Dream a Little Dream

First Lady

Kiss An Angel

Lady Be Good

Nobody's Baby But Mine

This Heart of Mine

Breathing Room
by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
(William Morrow, $24.95, R) ISBN 0-06-621122-0
Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ books are modern fairy tales, except instead of princes and princesses, she writes about the rich and famous. Most often her heroes are celebrities who find happiness with more or less “ordinary” women. Not so in Breathing Room Here both the hero and the heroine are famous: the heroine a self-help, spiritual guru, the hero a movie actor.

Dr. Isabel Favor wrote a best selling advice book at twenty-eight, The Four Cornerstones of a Favorable Life. Six years later, she has published three more books, done a series of inspirational tapes, and taken her message throughout the country in annual lecture tours. She has created an empire and she attributes her success to following her own advice.

Then, all of a sudden, Isabel’s life falls apart. Her business manager absconds with all her money, the IRS hits her with a bill for $1.2 million in back taxes, her latest book bombs and her lecture tour is canceled. Who wants to listen to advice from a woman whose life is a shambles? To add insult to injury, her long time fiancé informs her that he is in love with another woman, someone who knows how to enjoy life - and sex.

Isabel flees New York and heads for Italy where she has rented a farmhouse in the Tuscan countryside. In Florence, she drinks a bit too much wine at an outdoor cafe. She notices an incredibly handsome man at a nearby table who is eyeing her with considerable interest. When he makes a pass, the usually circumspect Isabel throws caution to the wind and accepts his invitation for a tryst. It is not a success.

Lorenzo Gage is Hollywood’s favorite villain. He has played more psychopaths and evil doers than he can remember. On hiatus between films, he has fled to Italy to escape the scandal surrounding the suicide of his one-time girl friend. Espying the lovely woman alone at the cafe and sensing her interest, he plans on a night of anonymous sex. Instead he gets a crazy woman who flees from his bed. He really never expects to see her again.

But this is a fairy tale where unlikely coincidences are the rule not the exception. It turns out that Ren owns the estate where Isabel’s charming cottage is to be found. So our hero and heroine meet again, discover each other’s true identity, and the sparring begins.

The relationship between Isabel and Ren is a perfect example of the attraction of opposites. Isabel is a driven, nearly compulsive perfectionist and control freak. Her own chaotic childhood has led her to prize order above all else. She is so orderly that she rearranges the condiments on the table in precise lines and picks up litter by the road.

Ren’s childhood was equally chaotic and has left him with a low opinion of himself; the villain roles he plays seem all too appropriate. While he now avoids the worst excesses of the Hollywood lifestyle, he is an unabashed sensualist who believes in the motto, seize the moment. To his utter amazement, he finds that he is attracted to Isabel. Isabel’s attraction is perhaps less surprising and the two embark on a hot affair - real hot.

In addition to the main romance, Phillips includes two entertaining subplots. The first centers on why the local villagers are trying to get Isabel out of her cottage. The second deals with the descent of Ren’s ex-wife and her four children on the villa and the complications this creates. Tracy and Ren had been briefly married when they were very young and had remained friends. When Tracy’s second marriage runs into a major snag, she flees to Ren, with her husband not far behind. Their problems give Isabel a chance to show that she can still help others.

A real plus of Breathing Room is Phillips’ lyrical description of the lovely Tuscan countryside. By the time I was finished reading about the scenery, the villages and towns, the castles and especially the food, I was ready to book an immediate flight to Italy.

Breathing Room is vintage SEP. It has romance, humor, drama, excitement and charm. In short, it has everything a romance reader could want. If I found the ending just a wee bit melodramatic, well I suppose it fit the characters and the situation. I certainly enjoyed this particular modern fairy tale.

--Jean Mason

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