Book Review

Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie

C

Title: Maybe This Time
Author: Jennifer Crusie
Publication Info: St. Martins Press 2010
ISBN: 9780312303785
Genre: Contemporary/Other

Book CoverIt’s actually very difficult to review this book, as I still think about it, and even when writing the review I picked up the book and started reading it again. I’m part YAY and I’m part BOO though I’m not MEH about it either. There are tremendously strong parts to this book, and parts that were so not-strong they broke the shiny smooth edges off the perfect parts, and STILL I pick up the book and start reading it again when I’m near my copy.

This happened right from the start, too, damn seductive book. I read this book after an ARC landed on my doorstep, and I didn’t mean to even open the cover because I was already reading two other books. But while making dinner and packing lunches and doing sixty-four other things, I opened to the first chapter and … SLURRRRRP … I was sucked in and found myself already powering into chapter two. I had no idea where the time went, how I ended up reading in the chaos that is my kitchen at 6pm, or how I was going to resist picking the book back up after just one chapter.

In the start of Maybe This Time, Andie is going to visit her former husband, North (telling names, let Crusie show you them), much to her own dismay and irritation. North surprises her by asking if she’d please go and stay for a time with the two children for whom he is the guardian, both to look in on them and make sure they are well, and to put to rest some pesky rumors that the house they live in is haunted. In exchange, North will pay her, and pay her enough to pay off her debts and marry her new boyfriend with nothing holding her back- not debt, not her pesky former husband, nothing. Onward and into a new life.

Funny how that type of plan always works, right? Not so fast, there, Andie. Andie arrives in southern Ohio, where the house is indeed haunted, the kids are miserable and very very stressed, and stoically trying not to show it, and the housekeeper is a monstrous piece of work who hasn’t shown them affection or a decent meal with actual nutrition in many weeks.

Maybe This Time blends horror and creepyslick fingers on your spine with a reconciliation between Andie and North, and it’s hard for me to look at the romance, which I adored, against the horror and mystery, which was not as strong. I almost want to evaluate this book in two pieces: first, Andie and North, and second, ghosts and the children.

The opening scenes are alluring and the chemistry between North and Andie is amazingly strong – so when they’re separated for the first few chapters and communicate only through phone calls, I was frustrated. I wanted more Andie with North, Andie vs. North, not Andie calling North and North and his money arranging for things to happen magically. There were moments when they were in the same room wherein I held my breath while reading, the dialogue between them was so freaking electric. Even without some context, I wanted them to start talking and work things out and realize how much they’d grown and who they were now, and why their two new selves belonged together. But because they are apart so much through the story, it is a good thing I didn’t hold my breath while waiting for them to literally be together during the novel.

Fortunately, Andie creates meaningful relationships with others in the story, but outside of her interactions with North, they were, on the whole, unsatisfying.

Let me start with the children. The little girl, Alice, is traumatized, as is her brother, Carter. But because she is the focus of some of the haunting attention, her brother is left in the shadows of the plot, and this broke my heart into several directions. His sister’s recovery is paid as much attention by the book’s plot as her character receives from Andie and the others. Her brother literally gets the shaft. In fact, my notes from reading the book are in all caps: WHAT ABOUT CARTER?!?!?! Both of the children suffer equally, but the plot and Andie herself focus so much on the daughter that the little boy is left to suffer alone, and his recovery from all that horrifying what-the-fuckery is slapdash and easy at best.

What really set me off is that other characters TELL Andie she’s not treating Carter equally. Including North’s mother, who was not ever a fan of Andie’s:

“Look, you’re very protective of that little girl.” She nodded toward the sleeping Alice. “But girls are strong. We’re built to withstand anything. Boys are the vulnerable ones. Alice will make it, she’s got Archer steel in her spine. But Carter’s bleeding inside, just the way North was bleeding when you left, and you can’t see it. You don’t look.

Andie took a breath to say that Carter was fine, and Lydia cut her off.

“I raised two boys. They feel everything and have no way to express it. They die inside, and if you’re a mother, you die, too.”

There’s even a moment where Andie makes a mental note to spend more time with Carter – and she doesn’t really follow through. Really, he’s still marginalized in the end to such a degree that I thought less of Andie, even when I didn’t want to.

