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Natural Born Charmer (#97 on AAR's Top 100 Romances)

Susan Elizabeth Phillips

An AAR Top 100 Romance

originally published on December 17, 2000

A famous, wealthy, fabulously attractive, professional football star driving down the road in his Aston Martin sees a sweaty woman marching down the side of the road in a beaver costume and decides to give her a ride. Attractive scenario – huh? It hardly inspired me to continue but this is, after all, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and almost as important, it is narrated by the incomparable Anna Fields. As an audiobook enthusiast, that combo rarely goes wrong for me.

That football star is none other than Dean Robillard, (from Phillips Match Me If You Can), quarterback for the Chicago Stars. Dean’s been in a funk of sorts lately and is on a cross-country trek from California to his farm in Tennessee where he hopes to take a much needed break from his stardom, recent injury, and the general state of his life.

Blue Bailey is having a bad day in the middle of an increasingly bad life. Her lover has left her for a much younger woman, her savings have disappeared, and she is stretching to make ends meet by doing odd jobs such as wearing a beaver costume to attract business for Ben’s Big Beaver Lumberyard. She’s at her wit’s end and, when an impossibly handsome man stops to question her, Blue sees him as a pure irritant. And there’s the fact that he won’t leave her alone – even when she insults him repeatedly.

Dean’s not one to savor solitude and he rather likes the putdowns and sardonic comments Blue keeps throwing his way. His first offer of a ride into town stretches into an hour and then a half-day and finally a few states later – his farm. Blue is out of money and needs a place to live while she puts aside funds to start up her portrait painting business once again. Dean seems to need her for one reason or another, or at least she tries to convince him of such, and she certainly needs the employment he can provide.

Natural Born Charmer sat on my reading shelf for months even though I had rushed out to buy the hardback upon its release. A few early reviews reported that the heroine is a disagreeable sort who snaps constantly at the hero and, as I skimmed through the beginning pages of the book, I confirmed those statements. I can’t abide cranky heroines and, as a result, this highly anticipated book remained shelved and unread.

Finally I decided to not, in fact, read Natural Born Charmer but listen to it. My iPod made listening easy and I had confidence in this narrator’s ability to effectively deliver even the most average of audiobooks.

Within minutes of hearing Ms. Fields interpretation of Blue’s character, I forgot my doubts regarding her temperament. Her depiction of Blue is that of a self-deprecating woman whose voice often drifts into humor and cynicism rather than the difficult character I expected.

Female narrators reading male characters or male narrators reading female characters is often a matter of concern among audiobook listeners. With Anna Fields, however, men sound like men and women sound like women. Her portrayal of Dean is all male with the attitudes and humorous quips I expect of such a hero.

The possibility of a lasting romance between Dean and Blue does look far-fetched, but in the capable hands of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, I started to believe it just might work. Once again, convincing me of such, was Ms. Fields delivery of the couple’s humorous bantering as well as the times when things slowed down and turned serious.

This is actually an immensely satisfying family tale (in addition to the romance) with a number of secondary characters playing significant roles. There’s eleven year-old Bailey, Dean’s half sister, who sounds like the girl she is (Ms. Fields excels in children’s voices). There is the irritable, aging town matriarch who owns the nearby town and is convincingly portrayed as such. Dean’s mom becomes involved with an aging rock star (another realistic portrayal), providing the reader with a moving older couple romance.

Anna Fields numerous narrations include sixteen of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ audiobooks. The audiobook world was stunned when Ms. Fields died in a flash flood in 2007. She is greatly missed and often mentioned in our Speaking of Audiobooks discussions as listeners’ favorite.

As I listened to Natural Born Charmer for the third time, I laughed out loud and smiled in appreciation of the leads’ repartee. Yet, there were times my eyes filled with tears as well. This is a moving tale of a highly dysfunctional family and a downright delightful audiobook. If I had read this in print, I imagine my grade would be more in the B range, mostly due to my negative take on Blue’s character. But as an audiobook, Anna Fields’ not only brings forth a most attractive character in Blue, but also gives the listener a better understanding of all the primary characters. I had such a warm and thoroughly satisfied feeling while I listened to the closing scene. No doubt this is DIK territory – audiobook style.

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Book Details

Reviewer :      Lea Hensley


Grade :     A-


Sensuality :      Warm


Book Type :     


Review Tags :      | | | | |


6 Comments

  1. Dabney Grinnan
    Dabney Grinnan June 29, 2017 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    This book would so be on my top 100 list. I love the secondary romance as much as I do the primary: Jack and April are magic. Ms. Phillips has rarely been funnier as well.

  2. Blackjack
    Blackjack June 29, 2017 at 5:40 pm - Reply

    I liked this one, and it is quite funny. I should go back and reread it though as I don’t remember feeling swept away by the primary romance. I do like the secondary romance here though, as well as in many of her books.

  3. Keira Soleore
    Keira Soleore June 29, 2017 at 7:17 pm - Reply

    I love this book and the cover so much that I treasure the small notebook swag that I received with it. It’s currently in my purse for notes on the fly.

  4. Amanda
    Amanda June 30, 2017 at 7:25 pm - Reply

    I reread the Chicago Stars series a while back and realized I basically hate this series, but this book is still readable for me, at least. (The only book I still love unreservedly in that series is one of my all-time fav romances, MMIYC.)

  5. Nblibgirl
    Nblibgirl July 1, 2017 at 12:36 am - Reply

    This is definitely one of my top 100. I love Blue, and the secondary characters (the problematic relationships between Dean and both of his parents, the half-sister, the crabby old lady who is so totally awful, the secondary romance between Dean’s parents, the gypsy caravan, the Speed Racer incident, and on and on). And the audio version (which is how I first read this one) is performed by the incomparable Anna Fields. Some readers have discussed here in the past serious issues they had/have with a with a particular scene late in the book, but there is so much other worthwhile stuff going on in this book I’m willing to cut SEP some slack for not making Dean grovel a bit more over it.

  6. Nikki H July 1, 2017 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    I love this whole series and I loved how Anna Fields made the characters in this book come to life. She was wonderful. I just re-listened to it last week. Fields also did an amazing job on Match Me If You Can, Heath and Annabelle’s book.

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