Desert Isle Keeper

This Heart of Mine (#55 on AAR's Top 100 Romances)

Susan Elizabeth Phillips

An AAR Top 100 Romance

originally published on January 11, 2011

It’s always such a thrill when a long anticipated book lives up to expectations. Readers who loved It Had to be You and Nobody’s Baby But Mine have been waiting a long time for Kevin and Molly’s story, and I’m so glad to say that this book is worth the wait. The humor, lovable heroine and (let’s admit it) sexy jock hero are vintage SEP, and they make This Heart of Mine a fabulous read.

Molly Somerville has had a crush on Chicago Stars quarterback Kevin Tucker forever, but it’s not something she’s proud of. Molly’s a smart girl; she graduated summa cum laude from Northwestern, and she has a Phi Beta Kappa key. Since Molly’s sister Phoebe owns the Stars, Molly has observed Kevin plenty over the years, and his personality leaves a lot to be desired. He never remembers her name, and his dating tastes run to attractive foreign bimbos with a tenuous grasp on the English language. Molly, meanwhile, is a children’s book author. She gave away her fortune years ago so she could make it on her own, and she supports herself writing and illustrating books about a bunny named Daphne as well as articles for a young adult magazine.

One weekend, Molly decides to head to Phoebe’s vacation home in Wisconsin for some private time. As she opens the door she discovers that she’s not the only one there. Kevin has been ordered to cool his heels there after receiving a ten thousand dollar fine for his recent reckless behavior (which includes sky-diving and helo-skiing). When he hears Molly come in he thinks she’s a burglar, so he tackles her – and gets bitten by Molly’s French poodle for his pains. This not-so-auspicious beginning leads to an eventual bedroom encounter and a marriage of convenience that is unwanted on both sides.

Giving away more of the plot would really spoil the magic in this case. Parts of this plot may sound familiar, but leave it to SEP to put a new twist on old themes. The intelligent football player who dates stupid women, the older couple secondary romance, and the surprise pregnancy have all appeared in earlier books, but Phillips manages to make sure that everything old is new again. It all seems different here, probably because the characters are so real.

The humor in this book is simply wonderful. Every chapter begins with an excerpt from one of Molly’s books or her articles, which is a really fun touch. Molly’s fictional bunny Daphne has a nemesis named Benny the badger who is obviously Kevin. Several funny scenes arise from this. There are also numerous pop-culture nods to everything from The Blair Witch Project to the Harry Potter phenomenon (Molly uses “Slytherin” as an expletive).

Kevin and Molly are everything a reader could hope for. Most of the story takes place in the off-season, so there’s not a lot of football here. But Kevin’s persona is very much wrapped up in his identity as an athlete and his need to put football before everything (until he comes to his senses, of course). Molly is quirky in a fun way. One might think that her long-time crush on Kevin would make her something of a push-over where he’s concerned, but she always stands her ground. Revisiting favorite characters is also a major perk here. Dan and Phoebe (from It Had to Be You) appear with their family, and they play a major part in the plot. There are also new characters, including an older couple who have a secondary romance. My personal favorites were Troy and Amy, very young (and frisky) newlyweds who try to give Kevin and Molly marital advice.

One of the things that really keeps the plot humming along is the great sexual tension between Kevin and Molly. It’s helped along by the marriage of convenience plot, which creates frustration on both sides. Phillips often creates characters who don’t think they want to sleep with each other – until they are around each other constantly. Long before they come to any kind of understanding about sex, the dialogue between these two sizzles.

I also just have to mention the wonderful sub-plot involving censorship. This is a book without any real “villain.” But a faceless group called SKIFSA (Straight Kids For a Straight America) decides that Molly’s books have content that encourages homosexuality. Molly is forced to make difficult choices about her writing and her career.

As I read and reviewed this book, I tried to figure out the one thing that made it such a fun read. But with This Heart of Mine, there isn’t just one thing. Humor, poignancy, creative plotting, wonderful characters, and superb sexual tension make this book an all-around winner. I can’t wait to read it again.

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Book Details

Reviewer :      Blythe Smith

Grade :     A

Sensuality :      Warm

Book Type :     

Review Tags :      | | | |

Recent Comments


  1. Dabney Grinnan
    Dabney Grinnan November 9, 2017 at 10:29 am - Reply

    This is my favorite Phillips. I adore Molly and Kevin and the secondary romance between Lily and Liam is sublime. Plus, it’s so funny. The teenage caretakers who can’t stop boinking, the baseball game, and, best of all, Molly’s books.