That imbalance takes the chill off the horrifying aspects of the story, and left me with a good portion of disappointment weighing against my joy in reading Andie and North’s story. Moreover, I have come to realize that I am not a ghost person when it comes to fiction, particularly when those ghosts can step across mortal boundaries and possess and influence people. Crusie herself describes the book as a “ghost story with a romance,” and it’s true. North and Andie aren’t together for much of the book, and the reader spends so much time learning about North from Andie’s memories, and then about North from the children’s limited and neglectful interactions with him that by the time he shows up, you’re not sure what to think of him at all.

I started off loving this book. I haunted this book, literally, waiting for a spare moment to read another page. But, (spoiler ahoy) as I’ve told a few people who have asked me about it,

 

I was with Andie right up until the possessions started, and then the spell was broken.

 

The ghost story, the mystery, and the ending where there’s an entire Vegas buffet of characters in the one house are overwhelming, and even though there are moments of absolute brilliance, there are also moments where you stop and look at the page and say, “Wait, really?”

There’s also the question, which is largely unanswered, of where Andie and North have been for ten years – the absence of their history even two years prior to the story’s beginning is strange, and makes their irascible reunions more tenuous due to the lack of context.

Honestly, I’d love to hear what you thought, as one of the effects of reading this book is that when I discover someone else has read it, I’m hopping on my toes to find out what they thought. I loved parts of it. I was head over heels for parts of it. And I stamped my feet in rage at the same characters (Hi Andie, I’m a-lookin’ at you) in other parts. I rooted for them, and I wanted to hit them with things. On one hand, my frustrations were palpable, but on the other hand, I was invested in the characters enough to take it personally when the story and their actions within it didn’t live up to what I expected of them based on backstory and prior behavior.

The parts that are real, the romance, the emotions, the repair of people and of their feelings and their sense of home and safety, are very, very real. The parts that are fantastical are not so much real, nor do they support the characters sufficiently. I bet I’ll edit this entry four or five times before I make it live, because my feelings of joy are identifiable, but my feelings of dissatisfaction are running into each other incoherently and I can’t pin them down long enough to line them up in and orderly fashion.

Bottom line: Crusie is, as ever, an amazing writer. Anyone who can wind me up with the YAY and the MEH and the BOO is someone whose books I will always read, and I look forward to talking with you about what you thought, too.


Maybe This Time is available at Amazon, Powell’s, Book Depository, and anywhere else books are sold.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    AuntieJB says:

    Sarah,

    I agree wholeheartedly with your review.  I was trying to put my finger on why I was so uneasy with this book that I enjoyed reading, and you put my finger on it for me!

    ~ JB

  2. 2
    Sarah W says:

    I reviewed this book on my blog two Saturdays ago. 

    I enjoyed it, but only after I stopped thinking of it as a romance.  In my opinion, it’s a book about want versus need—-and the strongest love in the story isn’t romantic.  The romance seems to be a subplot.

    I’d agree that this probably isn’t Crusie’s strongest work—-for me, that would be Agnes and the Hitman with a nod to Fast Women—-but it isn’t her weakest, either.

    I’d still recommend it, ‘cause it’s got those great Crusie characters, and awesome, snappy dialogue.

  3. 3
    Becky says:

    I had a lot of the same problems trying to organize my thoughts about this book as you did, Sarah.  I understand why she isolated Andie and the kids at the house for the first half of the book.  And I was caught up in what was going on there and the tension of waiting for the ghosts to manifest and Andie to figure out that they were real.  But any time it slowed down a bit I started wishing for real interaction between Andie and North.  It left the book feeling very uneven.

    And I could have done without the reporter and the camera man.  They just added to the Grand Central Station feel of the house in the second half of the book.

    But I loved how every time Alice played the tape Andie was thrown back into memories of North.  I liked how music played a large role in general.  And the ending creeped me right the hell out.

  4. 4
    Laura (in PA) says:

    I’m currently reading the book, and haven’t gotten all that far into it. But I totally agree with your description that once you begin, you don’t want to stop reading. I have horrible crap going on at work right now, and long hours, and the only time I have to read is when I get to bed, exhausted. Even then, I have a hard time putting it down. If I were less exhausted, I would have gobbled it up in no time.

    I generally like ghosts in books, so I’m interested to see if I have the same feelings as you did. I don’t like the descriptions of the romance taking a back seat. We’ll see.

  5. 5
    Mary Stella says:

    I didn’t get the same reactions or dissatisfaction over there not being as much in-person North and Andie time.  That might be because I hang out at Jenny’s blog and knew through the process of the writing that the romance was not the main focus. 

