First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

First Star I See TonightNarrated by Nicole Poole

Susan Elizabeth Phillips (SEP) is one of my top favorite authors – she writes funny, quirky, contemporary romance with heart and emotion and sometimes the weirdest plotlines that somehow work (brainy scientist passes as a stripper to get pregnant by a football player?). I find I do relistens of the Chicago Stars series at least every 2 years. Those early audiobooks were narrated by the incomparable Kate Fleming under the pseudonym Anna Fields, and remain classics more than 20 years later. First Star I See Tonight is another Chicago Stars book – squeeeee! – and in it we get several fun cameos – Heath and Annabelle Champion, even Phoebe Somerville Calebow!

Private investigator Piper Dove is tailing former Chicago Stars quarterback Cooper Graham, having been hired by a potential financial partner to be sure he’s on the up and up. But Coop wasn’t born yesterday, and the various disguises Piper uses don’t fool him at all. He’s retired from the Stars, at the top of his game, and is now pursuing a career opening trendy nightclubs, starting with Spiral. Once he makes Piper, and she refuses to name her employer, he realizes he could use someone on his team with her no-nonsense, loyal to the end spirit. Piper can’t turn down a paying job, even one with a ridiculously good looking player – she’s almost homeless and on her last dime when he hires her to be sure his staff isn’t stealing him blind (some are!). But he’s not attracted to her – no way – she’s not his type at all!

Well, in SEP’s world, it’s never that simple. Sometimes the heart has a way of putting together two people that need each other for reasons they don’t even know about. When Piper picks up an extra job driving Middle Eastern royalty and decides to help one of their servants leave their employ, suddenly Coop is involved in the scheme to spirit the young woman to Canada. Next, Piper is on the lookout for the husband of an older neighbor – and the fact that the husband died, and they all attended his funeral doesn’t seem to slow her down! I felt the old magic of SEP in this book, the oddball situations that had me laughing out loud, and plot twists I wasn’t prepared for. I also felt familiar themes from previous books, and not just because some of the earlier characters popped in from time to time. And although I enjoyed it overall, I did miss the sizzle that she brought to other couples – Piper was one of those heroines determined that Coop deserved better, so she would not stand in his way – in fact, she ran in the other direction as much as possible. Coop was not having it, however, because he has an insatiable drive to win.

The first part of the book is classic SEP romance – lots of witty banter and funny situations. As the plot turns slightly darker, and Coop appears to be in danger, I found myself wondering where some of the plotlines were going – there are a few references to sexual assault and the treatment of women and girls in other countries that almost seemed like distractions from the main story. It’s not really dark – I wouldn’t classify it as Romantic Suspense at all – but when the plot thickens and she introduces a letter-writing campaign about sexual abuse of minors, I wondered where these very serious themes were going (nowhere, really). These were minor quibbles, as mostly I was very entertained. I imagine on my numerous re-listens, these points will probably make more sense and I’ll see the relationships more clearly, as I usually do.

I first encountered narrator Nicole Poole in two early Rachel Gibson books, Not Another Bad Date and Tangled Up in You. I listened to them both in 2010 and remarked in my personal reviews that she reminded me of Anna Fields – a happy coincidence, as it turns out. Her range is similarly wide, and she differentiates extremely well between male and female voices, just like Fields does. She created several different characters with pitch, intonation and accent, and her acting is spot on. I even wondered if she might have listened to some of the Anna Fields’ Chicago Stars recordings for inspiration. (I don’t say that as an insult, by the way, but as a compliment!) I have one criticism with the narration in general, and I can’t really tell if this is Poole’s reading or post-production – the narration is incessant. By that I mean, it could use a lot more pauses in several places throughout. The reading goes straight into new chapters, new places, new situations, as though we were all on a mission to get this audiobook over with. Not that she reads fast, and in general her pacing is passable, but some well placed pauses would have made it much easier to follow. The mind needs a aural reminder like a pause sometimes, I guess. It’s ironic that the book I read before this, the remastered Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer, narrated by Kate Forbes, had the opposite problem, with many pauses just a nanosecond too long – about the length you’d expect between sections even when there was no break in the action, and in that book I kept wondering if those pauses were added post-production.

