Review: First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips


Susan Elizabeth Phillips
First Star I See Tonight
Release: August 23, 2016
($26.99 hardcover, $12.99 ebook)
Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Chicago Stars books are ones I’ve read, re-read, and forced my friends to read — who wouldn’t love these sensitive, tight pant wearing, good ole boys with hearts of gold?  The series, which Phillips began in 1994 (It Had to Be You) had seemingly (tragically!) ended with its seventh installment (Natural Born Charmer, 2007).  Although SEP has published other fantastic novels and series since then, fans clamored for more of the beloved Chicago team.

And huzzah!  After waiting patiently for nine years, fans are rewarded with another chapter of the hunky men of the Chicago Stars.  In First Star I See Tonight, retired Stars quarterback Cooper Graham confronts a woman he has seen tailing him for a week.  Piper Dove is a private investigator hired by a potential investor for Coop’s fledgling nightclub business.  Desperate to maintain her cover, Piper–in a hilarious exchange, masquerading as a British woman–pretends to be Coop’s stalker:

“I’m not full-out barmy, you understand.  Just…mildly unhinged.”  

Coop soon finds out Piper’s true identity and she winds up working for him.  Piper’s mettle is tested as she attempts to uncover the source behind a rash of accidents and attacks targeted at Coop.  While protecting Coop from an unknown threat and working closely with him to solve the mystery, Piper and Coop find themselves inexplicably attracted to one another.  Both frustratedly acknowledge the other is not their type, but their chemistry is irresistible!  

Piper is an underdog who you can’t help root for.  Coop is a golden boy who doesn’t really know what he wants out of life.  Their relationship is built on good-natured teasing and begrudging respect.  Both Piper and Coop are complex characters; Coop’s competitive nature and occasional lack of self-awareness humanize him while Piper’s hard-shelled vulnerability is engaging and real.

Phillips proves herself again to be the queen of romantic comedy.  Her dialogue sparkles, the witty banter between Coop and Piper is engaging and dynamic, and the exposition is both amusing and impressively written.  The plot is incredibly interesting; there is more intrigue in this book than you might typically expect.  Although this book can certainly stand alone, fans of the Chicago Stars series will also be happy to revisit some old friends: Heath and Annabelle Champion (Match Me If You Can) play key roles in the narrative and Phoebe Somerville Calebow (It Had to Be You) makes a couple appearances as well.  

I rated this book a 2 / 5 for steaminess; there are a few sex scenes sprinkled throughout the book, but the emphasis in these is more on the growing friendship and intimacy between Coop and Piper, as opposed to explicit sex.  There is a steamy scene in an old lighthouse until things… go awry (I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say Coop gets overexcited and is refreshingly less-than-perfect).  And, one very short, late-night scene packed a real punch and snuck up on me in terms of sexiness, but overall, the sex in the book is primarily about the  emotional connection between Coop and Piper.

One of the shining elements of the novel is its treatment of social issues.  While Phillips doesn’t bang you over the head with the unpleasant aspects of life, she does weave into the narrative issues of female inequality and disadvantagement, such as religious oppression, sex trafficking, and domestic violence.  This subtle highlight on women’s issues is both well done and extremely important–Yay Feminism!!!

The only element of the story that left something to be desired, in my opinion, is Piper’s development as a character.  Piper is a tomboy who grew up with a father who both overprotected her and pushed her to be tougher.  As a result, Piper’s emotional range is somewhat limited and there are a few parts of her, as a character, that are fairly befuddling: she’s a “one of the guys” type girl who can’t figure out why hot men are always into her, she is uncomfortable being vulnerable yet never fully confronts this issue, and at one point, she makes the odd realization that “Coop was the man she’d have wanted to be if she’d been male.”  Although, of course, Piper overcomes her commitment-phobia, her emotional progression is not as rich as I might have liked.

That being said, First Star I See Tonight is an absolute delight.  I laughed at loud at Piper’s hijinks, Coop’s simultaneous frustration and attraction, and the killer narration in the story.  Although it’s been nine years since the last Chicago Stars book, Phillips draws you right back into her charming world of wonderfully-enlightened jocks and whimsical, obstinate women.

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