    My feeling regarding Andie and Carter is that, as Lydia points out, Andie doesn’t look as deeply, or as thoroughly, into what’s going on with the males in her life.  To some extent, she knew what she thought she saw, or what she thought had happened, and didn’t go deeper.  Which, ironically, is what she accused North of doing during their marriage—no longer seeing her. 

    SPOILER ALERT
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    We find out that there were valid reasons why North became so consumed with the family practice.  True, he should have shared the worries and problems with Andie instead of shutting her out.  However, she could also have realized that there must have been something else motivating his behavior.

    She does the same thing with Carter.  Alice appears to need her more. Carter shuts her out.  She does make some inroads, notices the interest in art, etc.  However, she doesn’t get hit with the full realization of what’s going on with him until late in the book.  She could have been in full attack terrier mode, digging until she got the answers and reasons, but she didn’t look deeper.

    That passage with Lydia is brilliant and shines the light on this character flaw in Andie.

    Overall, I really liked the book.  Is it my all-time favorite Crusie?  No, because I nearly worship her romances.  However, any Crusie is so much better than most books, IMHO, that I’d still give it an A.

  6. 6
    Morning Glow says:

    I reviewed this one a little while ago, and even went to Crusie’s book signing shortly after reading it. She talked a lot about how this book was her version of “Turn of the Screw” and how it really is a ghost story with romance, not a romance with ghosts.

    I also felt a little cheated at parts of the books..  poor Carter (but once North shows up, I think he takes to Carter), and the lack of romance.. but there were so many good parts, and I got so into the characters and the story, that I was willing to give it such a high rating. If an author can make me forget everything bad, or make me feel so strongly about something (even if it’s a strong dislike), I feel they should be commended for it.

    That… and frankly, I just love Crusie. I have everything she’s ever written (including the novella she wrote and refuses to tell anyone the name of.. that’s right, I found it. Mwahaha).

  7. 7
    Lori says:

    I finished this last night and I agree that this is a tough book to review and grade.On the one hand I couldn’t put it down and stayed up waaay too late reading, so yea. On the other hand there were times when I just wanted to smack Andie, so boo. Like Sarah I was very frustrated with the way Carter was neglected. Both Andie & the story act as if Alice has suffered more when IMO Carter had, by a lot.

    I’m too tired this morning to get the spoiler font to work so I’ll try to be vague. The ghost focused on Carter is far more malevolent towards him than Alice’s is toward her and their caretaker thinks much worse of Carter than of Alice and therefore leaves him far more vulnerable. By the end all I could say was, “Thank FSM North is finally there for Carter because Andie did crap job and apparently no one is going to really kick her ass for it the way she deserves.”

    I will admit that reaction was partially influenced by the fact that I was pissed off at Andie from the moment she allowed that stupid reporter in the house. I don’t care if Southie brought her and she had a supposed ghost hunter and the weather was bad. Anyone with 2 brain cells working would never have let that woman in the house with the kids.

    Overall I wanted way more of North & Andie together and less of the circus that ends up assembling at the house. I understood going in that this was a ghost story with a love story, not the other way around. The problem was that the love story was far more interesting than the ghost story and that made for a rather unsatisfying read. I was drawn in while I was reading it, but when I put it down I had nothing but a long list of questions and gripes. I guess averages that out to a C is about as good a solution as any.

  8. 8
    DS says:

    The fate of the male child, Miles, in Turn of the Screw isn’t likely to lead to a cheery reimagining.  I’m leaning toward the library on this one.

  9. 9
    Anonymousie says:

    Wow…I can’t believe people liked this so much.  Perhaps I was unduly influenced by the massive disappointment I had because I expected so much more, this being a Crusie, and a solo Crusie at that (I’m not much a fan of the Crusie-Mayer combo).  As far as I could see, there really was no relationship between Andie and North.  It was sex and some companionship.  And even her memories of sex with him were prompted by the possessive ghost who wanted to experience them.

    So, IMHO, not a romance at all.

    Ghost stories tend to fall into two categories—scary and funny.  There are the lighthearted romps with ghostly characters who mingle with silly psychics, rabid reporters, etc, and then there are the ones who commit murder and require exorcism.  Attempting to meld these two into a single book doesn’t work particularly well. 

