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REVIEW: Call Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Dear Ms. Phillips,

With books like Kiss an Angel and Nobody’s Baby But Mine, you were once one of my favorite contemporary authors. That’s actually saying a lot, considering that I’ve always been much more of a historical romance girl. But as time has gone on my tastes have changed, and my reading of your latest books has been spotty – I read Ain’t She Sweet at Janine’s recommendation, and liked it a lot, and I read Match Me If You Can (goodness, was that five years ago?) and thought it was pretty good. But I haven’t felt compelled to read every new book you publish – in fact, your last one is still sitting on my Sony Reader waiting for me. Somehow, though, when Call Me Irresistible landed in my lap, it felt like the right time to try you again. I was quickly reminded of what I like (and what I don’t like) about your writing.

Call Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Phillips Meg Koranda has traveled to the small town of Wynette, Texas to be a bridesmaid in the wedding of one of her closest friends, Lucy Jorik. Lucy is marrying Ted Beaudine, and the marriage is a Big Deal, because of the celebrity connections of both the bride and groom. Ted is the son of a legendary pro golfer. Lucy is the adopted daughter of the former President of the United States. Meg herself has famous parents: an actor/director/screenwriter/plumber/cardiologist (/slight exaggeration) father and an ex-model mother.

These connections bugged me immediately for two reasons. First of all, these characters all come from previous books – not only books in this series but unrelated ones. The famous golfer and his wife are Dallas and Francesca from Fancy Pants. The ex-President and her husband are Cornelia and Matt from First Lady (a book Lucy appears to have debuted in, as well). By my count, characters from no fewer than five previous books appear in Call Me Irresistible. That’s just too many for me, for a number of reasons. One being that it leads to awkwardly shoehorned reminiscences like this one:

"I sure do remember the ugly," Skeet said. "Like the time Dallie and Francie had an altercation in the parking lot. Happened more than 30 years ago, long before they were married, but people still talk about it today."

"That's true," Ted said. "I can't tell you how often I've heard that story. My mother forgot she's half my father's size and tried to take him down."

"Damn near succeeded. She was a wildcat that night, I can tell you," Skeet said. "Me and Dallie's ex-wife couldn't hardly break up that fight.

"It's not exactly the way they're making it sound," Dallie said.

"It's exactly the way it sounded." Kenny pocketed his cell after checking on his wife.

"How would you know?" Dallie grumbled. "You were a kid then, and you weren't even there. Besides, you've got your own history with the Roustabout parking lot. Like the night Lady Emma got upset with you and stole your car. You had to run down the highway after her."

There’s just too much “remember the time…?” exposition in this book for my taste (granted, my taste allows for basically none, at least none written in such an obvious fashion as the passage above is). I’m not sure what the purpose even is. It doesn’t give readers who haven’t read those books any information they really need. Readers who have read those books will either remember those scenes on their own, or they won’t – again, it doesn’t add anything to the story. If it does anything, it points out the the similarities in the h/h relationships in these books (these relationships tend towards the adversarial).

Anyway, Meg and Ted clash immediately, and after Meg questions her about marrying Ted, Lucy does a runner at the wedding, leaving Wynette’s favorite son (and mayor!) standing at the altar, and the entire town blaming Meg. This wouldn’t be too great of a problem, if Meg could just leave town – Meg is quite the world traveler and would be happy to see the back of Wynette. The problem is, Meg’s parents have cut her off, for good this time, and Meg finds that she can’t cover her hotel bill. Meg is forced to work off her debt to the sadistic hotel manager, who, along with everyone else, hates Meg for crushing poor Ted. No one seems to blame Lucy herself nearly as much as they blame Meg, which may just have to do with proximity, Lucy having disappeared entirely. (Presumably getting into hijinks somewhere in her own book, which is supposed to come out next.) Also, no one pays much attention to the fact that Ted certainly doesn’t seem heartbroken (though this does not keep Ted from being angry at and tormenting Meg).

