Thursday, October 24, 2013

Lady Is Excellent!

by Anna Campbell

It's really interesting to revisit the book that got you hooked on a beloved author, isn't it?

Pretty much every romance reader I know adores Susan Elizabeth Phillips and I'm no different. She does the perfect contemporary romance and combines laughter and tears into the perfect romantic cocktail. She has perfect emotional pitch! And she writes the most wonderful sexual tension. All up, she's great!  


Now let me take you on a journey back to the dim, distant past. Well, the second half of the 90s, anyway!

I hadn't long moved to Sydney from Queensland and I was just discovering the internet, including all those wonderful romance sites recommending writers that I'd never heard of (as well as SEP, think of Linda Howard and Jennifer Crusie). Sydney offered some wonderful distractions, including a now defunct romance bookshop called Rendezvous where the marvelous Malvina Yock put me onto a whole stack of writers new to me, many of whom have since become permanent fixtures on my bookshelf.

Cue me picking up my first Susan Elizabeth Phillips, LADY BE GOOD. I laughed. I cried. I read the love scenes twice! This book has lived in my memory as a real classic. I read it a couple of times and then lent it to a friend who never returned it. Bad friend!

The result was that I hadn't read this book in years when I decided to revisit this story and see if the magic was still there.

Oh, yeah, baby! 

The first few chapters of this book are among the funniest pages I've ever read. We meet Lady Emma Wells-Finch, our luscious if bossy British headmistress, who arrives in Texas determined to create a scandal to save both her school and herself from a vile duke (yes, it is a contemporary!). We meet outwardly lazy but inwardly sharp as a tack golfer-in-disgrace Kenny Traveler who has been blackmailed into escorting Lady Emma during her visit. He's not getting back on the pro golf tour unless he behaves. She doesn't want to behave. Houston, we have a problem. We have even more of a problem when Emma immediately assumes that Kenny is a gigolo (a misunderstanding of the word 'escort') and the solution to her inconvenient good girl reputation. Hilarious cross purposes ensue and end with Emma gaining the whip hand over Kenny - so she thinks.

I hope you're getting the picture of how much fun this story is. But beneath all the hijinks, there's a deep well of emotion and these characters will touch your heart as well as your funnybone. You fall in love with Emma and Kenny just as they're falling in love with each other - MUCH against their better judgment, I might point out!

As an added bonus, there's also one of the best nerd-princess romances I've ever read. Dexter the computer guy will have you swooning as he pursues spoiled but troubled Torie Traveler.

So are you an SEP fan? Do you have a favorite? What was your first? Do you like nerd romances? 

68 comments:

  1. Dream a Little Dream has always been my SEP favorite. I think it's because the characters are so down and out, there's no further down to go, yet the hero and heroine not only survive, they revive! And despite the pathos, the humor is laugh out loud. What a great writer. Thanks for the post.

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    1. Kathleen, I love that one too. There's so many great books by SEP to pick from, isn't there? I think you hit it on the head that it's the mixture of the emotional and the humorous that makes them so memorable.

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  2. I LOVE SEP, Anna! I'm not sure I've read Lady Be Good... might have to go read it and see if I remember... ;) The thing about most SEPs is that re-reading is just as good as the first time :) My favorites are probably Ain't She Sweet (love that redemption thing Sugar Beth goes through, and Colin is just too delicious...) and It Had to Be You, but I also love Heaven, Texas (gotta love a geeky heroine!) and Hot Shot, the first SEP I read (love how she captures the Silicon Valley vibe, and Mitch? YUM! the very best kind of nerd!)... I love nerd romances--what's not to love about characters with smarts to spare? ;) I do confess though that I still haven't been able to finish This Heart of Mine--I started it years ago and just couldn't get past Molly's choices and couldn't click with her character...

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    1. You know, I don't think I've read Hot Shot! Must get it! I love It Had to Be You too - that's the one where she writes children's books, isn't it? Love Match Me If You Can and First Lady too. You're so right about them repaying a rereading, Fedora.

