Book Review

Revenge Gifts by Cindy Cruciger


Title: Revenge Gifts
Author: Cindy Cruciger
Publication Info: Tor Romance 2005
ISBN: 0-765-35225-7
Genre: Paranormal

Editor’s Note: We found out there was at least one factual error in this review. The offending sentence has been removed; the other alleged error is somewhat debatable (because Candy’s a contentious bitch) and stands for now. She’s going to hash it out in the comments. If you want to read more details on the errors, check out Cindy Cruciger’s livejournal.

Revenge Gifts centers around Tara Cole (note slight humor of name if you say it fast: terrible) who runs a web site for, you guessed it, revenge gifts. From pillows stuffed with cat hair to a year’s supply of candy for the weight conscious person you love to hate, her site allows people to mail-order their revenge and never worry about being found out. Tara runs the site out of her bungalow in Islamorada in the Florida Keys, where she lives rent-free in exchange for managing the owner’s bar.

Tara’s partner in romance is Howard Payne (again, check the name. If Tara marries him she’ll be “terrible pain”), who arrived in the Keys tracking Tara down for a business proposal. He wants to create a burial-at-sea business using Tara’s urns, and once he meets Tara, he wants to bury something else with her, too.

Most of the action in the book takes place either at Tara’s bungalow or at the bar, aptly named “Crusty’s,” where someone has been trying to set a curse upon her by leaving gris-gris bags, a black cat, a black rooster, a goat, and a black dog. Tara herself is a relatively flexible, laid back person – as if you can be uptight on the Keys –  who has a few close friends, and spends most of her time running her business, tending bar, and trying to placate the myriad ghosts that inhabit her home. There’s the poltergeist who throws food at night, leaving Tara no choice but to keep next to no food items in her fridge, and heaven help her if there’s eggs in the house. There’s also her Great Uncle Les, whose cremated remains she keeps in holiday urns to spite him, as he hated the holidays. Les is prone to turning all the lights on at 4am.

The story is part romance, and part pilot issue of a longer series, so there are short term questions that are answered, and longer term questions that aren’t. I didn’t know it was a series until the author mentioned it in an email after I’d finished reading, and that took a load off my mind because I had a lot of unanswered questions at the end – and that, I suppose, is how a good series is made.

Sarah says:

The weekend I moved, you could have visibly seen the yanking grin on one side of my face from where the plot and the character of this book hooked me. This book arrived the day I moved, and I had it sitting in the window seat of my house, literally the only thing unpacked in a house full of boxes. I kept hiding behind the boxes to keep reading it – this book seriously hooks you so bad you’ll have a rictus curl in the side of your face.

Tara is spunky, snarly, sexy and fabulous, and since the book is written in the first-person, you spend a lot of time in her head. I didn’t mind in the slightest being there, as Tara has both a fascinating way of looking at the wack-ass events in her life, and at people’s behavior in general. She’s judgmental and doesn’t pull any punches, and just wants to be left alone. However, the prose, as it is first person, jumps from subject to subject rapidly, much like your brain does when it’s sparking, and sometimes it’s hard to tell ruminations from plot developments. I suppose this is one of the perils of writing in the 1st person.

As for Howard, the reader has to rely on Tara’s impressions of him to get a sense of his character, and this is difficult, since the reader has a much better sense of her friends since she’s known them longer. You know she thinks he’s hot, and you know that he’s persistent, almost to the point of creepyness. But because all the development takes place from her perspective, you aren’t really sure if he’s a character worth trusting or if you can blithely rely on him as the “hero” of the novel.

His character, particularly in the beginning, comes across as a rather weird dude, and my understanding of his personality isn’t quite as developed as I’d like when he starts spilling his guts about his emotional past. What’s supposed to be an personal moment early on between Tara and Howard leaves me feeling like I do when I encounter people who engage too quickly emotionally and tell me things I feel are none of my business. If I had a better idea of him, a more-developed sense of his character and who he is or at least what he looked like, other than that he was hotty mcmuffinstud, the true-confessions moment would have inspired a lot more pity. As it was, he had to fight his way back, in my estimation, from creepy over-divulging guy, to adorably hot man who wants to take care of prickly Tara and her crazy ass universe.

I am, however, glad this is a series because I wasn’t tired of Tara, Howard, or any of the auxilliary characters by the time the book ended. I wanted to know more about them, and about Tara. But more importantly, I wanted to know more about the day to day life Tara leads, especially when someone isn’t trying to throw a curse on her. She runs a revenge website, and sells fascinating products. The reader learns the history of one or two, but not all, or how she came up with the idea in the first place.