By the time Meg has paid off her hotel bill, she has realized that she kind of likes the unexpected feelings of satisfaction and self-respect that come with working for a living. Plus, she still doesn’t have much money to actually get anywhere, and she’s got a clunker of a car that probably wouldn’t take her far, anyway. So she gets herself a job serving drinks from a cart at the golf course. This allows for frequent clashes with Ted, who is often at the course wooing an investor for his planned golf resort. In spite of their emnity, Ted and Meg just can’t seem to stay away from each other (crazy, isn’t it?).

One of my main issues with the book (other than the sequel-itis I mentioned above) is the over-the-top nature of the characters, which I admit is a personal peeve of mine. I don’t read Jackie Collins or Danielle Steel because I perceive them as writing about the rich, famous and beautiful, and while I don’t necessarily want to read about ordinary people – I get that enough in my daily life – I don’t like it when the characters in the romances I read are what I call “-est” types. Meaning: wealthiest, prettiest, manliest, smartest, etc. All these famous, extraordinary people in one story strains credulity (especially with a number of them living in this small Texas town). The characters that aren’t freakishly good looking and accomplished are just freakish, small-town busybodies and eccentrics, rather broadly drawn.

I think what I find difficult to reconcile myself to is the cartoonish aspect of your books. Some romances are more realistic than others, and for some reason, I always expect an SEP romance to be on the more realistic side. I don’t know why, because they never really are. Not only are the characters usually broadly drawn, but the situations tend to be, too. And strangely, that’s a strength of your writing as well as a weakness, in my opinion.

Let me explain: I’ve always been drawn in my romance reading to sturm und drang, to heightened emotions and angst. This may seem to contradict what I’ve said above, but I think there are specific scenarios in which over-the-top works for me. One is that I prefer it to be over-the-top drama rather than comedy (over-the-top comedy works for me in some mediums, but not in romance). The other is that it has to have some authentic emotional component to it, even if it’s heightened beyond a believable degree.

This brings me to what works for me in many of your books, and worked in Call Me Irresistible: I really like the heroine’s downtrodden outsider status. My romance tastes have changed and matured over the years, but I’m still a sucker for a Cinderella heroine. Meg fits the template of a number of SEP heroines (the heroine of Kiss an Angel comes to mind). This heroine is basically good-hearted but somewhat spoiled and badly in need of something that will shake her up and force her to stand on her own two feet. She finds herself in a situation where her usual resources (money, looks) don’t work, and where seemingly everyone is against her. The heroine is repeatedly humbled (sometimes a bit too repeatedly, in my opinion – I’m not a sadist), but discovers an inner strength and growing self-respect. It’s really a very appealing formula, at least for me. There are some flaws: I often find that the secondary characters who torment the heroine are so insufferably judgmental and nasty that I’m not quite as willing to forgive them in the end as the heroine usually is – Ain’t She Sweet comes to mind. Call Me Irresistible is no exception; the townspeople are supposed to be quirky and fiercely loyal, but I found many of them hateful. I guess it’s a side-effect of creating unnuanced characters. All I know is, I would never want to live in Wynette, Texas.

Ted is an appealing hero – I may have less invested in him than some readers, since I’ve never read Fancy Pants (I did read Lady Be Good, which featured Ted as well). He is freakishly, preternaturally perfect, and that would be super-annoying if it weren’t an actual plot point. I felt a growing anticipation as it became clear that Ted was going to absolutely lose it at some point, and when he did it was indeed enjoyable to read.

Meg is rather likable too, if familiar, in the ways I outlined above. I couldn’t help but root for her even as I realized that she didn’t have that much of an excuse for having been an underachiever and essentially a moocher for all those years – no deep, dark secrets or hidden traumas. She just felt she couldn’t compete with her brilliant family so she chose not to try.

Ted and Meg find themselves pursued by a father-daughter duo – Spence and Sunny Skipjack. Skipjack is an appliance mogul who Ted is courting as an investor in a state-of-the-art golf course and resort that he wants to build in Wynette. The project is badly needed to boost Wynette’s sagging economy. I liked the way that Meg’s environmental concerns about the golf course were addressed – the issue wasn’t just shunted aside or played as a culture-clash joke. Spence is all puffed-up rich guy with a fragile ego, and Sunny is terrifyingly Type A. They provide convenient obstacles in the growing attraction between our hero and heroine.

