Book Review

Lightning Reviews: Jennifer Crusie

Those of you who have seen the Lisa Kleypas Lightning Reviews (Part the First, Part the Second) know exactly what to expect from this feature. Brace yourselves, kids: Condensed snark (and copious fangirl love) for every romance novel Jennifer Crusie has published thus far.

Manhunting: Crusie disses on this book pretty hardcore, but really, all the problems she listed? Did not notice them. Would not have CARED even if I had noticed them, because I love the story and the characters so much. First of all, Kate and Jake are adorable. What makes Kate especially adorable is that I fully expected her to be some sort of tiresome, superficial ice queen because Crusie totally sets it up that way then BLOWS UP THOSE EXPECTATIONS, the tricky, magnificent bitch. And Jake? I was SO TIRED of reading about alpha asshole cops and high-powered Type-A corporate raiders in contemporaries that Jake, who’s so relaxed and easygoing that his brother calls him a potted plant (which, if true, then he’s a really fucking SEXY potted plant, rrrowr) was a big breath of fresh air. Second of all, their courtship is hilarious. Third of all, the snobby twits Kate dates and what happens to them are worth the price of admission alone. And last but not at all the least, I like how Kate and Jake start out as friends before their attraction finally overwhelms them and they get down in the store-room in the back of a bar. Definitely an A. (p.s. I prefer the original ending, not the New, Improved Ending in the re-release.)

Getting Rid of Bradley: OK, a quick geek nitpick, and then I’m done: What in the fuck is the “second law of thermonuclear dynamics”? I mean, I have a passing familiarity with the second law of thermodynamics, though by no means am I familiar with with all the squirrelly math that goes into calculating entropy, but thermonuclear dynamics? What? WHAT? But! Love this book anyway. Not quite as much as I love Manhunting, but I love Zack, who is so friggin’ different from the average romance novel cop hero. I mean, he’s aggressive and hyperkinetic and all that, but he’s kinda goofy and funny and not at all an alpha asshole, and just such a GUY kind of guy. A somewhat twitchy guy, and the way they keep poking fun at how high-strung Zack is just cracks me up, like “Nerves? What nerves? Zack doesn’t have nerves, Zack IS a giant exposed nerve ending” (please keep in mind I’m paraphrasing wildly here, the actual quip is much funnier). And I love what a nice foil Lucy’s calmness is to his craziness. So yeah, I dig this book. A-

Sizzle: A wee novella, and it’s fun, though not exactly what you’d call substantial. I have little faith in the HEA given the communication problems the hero and heroine have, but it’s a really cute story, and the details of office life are actually convincing for once. (Besides kids and villains, many romances just can’t seem to portray office dynamics or real-life office jobs worth a shit.) B

Strange Bedpersons: Crusie provides a surprising amount of depth with this one. In some ways it’s a classic Odd Couple sort of a story: Tess is a bleeding-heart liberal crusader who doesn’t give a shit about what she wears and adores having sex in odd (and oftentimes public) places, while Nick is an image-conscious, square-jawed Republican yuppie who isn’t exactly thrilled about being caught bare-assed in a parking lot. Seeing the two of them change and compromise is a lot of fun, and Crusie really has a ball with the liberal-conservative dichotomy and all its stereotypes. And seriously: It has the funniest dropped-fork(s)-during-a-dinner scene EVER. Also contains one of the most heinous mis-statements about Moby Dick I have ever encountered, but it was fixed in the reprint. (Yes, it was one of the first things I checked when I bought it. Yes, I own all of Jennifer Crusie’s category romances in their original and reprint editions. Yes, I know I have a problem, but I wanted Crusie to have some of my money, see, since I had bought all these books used. Or that’s what I tell myself.) Anyway, A-

What The Lady Wants: A fun little caper/murder mytery. Cute animals. Adorably mussed hero who’s more than he seems. Heroine whose Life Is Changed. In short, a quintessential Crusie story. B+

Charlie All Night: Another book that really packs a surprising amount of depth in very few pages—the issue this time is marijuana legalization. But that’s just a teeny-tiny side-plot. Anyway, features yet another somewhat-sullen-yet-adorable Crusie heroine, and Charlie is another mussed-and-not-traditionally-handsome-but-still-hot hero. I especially enjoyed the details on running a radio show. I have no idea if they’re accurate, but it almost doesn’t matter if they aren’t because Crusie makes it feel real. A-

