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Match me if you can is book six in Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Chicago Stars series. The series centres around an American Football team called (you guessed it) the Chicago Stars. I haven't read this series in order. I started with book two, then read book five, then book three and here I am on book six. I don't think that reading the books out of order has had a huge impact on my reading enjoyment. There are some parts in all of the books that refer to previous books but for the most part the background is adequately explained so that people who are new to the series can understand what is going on. If, like me, you don't like sport don't let that put you off. In the books that I've read the sport side of things has really been irrelevant. I couldn't even remember what kind of sports team they were until I looked it up to write this review, that's how little impact the sport has on the books.
Annabelle has failed at everything she's ever done so she's determined to prove to her family that she can make a success of her match making business. Heath is a successful sports manager who has worked himself out of poverty. Now all he needs is a wife to go with the wealth and success. If Annabelle can find a match for Heath she will gain a name for herself in the business but what Annabelle doesn't count on is falling in love with Heath.
The first half of this novel moves really slowly. A lot of time is spent on Annabelle fixing Heath up with other women and them gradually realising that they are in love. I think it's good to build up the relationship in this way but you have to keep it interesting too and it felt a little bit stagnant. It was also quite frustrating because this being a romance novel you know that they are going to fall in love and in this book it just seemed to take too long.
The only thing that kept me reading this book at first was the secondary plot. Portia, Annabelle's business rival and Brody, Heath's best friend make an unlikely couple. She is polished, stuck up and neurotic and he is down to earth and a little bit on the rough side. I really like romance novels where the couple are opposites, I love the whole opposites attract thing and Phillips writes this so well. You can see immediately that they would both be good for each other and I found that this plot really drew me in. I was almost tempted to skip over the parts with Annabelle and Heath! Phillips manages to build up a lot of suspense with this secondary plot even though she doesn't dedicate that much space to it. She manages to build more anticipation for this romance in two scenes that she does for Heath and Annabelle in 150 pages.
This novel does pick up a lot during the second half and I would even say that it makes up for a slow start. If you can persevere through the beginning it's certainly worth reading. She manages to inject a whole novels worth of passion, romance and tension into the second half of this novel and if she had written like this the whole way through I would have probably given this book five stars.
Heath and Annabelle are not my favourite characters and they're particularly disappointing coming from an author like Phillips who often writes really interesting, complex characters, especially when two of those interesting and complex characters are secondary characters in this book. Portia and Brody are just so much more interesting. Although very little time is spent developing Brody and Portia I just felt like they had more depth than Heath and Annabelle and a much better connection with each other. Heath is a trailer park kid who was determined enough to get himself through college and to the top of his career. Annabelle is the daughter of rich but hard working parents who can't seem to do anything and I just found them both so dull. I think they were quite cliched and while this can still be written well for the majority of the book it wasn't. I just didn't care about them or if they got together in the end. Both Heath and Annabelle are rather dull and predictable people and would have been better paired with characters who were less so. By the second half of this book the romance side of things was good enough to keep me interested but it really could have been any characters in there and it wouldn't have made a difference.
In terms of the romance, it was okay. You can see that Heath and Annabelle will probably be happy together and the second half of the book is certainly more enjoyable and exciting but I'm not convinced that it was a romance worth writing and would have much rather read a novel based around Brody and Portia. It was sweet enough, had its moments of angst that made the sweet parts sweeter and delivered everything that a romance novel should, I guess it's just that the secondary plot outshone the primary.
This book was surprisingly funny. I've read reviews that have described Phillips' books as being funny and witty but haven't always agreed, some of her books are funny and others aren't. This one was and that came as a nice surprise. At various times during this book I found myself smiling in amusement as well as just because it's a real feel good book.
I'm giving this book four stars. Although the first half is very slow and a bit on the boring side the secondary plot kept me reading and the romance between Heath and Annabelle does pick up. This book was funny in parts, heart breaking in others but overall left me feeling really good.
Susan Elizabeth Phillips is an American writer based in Chicago who, over the last fifteen years or so has provided romance readers with some of the best 'romcom' novels around and placed her firmly at the top of the romance writers tree. Match Me If You Can could loosely be described as part of her hugely successful Chicago Stars series as several popular characters from those books make brief appearances in this one. However, this book can certainly be read and enjoyed as a standalone.
Synopsis: Annabelle is tired of being the lone failure in a family of overachievers. She's endured dead-end jobs and a broken engagement. Even her hair's a mess! But that's going to change now she's taken over her late grandmother's matchmaking business. All Annabelle has to do is to land Chicago's hottest batchelor as her client...Heath Champion is wealthy, driven, gorgeous, so why does her need a matchmaker, especially a walking disaster like Annabelle Granger? True, she's entertaining, and she does have a certain quirky appeal. But Heath is searching for the ultimate symbol of success- the perfect wife. When the matchmaker promises she'll do anything to keep her star client happy...does she mean anything? If Annabelle isn't careful, she just might find herself going heart-to-heart with the toughest negotiator in town- a man who's beginning to ask himself: exactly how perfect does perfect have to be?
Susan Elizabeth Phillips (or SEP as she's know to romance afficianados) is the mistress of creating slightly flawed characters which not only makes them more believable to the reader but also much more appealing. This book is no exception. Annabelle is neither very young, virginal nor is she drop dead gorgeous. She isn't super intelligent or successful either. And Heath, too, has his flaws, including being a decidedly alpha male, as you would expect in most romances. He's pulled himself up by his bootstraps and owns Chicago's most successful sports management company, and the ultimate goal in his life plan is to have the perfect wife. This paragon has to be aged 22 to 30 (so at 31 Annabelle already fails the criteria), sweet, domesticated and submissive as well as being 'hot'. Heath has decided to treat his search for a wife like any other project and use a dating agency. Although Annabelle's agency is not the most successful ever, Heath agrees to use it as a favour to one of his clients, Kevin Tucker whose wife is Annabelle's friend.
Not only is this book gifted with two very appealing lead characters but SEP peoples her stories with wonderful secondary characters, some of whom I'm guessing may feature in future books because their stories are definitely far from over.
Match Me If You Can is not a new book. It came out in paperback in 2006 so if you're tempted to give SEP a try, the chances are you can pick a copy up for somewhat less than the £6.99 being charged by most online sellers. I guarantee that anyone who reads this book will immediately start looking for her back catalogue and I envy you the hours of reading pleasure you have before you.
If you want to read the Chicago Stars series chronologically, they are:
It Had to be You (my personal favourite)
Nobody's Baby But Mine
Dream a Little Dream
This Heart of Mine
Natural Born Charmer
All the above titles are still in print, which in itself is a testament to SEP's enduring popularity given that the first of this series was published in 1994. Match Me If You Can is a worthy addition to this excellent series.