4 out of 5 Beaver Tails to NATURAL BORN CHARMER
Posted March 17, 2011on:
Beaver tail, ho! This month, my Bookhungry team reviews Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
Romantic comedies typically open with a stock ‘meet-cute’ scene in which hero and heroine exchange their first words. The meet-cute scene is always full of animosity and ends with one or both characters vowing “Not if you were the last (wo)man standing.” Also typical in the meet-cute scene is that one character is shown in the worst light possible so that the attraction both hero and heroine are so busy denying grows more potent when that character gets his or her shit together.
Bad day doesn’t come close to describing SEP’s meet-cute scene. Dean Robillard, QB for a pro football team, king of endorsements and owner of the title moniker, drives past a headless beaver on a country road. Not a real beaver. A girl dressed as a beaver. Enter Blue Bailey, free spirit extraordinaire. Hero gives heroine a lift back to her place where the beaver attacks her two-timing ex-boyfriend while the hero watches, completely bemused.
As meet-cutes go, this one was uniquely funny. I was hooked. Dean offers to take the dumped-and-now-broke Blue to Tennessee with him. We spend the next several chapters learning how badly suited these characters are for each other. Dean is perfect – handsome, athletic, rich, and smart. The whole package! Blue is a nightmare of bad fashion sense, bad hair, bad attitude, no makeup, no money. The only thing she’s got going for her is a smart mouth. The dialogue between them is the best part of this book. During the meet-cute scene, Dean assures Blue he’s gay and she’s perfectly safe with him. This becomes a running joke throughout the book with some of the zingers inducing belly laughs in me. At the end, there is a line that Blue says to Dean that aligns so perfectly with this joke, I laughed hard enough to cry: “This is the [spoiler removed] you’ve dreamed about since you were a little girl.”
The title and the meet-cute set readers up to believe this book is pure mind-candy but nothing could be further from the truth. Blue, we soon learn, was raised and then abandoned by a series of care-givers while her activist mother bounced from one global crisis to the next. Blue’s mother is also the reason she’s now broke. Dean’s mother was a drug-addicted rock & roll groupie who ignored and mistreated him for most of his life. His father, a famous rock star, was completely absent. To say Dean and Blue have issues is a gross understatement. So, when Dean finally arrives at his new Tennessee farmhouse only to find out the housekeeper he’d hired via email is really is now-sober mother, Blue gets a glimpse into Dean’s scarred past.
Here’s where my problems with the story begin. I love that Dean is given the opportunity to fix his relationships with his parents. But I think Blue should have been given the same opportunity with her mother. Sadly, her mother remained “off camera” throughout the book. We’re told over and over again how Blue is totally unsuitable for Dean but yet, he’s attracted. WHY he’s attracted was a mystery to me. In Chapter 1, as Dean helps Blue out of her beaver costume, we’re told how badly it smells and that her hair is plastered to her head. So… Dean’s erection at this moment seems a bit um, creepy. As the story progresses and their banter gets sharper, it becomes clear that seducing Blue is just the sort of competition this pro athlete thrives on. But it never really explains why he falls in love with her.
For example, he’s a man with deep and understandable abandonment issues yet can’t resist a girl so ready to bolt, he actually takes all the money from her wallet in one scene just to keep her tied to him. I also had some difficulty accepting their first love scene. After a particularly bad moment with his parents, Dean wakes up a sleeping Blue and orders her, “Give it up.” Astonishingly, she does. This felt like the total opposite of what Blue, given what we know about her to this point, would do.
On the other hand, it was also a selfless move on Blue’s part. Dean was hurting, she knew it; readers knew it. So instead of fighting with him, she decides to love him. I would have bought that had she not run away in the very next scene.
Overall, it was a bittersweet story with a lot of surprises, laughs and even a few tears. I enjoyed the quirky characters, each with their own back story, but found it a bit intrusive switching among them all. I’d give it 4 out of 5 beaver tails - er, I mean, stars. But don’t take my word on it. Please read the rest of the Bookhungry reviews. Just follow the links on your right.