There is absolutely no one in the genre like Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Her books are as perfectly balanced and deceptively simple as a serving of quiche. We know quiche, like we know romance, but Phillips is a master chef, and Natural Born Charmer is a substantial and complex example of her special wizardry. When Blue Bailey is rescued by quarterback Dean Robillard, she's at the end of her rope, broke and homeless, while Dean is just as lost on the road of life. Both have mother issues. Dean's was a druggie groupie who abandoned him to boarding schools, as Blue was abandoned to nuns and hippies while her activist mother saved everybody but her own daughter. The two have enough abandonment issues to float three psychology departments, but the delight in Phillips' careful, layered characterizations is that no one is exactly what one might think, and humans are not case histories, but full of surprises. A colorful, tender tale of the delicacy and indestructibility in each of us, and the rich surprises love can bring. Barbara Samuel's most recent novel is Madame Mirabou's School of Love.

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