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    2. Slogging through is worth the effort because the story gets way better, The same with Nobody's Baby But Mine. I don't like how either starts, but the meat of each book, is like I said earlier, Way Worth the Effort. Mary

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    3. Anna, It Had to Be You is the one where Phobe (and admittedly gorgeous babe) inherits a football team and goes toe-to-toe with the (also admittedly hot) coach, Dan... Unfortunately This Heart of Mine is the one where she's a children's book writer; I should LOVE that, but still haven't been able to make myself go back to slog past that first few chapters...

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    4. Mary, how interesting about our different takes on these books. I LOVED the start of Nobody's Baby But Mine. Fedora, seriously, stick with This Heart of Mine, it's just gorgeous!

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    5. I've read them all and love them! Nobody's Baby but Mine was my first but First Lady is my Favorite.

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  3. I loved Dream a Little Dream also but my absolute favorite is Kiss an Angel. She makes me laugh. She makes me cry. She makes me shamelessly plug her books to anyone who may (or may not) want to listen.

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  4. I definitely haven't read Kiss an Angel. Hey, cool, new SEPs for me to try. I plug her books too - I really think she's one of the jewels in the romance kingdom.

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    1. Anna...you MUST read "Kiss An Angel"...one of her best, if you can even pick a best...as they are all wonderful.

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    2. Kiss An Angel, is a great read, I think its one of her best. this book will make you laugh and definitely make you cry. I hope that you get it and read it. I fell in love with Daisy, an Alex love then hate then really love. Get your copy at the library. I hope you enjoy it!

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    3. And yes, Kiss an Angel is fantastic, Anna--go, read more SEP!!! You must get to know Mitch and Alex...

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    4. I've just ordered Kiss an Angel! Yay!

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  5. She's the best I agree. Lady be good is one of my favorites from her. Just last week I reread Nobody's baby But Mine, Dream a Little Dream and This heart Of Mine. I cried and loughed like I did all the previous times. I know many lines by heart but it doesn't make the book boring. On the contrary ! I love the characters so much that I end up missing them and reread the books every year or so. My favorite : This Heart of MIne. I love Molly and her vulnerability. As for Kevin... he's probably my dream man ;)

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    1. Oh, This Heart of Mine is about the children's writer - great scenes in that! It Had to be You is the first Chicago Stars one with that great opening at Phoebe's Dad's funeral. I really need to do a re-read of all of them! Loved Heaven, Texas too.

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  6. 'Ain't She Sweet' was my first and favourite SEP. Sugar Beth just knocked my socks off and set me gloming. The Chicago Stars series came next .... I reckon English football could use some lady managers like Phoebe! LOL

    PS
    Anna, I still get occasional nightmares involving Lady Kylemore drawing a silver knife from her reticule .... can you recommend one of your own books to purge my dreams!? LOL

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    1. Ha ha, Quantum! I'm so glad I've destroyed your quiet sleep... Interesting about Ain't She Sweet? I love all the SEPs but that one's not one of my favorites. First Lady would be up there in my top two or three.

      A Rake's Midnight Kiss has a few jokes in it - that might help you get a good night's sleep. I think probably Midnight's Wild Passion is my favorite, but don't tell the others! ;-)

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  7. I love SEP! My first books of hers were the Chicago Stars series and This Heart of Mine. Since then, I've found most of her books and loved them all! But This Heart of Mine is still my favorite with Call Me Irresistible a close second. Love Ted Beaudine!! I just haven't read The Great Escape yet but I'm dying too.

    Nerd romances are the best!! I love them because they seem more real. And it's always fun to cheer for the Nerds. Vicky Lewis Thompson has an entire series of books like that which I LOVED!

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    1. Ada, I love a nerd romance too. Anne Stuart has written a couple that are worth seeking out - there's a really sweet one where a guy invents an invisibility formula. I LOVED Call Me Irresistible. I use the scene where Ted steps in to the trumpets in writing workshops as an example of a fabulous way to introduce a character.

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  8. Love SEP. Nobody's Baby But Mine was my first - so funny. Kiss An Angel was a wonderful read - quirky Daisy and what Alex did because he loved her was so touching (regarding the tiger).

    Yes, Also VLT's The Nerd who loved me was hysterical - the kid was so adorable - what came out of his mouth, especially the scene in the car and the radio playing.

