Narrated 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!
Book Content: B+
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: Fighting
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Harper Audio