been the blonde bombshell the media and men made her out to be; instead of the inwardly timid, sexually-oppressed woman she actually was.

I also didn’t like Phillips handling of Phoebe’s confession to Dan about her rape. So much of Phoebe’s persona is based around that event in her life, which colored her entire sexual outlook – but Phillips didn’t write a scene. Instead, she wrote a summary, along the lines of ‘Phoebe told Dan about the rape’. After so much build-up, Phoebe’s confession should have been a cathartic scene of release; but what we get is a one-line summary of the confession. Now that’s just sloppy writing.

Dan Calebow is a terrible leading man. Phillips has written what is quite possibly the worst introduction of a romantic hero in the history of contemporary romance. We first meet Dan on his way home from a black-tie event, as he stops in at a gas station. At this gas station is a 16-year-old girl wearing a short skirt and football jersey – she comes on pretty hard to the infamous Dan Calebow and he agrees to follow her home, since her parents are away. At this point I was feeling pretty much sick to my stomach. I continued to feel queasy as Dan proceeded to have sex with this sixteen-year-old girl, and Phillips details the encounter for three pages or so…. And then it’s revealed that this girl isn’t actually 16, or a stranger to Dan. It’s actually his ex-wife, Valerie, who he divorced last year but still engages in these sexual fantasies with while the two are between partners. Okay, so the good news is the books leading man isn’t actually a pedophilic slime-bag – the bad news is, Phillips introduction of Dan Calebow is so grotesque that it colors his character for the rest of the book. I could never warm up to him. Phillips tried hard to let readers know Dan wasn’t the typical football jock, but failed dismally. I really didn’t appreciate his treatment of Phoebe, for one thing. Even after he’s discovered her sensitive side and learnt of her abusive past sexual history, Dan still refers to Phoebe as “his sweet, smart, gutsy little bimbo”. This book is pretty much one big slap in the feminist face.

The sex scenes aren’t even that hot. They’re actually pretty tame, and I don’t know if that’s because this was written in 1994 and Phillips was being a bit conservative – or if it’s because Phillips just doesn’t excel at writing erotica?

The plot of ‘It had to be you’ is also pretty atrocious. You’d think the plot would be pretty straightforward – football team tries to win the Superbowl. But Phillips (for some reason) felt the need to include a mad gunman in her book as well. A man whose steroid-taking son was kicked off the Stars team and later died in a car accident is stalking Dan Calebow, who he blames for his son’s death. In the last half of the book the gunman kidnaps Phoebe and holds her hostage at the last game of the season, threatening to kill her if Dan doesn’t throw the game. Yeah. It’s as bad as it sounds.

This book is bad. But I have heard good things about the 2nd book in the ‘Chicago Stars’ series called ‘Heaven, Texas’ – so I will give Susan Elizabeth Phillips one more chance.

1/5

5 comments:

  1. Wow, this sounds pretty offensive. I hate when I don't like the H/H of the book. I like that you're going to give the 2nd book a chance, I try to do that too.

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  2. This is one of the few SEP books that I haven't read. I've enjoyed the ones that I have read but after reading your review I think I'll just skip this one. :)

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  3. Jeez if it sickened you the minute your started reading the book, then you should have just skipped it altogether. The characters don't have to be perfect. In fact wouldn't that be unreal. I like this book a lot. I like the complexities in the characters and the flaws they show. I think it shows that not all romance novels should start out romantically. I mean, what is romance anyway? And while you're trying to figure that out why don't you write a romance novel with suspense in t as well. See how your book will turn out...if they ever decide to print it at all!!!

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  4. Is 'Anonymous' perhaps Ms. Phillips?

    I only ask because you defend her so vehemently against what is only my humble opinion.
    As to 'what is romance anyway'? Well, 'in the eye of the beholder', certainly... you and I are just different beholders :)

    And you misunderstand me - I am not *writing* a book, I *review* them. See the difference?

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  5. Susan Elizabeth Phillips' novel "It had to be you" is the greatest screwball comedy romance I've ever read, Danielle. I suggest you read Hot Shot and Honey Moon also; these are just two of those masterpieces Susan Elizabeth Phillips has written. I'm impressed with the main character, Dan Calebow's. His childhood poverty and experience of abuse didn't hinder him from eagerly persevering to become a champion football player and coach.

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