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    1. Pat, I've just ordered Kiss an Angel - so many of you have recommended it this morning. I'm really surprised I missed it along the way! Lovely to discover one I haven't read and I'm doing the Christmas week stockpile at the moment. I always take a few days off after Christmas to do nothing much but read and a new SEP will be very welcome for that! I've only read VLT's witch books. Must chase up her nerds.

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  9. It's hard for me to pick one SEP. They're all just so very, very good. As Danielle says (from Ever, Ever, After), "I could no sooner choose a favourite star in the heavens"

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    1. Ha ha, Diana, love that we're all having trouble picking a favorite!

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  10. My favorite SEP? All of them. But let me mention two. "Ain't She Sweet" is a masterpiece. How does she get you to root for an unlikeable heroine?? My sentimental favorite is one that is often overlooked: First Lady. Even more resonant today than when it came out.

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    1. Blythe, yay for First Lady! I remember the reviews when that came out were fairly lukewarm but I just adored it. I think she got those kids exactly write and writing kids isn't easy.

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  11. My favorite is still the first one I read, This Heart of Mine! Love all of her books though, and when I had a chance to meet her last year, I took full advantage of it. Cant wait for the next book to come out!!!!

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    1. Paula, isn't she wonderful in person? So warm and funny! So glad you got to meet her.

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  12. Oh Anna, I so love a funny read by SEP! I stumbled on her books when I picked up NOBODY'S BABY BUT MINE. It had me laughing and crying at turns, especially the epilogue trip up the mountain. The fact that I have family living in that area of North Carolina and Tennessee only made the book sweeter to me! Loved it so much I went and bought all her back stock and read them one after the other!! Thanks for reminding me how much fun LADY BE GOOD is. And thanks to SEP for writing all these funny stories!

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    1. Suz, it was such fun going back to where it all started for me with LADY BY GOOD. I still think that opening's one of the funniest things I've ever read - he's SOOO annoying but kinda sexy with it. And she's so head mistressly and every time she pushes him around, he just turns into more of a slowpoke. Adore it! So glad you're another fan.

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  13. My favorite by SEP is Fancy Pants it was the 1st one I read by her. I met her at a booksigning for the Heart Association at the library in Schaumburg and told her how I loved the cover (original one) and she said she hated it ...it was the back of the character that showed her hot pants... it attracted me to the book... still my fav book..

    Donna

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    1. Donna, how interesting! I'm loving that we've got such different faves. Again, while I love Fancy Pants, it's not my favorite. I like the books of hers that are more 'pure' romance. Great characters in Fancy Pants, though, and it was such fun to revisit them in Lady Be Good!

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  14. It Had to Be You was my first SEP, and I was an instant fan. I immediately started looking for her backlist. A top three is probably the closest I can come to choosing a favorite. I adore Dream a Little Dream, as much for the secondary romance as for the central one. I agree with Blythe that First Lady is an underrated gem. This Heart of Mine is not only a fave, but it is that rare book that came thisclose to being a DNF, throw-it-at-the-wall book and ended up a keeper. I still hate one early scene, but all the things I love about the book, including Molly's animal characters and her use of Slytherin as a curse word, outweigh the ick scene.

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    1. Janga, I haven't been able to make myself go back and finish THofM--for me it's still a DNF... :( Guess I should dig it out and give it another try?

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    2. Fedora, on rereads, I just close my eyes and turn past those pages. Except for that, I really do love the characters.

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    3. Hm... OK, may have to try that, but I think what I was having trouble with at least with my initial attempt(s) is that I couldn't quite get into Molly's head, and I so strongly disagreed with how she was thinking/acting that I just couldn't get past my feelings about that to go on. I guess I'll have to pick it back up and either skip ahead or see if I can stand it better this time :) Or maybe see that I've been remembering wrong :D

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    4. Janga, I need to re-read This Heart of Mine! I remember loving it but it's been a while. Maybe it can join the Christmas TBR pile. I love her secondary romances too. Sometimes you'll even get TWO secondary romances. I'm currently writing a book featuring my first secondary romance and believe me, the efforts involved are increasing my admiration for SEP tenfold! So glad you're another First Lady fan! I reviewed it here. I'll see if I can find it.