The thing about the Keys that makes the story both believable and a total escape is the residents’ acceptance of events, people, and attitudes that are really fucking bizarre. From Miss Good Voodoo to this dark silhouette that watches Tara’s window at night, to the cook at Crusty’s who hates her for reasons relating to ceviche, there are some funky ass people in this story, but Tara isn’t fazed by them at all, or, if she is, she gets over it fast.

To evaluate this book, I have to ask myself, did I like it? I sure did. But is this a romance? Or a ghost story? Or a paranormal mystery series? I don’t honestly know. There’s definitely a breaking-through-the-armor moment with Tara, and there’s definitely some romance going on, but unlike many a romance I’ve read, aside from admitting that she checks out his buns, there’s no internal ruminations as to how Tara feels about Howard. I don’t honestly know that it is part of her character – she’s more of a “he’s got to prove he’s worth my time before I go pondering the fineness of his eyebrows” kinda gal – or if romance is meant to be the main element of the story.

I look at this novel as the pilot episode of a really fucking awesome tv series, where there’s a lot of initial construction to do, and after you’ve watched awhile, you realize the pilot doesn’t necessarily reflect the entirety of the series’ tone and style. However, if the series goes where I hope it will, the pilot will have launched something very interesting.

Sarah’s Grade: B-

Candy Says:

Hey, if Chuck Palahniuk can do it in Haunted, then Cindy Cruciger can do it in Revenge Gifts, too.

What am I talking about?

Tense changes, people.

The books switches dizzyingly from past to present and back to past again. The tense changes oftentimes happen within the same paragraph, and in at least one spectacular instance, within the same sentence. And there’s no discernible reason nor pattern to these tense changes. Tara walks into the sushi restaurant in present tense, sees Howard in the past tense, eats lunch with him in the past, then leaves the restaurant in the present.

I know. I have the same problem too. Takes one to know one, right? But oh my, reading it was exhausting because every time the tense changed, I mentally switched gears. By the end of the book, I felt kind of numb.

Distracting tense changes aside, however, I agree with a lot of what Sarah says: this book is pretty entertaining, and the narrator, Tara, is truly refreshing, especially for a romance heroine. She’s no shrinking violet, that’s fer damn sure, and lord knows I’m tired of shrinking violets in romance novels.

But. Butbutbut. She hasn’t had an orgasm before.

No, she’s no virgin, but apparently she’s had nothing but lousy lovers all her her life.

With Howard, though? Screaming bliss within minutes. I shit you not. Sigh. This romance stereotype seriously needs to die, die, die.

But here’s a puzzling thing: Tara, while basking in the afterglow, muses on how much she misses ruthlessly using a man’s body for her selfish pleasure, which leads one to the bizarre conclusion that orgasmless, unfulfilling sex with clueless lovers is selfishly pleasurable for Tara Cole.

—-Please note, there’s been a bit of debate about how accurate the paragraph below is. Check the comments for more details—-
That’s not the only inconsistency, either. One of her friends, Sam, is gay (or at least presented as such) in the beginning of the book. Some time later, and without any explanation or signs of bewilderment on the part of the narrator, Sam is straight and seriously hitting on Tara. Perhaps this can be attributed to an unreliable narrator, but even unreliable narrators are surprised, and Sam’s sudden orientation switch doesn’t give Tara pause. Me? I paused, actually said out loud “Hang on minute, I thought the dude was gay!” and spent five minutes riffling through the first 100 pages of the book looking for references to Sam’s homogaiety.

And while the narrative voice is fresh, different, quirky and very, very entertaining, the non-stop vignettes and snarky remarks eventually wear thin. Yes, I get that Tara is cynical. Yes, I get that she has an evil sense of humor. I like her for that. WHY is she constantly pointing this out to me, though? The story and her actions already show this to me in ample detail, and the endless internal quipping slows the pace of the story quite significantly in some spots.

I’m also not sure I buy into the love story. I’m with Sarah on that, too: Howard is very attractive, but other than that, he’s a cipher, and the speed with which the romance happens can give you whiplash if you’re not careful. Part of this is because of the amount of space taken up by the snarking; instead of viewing the relationship develop in more detail, you’re treated to yet another off-center observation from Tara, which, by the end of the book, tends to be a variant on previous observations she’s made earlier in the story.

The pacing overall is uneven. The book starts out at a fairly leisurely pace, with weirdness building on weirdness. The last 70-80 pages of the book, though… Woo damn. The book isn’t so much kicked into high gear as launched into Mach 3 with no warning. Characters who were peripheral to the story are all of a sudden introduced willy-nilly, mayhem and magic galore happen, and the resolution of the story? Fun, but a bit too pat and convenient for my tastes, especially after all the build-up in the first parts of the book.

