Friday 1 August 2014

#CBR6 Book 77: "It Had to Be You" by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Phoebe Sommerville is a bundle of daddy issues and sexual hangups, masquerading as a drop-dead gorgeous blonde bombshell. Clever, sensitive and oh so very vulnerable, Phoebe learned long ago that the best way to keep men at a distance and getting her own way is by pretending to be a sexy airhead. Estranged from her horrible father since she was 18, having done as much as she could to shock him, Phoebe is shocked to realise that even after his death, he is trying to manipulate her. His will stipulates that she has inherited his successful NFL team, the Chicago Stars, and has to stay in Chicago and run it until some big pre-Super Bowl championship (I know NOTHING about American football. Football to me, a Norwegian, is soccer. I finished this book more than two weeks ago and can't be bothered to go back and find the relevant name). If the Chicago Stars win this championship, she will keep the team (and rob her douche-wad cousin out of the inheritance he was sure he was going to get). If they lose, she will at least get enough money to start the gallery she's always dreamed of owning. To add to her complications, Phoebe also becomes the guardian of Molly, her fifteen year younger sister, who hates her because she believes their father loved only the eldest, and was the sort of stand-up guy to really leave his daughters with crushed self esteem.

Phoebe decides that dear old dad, the team and the terms of the will can screw it. She tries to befriend her sister, with little success. Dan Calebow, former star quarterback and the new coach for the Chicago Stars is not going to let some bimbo keep his team from achieving their chance at victory, though. His extreme masculinity is everything that Phoebe finds most attractive, but also terrifying. She agrees to do her share in the running of the team, but forces Dan to keep on the geeky Ron McDermitt as general manager. As they start working together to get the Stars to their championship, Dan starts to realise that Phoebe is not the ditz she appears. Having a wealth of insecurities and hangups of his own, due to women not treating him right, Dan now wants to find the perfect little homemaker who can bear his children. It very much complicates things when he keep his thoughts or hands off Phoebe.

It Had to Be You is the first of seven books in Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Chicago Stars' series. As Phillips has no fewer than eight books on All About Romance's Top 100 Romances (last compiled a few months ago),  and seven of those books are this series, I pretty much had to see what all the fuss was about, and I believe in starting at the beginning. This book was written in 1994, and it's quite clear that contemporary romance (and romance in general) has come a long way since this book was written. Even so, it's clearly beloved by many, as it's 19 on the top 100 list. I found a number of things problematic with the book, though.

I really couldn't stand Phoebe's father (which is probably as it should be). I also hate when rape is used as a character-building plot device. One of the things that caused Phoebe to run away, was that she was raped when she was seventeen, and her father refused to believe her. This led to her ending up in Paris and getting even more disillusioned about sex as she tried to get over her shame, before discovering that she could dress and act provocatively, but constantly reject the men around her, thus keeping herself safe. Her best friend is gay. Her scandalous and elderly artist lover was gay, although few know that.

Dan's ex-wife is a congresswoman who's bossy and into all sorts of kinky stuff and never wanted kids. Even after their divorce, they keep meeting for random hook-ups, because Dan can't really say no to her. He had an abusive father and a weak-willed mother and is determined to give his own kids the love, stability and idyllic home life he himself never achieved. He believes he's found the perfect candidate to be his baby mama, a timid, quiet nursery school teacher, who he obviously wouldn't dream of even touching inappropriately before marriage. He's convinced Phoebe doesn't have a maternal bone in her body, never getting close enough to her to realise that a stable, harmonious family life is what she has dreamed of her entire life. He has no problems using her to get rid of his pent-up sexual tension, but is surprised at how innocent and inexperienced she seems in the bedroom.

Molly, Phoebe's younger sister, is a brat. I didn't like her much, but again, douchy daddy did a number on her, so her trust issues are probably justified. Unfortunately, she's not really fleshed out much as a character and barely rises above annoying plot moppet level. Some of the other supporting characters are delightful, though. I loved Ron, the geeky general manager, who Dan is forced to realise does a really good job even though he's not a jock, and Viktor, Phoebe's gay BFF.

In my experience, current contemporary romances don't have quite as much unnecessary drama as this book does. There are some truly preposterous obstacles in the way of Dan and Phoebe's HEA, both external and emotional. The final act of the book is, as my partner in romance reviewing, Mrs. Julien points out, ridonkulous. I rolled my eyes more than a little bit. I suspect I would have liked the book a whole lot more if I'd read it when it came out.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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