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Hot Stuff by Carly Phillips
(HQN, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-77001-4
****
Hot Stuff is the first book in a trilogy by Carly Phillips. While the protagonists initially seem very familiar—as though I’ve read about them (or people like them) dozens of times before, Phillips’ character development make this an above-average story.

Yank Morgan raised his three nieces after their parents were killed in a plane crash. Annabelle Jordan, the oldest, was 12 when Yank took them in. Now the girls are women, and they work as publicists in his firm, The Hot Zone.

As the oldest child, Annabelle felt responsible for keeping the family together. After her parents died, she feared being separated from her sisters and from those she loves. Romantically, however, her attachments have only resulted in heartbreak. Annabelle has always been attracted to arrogant athletes. When her last boyfriend dumps her to date a young model, Annabelle swears off both athletes and serious relationships. Her new philosophy: “Since men desired arm candy, she’d darn well give them arm candy and enjoy herself at the same time.”

Brandon Vaughn (who is usually called Vaughn) is just the kind of man Annabelle finds appealing, but he’s also the kind of man she should avoid: a charming former athlete. He isn’t looking to become involved with anyone; he’s simply in need of positive publicity. He is in the process of renovating an old hotel and plans to use it to raise money for a camp for dyslexic kids. But the work has been sabotaged several times, and no one can figure out why. Vaughn needs help from The Hot Zone, and that brings him and Annabelle together. In the meantime, Yank faces a physical problem while his personal life takes a turn for the worse.

Annabelle and Vaughn start as stereotypes: she as the woman who says she won’t become involved with an athlete—right before she does, while Vaughn comes across as a typically arrogant ex-athlete. Thankfully, there’s more to both of them than initially meets the eye. Annabelle is beautiful and confident in her work. Her “let’s deal with this attraction” attitude is refreshing, and her fear of abandonment adds another aspect to her character, although I have a hard time believing that she would dream about being separated from her sisters “almost every night.” The dreams don’t come when she sleeps with Vaughn, of course, which makes them seem less realistic and more like a convenient plot device.

Vaughn’s desire to start a camp for dyslexic kids has its roots in his own childhood. His college-professor father emphasized academics, and Vaughn’s dyslexia made him a disappointment to his parents. He turned his attention to athletics, where he excelled, but he’s never had his parents’ approval. His mother, Estelle, says, “Would you please tell [Vaughn] that it’s more respectable to take a paying job as a football coach at a Region One college than to work for free with the juvenile delinquents who don’t want to study hard enough to pass their classes?”

While Vaughn and Annabelle are vivid and multidimensional, that’s not the case for many of the secondary characters. Estelle, for instance, seems so committed to her narrow opinions that her actions at the end of the story seem abrupt. Yank has a significant subplot in Hot Stuff, one that will clearly continue in the next book, but I didn’t find him to be particularly sympathetic.

Side note: I read an advance review copy, and I hope the syntax and grammatical errors were caught before going to press. This sentence brought me to a complete stop: “A good amount of Vaughn’s foreman and employees showed up” to a party. I found myself thinking, how much of the foreman showed up? That should be “number,” not “amount.” In addition, several sentences could have used commas for clarity. When I stop reading a story to mentally rewrite a sentence, it’s not a good sign.

Despite the flat secondary characters, Annabelle and Vaughn are enough to make Hot Stuff a hot—and recommended—read.

--Alyssa Hurzeler


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