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  15. It's funny...I've been reading SEP since she started the Chicago Stars Series...and that was a LONG time ago. To this day, "It Had To Be You"...is still my favorite. But the thing about SEP is...it's very hard to pick a favorite...because every single book of hers has something special that makes you want it to be your #1 SEP book...I guess...the #1 SEP books is usually whatever book of hers I've recently read. And, since I have them all on audio...and I have a horrid commute...I read/listen to them over, and over, and over again. That's another thing about her books...re-reads are so fun with her books...I'm pretty sure I've read almost all of them at least 4 times...and they never get boring.

    Heather

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    1. Heather, my good friend Christina Brooke says the audiobooks are fantastic - the reader absolutely gets that dry tone of SEP's humour. Must check them out. I haven't really got into audiobooks - I don't drive and if I'm walking, I like to listen to music. I agree with you about every single book having something that makes you absolutely adore it.

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  16. Anna, I LOVE SEP!!! I have read all of her books except Glitter Baby. Just haven't gotten around to it yet, but it is on my TBR pile. I could never pick a favorite, although It Had to Be You comes pretty close, as well as Heaven Texas. I also love Ain't She Sweet. I agree with Blythe that it is a masterpiece at getting me to fall in love with such an awful heroine. Kiss An Angel has the best black moment ever and has me in turn rooting for the most despicable hero. I cry just thinking about it. And I wouldn't read it for the longest time because it revolved around a circus. *Sheesh* Who would have thought she could make that work, but she keeps doing it again and again. Every time I read the blurb and think I don't think so, SEP hits it out of the ballpark. Not a huge football or golf fan but absolutely loved the Chicago Stars books and the Fancy Pants, Lady Be Good duo. LBG has one of the funniest scenes I've ever read in a book - after Emma returns from the drugstore with all of her purchases and Kenny starts emptying out her bag. Just thinking about it send me into fits of laughter. Match Me If You Can is also a favorite. I love Heath and Annabel.

    SEP also has the best track record when it comes to secondary and mature romances. I can tell you the plotlines to all of her books AND tell you the secondary romances that also put a huge smile on my face. SEP is a true gem. You can add my name to the list of fans who hand her books out whenever I find a friend looking for a good romance.

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    1. Oh, IE, you're so right about that scene where he empties the bag! One of the things that makes this book so funny is that he's a bad boy trying to be good and she's a good girl trying to be bad and in the process they learn a lot about themselves and each other. Love the scene where they go to the bar the first time too. So glad you're another fan. Actually I wonder if the circus thing turned me off Kiss an Angel too - seems odd I didn't pick it up but now you mention circus, something rings in my distant memory. Looking forward to reading it now. Like you, I'm neither a football nor a golf fan but somehow with SEP it doesn't matter.

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  17. I think Heather is right. I just pressed publish and then thought of 2 more books that I love for different scenes in them. I absolute adore the epilogue to Breathing Room and the fitting room scene in What I Did For Love is hilarious. I could go on and on and pick out something unique to each book that grabs me and has me wanting to re-read it over and over again.

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    1. Oh, I love the epilogue in Breathing Room. Love the opening too. I really enjoyed What I Did For Love - loved the snarky dialogue.

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  18. My personal favorites are It Had to Be You and Nobody's Baby But Mine. But Lady Be Good is in the top five SEP romances. It is the favorite of my daughter, Amber. I love nerd-princess romances or in the case of Nobody's Baby But Mine, nerd-prince romances.

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    1. Flip, I hadn't thought of Nobody's Baby But Mine as a nerd-prince romance but you're so right. I've just written one of those in A Rake's Midnight Kiss (my heroine is a bluestocking and my hero is the toast of London society). That's exactly how I should have described it - thanks!!!

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  19. it's like you're asking me which of my children I love best! All of them! But I've always loved Kenneey - he is probably the male equivalent of myself. I know that sounds weird. But he'd get what I meant. thea

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    1. Thea, how interesting! You must be very charming - Kenny sure is!

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  20. Ain t She Sweet is my all time favorite book ever! It's the only romance book I've ever had my husband read, just to s how him the type of writer I want to be. He loved it lol. I laughed, I cried, I sighed. Then started over! I really enjoy SEP, but this book just blew me away! Sugar Beth is an amazing character.