So, what to grade Call Me Irresistible? I’ve never been able to come up with a perfect grading system – when I try to grade intellectually, I find the grade often doesn’t feel right – it doesn’t reflect how I really felt about the book, which is what’s important to me, anyway. Despite this book’s flaws, I enjoyed it. Rather a lot, actually. So my grade is a B+.

Best regards,

Jennie

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has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

32 Comments

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  2. Joanne
    Jan 17, 2011 @ 17:34:26

    So many of SEP’s books are misses for me but the ones that I liked – Kiss An Angel, Natural Born Charmer, Match Me If You Can -are on my keeper shelf. I don’t know why I like her writing so much.

    I am a sucker for a Cinderella story and with so many of her male characters being self-centered, egotistical or just plain mean and sometimes just plain slutty it’s easy to picture the Cinderella-ish character hitting them on the head with the glass slipper to help them find true love.

    Or maybe it’s that no matter what happens for 300 pages on page 301 there is a HEA plus an Epilogue with Hearts and Flowers -and sometimes Bunnies.

    I dunno, but I pre-order her books and now I’m looking forward to this one more now that I have read your review, so thank you.

  3. Danielle D
    Jan 17, 2011 @ 17:56:31

    I was on the fence on this book but after reading your review I think I’m going to get it!!

  4. Carin
    Jan 17, 2011 @ 18:59:05

    I’ve read Glitter Baby where Meg comes from, I believe, and I *hated* it. Very Danielle Steele. I’ve also read and enjoyed First Lady, Lucy’s book, and Lady Be Good – I think Ted was a baby in that one.

    I guess I’m the like-to-go-back-and-dwell kind of person, because just reading your the quote made me grin, even without having read the current book. SEP is kind of hit and miss with me, but I’ve liked the ones you like, so this one’s on my TBR list. The thought of reading about Lucy, even just a little, makes me giddy! Thanks for the review!

  5. Jane
    Jan 17, 2011 @ 19:39:56

    I wasn’t prepared to like this book as much as I did but I liked it solely because of Meg. I thought that with the exception of Meg’s family and possibly Ted, everyone came off as really hateful, as Jennie pointed out. I particularly didn’t understand why these characters all expected Meg to practically whore herself out for a town that despised her. Even Ted’s complicity in this baffled me. But Meg is just a great heroine and I loved her, her redemption story, and felt she deserved her happy ever after.

    I don’t think you have to read the preceding novels to appreciate this story in any way.

  6. J.
    Jan 17, 2011 @ 19:40:39

    I really liked her Chicago Stars series. I liked some books more than others but I’ve found that lately I haven’t been that eager to read her latest books. When I read the blurb for this one, it didn’t catch my eye. I’m not sure if I’ll pick this one up.

  7. Courtney
    Jan 17, 2011 @ 20:30:45

    I loved a ton of SEP’s early romance books (Dream a Little Dream, Nobody’s Baby But Mine, Kiss an Angel, It Had to Be You, Heaven, Texas), but at some point, I felt like all of her heros and heroines were essentially the same. Her heroines (except for maybe Gracie in Heaven, Texas) were all beautiful, but supposedly didn’t know it. All of her heroes had been screwed up by their families and were arrogant, bad-mannered, and bossy. And I quit reading.

    That said, I picked up “What I Did for Love,” from the library and really enjoyed it and I’m on the waiting list for this one. I won’t buy any more of her books because I was too disappointed in “Ain’s She Sweet,” and “This Heart of Mine,” but I do find her an enjoyable, albeit, unrealistic read.

  8. Joy
    Jan 17, 2011 @ 20:41:01

    I call “sequel-itis” SRIS (Series-Related Infodump Syndrome) and it drives me up a wall. It’s awkward, confusing, and doesn’t really add anything to the story. If it can come seamlessly out of the story, it really ought to. Sometimes a bit of recap is necessary to catch people up with a continuing plot line, but that actually requires a *continuing plot line* which most of these infodumpy books don’t have.

  9. Jaclyn
    Jan 17, 2011 @ 21:07:48

    Having just started reading SEP a couple months ago, I’ve relying on recommendations from others to decide which books to read because there are so many. So far I’ve really enjoyed the down on her luck heroines that SEP writes and plan to add this to my TBR.

