Reviewed by Tori
Peregrine Island is Annie’s last chance. With no job and nowhere to live, Annie comes back to the island that made her life miserable as a teenager. Trapped there by circumstances, Annie is dismayed to find her childhood tormentor is also on the island. Annie has no inclination to forgive and forget and vows no matter what happens, she will stay the sixty days required and then go back to the city and try to repair her life.
Theo Harp, the prodigal son and gothic novelist, is back on the island to finish his second book and hopefully exorcise some demons from his past. He regrets how he treated Annie as a child but he is older now and wants to let bygones be bygones. He also wants Annie off the island but not for the reasons she thinks and when it looks like someone else wants her gone too, Theo goes from being her villain to her hero.
I have been a HUGE fan of Susan Elizabeth Phillips for years. My first foray into her world was Fancy Pants and from there I devoured everything she ever wrote. Strong, crazy heroines, annoying over protective alpha heroes, drama filled misconceptions, and some of the most insane secondary characters and towns kept me laughing and cheering for years. Her past few books haven’t quite held the same spark as her earlier works. The characters seem harder and more brittle while the storylines tell more than they show.
Ms. Phillips’ writing takes a noticeably darker turn in her newest work, Heroes Are My Weakness. A romance suspense with a gothic flavor whose base is centered on family and touches on abuse and mental illness. I have to say my expectations were not met in this book. The writing, tone, and characterization all felt so different from her previous works. It’s not a bad thing for authors to branch out but there is an uncomfortable struggle in here, made evident by the stumbling storyline, fast switching scenes, and characterization. Ms. Phillips changes the overall tone of her writing with this book but seems to have trouble changing her style to fit.
Annie is a puppeteer. Growing up with a famous and critical mother left Annie always struggling to be accepted and loved. This has lead Annie to invest in a series of relationships that left her with little to no emotional and physical fulfillment. Having spent her life savings on taking care of her dying mother in her last year of life has left Annie broke and in frail health. All she has is the cottage her mother received when she divorced her last husband, Elliott Harp. A cottage that has a cordial attached to it. Annie must live in the cottage 2 months out of the year or it reverts back to the Harp estate. Annie’s mother assures her that the cottage holds something of value that will make her life complete. Only, Annie doesn’t want to go to Peregrine island because that is where her step brother, Theo Harp, tried to kill her when she was 15 and she has avoided the island ever since.
Annie screams victim in the beginning. She is a walking version of Murphy’s Law. If it’s bad and can happen, it happens to her. A typical Phillips heroine, only in this case, I was more annoyed than amused. She has a martyr complex; she makes excuses for everyone in her life but Theo. She spent her entire life savings in an attempt to make her mother love her though she uses her mother’s sickness to justify it. She makes excuses for her loser boyfriends, and when she helps a friend do her job. I also had issues with the consciousness aspect that has Annie “hearing” her puppet’s voices during times of indecision and trouble. It was a frivolous aspect that didn’t match the tone of the story or Annie.
As the story progresses, Annie begins to settle on the island and put down roots. She becomes more confident and assured (again, a familiar growth pattern all Phillips heroines go through). She and Theo strike up a tentative truce when Theo asks to “borrow” the cottage to write in and Annie uses him to sharpen her wit on. Attraction from their teenage years comes back full force and soon she and Theo soon embark on an affair though Annie tries to keep it un emotional. This is her finally taking a stand in her life. She feels she and Theo will never have anything permanent with his secrets and her life being back in the city.
Theo was harder to get to know as the entire story is from Annie’s point of view. His actions in the beginning seems to back up all the reasons behind Annie’s antagonism towards him. As we get to know him, you sense that there was far more to him then what you see. Both he and Annie hide their feelings behind sarcasm and witty comebacks. If Annie has a martyr complex, then Theo has a white knight complex. His back story is revealed in layers as Annie uncovers every one of his secrets and you honestly can’t help but feel for him once you learn everything. It’s only really towards the end that the real Theo breaks through and you hear, in his own words, how he’s felt since the beginning. It’s an emotional outpouring that moved me. I did feel though that the story and his character would have been better served by allowing more of his POV to be seen.
The chemistry between Annie and Theo is apparent from the beginning but the romance is slow going. Ms. Phillips takes her time allowing them to fall in love; needing them to work through their issues before committing. Watching these two snark at each other is funny, especially when that humor enters the bedroom. The scenes are emotionally sexy but physically chaste and most occur off scene.
The mystery is intriguing though at times seemed to be overwhelmed by the multiple subplots intertwining with it. There is lot going on and Ms. Phillips does an admirable job of resolving them though it all happens rather fast. We learn the answer to Annie’s legacy and phantom prowlers and Phillips leaves us with a nice epilogue that assures us that Annie and Theo are happy.
Overall I found the book easy to read and amusing in a dry way, but the struggles I mentioned in the beginning didn’t make this new venture of Ms. Phillips an altogether comfortable read.
NOTE: Review has been edited to correct heroine’s name from Anna to Annie.