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    1. Debra, lots of people picked Ain't She Sweet! And how lovely that your husband loved it too.

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  21. The audiobooks are great too. Anna Fields was a terrific reader. Laura

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    1. Laura, I've heard that about the audiobooks. (no pun intended!) Must check them out.

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  22. I like this book, too. I have several favorites, but for some reason I always remember the scene towards the end where Emma's at the golf tournament trying to get Kenny angry enough to win.

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    1. Kim, the first time I read this, I didn't really get the ending. Did this time round. Actually a scene that just ripped at me was the baby crawling contest. One of the things I love about SEP is that while her books can be funny, they're never shallow.

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  23. Hi Anna, I loved "Lady Be Good" and all of the books related to it as well. The Chicago Stars books are all wonderful, I think my favorite is Dream a Little Dream." Now that song will be playng in my head all day!

    Here is a funny story for you: I finally got the chance to meet SEP at RWA/Atlanta this summer and she was so sweet and charming. When I told her that my DH is from Chicago and that he insists that there is only one Pro Football team in the Windy City; she completed the thought and said :Da Bears!" Then she insisted on meeting my non-believing husband and we all shared a good laugh!

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    1. Flora, what a great story about meeting SEP. She's so funny and warm in person. I was lucky enough to meet her at a couple of the Avon dinners that they hold at RWAs. Always felt like I was in the presence of romance royalty. So glad you're another fan!

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  24. I'm so surprised that so many people don't like This Heart of Mine very much - It is one of my favourites, and probably the one I've re-read the most! I adore Molly and Kevin! I also love Kiss An Angel and First Lady... I'd say all three are my joint favourites really!

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    1. Rebekah, now I HAVE to read Kiss an Angel. You mentioned two of my other faves in the same breath. I don't remember an icky scene - must investigate. I remember those lovely scenes up at the cabin where he falls in love with her, much against his better judgement. They're just gorgeous. Love it when the beaver character starts sounding like Kevin and he's smart enough to notice!

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  25. I discovered Susan Elizabeth Phillips about a year ago when I picked up Call Me Irresistible - because of the cover. WOW! I have since read every book she has written...almost...still looking for some of her earlier books.

    What a great writer! Hilarious yet heartfelt....

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    1. Gramma, isn't it fabulous when you discover a fantastic writer and they have a BACKLIST? I've picked up a lot of great recommendations from doing this column. Most recently Janga recommended the Aunt Dimity mysteries by Nancy Atherton and to my joy, there's about 30 of them! So glad you discovered SEP! I should maybe review This Heart of Mine along the way - seems to be one that gets a varying reaction.

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  26. Hi Anna! Sorry I'm late getting here. It's been one of those days. I love SEP's books! First Lady was my introduction to her books. Ain't She Sweet is one of my favorites as is This Heart of Mine. Breathing Room takes me straight back to Tuscany. I love the pictures SEP paints with her words, especially when she's "painting" one of my favorite places. :)

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    1. PJ, lovely to see you. It's been a realy lively Second Helping this month. Lots of people weighing in on their favorites which is lovely. I agree with you about the setting in Breathing Room - you can pretty much taste the spaghetti, can't you?

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    2. The pasta, the wine, the smell of the air and the beautiful light that's unique to Tuscany. It's all there. :)

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  27. Thanks so much, everybody, for a great discussion today. I've put THIS HEART OF MINE on the list for a future review. I really need to revisit it after all your comments today. You've got me intrigued - I remember loving it when I read it, suspect I still will! And thanks to the Dishes for hosting me. I always have such fun talking great books with you all every month!

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    1. The pleasure is all ours, Anna. Thank you!

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  28. My first SEP book was WHAT I DID FOR LOVE. ( just wrote a nice long comment and it disappeared. I have a new computer and it likes to make things vanish. Hard to get used to.) Anyway, I was really impressed with how real her characters were. She did an excellent job of showing what their lives were like and the problems they encountered. You saw how the main character saw others and it wasn't always accurate. There were some surprises and great character development. I really cared about these "people," sharing their hurts, sadness, anger, confusion, and happiness.

