I have been glomming the Crusie books on my Books(not)Free queue, as lately I have a hankering for contemporary romance like I often have a hankering for chocolate. Usually with chocolate itâ€™s Watchamacallit candy bars, which I adore, especially since I canâ€™t get Clark bars in New York. With contemporary romance, I want light, somewhat fluffy, funny, fresh, fun, all works beginning with F, and letâ€™s be real, some hot fâ€™in is ok, too!
While I was sitting down organizing my reactions to this book, it occurred to me that I ought to develop a rubric for discussing my grading levels. So here is a rough sketch of the Grading Scale of Sarah:
Why do I give a book an A? I read books on the train to and from work, and if the book is so good that I canâ€™t let it sit in my bag overnight, and have to head upstairs to read it all evening long instead of watching tv with the Hubby, AND if the quality of the book does not falter and let me down at the end, then it is an A book. If I want to grab it out of my bag and end up wishing I hadnâ€™t, or if I am content to read it on the train but still enjoy it while I am reading it and donâ€™t catch myself staring at the other passengersâ€™ books to see what they are enjoying, then itâ€™s a B. If I read it and itâ€™s not bad, but nothing that makes me almost miss my train stop because I am into it, itâ€™s a C. If there are egregious errors, the plot line leaves me cold, and I find myself forcing my fingers to turn pages so I can finish it already, then itâ€™s a D. F books are books that were so torrentially bad, I couldnâ€™t bear to finish them, or only did so because I wanted to watch the train wreck (no pun intended, and God forbid) until its end.
So on to my review. Crazy for You was delicious, and it had some elements that I adored and couldnâ€™t wait to reread before I put it back in the bag for a Books(not)Free return shipment. But there were some major flaws that, though they didnâ€™t get in the way of the romance (which was quite hot, thank you Ms. Crusie!), they got in My way as the reader, especially when the flaws were errors that slapped me back into reality.
The challenge, I think, with a contemporary is that the author has to write a book set in a time that is close to, or related to, the readerâ€™s reality. Iâ€™m supposed to believe, as the reader, that all this mess is happening right now. Iâ€™m not expecting the greatest history lesson ever told, and Iâ€™m not expecting to learn the inner workings of x-ray machines if the heroine is a medical technician, or the finer points of pool if the hero is a shark, but I do expect a reality I can believe in, even if the story takes place in a state or country Iâ€™ve never visited.
Crazy for You is the story of Quinn and Nick, residents of the small town of Tibbett, and long-time best friends. Right away, Iâ€™ll just tell you, I am a sucker for best-friends-who-fall-in-love books. Quinn is dating Bill, a tall blonde man who pretty much steers Quinnâ€™s life for her, until Quinn adopts a little dog named Katie who inspires Quinn to stop letting life happen to her, and to start living her life deliberately and with a good deal of daring.
The idea of switching from the role of passive passenger to active driver in oneâ€™s life applies to just about every character in the novel, as Quinnâ€™s decision to break up with her â€œbeige boyfriendâ€ and move out of their â€œbeige apartmentâ€ first horrifies, then inspires everyone in her life, from her parents to her friends. Quinn lived a good portion of her life as â€œthe good one,â€ â€œthe fixer,â€ â€œthe peacemaker,â€ â€œthe quiet one,â€ â€œthe dependable one,â€ existing in the shadow of her sister Zoe, a wild-at-heart adventuresome woman who has settled into wedded bliss after a short and disastrous marriage to Nick twenty years prior.
Nick harbors a secret, ardent desire for Quinn, but being her friend and her ex-brother-in-law is enough to cause him to keep his hands to himself, not to mention her relationships with good, stable Bill, the high school championship-winning coach.
Quinnâ€™s breakup with Bill and decision to live boldly on her own cause shock waves of reaction in all directions, most notably that she becomes aware of Nickâ€™s feelings for her, and watching her wear him down is the most electrically charged reading Iâ€™ve enjoyed in awhile.
Let me address the negative points of this book first, because the positives tip the scale towards a much more favorable rating, though the negatives do have to be addressed. First, and how to say this without giving away too much? The nature of Billâ€™s continued involvement was obvious to me from the very start, and perhaps that was intentional. Perhaps I was supposed to observe his behavior and treatment of Quinn and root for her to get away from him as soon as possible. But Crusieâ€™s efforts in the vilification of Bill seemed to turn rapidly from the subtle to the glaringly, horribly obvious. I wonâ€™t give away too much, as I said, but Iâ€™ve complained about this before as a technique for evilization, and I will tell you, he ainâ€™t gay.
Further, this is a thin book for a Crusie novel, and whatâ€™s missing is the development of the secondary characters to the point where you care about them. In Crazy for You, there was so little backstory and introduction of the secondary set of characters, particularly the women, that I had a really hard time keeping them all straight. I thought for half the book that one of them was the heroineâ€™s second sister, and couldnâ€™t figure out why Quinn never mentioned her when she spoke on the phone to Zoe. One of the valuable and enjoyable aspects of a good Crusie story is that the secondary characters, and the parallel love story that compliments that of the hero and heroine, are clever, interesting people that you care about. You like the hero and heroine better because you like their friends. In this novel, the interaction between Quinn and her friends seemed to assume that I knew them already, when really, I didnâ€™t.