Anyone But You: Oh my God. What can I say about this book? The hero is a funny, cute, slacker ER doctor who’s younger than the heroine. There’s Forbidden Attraction (because they’re friends, see, and they value their friendship so much that they hold off on acting on it FOREVER, and… ooh, let’s just say this is one of my favorite plot devices, and few people do it quite as well as Crusie). The protagonists enjoy MST3K. The sassy, sharp, red-headed best friend actually IS sassy and sharp, not just a tarted-up bimbo with lame one-liners. And Fred. Part beagle, part basset hound, part manic depressive. The original title was The Importance of Owning Fred, and frankly, I wish they’d stuck with it. I love this book. Have I mentioned how much I love this book? I LOVE THIS BOOK. Love love love love and throw a buncha animated throbbing hearts on top of that love, whydoncha? No matter how shitty life is, this book makes me feel happier and more hopeful when I re-read it. A+
Addendum: I just remembered. This book was the very first romance novel I encountered in which the hero and heroine don’t want children. OH MY GOD. Quick, the smelling salts! Another reason why this book is an A+. You just don’t see too many of these critters in romance—or fiction in general. At least not ones who get HEAs.

The Cinderella Deal: Crusie mentioned how Strange Bedpersons was essentially a massive re-write of this book, and there’s definitely a passing resemblance: hippie-dippie heroine hooks up with Yuppie Scum hero, and both learn how to compromise when they fall in love. I like how Daisy swings too far one way, then swings too far to the other, then finds her middle path. It’s almost, like, Zen, man. *Beatnik finger-drums* B+

Trust Me On This: This is a sign I need to re-read the book, because I remember liking it quite a bit, but I remember shit-all about it. Seriously, all I can remember is that the heroine referenced Al Gore during some conversation. So based on the residual glow: B+

Tell Me Lies: Sarah has laid some major hateration on this book, but it’s the first Crusie I read, and I really liked it. I don’t normally like “woman faces crisis in mid-life and re-builds everything from scratch” stories, but I picked it up because of the incredible hype surrounding it, and wonder of wonders, for once my ass wasn’t burned. I really liked the hero and heroine, I really liked their story, I really liked the dog, and I really liked the kid. Now if only Crusie will work on more convincing villains… B+

Crazy For You: Read what Sarah said. (Even though she is SO WRONG about Tell Me Lies.) B+

Welcome to Temptation: Everyone loves this book. Me? I say, “Meh.” Not a BAD meh, mind you—but still. Meh. B-

Fast Women: Ooooh, much better. A murder mystery, two female friends who are fun to read about, cute but neurotic dog, patented dishevelled-but-hot Crusie hero. Ahhhh. A-

Faking It: What is with me and not lovin’ on the Dempsey books by Crusie? Again, I declare MEH. Which is too bad, because the premise of the story (two crooks, one significantly crookeder than the other, try to out-crook each other)  sounded like so much fun. C

Bet Me: Big old SQUEEE OMG I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH from me, folks, which, as you may have gathered, isn’t exactly an uncommon occurence with me when it comes to Crusie. (But if you think I’m bad with Crusie, just wait till I finish my Laura Kinsale Lightning Reviews. Oh just you wait.) I love everything about the story: Min’s change from grumpy tight-ass to zaftig babe, Cal’s hotness, Elvis the cat, the two awesome best friends, the cute-but-not-nauseatingly-sweet kid, the descriptions of the fun, kicky shoes, the descriptions of the mouth-watering food, the way the Universe steps in and actively starts hurting Cal when he decides he can’t see Min any more. Sigh. A+

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Beth says:

    Two A+ ratings and a reference to Forbidden Attraction. I think Candy is trying to seduce me.

    And I was just thinking I’d do Kinsale reviews on the next SBD, but it feels kinda awkward-ish – so I’ll leave it to you. Then I’ll correct you when you don’t worship the right things. Because that’s the kinda bitch that I am.

    Butt seriously – stop with the seducing, you minx.

