Match Me If You Can, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

>> Monday, March 26, 2007

To show Cindy why I'm not in a slump, this week I'll only post reviews of great books I've read lately. We start with Match Me If You Can, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

You met star quarterback Kevin Tucker in This Heart of Mine. Now get ready to meet his shark of an agent, Heath Champion, and Annabelle Granger, the girl least likely to succeed.

Annabelle's endured dead-end jobs, a broken engagement . . . even her hair's a mess! But that's going to change now that she's taken over her late grandmother's matchmaking business. All Annabelle has to do is land the Windy City's hottest bachelor as her client, and she'll be the most sought-after matchmaker in town.

Why does the wealthy, driven, and gorgeous sports agent Heath Champion need a matchmaker, especially a red-haired screw-up like Annabelle Granger? True, she's entertaining, and she does have a certain quirky appeal. But Heath is searching for the ultimate symbol of success -- the perfect wife. And to make an extraordinary match, he needs an extraordinary matchmaker, right?

Soon everyone in Chicago has a stake in the outcome, and a very big question: When the determined matchmaker promised she'd do anything to keep her star client happy . . . did she mean anything? If Annabelle isn't careful, she just might find herself going heart-to-heart with the toughest negotiator in town.

It took me a while to finally read this one. First my sister took it, then a friend (who took it on her honeymoon), then even my mother. By the time it returned, the urgency to read it had abated, and so it took me another month to start it.

I wish I hadn't waited so long. I wish I'd wrested it out of little sister's greedy hands and hid it under the bed. It's that good. No wonder every time mom asks me for a book now, she tells me she wants "something like that Susan Elizabeth Phillips book I borrowed the other time". An A.

The plot is vintage "how the hell will she make this work" SEP. Annabelle Granger has just taken over her late grandmother's matchmaking firm. The company's on the low end of the spectrum and doesn't have a particularly lucrative client base, but in spite of her family's pressure (and there is a lot of it... her whole family consider Annabelle a flighty screw-up and keep trying to get her to be something serious, like a doctor or a lawyer), Annabelle is determined to turn it into a powerhouse business.

Her best plan to do so involves getting herself a high-profile, glamorous client and succeeding in finding him the perfect match, to popular acclaim. Heath Champion seems to be her best bet.

Heath, a sports agent nicknamed The Python for his merciless way, is determined to marry the perfect wife before he turns 35. It's all part of his life plan. Heath has managed to rise from his trailer-trash beginnings, and he wants a wife who will enhance his image, and at the same time, be the perfect mom. I don't think I can remember all the requirements Heath feels his wife must fulfill, because they are myriad. She must be sweet and classy, well-bred and sexy, athletic and submissive, able to cook an impromptu dinner for the kids from scratch and to plan a dinner party for rich guests. And above all, an incredibly attractive woman who idolizes him and thinks he can do no wrong. Yeah, I wanted to bang the guy's head against the wall.

Heath's too busy to look for this wonder himself, so he has hired Chicago's premier matchmaking agency: Power Matches, to find her. When Molly, wife of one of his best clients, Kevin Tucker (both from This Heart of Mine) asks him to listen to a pitch from her friend Annabelle, Heath agrees only to keep her happy. Molly's not just his client's wife, she's also the sister of the owner of the Chicago Stars (Phoebe, from It Had To Be You), who absolutely hates Heath, so he's very interested in keeping her happy.

He doesn't plan to do much more than give this Annabelle Granger five minutes of his time, so he's very surprised when she manages to manouver him into giving her a shot. She'll get the chance to do one introduction, and only if her candidate is outstanding (and Heath really doesn't expect her to be), she'll get Heath as a client. Heath is astounded when the woman Annabelle comes up with is outstanding, and so he ends up signing on with her. And they start spending more and more time together as she tries to find him the perfect wife.

I give SEP chances I wouldn't give to other authors. Her books never sound like something I like, and yet, I know I'll like them, so I just ignore any apprehensive feelings and buy them. And when I start the books, I always start out disliking her heroes intensely, and yet I keep on reading, knowing the feeling will go away and I'll love them to pieces. It's all about trust.

And I needed a lot of trust here, because Heath starts out really, really dense. Forget about banging his head against the wall; I wanted to strangle him. But this first impression slowly changed, and I ended up really, really liking the man. Not that I didn't enjoy the way SEP drags him through hell before he can get Annabelle, but by the end of the book, I understood where his misguided ideal woman came from, and I was willing to forgive him for his denseness (especially because he fully realized he'd been dense).

I had no mixed feelings about Annabelle; I liked her from the very first. She's funny and smart and warm-hearted and I liked that she didn't let Heath walk all over her (quite an accomplishment, because he's naturally very dominating). She's also very much a SEP heroine, in that she's unappreciated by all those around her but ends up understanding her own worth.

Speaking of that, one of my favourite scenes was the one at Annabelle's birthday dinner party, because it turned what I felt about her relationship with her family on its head. I was totally expecting a scene in which Heath would defend her against her family's bullying and excessive pressure, but then SEP showed us what their relationship looked like from Heath's point of view, and damned if he didn't have a point.

A big part of the book's charm was its fully realized and extremely entertaining secondary characters. This is part of her football series, so obviously, there are a lot of football players around, and I liked that there is not that much romantization of them. All right, they're all really sweet guys, apparently, for all their arrogance and sense of entitlement, but it seems SEP's got her eyes wide open about them. I loved the scene in which Heath is going on about how his poor clients are being taken advantage of by those awful gold diggers, who sometimes even get *gasp* pregnant on purpose, and Annabelle asks him: which poor guys? The ones who go *you*, *you* and *you* on the hotel lobby, and then when they get to the room start explaining all the reasons why they won't wear condoms? Right on, Annabelle! See what I meant when I said she's not afraid of standing her ground with him?

In addition to those football players (including the to-die-for Dean Robillard, the hero of the next book, which I'll probably also be reviewing this week), the characters of SEP's other related books are a big part of the plot. I'm never happy when an author parades her older characters around just to show us how deliriously happy they are, but this wasn't like that at all. Phoebe and Molly and Kevin and Dan and the rest of them play an important role here, and they never felt extraneous. On the contrary, I felt they added a lot to the book (and I loved Heath's run-ins with Molly's daughter. Hah!)

Oh, and there's also a secondary romance, between Portia Powers, the owner of Power Matches, Annabelle's rival agency, and Heath's rough-looking chauffer and good friend. Portia is a fascinating character. She's portrayed like super-bitch, and she really does act like it (those weekly weigh-ins she had at her company, anyone?), but I could see the twisted logic and the good intentions behind what she was trying to do, and I just wish SEP hadn't brought her down so completely before she got her HEA.

But that's a small complaint, compared to how much I loved everything else in the book. Just thinking about it now, I'm wearing a huge grin. This was a book I didn't want to end, and there's no better compliment than that!


Bona Caballero 1 May 2015 at 09:13  

A very good review, I do agree with everything you say.
You point out something that I loved about this book - the main characters from previous books appear not just to show you how happy they are, but to have an important part in the current story. Phoebe and Heath's banter is wonderful!
I think I liked secondary characters more than the main ones. Portia & Bodie's story did my day and it was what made this book special for me.

Rosario 11 May 2015 at 21:08  

SEP tends to do that really well, unlike some authors *cough*Balogh*cough*. And yes, the secondary romance was soooo good. I might need to reread this one!

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