The Great Escape by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
To call The Great Escape a romance is technically accurate but so inadequate. It's really a character-driven novel of three couples struggling with identity and history, trying to figure out what they want and who they want to be.
The book opens as Lucy panics and flees her own wedding to The Ideal Man, Ted Beaudine. His perfection has tipped her over the edge into the rebellion she never experienced as a teenager, and she escapes Texas with Panda, a biker who isn't quite what he seems. Panda tries to shock Lucy into returning to Ted--or at least to her family--and he is surprised and dismayed when his efforts fail. He decided long ago he was unworthy of and too dangerous for family life, and Lucy's presence is an unwelcome reminder of what he cannot have. Unfortunately for him, Lucy can't yet bear the thought of returning to her old life as the prim and proper lobbyist daughter of the former president of the United States, instead seeking solace in her new identity as Viper until she can figure out who and what to become now.
Couple number two features depressed and penniless Bree West, whose cheating husband dumped her for a nineteen-year-old office temp, and gregarious real estate salesman Mike Moody, whom Bree has detested since childhood and blames for destroying her chance at happiness with her first love, David. Bree returned to Charity Island after inheriting the guardianship of David's twelve-year-old son, Toby, who happens to idolize Big Mike, and she's grappling with her new realities of poverty and parenthood.
Couple number three consists of famous TV fitness guru Temple Renshaw and the love of her life, Max, whom she deems unsuitable. Temple is known for her harsh onscreen methods of coercing contestants into losing weight on her reality show "Fat Island," and she is no less critical when it comes to herself and shedding the pounds she gained in her despair over giving up Max. She hires Panda to keep her hidden from the paparazzi and prevent her from getting her hands on contraband like chocolate or muffins. But no matter how thin she gets, it's never enough.
Healing occurs slowly as their lives intersect on a small island in Lake Michigan.
I absolutely love this novel. It's the seventh in a series, following Call Me Irresistible, which I picked up because it was on a Top 10 list. Ms. Phillips is now one of my favorite authors. Her characters are real and flawed. They are people you might actually meet or already know. They struggle with PTSD, abuse, societal and familial pressures, sexual identity, body image, and low self-esteem. They crave a sense of purpose and seek to make a positive difference in the world. I'm glad to have met them.
For readers' advisors: character doorway. There are a few sex scenes and some swearing.
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