    I love Crusie’s kooky characters, but they don’t belong in a story about murder and possession.  It’s too jarring. 

    I’d have to give this a C.  Which is painful for me to do to a Crusie.

  10. 10
    Sharon says:

    Anonymousie, I’m with you on this—AAMOF, I read half way through, skimmed the rest, and then deleted it from my Kindle. 

    It’s an uneven, ultimately unsatisfying read, IMO.  I think a C is too kind…

  11. 11
    Leslie says:

    I’ve loved me some Crusie since the early days (I still have my Loveswept edition of Cinderella Deal and the “Sizzle” novella ) and always, always find lots to love in her books – even the somewhat overloaded triple author volumes. (FWIW, Welcome to Temptation and Crazy for you are my favorites) I liked this book and loved parts of it – her ear for dialogue and the way she has of revealing characters’ vulnerabilities without hitting us over the heads with them is brilliant.
    That said, I did have to divorce the ghost story part of the story from the romance to really engage. Once I did that, I liked the ghost story (with the exception of the Carter neglect that people note above) and Andie’s willingness to confront the unknown gives her a nice strength that carries over into her new life with North.
    I sort of judge how much I was into a romance (or any book, really) by if I immediately think about what characters’ lives are like after the book ends and I did that with Maybe This Time. I have also picked it up several times to re-read sections (some scary parts, some Andie/North parts). All in all, Crusie makes me happy and if I don’t revisit this one as frequently as some others (in the long term), I am happy to have it in my library.

  12. 12
    Heidi says:

    What Lori said:

    “Overall I wanted way more of North & Andie together and less of the circus that ends up assembling at the house. I understood going in that this was a ghost story with a love story, not the other way around. The problem was that the love story was far more interesting than the ghost story and that made for a rather unsatisfying read.”

    The story with North and Andie, especially in the beginning, knocked my socks off and was such a perfect Crusie romance. The other stuff got in the way for me. However, I still loved a lot of parts of the book, it just started dragging at the end.

  13. 13
    Jessi says:

    I thought you provided an excellent review for a difficult book. I stayed up two nights in a row reading it, but although I can name several sections I truly loved and really fell in love with Alice, I was generally unsatisfied with the story by the end…

  14. 14
    Betty Fokker says:

    Although I can see all the points that SB Sarah made had validity, I didn’t think that the mystery/ghost were weak … it’s just that the romance was so intensely wonderful that it made the other plot lines pale in comparison. And I also felt that Andie was properly remorseful for her benign neglect of Carter (spoilers!!!!) especially after she saved him and realized that beneath his tough exterior he was a vulnerable as Alice. Let’s be honest, Alice was high maintenance and even Cater seemed more focused on her than himself. I admit I didn’t like the possessions. And I hated feeling so ambiguous toward May. She was … conflicting. Too real?

    Nevertheless, I think it was better than a C. In my opinion, it was an A- or B+. C is average, and I think there was nothing in this book that could be called average. Not all of it was superlative, but a lot of it was. Even the bad, not so bad!

    Of course, I am a rabid Crusie fan and her BFF even though she refuses to acknowledge it or open any of the packages I send her with severed fingers to show my devotion. She is a tough nut to crack, that Crusie. 

    Plus, she pays me to write nice things about her.

  15. 15
    Becky says:

    Ah ha!  I knew that “stomach flu” stuff was fishy.  You really missed the signing last week because security wouldn’t let you in, would they?

  16. 16
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    I, too, was sucked irresistibly into this book. I started it yesterday evening (pausing halfway through to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Why does she have to put so much good food in her books?) and finished it at midnight. Then I had my husband walk me to the bathroom. He’s a rock star.

    On to my analysis:

    WARNING: Here there be spoilers!

    I agree with you about many things. I was more interested in Carter than I was in Alice, because I knew everything there was to know about Alice; what she liked to eat, her favorite color, etc. I knew why Miss J. was haunting her. With Carter, I knew that he loved comic books and art, and that he did what he was told. I felt that his character had so much potential that Andie’s neglect of him (and Crusie’s neglect of his story) was all the more appalling.

    I was also frustrated that Peter the ghost was a completely undeveloped character. He lurked in the background, but we didn’t learn anything about him until the book was almost over, and then BAM! He’s suddenly so powerful that he is taking over the plot.

    I was disgusted with Andie when she discovered what Peter was doing to Carter. Yes, she yelled at him and gave Carter a hug, but it was always Alice, Alice, Alice, even after we discover the horrifying trauma to which Carter was subjected.

