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REVIEW: It Had To Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Dear Mrs. Phillips,

“It Had to Be You” was the first book of yours I read (because I am anal about reading a series in order, thank you) and it’s started my long term love affair with the Chicago Stars/Bonner Brothers series. Speaking as someone who grew up watching NFL football every Sunday and Monday night, using a professional football team as a plot hook was guaranteed to get me interested in them. The way you moved beyond players actively on the team kept it. After all, a football career is really just a short part of a pro player’s life and I appreciated seeing what came after for several of these heroes. But back to the first book.

Phoebe Somerville has to have one of the most memorable entrances for a romance heroine. Tight clothes, hot body, sexy voice and peeing pet poodle. It’s been years since I first read this story and I still remember it all. What I had forgotten, a little, was how beautifully Phoebe and her General Manager Ron work together to pull some of the slickest cons as they attempt to outmaneuver everyone who stands in their way of propelling the Chicago Stars football team, Phoebe’s inheritance from the father who hated her, to the AFC title that will ensure that she keeps it beyond the one season term set in her father’s will.

At first Dan Calebow, the Star’s head coach, sees little beyond Phoebe’s Las Vegas showgirl body but gradually, over the course of the story, he sees past that and realizes that not only is she one of the smartest women he’s ever known, but she’s also one of the most vulnerable. It takes him a while to realize she’s all he’s ever wanted in a woman and their courtship is not with its missteps. Both Dan and Phoebe make honest mistakes in their relationship and their final coming together requires that they open totally to each other and reveal everything that makes them tick. The suspense subplot is not heavy handed and ends in a thrilling last 2 minute scoring drive that had me riveted.

One thing I didn’t care for so much was the constant way that motherhood was equated with womanhood. Phoebe mourns that her killer body might not ever bear children and Dan’s main criteria for a wife seems to be that she’s fertile and likes her clothes covered with finger-paint. Phoebe does revel in using her mind as the book progresses and Dan gets over his June Clever fixation by the end but plenty of times I caught myself rolling my eyes.

It was interesting to go back to this first book and then mentally compare it with your later ones. I noticed first that it lacks the heavy handed brand name dropping of the latest book. “Match Me if You Can.” Phoebe’s clothes are described a lot but it made sense to do so since how she dresses is so important in how she relates to the world and how the world views her. You use a few names to set the tone but you don’t describe each and every garment worn by every character at the beginning of a scene. I also liked how each person has a reason to be in this book and you didn’t spend tons of time setting up future book characters.

So, while “It Had to Be You” didn’t hold up quite so well as I’d hoped, I still enjoyed my trip back through Stars memory lane and it, plus the other books in the series, is why you’re on my list of top authors to be thankful for. Oh, and I still like the original cover best.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

13 Comments

  1. Rosie
    Nov 14, 2006 @ 06:24:42

    You are killing me with these reviews. But I’m not even going to look at my SEP titles…I’m not!

    I agree with you wholeheartedly though that this is one author to be really thankful for…and that she’s still writing too!

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  2. msaggie
    Nov 14, 2006 @ 08:42:03

    It Had To Be You is my favourite SEP book. The motherhood=womanhood mindset is a negative aspect, as you mentioned. However, other than that, it is a great romance. In fact, I am still rather amazed that I adore it as I certainly cannot understand why people can be fixated on American football – but that’s another reason it’s a great book – when it can get people like me (who aren’t fans of the sport) to still love the book !

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  3. Jane
    Nov 14, 2006 @ 09:20:37

    This is my favorite book by SEP too. I agree that Dan’s fixation with the kindergarten teacher was very creepy.

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  4. Jami
    Nov 14, 2006 @ 09:52:44

    I adore this book – for me it’s an A+. I thought the motherhood/june cleaver fixation fit with Dan’s character. Given his past and background, it made total sense, character wise, that he would want (or think he wants) a very traditional woman and family life. If it hadn’t been well motivated, it wouldn’t have worked for me, but I thought that it was completely understandable given the way SEP established Dan’s character.

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  5. Jayne
    Nov 14, 2006 @ 10:06:48

    Jami, I like Dan, I really do. I loved that SEP makes him a touch chauvinistic (when he takes Phoebe and Molly out to the Arts Fair on Saturday) and he insists that Phoebe let him drive since “men are better drivers.” And if marrying a woman who loves and wants children was one of his criteria for a wife, I wouldn’t have minded it because (as you mention) of his background but when this appeared to be about the only thing he was looking at in a woman, it got a little heavy handed. But he did wise up and remains, over the course of the series, one of my favorite heroes.

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  6. Jayne
    Nov 14, 2006 @ 10:14:37

    msaggie, if someone could write a series on soccer (football to most of the world) and get me interested in it, I would love that. As it is, that sport bores me to tears. ;) Apologies to those of you who love it but American football and basketball remain my loves. In this book, I like that SEP includes enough description of the sports action to make it plain she’s done her homework but not so much that she loses those who don’t know the ends and outs of the game.

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  7. Keishon
    Nov 14, 2006 @ 11:20:39

    Sorry, must disagree. I couldn’t past the first couple of chapters and I am a fairweather SEP fan at best. I really enjoyed several titles by her but this one was not it nor was Heaven, Texas either (another well loved book). Don’t know what it is. I find that her heroines are plain and that the only way to get the hero’s attention was to dress like a slut. Ok, somewhere close to it. My absolute favorite of her books is Kiss An Angel, that includes an a-hole hero but I loved it anyway. Very funny book.

