Breathing Room is an old Harlequin Romance by Susan Elizabeth Phillips from the late 1990s. It’s been reprinted over the years and I’m not sure why. Phillips is often referred to as SEP among RWA members and followers, but her heroes are always cruel men and her heroines are always unhinged or slutty. I find her novels disappointing again and again. This one was no exception.
1 out of 10 stars for a novel more about role-playing and cheating than about romance. I don’t see any redeeming qualities in this novel. The prose is awkward, the dialogue horrible, and the situations ridiculous. The romance novel world has come a very long way from Harlequin, even if it’s republished under a new imprint.
Isabel Favor has created a huge brand around the perfect life. Her life is the model for that brand and it all comes crashing down on her when her husband cheats on her and her accountant robs her blind. Her empire falls down, one brick at a time, and so she escapes to Tuscany, Italy. There she buys a ramshackle house and immediately begins renovating it, learning about the local history from the villagers who want her to leave. She meets actor Lorenzo “Ren” Gage who is hiding out from the media and fond of using disguises. He plays bad boys on the big screen and therefore thinks nothing of sleeping around which has given him a bad reputation, well-earned. When the two fall in love, he toys with Isabel’s feelings again and again and honesty comes very hard for him. Since honesty is the foundation of Isabel’s life, the two are very unlikely as a couple.
There’s a side romance between a cute young couple (her parents don’t approve of the boy), but even that romance had no real romance to it.
The writing is really awkward and the behavior of the two main protagonists borders on the ludicrous, like running through a field screaming at the top of her lungs or wearing a pirate costume to see a movie. By the end of the novel they were still role-playing but had moved it to the bedroom.
Don’t let the new cover fool you. This “romance” is a very old Harlequin from the 90s under a new imprint. Susan Elizabeth Phillips is known for heroes who are violent and cruel. Ren is not outwardly violent in this novel, but he is cruel.
1 out of 10 stars. Pass on this one. Try First Lady, which is probably SEP’s best novel.
Reviewed by Betsy.
How does this novel rank with Betsy’s Romance Rules?
- Marriage before sex. –>EPIC FAIL
- At least one romantic event every 25 pages. –>EPIC FAIL
- There must be mess. –>Pass, lots of mess, but no one is cleaning up
- There must be an antagonist. –>EPIC FAIL, the antagonist is the hero
- There must be a catastrophic event. –>EPIC FAIL, there’s a catastrophic event but the hero does nothing to assure the heroine he’ll be there for the next one