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Breathing Room    by Susan Elizabeth Phillips order for
Breathing Room
by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Order:  USA  Can
Avon, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Dr. Isabel Favor has built a solid reputation as America's self-help expert. Her series of books and lectures, based on her philosophy, 'Four Cornerstones For A Favorable Life', have endeared her to people by the thousands. Their problems are her problems. But when her accountant slinks off with her millions, Isabel's entire world comes crashing down around her ears with a mighty bang. She's even forced to auction off her upscale home and belongings to pay back taxes. When all is said and done, Isabel has nothing left - no money, no support from either the media or from her loyal fans, and worse, no self-respect. Even Michael Sheridan, her fianc9e of four years, kicks her when she's down. He announces he's in love with another woman - someone older and very pregnant. Most important, his new love isn't a 'control freak'. Isabel is stunned by Michael's news and his accusations. But when she remains calm and begins analyzing their confrontation and also Michael's new relationship, Michael simply snaps and suggests she's the one who needs counseling and loosening up. He walks out on her. Their break-up is the last straw and Isobel flees to Tuscany to lick her wounds and begin re-inventing her life.

Lorenzo Gage has built a stellar Hollywood career as the silver screen's most formidable villain. He's stalked, terrorized, beaten, brutalized, sliced, diced, garrotted, drawn-and-quartered, drowned or tried to blow up just about every major star from Tom Cruise to Julia Roberts. Of course Ren always dies at the end of every picture, but hey, making it to Hollywood's 'A' list as the most beloved creator of 'chaos and carnage' is worth it. His killer good looks and subtle acting genius go far to solidify his already impressive career. Ren's 'dissolute lifestyle' only adds to his mystique. Much of his press reports are outright lies but Ren doesn't care as long as it keeps the news hounds happy and off his back. Things backfire when a young actress he's involved with dies of a heroine overdose and her apparent suicide is linked to him. His villa in Tuscany offers a temporary refuge as Ren re-evaluates his life, and also his career as the 'ultimate bad-guy'.

When Isabel and Ren make eye contact for the first time it's in a little Florentine caf9 after she's had too much wine and decided that while in Rome do as the Romans do - have a passionate affair just for the hell of it. She'd show Michael Sheridan (and herself) she isn't a cold and icy control freak! It's easy for the devastatingly handsome gigolo (who has been staring at her pointedly from across the room and who apparently speaks only Italian) to lure Isabel into his dark and inviting clutches. They engage in 'hot, sweaty, raunchy sex', Isobel pays him, and each go their separate ways - Isobel to a friend's little ramshackle cottage in Tuscany - and Lorenzo Gage to his sprawling villa, also in Tuscany. They never expect to see each other again despite being in each other's thoughts constantly. When they discover they're landlord and tenant, Isobel makes Ren a proposition - to use him for sex for the rest of her stay. Ren agrees. Isobel, for all her seeming control, is a very passionate woman but she also somehow manages to soothe Ren's unsettled soul.

When Ren's hugely pregnant ex-wife arrives with her other three brats in tow, Ren knows his and Isobel's privacy and their idyllic affaire is over. Uneasy around children, Ren is horrified when the kids latch onto him as if he were their absent father, who, as it turns out, doesn't take long to make an appearance and demand his children back. Further torrid afternoons and evenings with Isobel are either cancelled, postponed or relegated to hurried interludes when she realizes it's time to get back to doing what she does best - help people mend - in this case Tracy and Harry Briggs' broken marriage. Add to this mix a village full of eccentric and charming Italian characters harbouring a secret that Ren and Isobel are determined to unravel and the story rises from good to great.

With such runaway bestsellers and award winners as Nobody's Baby But Mine, Dream a Little Dream, First Lady, and This Heart of Mine under her talented belt, it's hard to imagine Susan Elizabeth Phillips outdoing herself. But with Breathing Room she does exactly that. It's a heady blend of fabulous characterizations, of wonderfully real dialogue full of drama and also lots of humour, of self-discovery, and of course a most satisfying love story. Every page is as rich and lush as its Tuscany setting and delivered as only a master storyteller like Susan Elizabeth Phillips can.

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