First Star I See Tonight (Chicago Stars #8)- Susan Elizabeth Phillips
A star quarterback and a feisty detective play for keeps in this sporty, sexy, sassy novel—a long-awaited new entry in the beloved, award-winning, New York Times bestselling author’s fan-favorite Chicago Stars football series. Piper Dove is a woman with a dream—to become the best detective in the city of Chicago. First job? Trail former Chicago Stars quarterback, Cooper Graham. Problem? Graham’s spotted her, and he’s not happy. Which is why a good detective needs to think on her feet. “The fact is . . . I’m your stalker. Not full-out barmy. Just . . . mildly unhinged.” Piper soon finds herself working for Graham himself, although not as the bodyguard he refuses to admit he so desperately needs. Instead, he’s hired her to keep an eye on the employees at his exclusive new nightclub. But Coop’s life might be in danger, and Piper’s determined to protect him, whether he wants it or not. (Hint: Not!) If only she weren’t also dealing with a bevy of Middle Eastern princesses, a Pakistani servant girl yearning for freedom, a teenager who just wants of fit in, and an elderly neighbor demanding Piper find her very dead husband. And then there’s Cooper Graham himself, a legendary sports hero who always gets what he wants—even if what he wants is a feisty detective hell bent on proving she’s as tough as he is. From the bustling streets of Chicago to a windswept lighthouse on Lake Superior to the glistening waters of Biscayne Bay, two people who can’t stand to lose will test themselves and each other to discover what matters most.
I first heard of Susan Elizabeth Phillips through a book catalog. The description of Match Me If You Can was perfectly up my alley (a matchmaker and a sports agent!) and I dutifully added it to my lengthy To Read list. Then I forgot about it for a few- er, five- years before reading it in 2010.
I was hooked. I didn't realize it was a romance novel but Match Me If You Can was fun and delightful, just what I didn't realize I'd been looking for.
While I was surprised to see it was book 6 in a series, any of the Chicago Stars books hold up fine on their own. More than a decade has passed since Natural Born Charmer closed out the Chicago Stars series so when I heard Phillips planned on writing an 8th book, I practically squealed.
I kept smiling while I read First Star I See Tonight. That's how fun it was. The characters were funny and I enjoyed seeing them work through various plights. I sympathized with Piper's plight as she took over her father's detective agency after his death. He may not have wanted her to follow in his footsteps but it's in her blood and you can't help but root for her in spite of her daddy issues and the obstacles in her way.
One of those obstacles, of course, is one Cooper Graham, a retired football star who is settling into his role as a businessman. He does not appreciate Piper following him and when she won't cough up the name of her client, it seems like that will be the end of that, until Piper's ingenuity kicks in. By working for Cooper, she can see who is out to sabotage his business. I loved seeing her in action! Such a great role reversal in having the woman be the bodyguard for the man, even if this brought out a little of Coop's sexist side. These two settle into a wary business relationship that turns into a genuine friendship and then- happy clap!- something more.
I am a sucker for good banter and Coop and Piper have that in spades. Because of this, I was rooting for them all the way. They had such chemistry together but that wasn't enough to guarantee happily-ever-after and I really appreciated how Phillips helped her characters navigate whether they actually could have a relationship.
I also liked how Piper and Coop both have big decisions in terms of their careers. This is where much of their character growth occurs and I especially enjoyed how this played out for Cooper. What can I say? He cast a spell over me.
This in itself would have made for a good story but Phillips upped the ante by including a genuinely good mystery. We get to see Piper's detective skills in action but the bread crumbs along the way are tricky and I was surprised when all was revealed. It should be noted: it is hard to surprise me and that makes me appreciate books like this all the more.
First Star I See Tonight is classic SEP: fun and frothy with a hefty dose of brooding hero and great banter. It kept me guessing and I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. Whether you're new to the Chicago Stars or you've read the whole series, I'd highly recommend it.
And Yet: Racial Prejudice and TW: Rape Allegations
As fun and frothy as SEP's books are, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the troubling issues. I loved this book but I didn't feel right about giving it 5 stars, for the same reasons some reviewers have given it only 2 stars.
First, one of Piper's friends/neighbors is an elderly woman Berni who doesn't like Amber, one of the other neighbors, apparently because she's Korean. "But since Amber believed Berni's age gave her a pass for racial prejudice, she wouldn't let Piper or Jen confront Berni about it." (p. 34)
Of course, there are times when POC don't confront so-called racial prejudice but Berni, Amber, Piper, and Jen spend a lot of time together and I couldn't believe Amber would spend that much time with a racist old woman and give her a pass due to her age, much less that her friends would let that stand. This is a very minor point in the book and it is explained/resolved by the end in a palatable way but it rubbed me the wrong way.
Phillips includes very few POC in her books and the heroes in all 8 of the Chicago Stars series are white. The series simply does not reflect the racial make-up of the NFL. I was really hoping First Star I See Tonight would feature a POC as the hero and/or heroine but that was not to be. It's possible Phillips does not feel comfortable writing about POC as she is a white woman but she also chose to write a series about football, in which 68% of the players are black. Indeed, her choice launched an entire genre of sports romance, which also tends to be overly white. That's why it's all the more important for the Chicago Stars team and management to transcend the industry.
My second issue comes with a trigger warning- and I'll keep this as spoiler-free as possible- as one of the ways Cooper's business is targeted is through a false rape allegation. While Phillips makes a point to talk about how rare false rape allegations are, the inclusion as a plot point undermines that fact. We know Cooper would never do something like that...which sounds eerily like how many people defend other rapists, especially rapists who are athletes. I could not help but wonder how rape victims would respond to reading those scenes, especially those whose abusers are believed over them and those who cannot come forward. Phillips could have made this point another way.
There are subplots about sex trafficking and a Pakistani servant girl for a royal Middle Eastern family who is more slave than servant. While the latter was more an example of White Saviorism, the former was educational in a way that moved the plot forward and warranted further development.
Finally, if you plan on reading the whole series, you should know some of Phillips' earlier books have especially problematic themes, like sexism, misogyny, and even homophobia. This is likely a reflection of the romance novel industry in the early to mid-90s.I love a good "we hate each other, we love each other" trope but the early works romanticize complete jackholes who frankly should not be redeemed. Their abusive behaviors are overlooked or rationalized. Dubious consent between the hero and heroine plays a part of many of her novels (even this one) and in book 1, what amounts to rape is masked as consensual sex. That's also why the false rape allegation bothered me so much.
I'm aware of SEP's issues (and my ratings reflect it) and maybe I shouldn't overlook some of this but despite all this, I truly loved this book. While Cooper did not always behave the best, I also believed the best of him, as did Piper. And that's why this book worked for me and why I recommend it to romance readers and those looking for a good, light page turner.
About The Author
Susan Elizabeth Phillips soared onto the New York Times bestseller list with Dream a Little Dream. She’s the only four-time recipient of the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Favorite Book of the Year Award. A resident of the Chicago suburbs, she is also a hiker, gardener, reader, wife, and mother of two grown sons. Visit Susan at her website, susanelizabethphillips.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Disclosure: I was provided an ARC of First Star I See Tonight from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. Affiliate links included in this post. Any purchase you make helps support this site.