AIN'T SHE SWEET?
Susan Elizabeth Phillips


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William Morrow, February 2004
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding

Sugar Beth Carey was once the reigning princess of Parrish, Mississippi. Beautiful and born with a silver spoon in her mouth, everyone in Sugar Beth's world danced to her tune or she had ways of getting even. But after Sugar Beth left her hometown she found the world didn't always spin at her command. In fact, life has taken a toll on the southern beauty. Now down-on-her-luck, she returns to Parrish to claim an estate left to her by her Aunt Tallulah; a carriage house, a dilapidated train depot, and a rare piece of artwork, if she can find it. Only desperate circumstances would make Sugar Beth return to Parrish to face her illegitimate half sister, the daughter her father left his fortune to, the high school friends she carelessly abandoned, and a high school teacher she falsely accused. She knew... "Sooner or later there'd be hell to pay for this, and sure as anything, Sugar Beth would be at the one standing at the cash register."

Colin Bryne first came from England to teach at Parrish High school at the age of twenty-two. Now twenty years later, he's a famous author who put Parrish on the map with his best-selling novel Last Whistle Stop on the Nowhere Line. His success has almost erased the humiliation he suffered over Sugar Beth Carey's false accusations. However, Colin and Sugar Beth's old friends, the Seawillows, haven't forgiven and forgotten everything, and they figure this is a perfect opportunity for a little revenge. Colin develops a plan to help the Seawillows get even with Sugar Beth, after he "...checked his conscience to see if he was ashamed of himself, but the romantic boy who'd once dreamed of slaying dragons and rescuing princess had developed the heart of a cynic and his conscience didn't say a word." But they soon find Sugar Beth isn't the shallow, spoiled girl who left town twenty years ago. She's still acts tough, but Colin sees the fragile beauty behind her performance, and against all reason, he finds himself falling in love.

I will freely admit to being biased in favor of anything Susan Elizabeth Phillips writes. I love her wonderful gift for romantic comedy. That said, I must warn you this author frequently creates unsympathetic characters, and puts them in situations that are sure to provoke a reaction from the reader. I think she does it on purpose, and if you aren't prepared you can find yourself hating the characters you expected to love. Sugar Beth and Colin are two such characters, and they invite you into their emotional drama, which is sure to intrigue, provoke and overwhelm. There are fireworks from the get go, and Ms. Phillips crafts an amazing redemption that unfolds slowly. Interwoven with scenes that reminded me of the YaYa Sisterhood relationships, the former high school friends experience an epiphany that changes all of them. It has an ending that will make you smile. Known for her trademark quick wit and snappy dialogue, Ms. Phillips consistently writes first rate romance novels and AIN'T SHE SWEET? is another keeper.

 

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