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  8. Jayne
    Nov 14, 2006 @ 12:38:26

    Keishon, there seems to be a divide among SEP fans. Some love this series and others love her non-football/golf books. And among the latter, Kiss An Angel seems to rate the highest praise. I liked that book but the a**hole hero ended up being just a bit too much for me. I do applaud SEP for taking the risks she did with that book.

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  9. Robin
    Nov 14, 2006 @ 13:30:31

    One thing I didn’t care for so much was the constant way that motherhood was equated with womanhood.

    This theme, in one form or another, winds its way through every SEP book I’ve read, and sometimes it ruins the book for me (as it did with this one). In IHTBY, Phoebe also “reclaims her womanhood” when she climbs atop Dan for sex, another equation that didn’t sit all that well with me, probably because I’m on the lookout for it in SEPs books now (okay, so at least she was on top, but still). And it’s tough because in so many ways SEP is a wonderful writer and comedianne, and her heroines are strong, sassy women. If she just didn’t make every single one of them fulfill their “destiny” through motherhood (oh, how I despised Nobody’s Baby But Mine), I’d feel much better about more of her books.

    The two SEP books I like the most are Dream a Little Dream and Ain’t She Sweet. DALD won me over because of Rachel, especially the fact that she doesn’t ever feel sorry for herself. And for once, a hero who is supposed to be emotionally dark really is, IMO. I also really liked that Rachel didn’t have to “redeem” herself for anything to be “worthy” of love. And the Ethan/Kristie plot was a nice counterpoint to Rachel and Gabe’s darker dance. I usually don’t like religious characters in Romance (too preachy too often), Philips made Ethan’s piety work for me because it seemed realistic and authentic. And I loved that scene where he flips his lid because Kristie has a condom in her purse and she’s dancing with another guy at the Mountaineer! IMO Phillips is masterful at writing a bossy hero who would easily be a bully if it weren’t for the counter-influence of a strong woman (although some of her heroes are bullies, IMO, including Cal in NBBM).

    As for Ain’t She Sweet, I didn’t think I would like this book as much as I did, but I really, really loved both Sugar Beth and Colin. I wish Sugar Beth didn’t need to do so much penance, and I desperately wanted someone to punch Winnie’s self-righteous lights out, but the relationship between Colin and Sugar Beth was compelling enough to get me past those other things. And again, I loved the dark edges in Colin’s personality, the way SEP was willing to make a really unpleasant man a Romance hero. If Phillips hadn’t worked so hard to make Sugar Beth suffer so much for her “redemption” (does her soul really have to be “creamy white” to make her a person worthy of love???), and if she had delivered Winnie a big old piece of Humble Pie, I think this would have been an almost flawless read for me. The bantering alone between Colin and Sugar Beth made this book for me.

    Oh, and I also really liked Fancy Pants, but I haven’t read that in a long while so I don’t know how it would measure up now. At the time I read it, though, I liked the more epic sense of the relationship and the ups and downs of the characters lives.

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  10. Jayne
    Nov 14, 2006 @ 15:49:13

    Robin, as I read your post about ASS, I found myself nodding and saying, “exactly what I thought.” I loved Sugar Beth and found myself hating Winnie and the other members of the club. Those women were like lemmings! Gah!

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  11. Josie
    Nov 14, 2006 @ 17:51:25

    I liked this one but it definitely isn’t my fav SEP. I agree that Dan’s kindergarten teacher fixation was really quite weird and I also liked the NFL references even though being from Australia I don’t think I’ve ever watched a game!
    Personally I just didn’t really warm to Pheobe and Dan as much as say, Rachel and Gabe from ‘Dream…’ However I did like them a whole lot more than the couple from ‘Nobody’s Baby…’ That book made me feel juuuust a little icky.

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  12. Robin
    Nov 14, 2006 @ 22:38:06

    I loved Sugar Beth and found myself hating Winnie and the other members of the club. Those women were like lemmings! Gah!

    Oh, yeah, I wish someone had taken all of them out, one by one. I reaaalllly had to grit my teeth during the scenes where Ryan was trying to win Winnie back, though. I mean, seriously, his sin was what, exactly? Oh, and how Sugar Beth has to grovel to her in front of Gigi — grrr — okay need to think happy thoughts. Like how brilliant it was to have Sugar Beth and Colin play out Colin’s old revenge scheme; what a delicious way to exorcise the past for them and naturally build in all that sexual tension. One of my favorite scenes was when he storms into the bookstore with the lasagna (“followed by the faint smell of brimstone” or some such thing). I adored the scenes where he let loose with his anger, because IMO it was a great way to show his vulnerabilities without compromising either his masculinity or his emotional defensiveness. I love those books where the sexual tension is expressed palpably through the characters’ verbal interactions. I even enjoyed Gordon, especially the way Colin so casually adopts him.

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  13. Ruby
    Apr 27, 2010 @ 16:10:26

    I adore this book. I love Phoebe and Dan to pieces; they had a great mixture of sex appeal, vulnerability, and sass to keep me reading. It felt real. Things I didn’t care too much for were the constant references to safe sex. Yes, safe sex is an absolute must nowadays, and I understand this book was written back in the heyday when AIDS was really coming to light but still, I don’t want to read about stuff like that in a romance novel. It bordered on ridiculous. It’s fiction. The other thing I didn’t like was what others have mentioned – the whole issue with Sharon and how much Dan wanted a ‘baby-makin’ woman. Blech. Other than these two flaws, I thought she handled the whole rape issue with Phoebe really well and I could honestly feel her hangups as a result of it. Dan was a bit of a pig but I grew to like him.

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