Susan Elizabeth Phillips
2002 reissue of 2001 release, Contemporary Romance
Avon, $7.99, 420 pages, Amazon ASIN 0380808080 Part of a series
There are two reviews of this book.
It's always such a thrill when a long anticipated book lives up to expectations. Readers who loved It Had to be You and Nobody's Baby But Mine have been waiting a long time for Kevin and Molly's story, and I'm so glad to say that this book is worth the wait. The humor, lovable heroine and (let's admit it) sexy jock hero are vintage SEP, and they make This Heart of Mine a fabulous read.
Molly Somerville has had a crush on Chicago Stars quarterback Kevin Tucker forever, but it's not something she's proud of. Molly's a smart girl; she graduated summa cum laude from Northwestern, and she has a Phi Beta Kappa key. Since Molly's sister Phoebe owns the Stars, Molly has observed Kevin plenty over the years, and his personality leaves a lot to be desired. He never remembers her name, and his dating tastes run to attractive foreign bimbos with a tenuous grasp on the English language. Molly, meanwhile, is a children's book author. She gave away her fortune years ago so she could make it on her own, and she supports herself writing and illustrating books about a bunny named Daphne as well as articles for a young adult magazine.
One weekend, Molly decides to head to Phoebe's vacation home in Wisconsin for some private time. As she opens the door she discovers that she's not the only one there. Kevin has been ordered to cool his heels there after receiving a ten thousand dollar fine for his recent reckless behavior (which includes sky-diving and helo-skiing). When he hears Molly come in he thinks she's a burglar, so he tackles her - and gets bitten by Molly's French poodle for his pains. This not-so-auspicious beginning leads to an eventual bedroom encounter and a marriage of convenience that is unwanted on both sides.
Giving away more of the plot would really spoil the magic in this case. Parts of this plot may sound familiar, but leave it to SEP to put a new twist on old themes. The intelligent football player who dates stupid women, the older couple secondary romance, and the surprise pregnancy have all appeared in earlier books, but Phillips manages to make sure that everything old is new again. It all seems different here, probably because the characters are so real.
The humor in this book is simply wonderful. Every chapter begins with an excerpt from one of Molly's books or her articles, which is a really fun touch. Molly's fictional bunny Daphne has a nemesis named Benny the badger who is obviously Kevin. Several funny scenes arise from this. There are also numerous pop-culture nods to everything from The Blair Witch Project to the Harry Potter phenomenon (Molly uses "Slytherin" as an expletive).
Kevin and Molly are everything a reader could hope for. Most of the story takes place in the off-season, so there's not a lot of football here. But Kevin's persona is very much wrapped up in his identity as an athlete and his need to put football before everything (until he comes to his senses, of course). Molly is quirky in a fun way. One might think that her long-time crush on Kevin would make her something of a push-over where he's concerned, but she always stands her ground. Revisiting favorite characters is also a major perk here. Dan and Phoebe (from It Had to Be You) appear with their family, and they play a major part in the plot. There are also new characters, including an older couple who have a secondary romance. My personal favorites were Troy and Amy, very young (and frisky) newlyweds who try to give Kevin and Molly marital advice.
One of the things that really keeps the plot humming along is the great sexual tension between Kevin and Molly. It's helped along by the marriage of convenience plot, which creates frustration on both sides. Phillips often creates characters who don't think they want to sleep with each other - until they are around each other constantly. Long before they come to any kind of understanding about sex, the dialogue between these two sizzles.
I also just have to mention the wonderful sub-plot involving censorship. This is a book without any real "villain." But a faceless group called SKIFSA (Straight Kids For a Straight America) decides that Molly's books have content that encourages homosexuality. Molly is forced to make difficult choices about her writing and her career.
As I read and reviewed this book, I tried to figure out the one thing that made it such a fun read. But with This Heart of Mine, there isn't just one thing. Humor, poignancy, creative plotting, wonderful characters, and superb sexual tension make this book an all-around winner. I can't wait to read it again.
-- Blythe Barnhill
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