    @Joy, LOL I love the term ‘SRIS’ and might have to start using it!

  10. orannia
    Jan 17, 2011 @ 21:34:29

    Thank you Jennie! My first SEP book was Natural Born Charmer, and I chuckled my way through it and then dived into Match Me If You Can, which I also loved. Hmmm. I think I’ve become less enamoured of the books as I’ve gone, and I haven’t read any of the later books – the characters just don’t appeal for just the reason you stated in your review:

    …don't like it when the characters in the romances I read are what I call “-est” types. Meaning: wealthiest, prettiest, manliest, smartest, etc.

    In a word? Boring. I like to be able to relate in some way, shape or form, to a character, and if they are ‘est to the nth degree’ then I don’t have a chance! Plus…having such a character find their HEA? WOW. Another est to add to their collection – happiest. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving character. Sorry, that bitter tone wasn’t meant to creep in :)

  11. Jennie
    Jan 17, 2011 @ 23:52:36

    @Joanne: Joanne, it sounds like we have very similar reactions to her. I’m not sure why some of her books work so well for me, but they do.

  12. Jennie
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 01:26:25

    @orannia: Yeah, it’s a bit aggravating to read about perfect people finding perfect love. Yawn.

    There’s a middle ground between average and being the greatest whatever that ever walked the Earth. The latter just makes me feel disconnected from the character and makes them less real to me.

  13. Bronte
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 05:02:50

    Just read it and loved. I definitely think its her best book in probably about 10 years. I agree with Jennie about its flaws, but its got that indefinable quality (charisma maybe?). All I know is I just finished it in about 2 and 1/2 hours. Very satisfying ending with a nice helping of grovel.

  14. Helly
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 06:31:52

    Thank you for this review. I was also on the fence about this one, but I really want to read Ted’s story.
    As far as other SEP books go, my favourites are “what I did for love” and “It had to be you”. Didn’t bother with “Ain’t she sweet”. I find the the Going Back and Be Forgiven scenario boring and people are too mean to be forgiven so easily as they usually are.

  15. Janet P.
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 09:26:24

    I have this sitting and waiting on my Kindle this morning and now I feel much more excited about it. Like others, I really didn’t like the summaries of “girl should suffer weeks and months of ostracization and abuse for …” description.

    Undefinable charisma is pretty much how I think of Susan E Phillips. Even when I hate the premise of her book “Genius tricks jock into pregnancy” there is usually something there that I like.

  16. Kim
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 10:18:29

    I am definitely getting this book! I always hold out hope that I’m going to love SEP’s next book and that hasn’t happened with her last… 3 books. So hopefully this one is different.

    It seems like it’s going to be the same story: downtrodden girl meets successful, manly guy and she has to find herself while falling in love. But I guess that’s why I read SEP’s books.

  17. Janine
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 11:51:58

    I won't buy any more of her books because I was too disappointed in “Ain's She Sweet,”

    Didn't bother with “Ain't she sweet”.

    Admittedly, I’ve only read a handful of SEP’s books — Fancy Pants, Nobody’s Baby But Mine, Heaven, Texas, Ain’t She Sweet, and part of Dream a Little Dream, but Ain’t She Sweet was far and away my favorite of these. I wouldn’t go skipping it.

    Just sayin’.

  18. becca
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 12:05:04

    My favorite SEP is Natural Born Charmer. I’ve read a bunch of her others, but they’ve mostly been forgettable enough that I can’t recall which ones I’ve read – so far nothing matches Natural Born Charmer. But this one is definitely on my TBR list.

  19. Patti
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 16:06:23

    What’s funny about this review is how much about the book the reviewer did not like and yet she still ended up liking it quite a lot :-) I have read all of SEP’s books(except this one!) and I agree with a lot of what the reviewer wrote about her writing. She does write over the top characters and senarios and often the H and H are too beautiful for words. That said, she is such a pro at telling a story. She’s funny and writes about flawed people and makes you feel for them. I like the word “charisma” that someone used. It’s that indefinable something that makes her so good. BTW, my two favorites are Ain’t She Sweet and Kiss and Angel :-)

  20. Lada
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 16:17:11

    @Janine: I have to second Janine!! I never understood why so many don’t like Ain’t She Sweet since it’s by far my favorite SEP as well (while NBC & WIDFL didn’t work for me). I didn’t read it for a long time because people told me not to bother so this redemption story was a nice surprise for me.