  2. 2
    sarah says:

    Hey, Candy, can I borrow your copy of Anyone But You? I want to read it, give it an F, and see if I can hear you holler from Portland. Seriously, can I borrow?

  3. 3
    Wendy Duren says:

    Ok, apparently I’ve turned the controls over to Candy because somewhere in the last couple of months I’ve begun thinking of her word as law.  The weird part is I’m totally ok with that.  I’d say more, but I need to go buy the Jennifer Crusie titles I’ve missed.  Candy has spoken.

  4. 4
    L.N. Hammer says:

    Aside from giving Faking It an A thankyouverymuch, I’m nodding all the way down the line.  Except for having still not found a copy of Anyone But You, but that’s my personal issue.  I’m learning to set boundries.  Really.

    —-L.

  5. 5
    Julia says:

    I am torn. You gave one of my favorite romance novels ever an A+ (Anyone But You), but you actually gave Sizzle a B.

    Sizzle is one of the worse pieces of drek I’ve ever read. B? Come on here. It’s not even D material.

    It makes me boggle to think that people actually like that book. The hero practically rapes the heroine!

  6. 6
    Candy says:

    There was an almost rape in Sizzle? Really? Holy crap. That totally zoomed by me. I know there was that part in the office in which there was some, errrr, under-the-desk lovin’ and the heroine was kinda half-heartedly swatting the dude away, but… Hmmm. Almost rape? Damn. Like I said, I didn’t buy into the HEA, but I found it really amusing and I kept the novella, because I know I’ll want to re-read it some time down the road. But hey, we all have our lapses in judgement—look at Sarah, giving Tell Me Lies a D *snicker*.

    “Two A+ ratings and a reference to Forbidden Attraction. I think Candy is trying to seduce me.”

    If you like romantic comedy novels that aren’t too fluffy, Crusie is just about as seductive as it comes.

    “Hey, Candy, can I borrow your copy of Anyone But You?”

    Since I have only one copy and it’s pretty damn near mint condition, you know that I’ll be shipping it in a titanium container and you’d have to wear latex gloves while reading it, right?

    “Ok, apparently I’ve turned the controls over to Candy because somewhere in the last couple of months I’ve begun thinking of her word as law.”

    AT LAST, somebody is getting it. Thank you, Wendy.

    - Candy “Just call me Hammurabi” Smartybitchypants

  7. 7
    Nicole says:

    Erm…methinks I need to read the Crusie books on my shelf since I have NEVER read her.  okay, I tried to read Fast Women and couldn’t get into it.  I’ll try again.  I have Bet Me to try next.

  8. 8
    Kate Nepveu says:

    I had no idea that the original ending of _Manhunting_ was different. I have the reprint; what was changed, can you say?

  9. 9
    Jennifer says:

    Heh. Well, I heart WTT and FI, but then again, Phin is my top “Crusie Guy I’d Do” (books and pool! yes!) and I like the Dempseys, so perhaps I’m biased. Bet Me would be my #3- I really like how she does the fairy tale aspect, plus they don’t want kids.

  10. 10
    Robin says:

    Great reviews, with some books listed I need to hunt down.  I started with the bigger, newer Crusies, but the ones I like best are the earlier, shorter books like Getting Rid of Bradley, Anyone but You, Strange Bedpersons, and Charlie All Night.  Don’t know why that is, but maybe it’s because I laugh out loud more in the midst of those earlier books and because Crusie seems to do a lot with her characters and her plots in a limited number of pages.  Maybe it’s because I just finished it, but I especially like Zack from Getting Rid of Bradley; I love how he takes over Lucy’s house without seeming like a Neanderthal alpha jerk, as well as his desperation in trying to convince Lucy to marry him and make him father to her “need a man in their life” dogs.

  11. 11
    Sara says:

    The thing about Jenny is, the full length novels are all very ambitious—but they don’t read that way. They are deceptively accessible.

    Every one of the novels has a complex theme that is carefully developed. Crazy for You might make you laugh the first time you read it, but I’m thinking anybody who reads it —slowly—a second time won’t be laughing. It’s about an abused woman waking up to the reality of her life, and fixing things. that’s a big topic.