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    1. Pat, that was absolutely beautifully put and I couldn't agree more. I think her characters are so real that they leap off the pages. And I love that she doesn't flinch away from serious flaws. A lot of these people have a long way to go before they're worthy of their happy ending. Makes for a really compelling read. Definitely try her other books - lots of recommendations here. One that hasn't been mentioned much is MATCH ME IF YOU CAN. That one's a great read!

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  29. Hi Anna, my most favorite SEP book is 'Kiss an angel'. The way in which Susan developed the heroin's (Daisy- truly an angel but little prudish) character is simply superb! I couldn't help falling head over heels for Alex. He had his own demons to fight with. I truly wish Alex's a living breathing human than just a fictional character ( :'( weeping ). I wanted to hate Sheba Quest but couldn't muster any negative feelings towards her in the end. I started reading romantic novels just 2 years back and nearly read 150 books of different authors till date but, this book's always remained on top. I read it like 9 times and right now reading it again.
    My second best choice is a tie between 'Honey Moon' and 'Dream a little dream'. You would truly find this silly but I dared myself to take up a ride on Roller Coaster after reading 'Honey Moon' (I believe I'm the cowardest female alive, because I don't go for the basic of the basic rides) and almost experienced a heart failure. Though I like Dash Coogan (tears ran down my cheeks when he died, very heart wrenching), my heart went out for Eric. I love my dad very much and the way SEP portrayed Eric's love for his kids touched me deeply. I found Honey Jane Moon from 'Honey Moon' and Rachel from 'Dream a little dream' very much similar: they both were street fighters, strong willed, tough and had nothing to lose in their lives. The way how Rachel's touch could heal the diseased is a little creepy (that's SEP for us, I guess).
    Then comes 'Ain't she sweet'. Sugar Beth is one character whom i wanted to kill and love at the same time. She's the craziest version of bitch and fallen angel, but i also liked Winnie (sweet little thing).
    About 'Match me if you can', I thing there is a small part of Annabelle and her contrast Portia in every woman.
    Oh my god! If I keep on writing I can never end my list. I have one or the other thing to say abut SEP's books and the characters. Her writings are a blending of all emotions... A little sweet here, a little sour there, then salty, spicy and a little bitter. I read all of her books except for 'Just imagine'. Can anyone give me a review or two about this book? Anna, I'm truly grateful to you that I could share my thoughts with you all.

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  30. Francesca from Fancy pants was another mixture of stupid, self centered and immature whom I detested but SEP sure knows to whirl her magic wand because Francesca, as the story turned out, is one of the most respectable heroins of SEP. The last part of the golf tournament where she appears in a red flouncy top and skirt, dressed like a hooker is the best. Her silent taunts and Dallie's aggression on golf ball ! at some point i felt sorry for the golf ball !!! Ted, sweet Ted, I read 'Lady be good' and 'Call me irresistible' only for that cute little cuss, which he wasn't in the later one. But as I started reading Lady be good, I forgot my purpose and enjoyed it to the fullest. Kenny was one thing but Lady Emma was completely another and they compliment each other so well. I guess SEP took away the matchmaking ability from God because I always found every hero and heroin couple best suited to each other. (We already know the present status of God made matches in real world, I don't mean to offend anyone's feelings ) I didn't expect the tattoo Kenny gets done on Lady Emma to be his own name, that was hilarious. Mitch from Hot Shot is hot but the geeky nature of Yank was refreshing. I always wondered what went through that complex mind of his? No better match for Paige than Yank. Sam was a little disappointment, but I loved the scene where he and Yank would bet on the Game Yank invented over Susanna and Mitch rushes to first throw a fist at Yank and then trade with him.
    Dean Robillard and Blue Bailey are another of a kind. The murals were exceptionally out of my imagination. Of all the other funny scenes, I enjoyed best where Blue prepares a dinner and everyone rushes to occupy chairs away from Nita Garrision, who was oblivious to this and Jack says "Children", hilarious!
    'This heart of mine' has a lot of crazy and funny scenes. my favorite was when they start playing softball! Out of the blue and very funny. Poor Kevin!

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