Susan Elizabeth Phillips
2007, Contemporary Romance
Harper Audio, $30.54, Amazon ASIN 0061227196
This is a review of the aubiobook version of this book only. There is also a review of the printed version at this site.
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.
If you are new to audiobooks, there are multiple formats for listening and a fairly large variation in price as well. Our twice monthly Speaking of Audiobooks column and discussions over at AAR’s News & Commentary blog provides numerous recommendations and the latest news in romance audio. For beginners, we recommend one column in particular, Speaking of Audiobooks: How We Listen. Listeners share their experiences with numerous devices and advice for those just starting out.
-- Lea Hensley
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