    Both the Dempsey novels (which I adore, A+++, so there, neener neener) are about women who have that awful I’m-hall-monitor-to-the-universe thing going on. Both of them are so busy taking care of everybody else in their dysfunctional families that they never notice their own needs going unfulfilled. It takes some pretty serious and life changing events to get them to wake up. In Sophie’s case, a car accident and a porn movie; in Tilda’s case, there’s a chance somebody close to her is going to end up in jail.

    These are women I know. To some degree, they have been me, or I have been them, or whatever. I love these books because Jenny is so good at writing real women with real issues and putting them into the middle of fantastic stories.

    My two cents.

  12. 12
    Candy says:

    “The thing about Jenny is, the full length novels are all very ambitious—but they don’t read that way. They are deceptively accessible.”

    Yes! Thank you for articulating what I couldn’t. I’d argue she does that for some of her category romances too, especially Strange Bedpersons, which, every time I re-read it, just blows me away with all the commentary that she sneaks in. I think it’s worth reading just for the Cinder Tess and the Cinder Tess re-write. Crusie is, as I said before, one tricky, magnificent bitch.

    Plus I just like how she breaks certain rules in her books. That childless couple thing still makes me roll around in glee, and I have yet to encounter another romance novel author who writes about heroes and heroines who KNOW they don’t want kids.

    And I’ll try to forgive you for disagreeing about the Dempsey novels ;-).

    Love,

    Hammurabi

  13. 13
    Wendy Duren says:

    Ah Sara, you articulated that beautifully.  Crusie is deceptively accessible.  She’s an intelligent writer, who turns right where others turn left, and layers her stories with meaning and subtext.

    Candy—I love the no kids thing too! Bet Me was interesting because not only does the heroine have self image problems that can not be cured by washing her hair and taking off her glasses, but the hero has a learning disability!  Before I read Beat Me, I haven’t realized that I bought into “the hero must be the smartest man EVER” crap.

  14. 14
    Robin says:

    “Every one of the novels has a complex theme that is carefully developed. Crazy for You might make you laugh the first time you read it, but I’m thinking anybody who reads it —slowly—a second time won’t be laughing. It’s about an abused woman waking up to the reality of her life, and fixing things. that’s a big topic.”

    I agree, Sara, but they still don’t always work for me, as well.  In Bet Me, for example, I loved the way Crusie took on the weight issue, but I felt like everyone was making such a “big” deal about a size 12 woman—as if she was obese at that size.  I found myself arguing with the book (and feeling Crusie was playing her hand a little heavily with Min’s mom, who seemed a mite stereotypical to me), which dimmed my perfect enjoyment of it. Some of her heroes also have cold, controlling mothers, and when they start thinking about the heroine as “soft” and “round” it links up with the cold mother thing in a strange way for me. 

    Welcome to Temptation is probably my favorite of her longer novels (of the ones I’ve read), and I still have Faking It in my TBR pile (I adored the dynamic Davy and am really looking forward to this one!).  I loved the agile way Crusie handled the irony of Sophie making pornography and being sexually unfulfilled herself.  Dilly kept Phin from seeming the stereotypical prodigal son to me, and I liked that.  There was a nice balance of dark and light in the novel, too, and I appreciated the way Crusie played with the photography/light/background/foreground stuff.

    Tell Me Lies and Crazy for You both feature heroines I really admired, although the heroes in both books were flatter, IMO, than the heroines, and I struggled with that. I realize that you can’t have two characters who are too much in flux, and that the heroes sometimes represent stability or groundedness (as in Strange Bedpersons), but what can I say, I wished there was more to the heroes in both of those books (especially because psycho Bill in CFY was such a larger than life figure).  While I thought Crusie was very clever in drawing Bill as an obscene caricature of the “perfect boyfriend,” Nick seemed a little diffuse to me.

    One thing I always love about Crusie is the relationships among women, especially sisters.  And ultimately, to me her books are all about the heroines, which I appreciate, since I think there’s often too much focus on the hero in Romance.  I like that she creates women in their 30s who have real issues and who aren’t perfectly pert and impeccably coiffed (I loved how Lucy left to get her hair done in GROB, since it’s something soooo many women would have done, especially with Zack’s penchant for melodrama).  And I love her inclusion of animals (although I had a hard time reading the scenes where Bill tortures Quinn’s dog in CFY).  I also like the fact that her heroines aren’t these women who are desperately trying to become the 1st female president or toughen up or lose their feminine curves.  And I don’t dislike her longer books; it’s just that sometimes I feel her shorter books are tighter, I guess (and I don’t think they’re exactly unambitious, either).

