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.