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Breathing Room Mass Market Paperback – April 29, 2003
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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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.
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Most of Breathing Room is ESP at her best: engaging and self-aware H&h, (which I particularly prefer to those walking around blind to their feelings and only on the last page BOOM! we are in love!) believable story and evolving relationships with fun, wit and character.
But then comes the ending, the last 4-3 chapters - with witch craft, Lightning and Thunder and a heroine that runs amok. I can't think why ESP reverts to such a stupid, out of character (both for her and for her H&h) ending for which up to that moment were a reasonable, coherent, feet on the ground people. It was disappointing and left a foul taste in my mouth.
Lorenzo "Ren" Gage is a well-known American actor who has made a career of starring as a psychotic villains who attacked and kill some of the most famous heroes and heroines in the movies. Ren has been dogged by rumors that he caused the suicide of his former girlfriend.
In Italy, Ren pretends be a non-English speaking Italian and meets a woman in a café and ends up having a failure of a one night stand. What he doesn't know is that his "French" woman is actually the Dr. Isabel Favor a self-help author and personality who is also pretending to be someone else. Isabel is a self-made woman who has lost her reputation, money, career and fiancé in quick succession.
When Isabel runs from the encounter, Ren and Isabel never expect to see one another again but, of course, they end up meeting up together when Ren goes to his Italian home and Isabel is renting a small house on the property. They are soon wrapped up in locals who are doing something strange on Ren's property, an ex-wife and her family and in their continuing attraction to one another.
I ended up loving this book even though I didn't initially believe I would. Isabel is uptight and seems cold and judgmental when the book begins. Soon it is clear that she has hidden her insecurities from her chaotic childhood in order and structure. Isabel's structured life has been decimated by betrayals of people around her. Her accountant stole her money and left her with an enormous IRS debt that required her to sell everything. Her fiancé has fallen in love with a woman who is Isabel's opposite. Her fired assistant has sold a negative story about Isabel to the tabloids.
Ren has been deeply hurt by his past. He is a good guy who doesn't see himself that way. Ren was a trust fund baby with an absent father and a drugged out mother. He drank, did drugs and had sex through his teens. After marrying and divorcing young, Ren has not had serious relationships. He takes roles as villains because in some sense, he sees himself as the villain. It is easier for him to seek out within himself the feelings and emotions of the villain than to see himself as the hero.
Through the relationship between Ren and Isabel and as a result of all the chaos happening around them, Ren and Isabel begin to see themselves more realistically. I really liked how the good side of Ren is slowly revealed, but even so, he is not by any means perfect. He has a creative and mischievous side that causes him create discord.
The romance is unexpectedly funny and sweet. Ren dresses up in various disguises in order to avoid fans and paparazzi and I laughed out loud at some of his getups. Phillips uses the fact that Ren is an actor to her advantage by allowing him to use that ability to create comic moments between Ren and Isabel. Their playacting allows Isabel to be herself and that translates into their bedroom play as well. This book does not shy away from light bondage and playacting between the characters, but it is always kept in a light tone.
The characters have a real chemistry and the storyline often moved in ways that I did not expect. Several times the action is built up to a point where a certain outcome is expected. It is at that point that the action turns and that makes the story feel more real, more grounded. This is not a book where difficulties can be resolved by characters talking. Just when it appears that the plot with turn that way, the characters actually talk and the plot moves off in a different direction.
The dialogue is clever and I was compelled to turn page after page. The book takes a risk by making the first sexual encounter between these characters to be an unmitigated disaster. I was surprised that this isn't a story about redemption. Both these characters have made themselves. They only need to recognize who they are apart from their image of themselves. One of the things I love about this book is how Ren and Isabel serve as mirrors for each other allowing them to grow beyond their stunted image of themselves.
Secondary romance often feels forced in books. Here it helps define the main couple much better. By bringing in a married couple with a bunch of kids, it allows both Ren and Isabel to see themselves as different than their usual roles.
The Italian location is romantic and the local color makes this a captivating choice. The language makes the setting feel lush, welcoming and it is clear how the characters can find the place healing.
I highly recommend this book. It is sweet and funny and ends in a wholly satisfying place.
NOTE: I received a free copy of this book William Morrow from in order to provide a review of the book. I would like to note that although I was provided a free paperback, I purchased my own copy of the book on Kindle in order to read the book. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.