  15. 15
    Robin says:

    “I’d argue she does that for some of her category romances too, especially Strange Bedpersons, which, every time I re-read it, just blows me away with all the commentary that she sneaks in. I think it’s worth reading just for the Cinder Tess and the Cinder Tess re-write.”

    And for the way she doesn’t idealize Tess’ liberalism or demonize (is it Nick again??) the hero’s career ambitions.  The fact that Tess becomes Welch’s editor is an interesting way to negotiate all the political shape-shifting in the book, IMO.

  16. 16
    Sara says:

    First:

    Hammurabi? Hammurabi? I’ve been disagreeing with a Babylonian God?

    I avert my eyes and beg forgiveness.

    Second: Robin, I think it’s true that Jenny does have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to writing mothers. If anybody is going to get short shrift, the character of His or Her mother will. Although Tilda’s mother is the exception, and a fantastic exception at that—I really, really adored the twist about her, and the way tremendous amounts of anger kept coming out in the oddest places. Jagged teeth in the applique dogs in her quilts, etc.

    Wendy—Bet Me also has the two main characters not wanting kids. Also, that novel has a fantastic epiloque where all the loose ends are tied up in amusing ways.

    And to the Smart Bitches:

    look what you did. You’ve got serious discussions about characterization and theme in romance novels going on here.
    Smart smart smart.

  17. 17
    Sara says:

    ooops. Wendy, sorry. You were talking about Bet Me, weren’t you.

    If this comes across as self promotion, I do apologize, but I thought I’d point y’all to my review of Bet Me.

    http://www.tiedtothetracks.com/storytelling/archives/000522.htm

  18. 18
    Robin says:

    “Although Tilda’s mother is the exception, and a fantastic exception at that—I really, really adored the twist about her, and the way tremendous amounts of anger kept coming out in the oddest places. Jagged teeth in the applique dogs in her quilts, etc.”

    Good, because I want that book to be great!  I actually think it would serve Crusie’s fresh approach to “the woman thing” to enrich her portrayal of mothers.  One of the things I like about her books is that the heroines don’t have to be college professors to be damn smart and they don’t have to be flag waving activists to be strong women (aka feminists).  Crusie’s blurring the categories and the boundaries in interesting ways, which is why the sterotypes that do sneak in then stand out to me.

  19. 19
    Candy says:

    “Hammurabi? Hammurabi? I’ve been disagreeing with a Babylonian God?”

    Oooh, was he a God too? Cool! I was actually referring to him because of his law-making prowess, and Wendy referred to how my word was law in the beginning of the comments.

    “In Bet Me, for example, I loved the way Crusie took on the weight issue, but I felt like everyone was making such a “big” deal about a size 12 woman—as if she was obese at that size.”

    Well, I would be clinically obese if I were a size 12—but then that’s because I’m 5’2” and exceptionally fine-boned. Which is beside the point, other than pointing out that dress size is not necessarily a good indicator of obesity. But I don’t think everyone was making a big deal about Min’s size—just Min and Min’s wacky mother. Min’s sister, friends and certainly Cal thought she looked great, if rather frumpy.

    “I found myself arguing with the book (and feeling Crusie was playing her hand a little heavily with Min’s mom, who seemed a mite stereotypical to me), which dimmed my perfect enjoyment of it.”

    Yeah, Min’s mom was pretty neurotic—but MY mom can be rather neurotic and she’s passive-aggressive in almost exactly the same way Min’s mother is, just not about weight, so I really didn’t see anything too stereotypical about Min’s mother—comedic, yes.

  20. 20
    Candy says:

    Wait, I take one of my statements back. One of the first things my mom said to me when she came to Portland for my graduation was “You’ve put on so much weight! My butt wasn’t nearly as big as yours even after four children.”

    So I take that back about my mom not being neurotic about weight. GRRRR. She just hasn’t bugged me about it lately, haaa….