    Don’t get me wrong; I still thoroughly enjoyed the book, but there were definite problems that left me uncomfortable.

    Somewhere around the interwebs (here? at Crusie’s blog? I don’t remember) someone commented that she couldn’t stand the thought of Alice being in danger because the commenter had a daughter about the same age. I, on the other hand, was much more concerned for Carter, and I wish that Crusie had shared that concern.

  17. 17
    Kelly S says:

    Interesting comments.  Some thoughts on the comments…

    DreadPirateRachel brought up a person who was concerned about Alice because she has a daughter.  As I read all the people who were worried about Carter, who I agree was more a background character, do you have sons?  I don’t have either a daughter or son by choice, so the kids were simply kids not anyone I particularly bonded with.  I’d also have to say that generally the child who acts up more gets more attention.  So, throwing in a person who doesn’t have children of her own, albeit a teacher, still would probably trend that way.

    Also, this is based on another book which I haven’t read, but DS said

    The fate of the male child, Miles, in Turn of the Screw isn’t likely to lead to a cheery reimagining.

    which leads me to think that Carter being based on Miles may have faired better.

    Also, being a reader of Crusie’s blog, there was much concern about this book since it is a departure from her other books.  It is not a romance.  There is a romance subplot but if you go into it expecting a romance, you’ll probably be disappointed.  I actually found the sex scene between Andie and North a bit forced, kinda stuck in there for the romance people.  She kept saying no but he kept going anyway until she said yes. That is not romantic.  That is lack of respect minimally.

    I don’t like ghost stories generally speaking.  I love Crusies. I was offended when Andie called people who believe in hell sadists.  I got pulled out of the story when I tried to figure out how to pronounce “Isolde”.

    It isn’t my favorite Cruise (Bet Me) but I still read the book in 2 nights.  The writing was good.  I laughed out loud at times.  I enjoyed it.  I’d give it at least a B but probably a B+.

    I’m also going to be selective as to who I would recommend it to since it isn’t going to work for everyone who loves her previous work but might be excellent for people new to her writing who love gothics or ghosts & humor.

  18. 18
    k?z oyunu says:

    was also frustrated that Peter the ghost was a completely undeveloped character. He lurked in the background, but we didn’t learn anything about him until the book was almost over, and then BAM! He’s suddenly so powerful that he is taking over the plot.

  19. 19
    Lori says:

    As I read all the people who were worried about Carter, who I agree was more a background character, do you have sons?

    I can only speak for myself—- I don’t have any kids. Alice and Carter did sort of make me think of a nightmare version of my best friend’s kids, but I love both of them to death so that didn’t make me more focused on Carter than Alice.

  20. 20
    mia says:

    I think the problem w/ this book is that Crusie is telling someone else’s story (Henry James’ Turn of the Screw) and this kinda limits what the characters do or where the story goes.  Add me to the list of people who don’t like Andie’s neglect of Carter.  I just feel like Carter wasn’t a fully developed character and was there just because there was a male child in the other story, and Alice was too precious (bratty) for me.  I do think that Jenny shines when she writes about the quirky characters.  I loved the mothers and would have liked to see more of them.  Dennis, Isolde and Harold were a riot. And it would’ve bee nice to see more Andy/North action in the present and less flashbacks.  Thanks for the review Sarah!

  21. 21
    Sue D says:

    Any book that keeps me up reading most of the night gets an A.

  22. 22
    StarBetty says:

    I’m with Fokker (really, I’m always with Fokker. Ask her to tell the story about her mom’s oral sex advice. The party’s better when you stand near Fokker.) – there were parts that I didn’t quite cotton to, and then there were the OMG SQUEEEE parts.

    However: disclaimer! I loooooove me some Crusie, and suspect that I may not be able to be rational here.  I also have not read Turn of the Screw, so I’m experiencing this as a stand alone book, not as a retread.

    SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
    I too was frustrated with Andie’s lack of attention to Carter. I think the lack of Peter The Ghost went along with the lack ofCarter. I feel that once North got there, Carter got a little more from both North and Andie, but I still kind of felt like it was too little too late.

    Alice: OMG SQUEEE!! I swear I used to nanny for this child. For writing Alice, La Crusie could have committed all kinds of crimes and still get a Get Out of Jail Free card.  For giving us Alice alone, this gets an A for me.

