Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Dean Robillard is a big-time football star for the fictional Chicago Stars--gorgeous, wealthy, and restlessly unhappy. He decides to drive across the country to the farm he's purchased outside Nashville to check up on his new housekeeper who only communicates with him via email, and along the way he picks up an angry woman in a beaver costume (minus the head). He drives her to confront her weasel of an ex and decides she would make an excellent distraction from his depression during his road trip so capitalizes on her newly broke status to convince her to travel with him.
Blue Bailey is a portrait artist who never stays in one place for long, especially not now that she has discovered her rotten ex doesn't need her help after all: he's found a new (teenage) muse and stolen the $200 she had hidden in her rental room. Her mother recently cleaned out Blue's bank accounts to pay the ransom for a group of girls in Colombia, leaving Blue with a total of $18 to her name, some ratty old clothes, and a car that's given up the ghost. Driving to Garrison, TN, in a fancy car with a handsome man pretending to be gay seems a better option than staying where she is, so she opts to ride. She never expected to grow roots.
I'm giving this one 2 stars because the main romance didn't work for me. I really enjoyed all the secondary characters, especially Nita and Riley. I found April and Jack's relationship plausible, if fraught with emotional scar tissue. However, Dean and Blue's romance...no. It COULD have been believable--the potential was there, and it started off well. Blue fascinated Dean because she didn't fall all over him like all other women. She was zany and unpredictable. She entertained and amused him just by being herself. If Ms. Phillips had kept going with that, had let her characters slowly grow on each other, gradually developing an attraction to one another instead of flipping the lust switch and turning Dean into a controlling jerk and Blue into a spineless ninny, this could have been an outstanding book.
Instead, it lacks internal consistency. Blue and Dean bicker constantly and enjoy doing so. They had difficult childhoods and have built emotional walls around themselves to protect against future heartbreak, so both have a whole lot of maturing to do before they are ready to trust and risk showing vulnerability, yet the arguing gives them a way to safely spend time getting to know each other. So far, so good.
However, Ms. Phillips chose to make Dean determined to have sex with Blue almost from the beginning, despite his open disdain for her appearance, fashion choices, and lifestyle. It was a power and control issue for him, which is decidedly UNsexy and should have been a complete turn-off to Blue, who was fully cognizant that his so-called interest was due to a lack of better options and a need to dominate. Had Ms. Phillips remained consistent with her original characterization of Blue, Blue would have continued to rebuff Dean's advances and called him on his B.S. until he finally grew to actually respect her and show some kindness for a change. Then and only then would the attraction have been plausible and based on a solid foundation.
But that's not what happened. I abandoned hope when I got to the scene where Dean is hurt and angry with his father and bursts into the caravan, waking Blue and demanding--not asking, but demanding--that she have sex with him. He's again a total jerk, she can tell he's upset, but she gives in instead of saying, "You're furious, so your solution is to RAPE ME?!" Had she done that, it would have brought him up short and perhaps triggered his brain to restart. Not how the scene played out, though, and I ended up howling in frustration in my car, wishing I weren't driving and could skip over the too-explicit and ridiculous sex scene that followed ('cause, you know, if she takes her own clothes off when ordered to, & is inexplicably turned on by being used, it doesn't count as rape??). It gets worse from there, although there is a small bit of redemption by the end when Dean FINALLY admits maybe he has some growing up to do. Note to Dean: if someone has lifelong abandonment issues,
perhaps you shouldn't abandon her over and over and over again!!
The character development for everyone else is excellent. *sigh* Four stars for them, zero for Dean & Blue, for an average rating of 2 stars.
For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary. There is quite a bit of swearing and some semi-explicit sex scenes. Definitely not suitable for listening to with a toddler in the car. The narrator did an excellent job with the voices--only a couple of times did I get confused as to who was talking. She had totally different voices and accents for all the characters.
View all my reviews