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    Anna Campbell’s Review of First Lady by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
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  • Published: Jun 12th, 2009

anna_headIs there anything better than a really good Susan Elizabeth Phillips book?

I don’t think so! Well, maybe one or two things, but we’re talking romance fiction here, guys!first_lady_susan_elizabeth_phillips

SEP’s one of those authors I tend to hoard because I know that when I really, REALLY need something that presses all the buttons for me, I can reach for one of her books and I’ll have a blissful few hours. She hasn’t let me down yet.

She’s famous for breaking the taboo on books with sportsmen heroes with her fabulous Chicago Stars series. If you haven’t read those, grab them, they’re great, absolute classics. But I want to talk today about one of her stand-alone stories, a book I only read last year, and which I’ve since re-read and loved even more second time around.

First Lady is an American version of Roman Holiday, a similarity that didn’t strike me the first time I read it (when I gobbled it up like it was chocolate) but which struck me on this last reading.

In the movie, Audrey Hepburn plays a gorgeous princess locked up in her tower, aka leading an emotionally unfulfilled life that is all duty and ceremony. She runs away to see what it’s like in the real world. In First Lady, our intrepid heroine, Cornelia Litchfield Chase, blue-blooded widow of an assassinated president, sneaks out of the White House to get a taste of a normal life, something she’s never had.

romanholidayIn Roman Holiday, Audrey hooks up with a down-on-his-luck, hard-bitten journalist who realizes this is the biggest story of his life. But then he falls in love with the princess on the run and his native honor battles with the demands of his career. In First Lady, you guessed it, our hero, Mat Jorik, is a journalist who’s become hardened and cynical about life, although he doesn’t realize who the unexpected passenger in his beat-up Winnebago is until well into the story.

The scene is set for a fabulous clash of opposites fueled by burning attraction on both sides. Working-class hero Mat has brought up seven sisters single-handedly and has a wonderful take on women (and that feeds into his conflict but more on that later). Nealy looks at the world that most people take for granted with a fresh joy that gradually eats away at Mat’s cynicism. And over all of this hangs the inevitable moment when he finds out who she is, whether before or after the authorities catch up with her. Great dramatic tension!

Wonderful as the romance is, I think my favorite elements of the story are the two waifs and strays Mat is delivering to their grandmother in Iowa. He’s a very reluctant guardian but their mother has died and left the children in his care, if only temporarily. One is a beautifully depicted, tough as nails but really soft-hearted teenager called Lucy. The other is an adorable baby called Butt. Watching these four disparate people discover their true selves and gradually form a family over the long road trip is compelling and sweet and heart-wrenching. That’s one of the things I love about SEP books-she makes you laugh but she makes you cry too.

Nealy understands she has to go back to her empty shell of a life. She has obligations that she can’t avoid forever. Mat has had his fill of a house full of women and wants a chance to lead his own life, which makes him unwilling to take on the girls, and he knows he can’t possibly measure up to a woman who has been married to the president. So what happens to this ramshackle family when they reach their destination?

The solution is magical and wise and wonderful and will leave you with a big smile. Like the rest of the book. Seriously, this story is an absolute treat. I strongly recommend First Lady!

17 Responses to “Anna Campbell’s Review of First Lady by Susan Elizabeth Phillips”

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    on Jun 12th, 2009
    @ 2:58 am

    Well, you’ve sold me! It’s going on my to buy list!! The characters and story sound wonderful!

  2. orannia
    on Jun 12th, 2009
    @ 6:07 am

    Oh, thank you Anna! That sounds like an amazing story! And I do the same with SEP – hoarde them! I still haven’t finished reading the Chicago Stars series…but I think I might have to pull the next one off the TBR list and settle in ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Marisa
    on Jun 12th, 2009
    @ 6:40 am

    Anna – First Lady was the first SEP book I ever read and it took me quite a while to get to her Chicago Stars series.

    I read First Lady during a time when I was reading almost all historical and western books. But SEP reminded me that contemporary story lines can be just as exciting.

    Like you, one of my favorite story lines in this book is Mat’s relationship with the children. I think it’s very hard to ‘write children’ well and SEP does that in this book.

  4. Gannon
    on Jun 12th, 2009
    @ 9:05 am

    Anna, SEP is an auto-buy author for me. She’s never let me down yet!

    Funny, we just watched Roman Holiday on TV the other night. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. PJ
    on Jun 12th, 2009
    @ 9:44 am

    I’m a self-admitted football junkie so, of course, I adore SEP’s Chicago Stars books. FIRST LADY was the first of her books that I read and she’s been an auto-buy ever since.