  23. 23
    Jessica M.D. says:

    I really enjoyed this book while I was reading it (I’m a major Crusie fan), but I can’t say that I love it or would ever want to read it again.  I felt more let down by it the more I thought about it afterward.

    I’m slightly worried because this is the 2nd book from Crusie that was disappointing.  Wild Ride, which she wrote with Bob Mayer, was also pretty underwhelming.  I really liked their other two collaborations, but Wild Ride just wasn’t good.  It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good.  I’m thinking that the paranormal elements are what’s tripping Crusie up.  I’m one of those readers who has yet to OD on paranormal romance, but I think that some authors just don’t have a knack for it, and it looks like Crusie may be one of them.

  24. 24
    Daz says:

    Your review is very similar a few others I’ve read. Not a book I’m going to pick up. Great review though. Thanks for doing it.

  25. 25
    Pam says:

    First of all, thank you, Sarah, for making it possible for me to read this book. Your kindness was greatly appreciated by me and by the lucky people I loaned it to as our library hold lists multiplied hugely.

    I have to say that while I find the review interesting and I can’t take issue with any of SB Sarah’s major concerns, I had a much more consistently positive response to this book.  I particularly liked the fact that the points made in the review are primarily based on the internal structure of the book.  Having read a number of reviews and comments at this point, I find that most of the critics seem to be major Crusie fans and spend a lot of time referring to her other books.  I wonder if my more positive reaction stems from the fact that I have read exactly one other Crusie (Bet Me) and whole rafts of Barbara Michaels.  Not having specific expectations seems to have made it easier for me to simply appreciate the artful details that define the major and peripheral characters and to savor the wit and humor of the writing—elements that I particularly look for in my reading. 

    While I agree that the character of Carter is somewhat underdeveloped, I don’t consider Andie’s apparent neglect of Carter to be a problem in the novel’s plot.  Andie seems to have a history of attending to the squeaky wheels and expecting the seemingly self-sufficient to fend for themselves and/or tend to her. (See marriage to North.)  I just don’t think a character flaw in Andie is necessarily a flaw in the story.  I enjoy Andie as a character more than I might enjoy her as a person.  The way she tackles the challenges of nanny-ing head-on appeals to me as a send up of all the wimpy governesses of gothic romance, but I can’t hold it against her that she is not Mary Poppins or the Darling family’s Nana. 

    One of the conventions of a ghost story involves slowly peeling away layers of mysteriousness to reveal hidden scariness underneath and I think Crusie does this successfully although there are unsettling inconsistencies in May’s character.  This gradual revelation of creepiness accounts for the apparent lack of character development in the ghosts and also works in reverse, as the nasty housekeeper’s personality is revealed.  I actually enjoyed the ghost story better than the romance, be-cause it held more surprises yet was a little more plausible than Andie and North’s relationship.  To me, the opening scene in North’s office pointed to the entirely predictable ending.  The HEA being inevitable, how can the ghost story not be unconvincing if the essence of ghost story is real jeopardy?  The conventions of the gothic romance work because revelations of the H/H’s characters are interwoven with the unveiling of the resident creepshow.  The success of the novel depends on how well the two elements are integrated.  Crusie deserves major props for tackling a new approach to this type of story and she achieves an extremely enjoyable if not perfect result. I’d have a hard time grading a book that I can’t put down and that makes me giggle and snort less than a B.  In fact, with apologies for my long-windedness,  I’d give it a comfortable A-.

  26. 26
    Jennifer says:

    I like the paranormal elements, so I liked that in this book (and especially Wild Ride) quite a lot.

    Carter strikes me as the “good kid” who deliberately is trying to blend into the background. Combined with Alice being the more conspicuous one, I found it pretty believable that Andie was somewhat overlooking him even when it occurred to her not to. I liked that Lydia pointed it out to her.

    Yeah, it’s not a major romance, but it was pretty okay by me, for a book where the hero and heroine don’t even reunite for like 200 pages. I did think afterwards, “Did they even HAVE sex, though?”

  27. 27
    Sarapencil says:

    I was so very excited to read this book, especially considering the praise for Jennifer Cruise that I’ve seen here.  Alas, my expectations were unrealistically high, and I quickly had to lower them lest I be completely unfair in my assessment. 

