Saturday, 17 September 2016

#CBR8 Book 100: "First Star I See Tonight" by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Piper Dove wants to become the best private detective in Chicago. First, though, she desperately needs to make enough to keep her agency afloat. Her over-protective dad, who didn't think it was appropriate for Piper to follow in his footsteps, left the agency to her greedy step-mum and Piper has spent every penny she had to buy it back, so she can run it herself. She's giving everything on her first job, trailing former quarterback for the Chicago Stars football team, now nightclub owner, Cooper Graham, but no matter what disguises she dons, he seems to be able to spot her instantly. She refuses to blow her cover, and claims to be his stalker, "not full-out barmy, just mildly...unhinged".

Cooper "Coop" Graham retired while at the top of his game, rather than risk injury from the sport he loved. Now he runs the successful Spiral, a hot new nightclub he's hoping he might be able to turn into a chain of clubs. He doesn't understand why this unusual young woman might be following him all the time, and once he discovers that she's a P.I, he naturally wants to know who hired her. Piper staunchly refuses, but tells him to keep a closer eye on his bar staff. Once he realises that she's completely correct and that at least one of his employees is stealing from him, he hires her on to discover if there are other discrepancies among the staff. As she works there, it becomes obvious that someone is out to get Coop, both by sabotaging his nightclub and possibly threatening his life, as well. Piper pretty much takes on the role as his bodyguard, determined to keep him safe, whether he wants it or not.

As Piper moves into one of the apartments over the nightclub (she needs to sublet her own place to make ends meet), and spends pretty much every night working in Spiral to monitor the staff, Coop grows to really like the determined detective. He sets out to seduce her, but quickly realises that he may be falling for her, faster than expected. Piper, raised by her father to be tough as nails, has always been taught that feelings are a weakness. She was raised to be a tomboy, and has never really had anything but casual relationships, as she pulls away before things get too emotional. How can he convince her that they have something worthwhile and keep her from running away, just as it's getting really good?

I read all of Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Chicago Stars books over the summer in 2014 (Cannonball 6, for those paying attention). Some, I enjoyed a lot, like Match Me If You Can and Natural Born Charmer, whilst others I hated vehemently, like This Heart of Mine. This book is supposed to be book 8 in the series, but you really don't need to have read any of the earlier ones, and the connection to the Chicago Stars team is pretty tenuous. For those who have read the other books, there are cameos from former characters, like Phoebe Somerville Calebow from It Had to Be You. Heath and Annabelle from Match Me If You Can make more than one appearance and play a part in getting our couple towards their HEA.

This was a fun book, with some unusual minor storylines. Piper's elderly neighbour, Mrs Berkovitz, insists on hiring Piper for a stake out of the park where she is sure she saw her dead (and buried) husband. Piper is deeply uncomfortable taking the job, but after she spots a guy from a distance that looks a lot like the deceased Mr Berkovitz, she keeps on investigating the case to help her friend. She also befriends Jada, a teenager who lives in the other apartment over Spiral, who is involved in some sort of epic nerfgun battle with people at her new school. Then there's the Pakistani girl she insists that she and Coop rescue from indentured slavery to a Middle Eastern principality, which leads to a road trip to Canada, and later a very uncomfortable yacht trip and a snafu involving Coop's Superbowl ring.

After her mother died in a car accident while Piper was little, she was raised by her father, who paradoxically raised her to be both the son he never had, and tried to toughen her up as much as possible, by scorning any show of emotion as weak and pathetic, but also became deeply overprotective of her. She always wanted to join him in his P.I business, but was only really allowed to work behind a desk. Having finally bought the firm for herself, sadly after it was nearly run into the ground by mismanagement, Piper is nearly destitute, but determined to make the business successful again, so she can achive her lifelong dream. As her father raised her more or less as a boy, Piper is frequently more comfortable around guys, and has never really had any serious long-term relationships, preferring casual hook-ups with no strings attached. She only really gets antsy and nervous once it's quite clear to her that her feelings for Coop are much stronger and deeper than she's used to, and she's convinced they have no future together, as he's far too good for her.

Coop is originally from Kentucky, and came to Chicago to play football in the elites via Florida. He grew up on a farm, and loves to grow things, even though he lives in a penthouse apartment in Chicago. He has a lovely rooftop garden and grows fruits and vegetables that he happily donates to his friends. Like Piper, Coop lost his mother at a young age and was raised by his father, a Vietnam vet who suffered from PTSD. Unlike Piper, though, Coop never had any trouble connecting to his emotions and has never really been in a serious relationship because he never met the right woman, not because he fears commitment. They are both highly competitive, and can't stand to lose. This creates challenges when they disagree on things, but also means Coop is all the more determined to win Piper over once he acknowledges his love for her.

The final act of the book went a little bit off the rails, and the various threats to Coop and his nightclub were resolved in a way I felt was a bit out of left field. I am also not entirely sure that Coop's solution to Piper's relationship angst would work in real life, but am willing to suspend my disbelief since this is escapist literature, and romance is frequently larger than life. It was a fun, quick read. Not one of Phillips' very best of the ones I've read, but very far from the worst, either.

Judging a book by its cover: Initially, I thought this was a pretty bad cover and I certainly didn't like the chandelier or the little glimpse of curtain and thought they looked a bit tacky. Once I read the book, however, it's clear that the cover is referencing a very particular scene, making clear that it's not just a generic romance cover design, but a conscious choice from the cover designer. It's still not a cover I exactly love, but it's a lot less random than I initially thought.

Crossposted by Cannonball Read.  

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