NATURAL BORN CHARMER

Combine a bunch of misfits carrying emotional baggage with lots of humor, and you have another Phillips masterpiece. The dialogue, emotions and offbeat scenarios elevate this book to genuine reading joy. Phillips not only plucks at heartstrings, she plays a full concert.

Heading to his newly purchased farm in Garrison, Tenn., Chicago Stars quarterback Dean Robillard finds himself diverted by the sight of a woman in a beaver suit stomping down the road. Angry doesn't begin to cover artist Blue Bailey's feelings about her ex-boyfriend's behavior. Entertained by the explosive confrontation, Dean offers Blue a ride when it becomes apparent she has little cash and no job. Blue's failure to fall at his feet is a breath of fresh air, and Dean wants to keep her around.

Upon arriving at the farm, Dean is dumbfounded to discover that the "housekeeper" who has been taking care of renovations is his estranged, recovering-alcoholic mother, April. Dean's dysfunctional family life gets even more complicated when his 11-year-old half-sister, Riley, turns up after having run away from their rock-star father. Dysfunction is something Blue understands, so she becomes the unlikely lifeline between the parties. But does she dare risk her own emotions? (MORROW, Feb., 400 pp., $24.95)

Reviewed by: 
Jill M. Smith