    Overall, I liked the book well enough.  I read it in one sitting after a long day at work and after putting the tots to bed.  The fact that I stayed up to finish it at 2:30 a.m. on a Monday night says something about how well this story held my interest.  However, the more I thought about and digested the book, the more it began to bug me.

    My biggest problem with the book was wondering what, besides sexual attraction, drew Andie and North together.  The flashbacks of their past gives us no insight into what it is about their personalities that makes them irresistible to each other.  There’s no line of common interest or friends, no shared crises, not even a particular “opposites attract” vibe.  What we see is a white-hot attraction that can’t sustain their marriage once real life sets in.  While I liked Andie and North individually, I couldn’t see what they saw in each other, and I never felt myself particularly rooting for them to get back together.  Their promise to “make it work” the second time around wasn’t very convincing and I was pretty sure they’d be divorced again in another year.

    I also couldn’t buy the set-up of the story: Andie and North have been divorced for ten years.  During that ten years they haven’t spoken or seen each other at all.  Andie has kept but not cashed every alimony check North has sent her during those ten years.  Now, ready to embark on a new marriage, she wants to return the checks to North and make a clean break of it.

    Really?  Because I’m pretty sure if Andie had wanted to make a clean break from North, she could have returned the first few alimony checks with a big fat note saying “eff off” and he would have got the message loud and clear.  Instead, she tied up tens of thousands of his dollars in limbo and blames him for sending her monthly “reminders” of him.  Which, by the way, she has received regularly despite moving around the country, so I guess she’s letting him know where to send his dirty, dirty money.

    But ok, maybe I’m being too harsh.  Maybe North is just an overbearing goon who insists on sending her money that she doesn’t really want.  I can see why then she’d want to return all those checks to him in person.  Or why, after not seeing him for ten whole years, she decides to accept $10,000 dollars from him in order to “start fresh” and cut all ties with him.  Or why it only takes her 20 minutes to be convinced. 

    Likewise, it’s completely reasonable for North, who has not seen his ex for ten years, to suddenly decides that Andie is the perfect choice to baby-sit his neglected wards under mysterious and sinister circumstances involving mad nannies and bizarre deaths.  Yep.  A perfectly bonerrific choice.

    The development of their subsequent romance is based entirely on a few phone calls and a visit.  In the grand scheme of things, it seems a pretty weak basis for a rekindled romance and I’m not at all convinced that it will last after the drama is over.

    I agree that the romance was not the main focus of the book, and took a back seat to the ghost story.  And to give Cruise credit, I think the ghost story was much stronger; however, it was also based on another author’s work, so I can’t really give her all the credit. 

    Being a fan of ghost stories, I appreciated the references to the Borley Rectory (ghost-nerd snort), and it gave me hope that Cruise had done some research.  But I noted that her ghost expert’s characterization of the types of ghosts was incorrect by failing to distinguish sentient ghosts (interactive ghosts with real-time awareness) and static ghosts (ghosts that are not “here” but are just psychic tape recordings).  *pushes ghost-hunting night-vision goggles up on bridge of nose*

    Another problem with the ghost story was the resolution:  SPOILERS AHOY!!!
    *
    *
    *
    The ghosts are tied to the mortal realm by locks of their hair, and Andie gets rid of them by burning the hair.  Really?  All three ghosts left locks of hair behind, and it was those locks of hair that kept them there?  Even if Cruise is relying on a specific physical anchor for the ghosts, why choose hair for all three?  The ghost of Miss J could have been attached to the antique doll (I thought she was all along); the ghost of May could have been attached to her “Evil Witch” t-shirt that Alice wore to bed.  The ghost of Peter could have been attached to…well…who knows, since he was so overlooked until the very end, we never understood anything about him.  But more on that later.
    *
    *
    *
    END SPOILER
    Another problem with the ghost story was: Why was Andie able to suddenly see every ghost that pops out of the woodwork?  There’s nothing in the story that suggests that she’s psychic, and these ghosts aren’t exactly inviting, so why can she see them when nobody else “normal” can?

    Cruise’s strong point is definitely her colorful characters, but even that was hit-and-miss.  Her best character in my opinion was the medium Isolde.  I give her mad props for not casting Isolde as the stereotypical new-age kook / fraud.  She’s a real medium and she accepts that without trying to shove it down anybody else’s throat.  I also happened to picture her as a transvestite, but that might just be because I live in San Francisco.