I have to point out one detail in the book that made me sit up and take notice: in the audiobook, Nicole Poole reads a list of Chicago Stars players and their spouses, and she says that Bobby Tom Denton is married to a former girls’ school headmistress from England – and I thought, whoa, when did Bobby Tom divorce Gracie Snow and steal Emma away from Kenny Traveler? (Did I mention I listen to her books over and over again?) I searched the print book in Amazon, and the books says he’s married to the current mayor of Telarosa, Texas, instead – whew! All is right with my world now! Shouldn’t they go back and fix that in the audio? Poole also pronounced Calebow different from Anna Fields – something several Audible reviews mention. I would have preferred it pronounced the same way, for consistency. However, I recall that even Fields wasn’t always consistent – she used a thick Texas accent for a character that was the Michigan-raised hero of the previous book, and that throws me every time I listen to it!

Note: from Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Facebook page, the following announcement, due to the number of complaints:

The fabulous people at Harper Audio have immediately set about correcting these mistakes. They will go back in the recording booth and fix as quickly as possible, and an updated master recording will be reposted to all retailers. The very helpful folks in HarperCollins’ customer support department will offer this updated recording to those of you who’ve already purchased the audio. You’ll need to email them at customerservice@harpercollins.com with a picture of your proof of purchase. When the updated audiobook is ready, HarperCollins will send it to you via a zip-file.

All in all, quibbles aside, this is a solid entry in the series – now I think I need to start my biannual relisten, and maybe relisten to those Gibson audiobooks too!


Narration: B

Book Content: B+

Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in

Violence Rating: Fighting

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Publisher: Harper Audio




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  1. Kaetrin

    maybe I should wait to buy mine until the updated file is loaded?

    1. MelindaP

      I would bet that once the file is corrected, Audible will alert anyone who purchased it to download a new copy. But that’s just based on assumption – that is the way *I* would handle it, and I believe I have had to redownload files before. (also, that’s how they do it with Kindle books) So it would depend on how keen you are to get started, as well as how annoyed you will be to hear Calebow pronounced wrong.

      I am pretty sure they won’t fix the lack of pauses, however, and I’m more convinced than ever that Lea is right, it was a post-production edit that removed pauses. I’m relistening to Tangled Up In You by Rachel Gibson, and Poole’s pacing is fine, and she uses appropriate pauses (wow, lots of P alliteration there). Maybe we need to complain to Harper that their post-production pause reductions are ruining the audio experience.

      I’m thinking – does Harper Audio actually believe money spent on editing out pauses somehow saves them something? Bandwidth? Maybe their financial staff need to weigh in on this decision, because having happy customers who recommend more sales might actually have a better ROI.

  2. Elaine

    I like Poole’s voice but not her narrating style. She sounded like a runaway train of words, if you know what I mean. In the end it was just noise in my ears and head and I had to turn it off. Looks like I’m going to have to read the Kindle instead.

    I also wish well-established authors like SEP would have their audiobooks narrated by a male and female, with the male narrating the hero’s part and not just dividing up the chapters. It’s matter of personal taste, of course,m but I do not like female narrators deepening their voices to sound male. It’s awful. On the other hand, I rarely have a problem with male authors doing the female characters as they manage to sound like a warm, husky-voiced woman!

    1. MelindaP

      yes, runaway train of words is a good description! Well, I didn’t feel like she read too fast, but just that she didn’t take appropriate pauses. I really do wonder if that might be a post-production thing, where they shorten pauses?

      1. Lea

        I’m betting on post-production being the culprit.

        I’m holding off on listening as I’m listening to Sandra Brown’s Sting right now. Brown and SEP – two of my fave romance authors so I just can’t listen to what I will know two of my favorite romances of the year back to back!

  3. Suzanne

    I read an ARC of this book months ago and wrote to the publishers about the continuity problem you mention.I wrote to the Avon editor designated to receive comments as specified on the back of the ARC. I warned them that SEP fans know all of her book couples would have real problems with the mixup. Too bad no one read my email or had the ability to fix the problem.

    I already purchased the audiobook from Audible. Do you know what kind of proof of purchase I need to get the updated version?


    1. MelindaP

      (edited – sorry it posted the same response as above!) What I mean to say is, you should be able to use your Audible email receipt, or you can find a receipt at Audible if you didn’t save the email. I bet Audible just alerts you to a change in the file and allows you to re-download, though – that has happened before with books.

    2. MelindaP

      also – the print book has been corrected to Gracie Snow – you can see that in the Amazon “look inside” feature. It’s just the audiobook that has the wrong wife for Bobby Tom!

      1. Suzanne

        OK! Thanks Melinda. Good to hear. I sent my correction off to the publishers but never heard from them. Seems like a small error, but the type to really irritate long time readers! Bugged me.

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