Doing feature stories on authors who come to Connecticut on tour has pushed me out of my comfort zone again and again, forcing me to read books I would probably not have picked up for my own pleasure.
Making the acquaintance of writers like Meg Cabot and Jane Green is hardly a hardship, of course, but who knows when I might have started to read these wonderful authors if I didn’t do interviews with them for my “Book Beat” column.
My latest new-to-me-but-not-to-millions-of-fans “discovery” is Susan Elizabeth Phillips who will be featured in my Sunday column Aug. 31. (She’ll be at the Fairfield University Bookstore on Sept. 9 and the Ferguson Library in Stamford the following day.)
To prep for that interview, I read Phillips’ new novel, “Heroes Are My Weakness” (William Morrow), and loved the mix of mystery, romance, and the writer’s witty homage to Gothic classics such as “Rebecca” and “Jane Eyre.”
Phillips is termed a “Women’s Fiction Superstar” by her publisher, but I don’t see why storytelling of such high quality should be restricted to what used to be known as the fairer sex. The narrative is pretty equally divided between our heroine, Annie Hewitt, and her brooding neighbor, Theo Harp.
In some lesser romances written by women the men tend to be either too good to be true — a woman’s fantasy of a man — or total creeps. Phillips makes Theo work both as a love object and as a troubled man trying to get through the aftermath of a domestic tragedy.
Annie returns to the Maine island where she spent most of her summers as a girl and where she fell for the teenage Theo. He ended up behaving badly — or, if you prefer, like an average adolescent boy — and she wanted nothing more to do with him.
The 30ish New York actress and children’s party puppeteer goes back to Peregrine Island in the dead of winter in order to fulfill the odd terms of an inheritance — if she doesn’t occupy her late mother’s cottage at least two consecutive months every year it will revert to Theo’s family.
Phillips has fun tweaking Gothic stereotypes — Annie first sees Theo riding his horse, shirtless, through a winter storm — but everything is built on a realistic narrative featuring two characters we grow to care about a lot. Now I want to start dipping into the author’s 17-book backlist.