  2. Blackjack
    Blackjack November 9, 2017 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    I enjoy SEP’s books, especially on the surface. I tend to be the opposite of a surface reader though and while this book is fun, if I look too closely, it’s odd and even troubling. I hated the main romance in the first half, and the first part of the book is actually quite painful reading for me. It’s hard to find a romance couple out there who get off on a worse foot than Molly and Kevin. The dislike for each other, the quasi seduction/rape? scene that leads to Molly’s pregnancy, the miscarriage, etc. all are elided somehow into a comic romance. It never quite recovers from the bizarre early chapters. Definitely not my favorite of her books.

    • Dabney Grinnan
      Dabney Grinnan November 9, 2017 at 5:24 pm - Reply

      And those are the things that I like the most about the book! #differentstrokes

      • Blackjack
        Blackjack November 9, 2017 at 8:09 pm - Reply

        The rape scene is particularly hard for me to read. Is it that it’s a woman taking advantage of a man that makes it okay and even eventually comedic in the overall plot? If the roles were reversed, would the book still be funny? Anyway, I’m curious how others feel and if this book holds up over time.

        • Chrisreader November 9, 2017 at 8:21 pm - Reply

          I was going to post something like what you posted but I feel like I’m being the fly in the ointment a lot here at times, so I hung back a bit. I have a real problem with Molly-her behavior is creepy/criminal. As you say, if a man did it, it would not be cute or funny. There are a lot of men in the news right now who are being called to task morally and legally for doing things of this nature (and well they should!!)

          I’m usually someone who naturally tends to go for the woman’s side in books -but I felt for the guy in this book and how he was treated. And I have a personal bias against athlete heroes, I just don’t usually care for them. It’s just my own taste and prejudice I know, so for me to feel like he’s being treated poorly and siding against the cute, quirky writer heroine takes a LOT. I feel like there was a presumption that “Hey he’s a big guy and a professional athlete so he should be GLAD some cute, quirky chick who writes kids books crawled in bed with him. He’s a guy so he should just be up for any kind of sex with any willing female, feelings be damned.” I just couldn’t get past it to see the humor the way I couldn’t get past some of the behavior of the heroes in other SEP books. She’s a writer who can really just hit the wrong keys with me I’ve discovered.

  3. Chrisreader November 10, 2017 at 12:06 am - Reply

    I have zero problem with people enjoying a book I don’t. First of all it’s fiction, and everyone has a right to like or dislike any form of art or literature. If Nancy Friday and her books taught me anything it’s that people (and especially in her work, women) like to explore in their fantasies things they might not even necessarily enjoy in real life and many things that aren’t “p.c.”. I have enjoyed Cara McKenna who writes characters with tastes that are certainly controversial. It’s one reason I held back from commenting right away as I don’t always want to rain on someone else’s parade. There are many books that people love that really either don’t work for me or annoy me (and vice versa, like Love In The Afternoon).

    I can’t explain why some books with jerky guy behavior get a pass from me and some enrage me. I’ve read M.C. Books where I just roll my eyes at the Neanderthal behavior, but Linda Howard (a favorite author of mine) wrote a couple stinkers I’d like to toss against the wall. If someone likes this book (and clearly many people LOVE it for it to score so highly on the list here, then great. I can’t get past Molly’s behavior and it soured the book for me, just MHO. If it brings someone else laughter and enjoyment then it’s great for them. I also think examining Molly’s behavior as a heroine vs. the same thing done by a hero is a worthy question.

    I do think supporting artists that currently engage in illegal or just troubling behavior is a different story, Mahler is long dead so listening to his music now doesn’t support or enable him. Pretty much every historical person was likely racist or imperfect by our current standards that took centuries for us to refine. And we are still evolving, hopefully for the better. I personally would never pay to see a Roman Polanski film or one by Woody Allen, just my choice.

    I have been thinking about all the people involved in the movies and shows with actors and producers who have done criminal things and what the collateral damage is to the innocent people associated with them when they are pulled. I’m glad one movie is just reshooting scenes with a replacement actor so everyone else’s lives and livelihoods hopefully aren’t affected. One of the best movies I saw all year was Wind River and I think it was a Miramax film- so I’m hoping the amazing writer, director and actors aren’t tarred by association with Weinstein when award season comes.

  4. Blackjack
    Blackjack November 10, 2017 at 1:20 am - Reply

    Well, I have a different take on art and much of it relates to how I teach as a literature teacher. A novel that endorses rape DOES have a social responsibility and the endorsement of sexual assault does hurt people by putting forth harmful ideas into public discourse and trying to pass it off as “just entertainment,” humorous fiction. It is harmful too to claim that such ideas are entertainment and shouldn’t be questioned by readers, even if readers were able to brush it off and leave it unquestioned.

