Review: Natural Born Charmer

Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a cute, modern chick-lit romance with an arrogant hero, a stubborn heroine, a wonderful cast of supporting characters, and smart banter that will make you laugh.Natural Born Charmer cover

Abrasive, utterly practical Blue Bailey has a serious case of wanderlust.  As well as some serious abandonment issues.  After dropping out of art school she’s made her way around the country, painting stifling portraits of children and pets to put food on the table and build a nest-egg for herself.  A nest-egg which was stolen by her activist mother to fund Virginia Bailey’s latest crusade, leaving Blue with no home, no money, and nothing to do besides dress up in a sweaty beaver suit for money and try to murder the ex-boyfriend who stole her car and her last hundred bucks.  In that order.

What Blue needs is a knight in shining armour.  Not the gorgeously vain fashion-plate celebrity who tooled along in his six-figure car and rescued her from potential dehydration.  Dean Robillard, star quarterback for the Chicago Stars and all-around stylish, is a natural born charmer in every meaning of the word.  He spent his formative years with a drugged-out mother and an utterly absent father, out of sight and out of mind, but now he’s a celebrity everyone loves him.  Except for Blue, apparently, who seems to think he’s gay and is quite content to coast along on his money train for as long as he’s willing to put up with her company.

Neither one of them is quite sure how Blue ended up staying on with Dean and his estranged mother in his Tennessee farm house, or why she’s still sticking around when more family members start staggering out from the closet to join their fun-filled group.  Dean has no interest in being in the same room as either parent, never mind the same house as both, and he certainly doesn’t want to play big brother to the kid his father actually acknowledges.  But eleven-year-old Riley is something of a natural born charmer herself, even if Dean wishes she and her father would just go far, far away.  And stay there.

“Once again, my three-digit IQ separates me from the pack.”

Natural Born Charmer is actually the second of Phillips’ books that I’ve read; the first, Nobody’s Baby But Mine, was a middle-of-the-road modern romance that had some cute moments, but didn’t particularly stand out from the crowd or possess any particular charm.  I wouldn’t have been surprised to find it in the grocery store or at a yard sale.  Charmer, on the other hand, has that missing je n’est ce quoi by the bucketload.  It’s smart, witty, funny, and I loved the interaction between all of the significant characters.

Dean’s relationship with his parents is refreshingly screwed up, though perhaps not completely beyond redemption.  It was interesting – and entertaining – to watch it change and evolve with time and proximity, and to explore along with them whether there was still time enough to mend old hurts and grow together.

Far from being a token plot child, Riley is a strong character in her own right.  She begins the story timid and reticent, emotionally bruised by the death of her unloving mother and the utter lack of affection that anyone in her life has shown her so far, and over the course of the book blossoms into a mature young lady with a growing sense of her own self-worth.  Riley was utterly charming, and I loved watching her mature and bond with her family, though some of the scenes focused on her are utterly heartbreaking.

“I’m still not sure how he managed to overcome my aversion to aging frat boys.”

If I quoted every piece from this book that made me laugh or smile, we’d be here all day.  And some of it just doesn’t work well out of context.  Blue has a biting wit and is refreshingly honest, and she and Dean have some lovely banter between them.

The drama and conflict in this book was entirely internal, from and between the characters themselves, rather than any outside force, and it was refreshing and lovely to read.  I have complained in the past that the majority of romances I read include some mystery or other drama purely to throw the characters together, and this story avoided that completely.

One small detail that I am less keen on – the end was sickeningly cutesy, and quite frankly, I would have been happy of the epilogue had been missed out all together.

All in all this was a lovely story and I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes modern romance or so-called “chick lit”.

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