For example, the secondary romance between Nickâ€™s brother Max and his wife was fraught with big misunderstandings and a lot of drastic hair cuts and slammed bedroom doors. It was meant to compliment Quinnâ€™s transformation from passive to active participant in her life, and in some respects watching an existing marriage re-energize itself, though sometimes through some hurtful and passive-aggressive measures, applied the idea of taking charge of oneâ€™s life to more than just the young, single heroine types. But after awhile, the slamming of doors and the â€œyouâ€™re not getting any and Iâ€™m not telling you why,â€ got real old.
The final element that really pissed my switch off is a spoiler so you know what to do.
Iâ€™ll come right out and say it here, Bill turns into a stalker. First he refuses to accept that Quinn has moved out, and continues to try to bulldoze her back into his life and into â€œtheir apartment.â€ Then his behavior grows rapidly bizarre. He breaks shutters on her new house so he can watch her, he abuses her dog because she growls at him when he breaks into her home, he copies a spare key he finds in the house and lets himself in to lie in her bed and steal her clothes, he sabotages her house to the point of causing serious and potentially lethal damage, and in the climax of his bizarreness, he breaks into her house again to move in with her uninvited.
As his behavior progresses from the creepy to the insane, he gets these headaches because life isnâ€™t how itâ€™s supposed to be and Quinn isnâ€™t listening to him. One thinks he has some identifiable mental problem, or maybe a brain tumor that manifests itself with creepy possessive habits. But by the culmination of his weirdness, the headaches arenâ€™t even addressed.
By far my biggest problem: a shady reference to Bill going to jail for â€œyears and years.â€ Horse. Fucking. Pucky. Stalkers to not go to jail for years and years. Celebrities with documented cases of weird people trying to break in to marry them in the middle of the night canâ€™t prosecute their stalkers successfully, so why would a small town coach be convicted and sent to jail for years and years? Stalking is not punished to nearly the degree that it should be, and to make an exception for a happily ever after yanked me right out of the fantasy and pissed me off.
But now, the good parts, and oh, were there good parts. Candy challenged me to explain why I love a hero that resists, a big lug of a man who tries desperately to fight how he feels for the heroine, trying to convince himself that heâ€™s happier without her, that getting involved will just break his little world in to messy, hard-to-clean pieces. The reason I love this particular type of romance is simple: I met my husband in high school, and for over two years we were great friends while he fought how he felt for me, until he gave up and we became a couple.
He told me later that he knew when we met senior year of high school that Iâ€™d â€œmake a lousy girlfriendâ€ but Iâ€™d â€œbe a great wife.â€ This is from a 17-year-old – but you understand that it pissed me off until he explained: if he got involved with me, it would be permanent, and serious, and at 17 he didnâ€™t want that. He wasnâ€™t sure he ever wanted that serious a relationship. But after years of being friends and years of fighting how he felt, he gave in and now he enjoys our romance as hard as he fought it originally. Weâ€™ll be married five years in May.
Reading about heroes that are friends with the heroine, while trying desperately to avoid and deny their growing feelings for her, is the best kind of romance for me. Crusieâ€™s development of Nick and Quinnâ€™s romance, well, to quote Candy, when Crusie does it well, I feel it all the way to my tippy toes, and gosh I was blushing on the train I was so happy to watch these two come together. He fought and rationalized and tried to talk himself away from her, and then he made a move on her, she realized how he felt, noticed him in a whole new light, and slowly wore him down until heâ€¦well, I canâ€™t spoil that part for you, now can I?
The villain might have been clumsily done at times, but the pure passion and tingly wonderfulness that was Nick and Quinnâ€™s romance made this book a serious treat for me, and I had to stop myself from finishing the book too fast.
As I mentioned when I started, my expectations of a contemporary, particularly a Crusie, are pretty high, and I tolerate a lot less mishigas with the plot and the characters when the novel takes place close to the present time. While the antagonist and the resolution of the elements working against the couple werenâ€™t ideal, the romance more than made up for it.
I just read back over this review and realize I spent more time writing about what the problems were than about what Crusie does right. â€œThe romance is great, trust meâ€ doesnâ€™t seem like enough of a recommendation, but please, do trust me. The emotional depths and internal wrangling from the hero, the heroineâ€™s slow realization that her friend is more to her than she thought â€“ oh, it is just breathtaking, and thereâ€™s no one quote that can illustrate it. Small moments and passing thoughts on both sides add up to a marvelous emotional climax as well as a sexual one.
Iâ€™ve had to change my rubric: If Iâ€™m sorry that I have to send it back because I wonâ€™t be able to reread and visit with the characters again, itâ€™s damn good.