    My second take on art is that it is a product of our culture and historical moment and that readers do read it through their contemporary lens.

    We should hold art accountable for the ideas it conveys. In fact, SEP has the characters in This Heart of Mine do that very thing. Kevin blames Molly and is harmed by her actions. Molly blames herself and some of the novel (not enough, in my opinion) is a rape-redemption narrative. Rape redemptions are common sub-genres in the larger romance genre. So, to try to take a moral-free reading of this novel goes against what some of the novel itself is examining

    Finally, we are living in a weird moment when every day we turn on the news to hear of a new powerful male social figure being accused of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault. There are two just today! How we read texts in this climate without absorbing all that we take in daily is a big part of being an active reader in our world. The Slate excerpt article that you cited, Dabney, is arguing that the movie does not endorse pedophilia. Note that it is the “endorsement” of a reprehensible act that is the problem. Does SEP endorse female sexual assault? I think she comes close to doing that, if not flat out doing that.

  5. Lola November 10, 2017 at 2:50 am - Reply

    I read this book a loooong time ago, and it straight up made me uncomfortable. I read it again a few years later to see if I was remembering correctly how much I hated it. There is a whopping consent issue in this book- even SEP feels there is a consent issue in this book. IIRC, Kevin is livid with Molly for taking advantage of him. Again, I think he (via SEP) brings up the question of rape. This is an utterly forced marriage on his behalf, his choices are out Molly to her family for being a creepy predator or deeply anger his coach AND the owner of his team who are related to Molly. He didn’t have any good choices and his powerlessness made me deeply uncomfortable. I was so uncomfortable on his behalf. And, I hated Molly.

    So- I want to say that I am not applying a “modern” cultural lens- I felt this long before Weinstein, et. disgusting al.. SEP set the situation up in that way. She brought the lack of consent up and Kevin’s powerlessness up as very crucial plot points. This is a central issue of the book. I’m not criticizing the book or SEP’s decisions. But, I am saying very definitively that this book is straight up not to everyone’s tastes for a legitimate reason.

    What Molly did can easily be construed as a sexual assault. I do not like that in a romance. It is a giant deal breaker for me. I get that SEP went a different direction- Kevin forgives Molly. Great. If it were real life and someone I actually knew, I’d learn to deal with my beliefs and world-view. This isn’t- it’s a book and life is too short to spend it reading stuff that makes you squirm with discomfort.

  6. Gigi November 10, 2017 at 7:43 am - Reply

    I remember really lookin forward to the release of this book and then being deeply disappointed. I loathed Molly with intensity of a hundred blazing suns. She raped the hero. There was no question in my mind. This is the only SEP book that I immediately donated after reading.

  7. Malin November 10, 2017 at 1:41 pm - Reply

    This is by far my least favourite SEP that I’ve read, and the rape issue is part of it. Kevin being forced to marry Molly, who is just a straight up awful human being doesn’t make it better. All of the horribly contrived ways in which Molly tries to orchestrate drama when they’re together as well. It also made me hate both Dan and Phoebe from It Had to Be You, who I’d previously liked. But in supporting and enabling Molly against Kevin, who was completely and entirely a victim here – not cool. The only aspect of the book I liked was the secondary romance, but the rest of the book made me so uncomfortable, I now actively warn others away from this book. I totally agree that it’s good that different people like different things, but it makes me sad that this book is still rated so highly by romance readers, because the straight up lack of consent would be appalling if the situations were reversed, and are just as appalling when it’s a woman doing the assaulting.

    • Blackjack
      Blackjack November 10, 2017 at 5:56 pm - Reply

      Yes, I too am somewhat sad that this book is highly rated in the romance community as I think it is a harmful romance in the messages it is sending and does not really qualify as a romance. If there is one criteria I use as a reader it is that the author has to convince me that the couple are convincing together in the long run, and the themes she uses to bring them together cannot achieve that.

      I wonder too how people feel over the years about the issue of consensual sex and if this book will continue to be viewed positively given the public consciousness raising we’ve all experienced over the past couple of years.

      • Dabney Grinnan
        Dabney Grinnan November 10, 2017 at 7:01 pm - Reply

        We are in the process of looking at the books currently on our Top 100 that our staff thinks should be included on the next iteration of the list. I don’t think this book will make the cut.

  8. bungluna November 19, 2017 at 9:53 am - Reply

    I am so glad I was over my SEP auto-buy by this book. It sounds like it would push all my buttons. I gave this one a pass and I am glad.

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