  21. 21
    Candy says:

    Well, shit, it’s my (or partly my) website and I’ll hog the Comments if I want to. Did any of y’all notice that Anyone But You has new cover art in Crusie’s “Early Romance Novels” page? I’m guessing it’s going to be re-issued soon. Or hoping, anyway. That way L. will get a chance to read it.

    And addressing another point Robin made: yes, I really, really enjoy how Crusie’s novels are about the heroines, their journeys and their positive relationships with other women. I love her best friend and protective sister sidekicks. I wish she’d write a sequel for Charity, actually. Man, she had some of the best lines in Anyone But You, especially that crack about thinning pubic hair….

  22. 22
    Sara says:

    I’m sorry, this is bugging me: are you SURE she says Min is a size twelve? Because that’s a pet peeve of mine, and I am sure I would have noticed.

    Someplace or another I found stats on the fashion industry that said that some 70 percent of all women’s clothing sold in the US was size 14 or above.

  23. 23
    Robin says:

    “I’m sorry, this is bugging me: are you SURE she says Min is a size twelve? Because that’s a pet peeve of mine, and I am sure I would have noticed.

    Someplace or another I found stats on the fashion industry that said that some 70 percent of all women’s clothing sold in the US was size 14 or above.”

    I have to go back to the book and find the passasges I remember.  I know that the corset that didn’t fit her was a bridal size 8 (which is more like a small 6, as all of us who’ve had to get into those rigs know), and I thought somewhere it said that the new corset was two sizes bigger.  It may have been on AAR that people were asserting the #12, but I remember tracking it pretty closely when I read the book because the way Min and her mom treated her weight seemed soooo out of proportion to where she really was (and she’s of “medium height,” so she’s not short) that I was trying to figure it out.  I kept feeling that Crusie was trying to emphasize how Min *saw* herself as “fat,” especially with Nanette’s “help,” but that Crusie also wanted to normalize Min as just Min—as someone who was meant to be “made with butter,” as Cal puts it.  In other words, I think we’re supposed to acknwoledge the weight obsession but ultimately see past it ourselves.  But there are so many references to Min’s weight and her conflicts with food throughout the book it started to take on a life of its own, above and beyond the life Min and Nanette were giving it—at least to me.  And I’m not a skinny little thing, so it’s not that I can’t relate. Anyway, I’ll try to track down the specific passages today.

  24. 24
    Ann Aguirre says:

    Okay, here’s a question. If she’s a size 12, how come she wouldn’t fit in Cal’s shirt? As I recall it wouldn’t fasten across her boobs. A size 12 isn’t that big, so just how freakin’ skinny is Cal? I got the impression he was fit and athletic, not scrawny and sunken-chested. I was picturing her more like a 16 or an 18.

  25. 25
    Lizzie Barrett says:

    I’ve actually bought more than one copy of a Crusie book, and started giving away Welcome To Temptation as presents and almost cried when my mum accidentally threw out Bet Me.

    I swear, when you are feeling down, there is nothing better than a Crusie book. Even if some of them do start to be a little formulaic, the great ones are truly truly awesome.

    It’s been pretty much my dream to buy the rights to Welcome and make it into a film. One day….

  26. 26
    Ziggy says:

    I know I am contributing to a long-defunct discussion, but just had to add that Bet Me has pretty much been my comfort reading for the past 3 months (I totally agree with the poster above: there’s nothing which can cheer you up quite like a Crusie novel) and Min’s size is never mentioned, anywhere, in the novel.

  27. 27
    ZIggy says:

    … Um… I mean her exact clothes size. Just realised that didn’t come out quite right.

  28. 28
    Lauren says:

    It’s so great to read this. I discovered Crusie last summer and devoured everything I could find. I seriously will leave these lying around so my now-toddler daughter can find and read them in jr high and get a good idea of what a good sexual relationship is. I love her heroines, her heroes, the great male friendships, the fights, the sex—so great! I got my sister hooked, and then she got my Mom hooked.

    Except you’re wrong about Tell Me Lies and Welcome… but who’s counting, right?? This makes me want to reread ALL of them!

Comments are closed.

↑ Back to Top