    However, the journalist – who I pictured as Nancy Grace on Whip-Its – was a one-dimensional character with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.  My impression was that she was included as a convenient whipping-girl, not unlike characterizations of Caroline Bingley in Pride and Prejudice fan fiction.  She is offensive and self-serving, kinda slutty, pushy, and has lots and lots of teeth.  She huffs and says a lot of “Well, I never!” types of things.  The thing is, I felt like Andie was way too sharp to keep this woman around…so why did she let her stay?  Why did she keep telling her to go away without ever following through?  Andie’s insults to this woman were neither funny nor clever, and they didn’t make Andie look superior or witty, just…mean.

    I have to admit that unlike most others, I didn’t really notice that Andie was neglecting Carter.  What I noticed was that Alice and Carter warmed up to Andie but had never warmed up to any of their other nannies, and I couldn’t figure out *why*.  Yes, Andie believes that the house is haunted, wants to get the kids out of the house, and wants them to be happy and healthy.  But didn’t all the other nannies, too?  What was so special about Andie that she, with no child-rearing experience at all, could out-do a professional nanny?  Perhaps Andie’s Magic Hoo-Hoo attracts more than North’s Mystical Wang; maybe there’s a genetic component that draws the entire Archer family to her.  Now there’s something I don’t want Cruise to explore!

    As for the ghosts themselves, I loved-loved-loved the utter creepiness of Miss J’s ghost.  She wasn’t a forlorn spirit pining away, she was a malevolent, soul-less guardian with no trace of consciousness or humanity.  It was, for this ghost lover, downright chilling.  So why, then, could Cruise not have invested the same effort in outlining Peter’s ghost?  We only have a glimpse or two of him before the climax of the book, and by then, it’s too late.  Yes, Peter feels possessive of the house, but seriously, dude, you’re dead.  What are you going to do, hang crown molding?  Furthermore, if all you want is the house, why are you helping keep the kids there?  Shouldn’t you be trying to get them the hell out, especially with Alice defacing all the walls with her new markers?

    And May.  May, May, May.  *shakes head*  Make up your frigging mind, are you good or bad?  I like that she was complex and immature, so kudos to Cruise for that.  But I have to agree with others, ghostly possession isn’t my thing, and multiple occurrences by multiple ghosts is taking it too far.

    This story had a lot of potential, and it’s not a total flop.  Cruise definitely has a talent for dialog, and the séance sequences were laugh-out-loud funny (in a good way). But the devil, as they say, is in the details. Lackluster descriptions, lazy editing (using the same songs on the radio in two scenes, when those songs were not at all significant to the story, made my blood curdle), and a hope that the reader will forgive the deadly sin of not really knowing why her characters should be in love, took this effort from an A to a B-.

  28. 28
    emdee says:

    I haven’t read this and do not intend to, even tho I am a big Crusie fan.  I don’t like horror and have never read the Henry James original that this was taken from.  I like my romance to be straight up romance.  It can be fun, like Crusie usually is, or it can be serious and sad, but it must be romance.  The horror aspect completely turns me off.

  29. 29
    Randi says:

    I gave this book a solid C. I read it in two sittings and it was entertaining, but I was most definitely disappointed in the lack of romance. As I have read everything by Crusie, except Wild Ride, I was expecting romance. This might be one of those times when a new pen name should have been introduced if Crusie is going to veer off from romance, because, when I see Crusie, I expect romance. I had NO idea this was a ghost story with a small romantic element; thus my slight disappointment.

    Unfortunately, I can’t step away from my romance expectations to grade the book as a ghost story. But, when I finally read Wild Ride, I should be able to, so hopefully, I won’t be as disappointed in it as I might have been if I was going into expecting a romance.

  30. 30

    I haven’t read this book yet, but I will because I luv cruisie.
    Based on reading all the comments—I luuuv comments—let me advance one thought: an artist needs a challenge in order to keep surprising fans and making new ones. Maybe you love fish and chips with all that crispy and salty and hot tender bits. Maybe your favorite fish and chips guy is crying in the beer batter cuz all he does is dip and flip. You love his fish and chips—will you try his sushi? Will you expect your sushi to be deep fried cuz that’s what he always does and you are never disappointed with hot crispy?

    I will read Maybe This Time with a lot more information than had I not read (and loved and admired! these comments. And I will keep in mind my own attempts to break the mold and create something that is different but just as good as what I’ve done before…which is really the essence of a creative artist.

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