The waiting is over! Thereís a new book out by Susan Elizabeth Phillips this month (2/8 to be exact) and itís time for me to rave about it to all of you. I actually run into a little dilemma doing a plot synopsis, because I donít want to give away any of the neat little twists and turns of the plot, so I will be brief.

After the assassination of her husband President Dennis Case, Cornelia ďNealyĒ Case wants to create a private life for herself. Having grown up the daughter of a prominent politician, Nealy has never really known what it was like to live for herself and without the eyes of the country upon her. She canít wait to step down from the First Lady role and begin to live something that resembles a normal life.

Nealyís hopes are quickly dashed however when her father insists she continue on in her First Lady duties for new widower President Lester Vandervort. Feeling she has no choice, Nealy agrees but quickly begins to feel stifled and overwhelmed. She has to find someway to escape.

Through careful planning and brilliant ideas (which I will not divulge here and spoil the surprise) Nealy manages to escape the Secret Service and decides to travel around the less glamarous parts of the country. This will give her the opportunity to live as an average person and to see America through the eyes of a typical citizen, something that had been impossible during her lifetime.

Due to her inexperience and naivete about the real world, Nealy quickly finds herself trapped in rural Pennsylvania with no money and no car. This is where she meets Mat Jorik. Mat is also in unusual circumstances, having suddenly found himself saddled with two kids (due to a slight mix-up they are legally considered to be his children) and driving from Pennsylvania to Iowa in a beat-up Winnebago named Mabel.

Mat and Nealy quickly come to an agreement of mutual benefit. Mat will let Nealy travel with him as long as she takes care of the two kids, a surly teenager named Lucy and an adorable infant whom Lucy insists is named Butt. As you would expect, the innocent arrangement designed to help them both out soon becomes more complicated as Mat and Nealy find themselves unable to resist a powerful attraction that has risen between them. But, they both have secrets that they are holding close to their hearts. Can any love between the two of them survive when all those secrets are out in the open?

When I first heard about First Lady, I was intrigued but full of questions and doubts about the plausibility of some of the events I had heard described. The biggest one was could the First Lady really travel across the US without being discovered by anyone, including the Secret Service? However, as Ms. Phillips unfolds the story it becomes obvious that not only has she worked hard to keep all the threads of the plot tightly woven, but she has also done her homework. She researched quite carefully the way that presidential security works and she find away around each obstacle that is placed in Nealyís path. This lends quite a bit of credibility to her story and also establishes Nealy as an intelligent woman who can find her way through these loopholes.

I also particularly enjoyed the obnoxious humor of sullen teenager Lucy. Ms. Phillips seems to have a flair for writing surly but damaged teenage girls. Lucy reminds me quite a bit of the character Heather from Kiss an Angel, but Lucy is even a more complete and complex character. Her presence adds a nice dimension to the book, not to mention a common source of laughs.

Another facet of the book that I particularly enjoyed is something that I have admired for quite awhile in Ms. Phillipís books. She always seems to make a particular effort to include people of different backgrounds, races, sexual orientations, belief systems etc. to her books and to portray them as normal, average people. I often find that romance novels in general (with the exception of books written specifically for African-American populations) are very homogeneous. Itís nice to see someone trying to include a larger worldview into their work and to break down some of the traditional walls that have been erected not only within the genre but also within mainstream American culture. I do realize that this very thing may actually turn some people off, but it greatly increases my enjoyment of her books and also my respect for her as a writer and a compassionate, considerate human being.

So, as usual, I offer my complete and enthusiastic recommendation of First Lady. It is, in my opinion, one of her best. It has a complex and tight story line that adds a nice frame to the love story between Mat and Nealy and it is an utter delight to read. I just canít wait until her next book!

--A.B.

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