Series: Chicago Stars, Book 2
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Length: 384 Pages, 5553 Locations
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Has Its Moments
Desperate for a major life change, former retirement home director and current Hollywood studio production assistant...though barely, Gracie Snow is struggling to gain a foothold in the industry, so when her boss tasks her with catching up with forcibly retired Chicago Stars wide receiver Bobby Tom Denton to drag his butt to Texas, she gamely takes on the task. She had no idea that the former football player would be so darn stubborn, not to mention a slew of other less pleasant adjectives. Sticking to him like glue as he meanders his way around the country turns out to be one of the hardest things she's ever done. When she does finally get him to Telarosa, Texas to start filming the action adventure movie he's contracted to star in, she's fired. Thanks to Bobby Tom, the production is seriously behind schedule and Gracie's job depended on her getting the man to Texas far earlier than she finally did.
Bobby Tom isn't entirely without scruples. He may not want to do this acting thing, despite signing the contract, but he sure wasn't going to let the mousy but determined Gracie suffer for his own stubbornness. That would be ungentlemanly. So he sets her up as his assistant, tricking her into believing she's still working for the production company but paying her salary out of his own pocket. After all, he was obscenely rich and had a lot of pity for the dowdy woman with the great undies and killer legs.
She's determined and independent, and intent on being the only person in Bobby Tom's life who takes nothing from him. He's oblivious to anything but his own wants and needs, nursing the pain of his lost career, until he realizes just how many of those wants and needs Gracie satisfies. If the ugly duckling who became a swan finds out just how much of her life has become dependent on Bobby Tom, however, her principles may crush her spirit...and the man may just break her heart.
This second book in the Chicago Stars series definitely had its moments. While Gracie's character took some warming up to (the frumpy thirty-year-old ingenue routine was tedious), and I struggled at various points throughout the book with Bobby Tom's selfish, superficial nature and entitlement issues, there were many points along their way that worked nicely for me. I wish we'd had more moments like the third-wheel date, because that was a riot, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching B.T. slowly start to fall for Gracie, even though he was utterly oblivious to it. Most of the middle of the book charmed me, and I think Susan Elizabeth Phillips did a great job with the relationship evolution. I was particularly pleased that Gracie never did take any guff from B.T. (until, unfortunately, the end), instead showing a witty sort of grit as she pays him back when he went too far over the line. Despite the annoyingly prim demeanor at the beginning, she did display quite a bit of backbone in places and grew on me because of that.
Unfortunately, I had some significant problems with the last 15% of the book. I had thought, as I was reading, that Gracie had grown in confidence and her self esteem was evolving after her makeover, given how well she dealt with her emotions and all of Bobby Tom's hijinks through most of the book. Then she finds out about the Big Betrayal and she's back to being a total frump, a shattered shell, with no backbone or self esteem. I was confused by her reaction and intensely disappointed by her lack of growth and the apparent ease in which she was stripped of any feelings of worth, all of which seemed grossly against character. Not to mention, Phillips missed several opportunities to make a more substantive statement about the value of a woman's self esteem over superficiality.
I was also horrified by the fact that Gracie mother had these sterling words for her daughter since the tender age of six: "You come from a long line of homely women, Gracie Snow. Accept the fact that you'll never be pretty and you'll be a lot happier." I'm sorry, but that's such an egregious case of emotional child abuse that even I felt a little heartbroken when I read it. I'm terribly disappointed that Phillips didn't give that mentality or the damage it inflicted the attention it deserved, like she did with Phoebe's father's lack of affection and emotional abuse in the first book in the series, It Had To Be You. Given the significant issues of body image and self esteem among women - even back when this book was originally published in 1995 - it would have been a far better book had those things been addressed.
The subplot of the relationship between Bobby Tom's mother Suzy and Way Sawyer needed much more development, because as it was written, I found parts of it to be creepy. The woman starts out feeling like a whore (and is treated like one, honestly), then feels like she betrayed her deceased husband, yet then, suddenly, she's in love with Way. I completely understood and sympathized with Way in those sections, and I've always loved the "bad boy turned business mogul" theme, but Suzy's actions and reactions were a total turn-off. Maybe if the evolution of their relationship had been featured a bit more, or readers had seen more of the actual development, I would have felt less conflicted and squicked out.
Of Bobby Tom, I have mixed feelings. I usually favor flawed characters, as flaws provide such delicious depth. B.T. was certainly flawed. I'm just not sure I could forgive how those flaws materialized so late in the book and never felt like he was fully redeemed as a character. Maybe had there been a scene where he was ostracized for what he did in public...or if he acknowledged what a total reprehensible thing it was to more than just Gracie, I'd feel more sympathetic. Also, I can't go from a heroine fearing physical harm from a hero to being all happy-happy-joy-joy minutes later. I don't downshift that fast. Phillips seemed to be making some connection between the repercussions of B.T's childhood discipline and his relationship with Gracie, but I may have been too obtuse to get it.
The football quiz conclusion was ridiculous and didn't match the tone of the previous events. I felt it was a misplaced and heavy-handed attempt to put the book back on lighter footing for the obligatory happy ending. Perhaps if there had been an epilogue, giving readers a bit of a time buffer before introducing it, it would have been more successful, but as it was, it fell flat for me. In fact, so much of the goings on in the last two chapters of this book bothered me that I was left feeling like Heaven, Texas missed a lot of opportunities to be a thoroughly entertaining romance, regardless of how much I enjoyed sections of it.