    And I always find the “not realistic enough” comments surprising as well. Seriously? Romance is what I read when I want to get *away* from reality. And while some are certainly over-the-top, did you ever really pick up a book with a pro-football player (or Navy SEAL, police detective, vampire/werewolf, etc.) hero and think to find it realistic?

    And I don’t think it matters so much what a character looks like as what an author does with them.

  21. Carolyn
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 17:39:10

    @Janet P. Like Lucky Charms? ;-) A fine example of product placement.

    My favorite SEP remains the first one I ever read – It Had to be You. By the end of the first chapter I was laughing my head off. And Coach Dan was an Alabama graduate – how could I not love that book?

    I didn’t care for Mollie’s story (This Heart of Mine), thought the ending sucked. As well as the beginning, come to think on it. My best friend loved it though.

    Goes to prove tastes differ and there’s something for everyone. I agree with Lada, it’s what the author does with the characters that’s important.

  22. Jennie
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 20:26:06

    @Janine: I agree re Ain’t She Sweet. I wonder if some people dislike it because, more than some of SEP’s other downtrodden heroines, Sugar Beth really deserved the animosity directed towards her (at least at first)? I think it’s one of her more complex works in terms of presenting flawed people in believable ways and reconciling some of the bad things they do.

  23. Jennie
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 20:36:24

    @Patti: I think a lot of my reviews are like that – I always find it easier to articulate what doesn’t work for me than what does. It’s a particularly strong feeling with SEP, because there are a lot of elements that bug me, but then I end up liking her books anyway. I guess she’s just fun to read, nothing more, nothing less.

  24. Mary
    Jan 19, 2011 @ 23:38:48

    Thanks for the review.. I am gonna buy it :)

  25. patricia
    Jan 19, 2011 @ 23:43:52

    Thanks for the review. I got good reviews from allreaders, myBantu and bookpage as well.. I am gonna buy it :)

  26. Joanne
    Jan 20, 2011 @ 14:12:11

    Well damn if SEP didn’t do it again. I liked Meg so much that even getting passed the asshats that made up the town was well worth the effort to see her get her HEA.

    There’s something so readable about this author.

  27. Jennie
    Jan 20, 2011 @ 17:08:48

    @Joanne: I think “readable” is a great way to put it. My fave contemporary authors tend to fall into this category. For some reason, with contemps, readability is a strong requirement in a way that it isn’t with historicals or other books.

  28. Helly
    Jan 21, 2011 @ 05:57:00

    Hmm, you make me want to reconsider Ain’t She Sweet. Maybe it is true that it is the fact that the heroine is deserving of the animosity that I don’t like. Ah well, think I will read Karen Marie Monings latest first of all (am not buying it until I have time to read this weekend)

  29. Anita Chax
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 02:40:52

    Ok. With all the -ests, this book shouldn’t work at all but it did! In spades!!!! SEP. I just can’t have enough of her.

  30. Call Me Irresistible Susan Elizabeth Phillips Review |
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    […] Dear Author B+ […]

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    Apr 10, 2011 @ 10:05:01

    […] Reviews Dear Author – B+ […]

  32. CLM
    Jan 05, 2013 @ 22:32:21

    Yes, I got tired of people giving Meg a hard time too. I think the reason for mentioning all the earlier characters serves several purposes: readers ask for more about their favorites; the author can use them to explain characteristics in their current characters; and it causes people to hunt up/read/purchase earlier books. For some authors, it is simply love of their characters (Madeleine L’Engle) even if they don’t fit chronologically to insert them in a later work. It is not always convincing but I admit I am one of those people who wonder about favorite characters!

    The book about Lucy was not very convincing or enjoyable. Unattractive hero, who (like Ted) did nothing but give the heroine a hard time.

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