28 August 2014

Review: Susan Elizabeth Phillips' HEROES ARE MY WEAKNESS is a must-read, modern day gothic page turner!

I've really enjoyed Susan Elizabeth Phillips' novels for a long time. My favorite of her books are in her Chicago Stars series (also the first series of hers that I read). To be absolutely honest, I haven't *loved* every book she's written, but most of them. She's one of those writers that even if I find some of the storyline hard going, that I'll continue reading the title.

To say I was intrigued by her most recent book, Heroes Are My Weakness, is an understatement. My first glance at the cover, a jean clad, red parka wearing view of a woman, I thought it would be another humorous contemporary. Instead, I found myself swept away by this updated gothic romance set on a remote island off the Maine Coast, that harkens back to my favorite authors growing up - Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, Daphne DuMaurier, and Charlotte Bronte. I can be that specific, because Phillips dedicated this novel to them.

Believe me when I say that she nailed this novel, using their stories as inspiration, and these authors would only be proud and honored by her work. It's a keep-you-up-all-night, page turner, complete with brooding villain or hero (quite hard to tell), and a heroine who's a bit too curious sometimes for her own health.

If you didn't grow up scouring book sales and used books stores for these gothic authors' titles as I did, you might not understand what a successful tribute Heroes Are My Weakness is. The isolated location, the dark scary mansion, the threatening son of the owner - who may either ride you down or shoot you with pistol in hand. I felt like I was twelve again discovering the world of brooding romantic heroes, mysteries, and romance. This is a book I look forward to passing along to friends' daughters to introduce them to the genre - much like my neighbors' big sister did with me.

I admit from the moment Phillips revealed that her heroine Annie was a ventriloquist, I was totally creeped out. I'm ashamed to admit it, but those ventriloquist dummy puppets scare me. I've never felt comfortable around them and used to cry when my parents would take me to shows that included ventriloquist acts. When I read William Goldman's Magic, I never looked at a dummy again without shivering. That said, Phillips made me enjoy Annie's dummies. I loved the differing personalities, voices, and humor and no longer saw them as threatening or something from my nightmares, but as entertainment. Kudos for helping me overcome a lifetime phobia!

While Theo, the son of the house, would in most stories automatically be the default hero, it's clear that his history with Annie - and possible attempts on her life - have him clearly in the villain category. But is that fair? What about the housekeeper with the mute daughter who was the tag along friend to Theo, his twin, and Annie? Is she threatening Annie because of her long-time crush on Theo?

Yes, who's threatening Annie? From shots fired, to dummies hanging in a noose, to graffitied walls who wants Annie to move from the cottage her mother left her - really her only discernible legacy? Is it Theo? Does he really need his writerly solitude so much or is he really the psychopath that Annie fears from long ago? And what of their feelings and attraction for one another? Oh my goodness, this is a page turner for sure!

What I most enjoyed about Heroes Are My Weakness is how in saluting the gothic novel style, Phillips also turned it on its head. I'm not going to give out any spoilers, but the surprising answer to the who and why is a fabulously different solution than the traditional one.

If I could change only one thing, it would be the cover. I'd love to see one of the brooding gothic style homes on a sea cliff with the heroine in a red cloak and an iPad or laptop in hand (yes, just as she was described in the book). Apart from that it's a fabulous read and it's going on the forever shelf along with my copies of books by its inspirations - Stewart, duMaurier, Whitney, Holt, Bronte.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips Heroes Are My Weakness is a must-read, cannot-put-it-down, modern day gothic for romance lovers of every age.


From the PublisherHeroes Are My Weakness: A Novel by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsWilliam Morrow (HarperCollins) ⎜ 9780062106070 ⎜ $26.99 ⎜ Aug 26, 2014 
Deepest winter.
An isolated island off the coast of Maine.
A man. A woman.
Puppets. (Yes, puppets . . .)
And . . . 
A mysterious house looming over the sea . . .
He's a reclusive writer whose imagination creates chilling horror novels. She's a down-on-her-luck actress reduced to staging kids' puppet shows. He knows a dozen ways to kill his characters with his bare hands. She knows a dozen ways to kill an audience with laughs. But she's not laughing now. 
Annie Hewitt has arrived on Peregrine Island in the middle of a snowstorm and at the end of her resources. She's broke, dispirited, but not quite ready to give up. Her red suitcases hold the puppets she uses to make her living: sensible Dilly, spunky Scamp, and Leo, the baddest of bad guys. Her puppets, the romantic novels she loves, and a little bit of courage are all she has left. 
Annie couldn't be more ill prepared for what she finds when she reaches Moonraker Cottage or for the man who dwells in Harp House, the mysterious mansion that hovers above the cottage. When she was a teenager, he betrayed her in a way she can never forget or forgive. Now they're trapped together on a frozen island along with a lonely widow, a mute little girl, and townspeople who don't know how to mind their own business. 
Is he the villain she remembers, or has he changed? Her head says no. Her heart says yes. 
It's going to be a long, hot winter.