    I had the pleasure of meeting SEP a few years ago and she’s a lovely, gracious lady who made me feel welcome and completely at ease. I would have picked up her books on the basis of that meeting alone had I not already known what a terrific writer she was.

  6. Anna Campbell
    on Jun 12th, 2009
    @ 3:43 pm

    Tamara, seriously, she’s one of the great writers in romance. You’ll love her.

  7. Anna Campbell
    on Jun 12th, 2009
    @ 3:46 pm

    Orannia, isn’t she great? The first one I read was Lady Be Good and I’ve been hooked ever since. If you haven’t read that one yet, grab it. It’s hilarious and it has one of the best secondary romances I’ve ever read. Actually that’s one of the things I love about her stories, the rich world these people live in.

  8. Anna Campbell
    on Jun 12th, 2009
    @ 3:49 pm

    Marisa, it’s really hard to write children! But somehow she gets the tone just right. Mind you, I think that’s one of the things she’s a master (mistress?) of, tone. Each character is pitch perfect. There’s a brief appearance by a slacker in First Lady and honestly, it was like he was standing in front of me, he was so real. Isn’t this a lovely story? I held off reading it – I think the whole political background didn’t appeal but it’s a gorgeous story. I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it.

  9. Anna Campbell
    on Jun 12th, 2009
    @ 3:51 pm

    Gannon, I kicked myself on the second read-through of FL and thought, “Hey, this is Roman Holiday revisited.” Isn’t RH a lovely film? I always cry at the end. Glad you’re another SEP fan. Haven’t read Glitter Baby yet although it’s definitely on the list.

  10. Anna Campbell
    on Jun 12th, 2009
    @ 3:55 pm

    PJ, how lucky you are to have met SEP. I’ve met her briefly and as you say, she’s so warm and gracious. Very like her books! I think there’s such heart and generosity in her stories and that’s what readers respond to. I’m NOT a football junkie (footy as we call it down here – I know Helen has been educating you in Oz speak, LOL!). And I know nothing about American football but I’m hooked on the Chicago Stars books – that opening scene of the first one with the poodle and the Hungarian hunk is a masterpiece on how to hook a reader. It all comes down to the characters which is why I argue when people say they won’t read books about musicians or actors or painters or sportsmen.

  11. Rita Clay Estrada
    on Jun 12th, 2009
    @ 5:13 pm

    What a wonderful review, Anna! SEP is one of my fav’s too, as well as being an honored friend! I wouldn’t miss a thing she writes and look forward to reading ANYTHING she does on paper, including a grocery list!
    Thanks for a great review of a really, really, good book!

  12. Anna Campbell
    on Jun 12th, 2009
    @ 5:26 pm

    Hey, Rita, thanks for popping by! You sound ALMOST as enthusiastic about SEP as I am, LOL. I remember when I read Match Me If You Can, an absolutely brilliant book, I thought she’s like Shakespeare – you know, she’s so in control of her craft, she knows exactly where to touch a story lightly and where to go for the jugular. She really is one of the best out there!

  13. Anna Campbell
    on Jun 12th, 2009
    @ 7:21 pm

    Hey, guys, just heading out for an overnight stay at the seaside which should be fun. I’ll pop back in tomorrow afternoon and answer any comments so don’t be shy now ๐Ÿ˜‰ Fantastic to find all these SEP fans here!

  14. Jen
    on Jun 13th, 2009
    @ 12:43 am

    Hi Anna!

    I loved First Lady. I wish SEP could write faster! I know this sounds weird, but I always read a few pages of whatever SEP book I’ve got near me before I start working on my WIP. It puts me in a good mood!
    Enjoy your stay!

  15. Andrea deSherbinin
    on Jun 13th, 2009
    @ 10:07 am

    I found your website thru twitter! I loved this review because it made me think of SEP’s book in new ways. I will have to re-read it now. I love her books especially her Chicago Stars series.
    I will come back often for your reviews.

  16. Anna Campbell
    on Jun 14th, 2009
    @ 12:45 am

    Jen, I perfectly understand. I used to do something similar with Loretta Chase. Just something about that fabulous writing used to put me in a frame of mind when I could work on my own stuff. Had a great weekend, thanks!

  17. Anna Campbell
    on Jun 14th, 2009
    @ 12:46 am

    Hey, Andrea, thanks for popping over. Romance Novel TV is a great site! They have wonderful reviews and excellent columns on all sorts of things, although usually there’s som connection with romance fiction. I say usually, Maria and Marisa. Andrea, I do a review once a month so do pop back and say hello!

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