One last nitpick: There are snippets of Javascript code in the book, all part of the script that generates a quote of the day for  That’s all well and good, since Tara’s a computer geek, which is something else I like about her—convincing computer geeks in general are in short supply in Romancelandia, and female computer geeks? Shit, I think Tara’s the first I’ve encountered. The big problem though? The script cannot work as written. (Feel free to skip this whole paragraph if you’re not interested in reading me blather on about Javascript, by the way.) So for one thing, the one curly bracket in the script is left open, which, in my experience, does not make for Happy Code. For another, if Monday == 1, then it follows that Sunday can’t also == 1. Not to mention the wrong comment tags are used in the wrong spots; Javascript comment tags are two slashes (//) and they should be used within the <script> tag, whereas HTML comment tags look like this: <!——> and should appear outside of the <script> tag. The exact reverse happens in Tara’s Javascript. The lack of formatting tags in the Javascript are also puzzling; as with HTML, carriage returns do jack shit in the script—you need to code in the paragraph and line breaks. I know, petty nitpicking, but hey, if you want to include computer code in a book to show what a 1337 haxx0r the heroine is, then by crackey do it RIGHT, or at least fake it convincingly enough so that a ‘tard like me (trust me, I ain’t no great shakes with Javascript) can’t look at the script and go “Huh. Wait a minute, there’s a buncha weird things going on here….”

Despite all these issues, though, Revenge Gifts is still worth checking out. Tara is a fun alternative to the usual romance heroine (orgasmless state notwithstanding), and I’d wager I’m one of the few people here who’s really, really bothered by constant tense changes and broken Javascript. The story is definitely not run-of-the-mill, and the humor is pretty damn black in spots—something sorely lacking in most romance novels.

Candy’s Grade: C

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    FerfeLaBat says:

    The copy editor and I had issues with tense that I hope got fixed in the final print version.  I’m resubmitting this assignment for a grade adjustment when the final copy comes out. 

    The Javascript was spliced from a working program but edits garbled it.  Your concept of the code as it should be is correct.  Maybe I should put a download on my website? Would anyone WANT a quote generator from

    Thanks for the review!  Whew!  I can sleep now.

  2. 2
    FerfeLaBat says:

    Wait.  Is a C+ good enough to qualify for a Smart Bitch title?

  3. 3
    Nicole says:

    Sounds vewwy vewwy interesting.  In a good way.  I’ll have to check it out when it comes out.  Bah, that was a bad sentence.  Er..I’ll try to buy it when it comes out.

  4. 4
    Candy says:

    “Is a C+ good enough to qualify for a Smart Bitch title?”

    No grade is high enough to qualify for a Smart Bitch title.

    Only by proving your mettle in one of our stupendously difficult and internationally-recognized (snerk) contests can one win a Smart Bitch title.

    Unless you’re one of the founding members, in which case Sarah = Duchess of Cuntington, and I’m Comtesse de Gant D’Amour.

    Nicole, I have a feeling you’ll really, really like Revenge Gifts. In some ways, it’s like really, really evil chick lit.

  5. 5
    Nicole says:

    “really, really evil chick lit”  Yup, sounds right up my alley.  Now to get my hands on a copy and blog about it.  It comes out when?

  6. 6
    Sarah says:

    Candy, that is the perfect description – “really, really evil chick lit.” In a lip-smacking, hands-rubbing-together, manaical-laughter kind of way!

  7. 7
    Kel says:

    I love me some Cruciger-style writing.  I can’t wait to visit the Revenge Gifts gang again!  Yes I know her, so I’m a biased source but I’m serious, you have to at least try it…*sing-song voice* “It’ll make you feel good.” 

    Her voice is unique to say the least.

    Btw, In her “real” job Cindy writes java.  Editors suck sometimes.

  8. 8
    Candy says:

    And knowing that I wasn’t reading the final product, I didn’t get too caught up in the typos, etc.

    I tried, too. I didn’t make a peep in the review about the legions of typos I found in the book—at least three per page on the average, ranging from apostrophe abuse to misspellings. I’ve read ARCs before, so I’m not expecting perfection by any means, but this ARC broke all records. Whoever copy-edited or transcribed this ARC needs to be hung by the thumbs.

    I felt like I had to address the tense changes, though, because while dropping/adding/transposing characters and punctuation can be attributed to sloppy copyediting or transcription, switching tenses for whole paragraphs seems like more of a conscious effort. I’m glad to hear that this issue was caught, because God knows it wasn’t in Palahniuk’s Haunted. I’ve just noticed that in general, it’s very hard to sustain the present tense in fictional narrative.

    Btw, In her “real” job Cindy writes java.

    Just a note: Java is not Javascript. Two different languages altogether. Java is a hell of a lot harder to work with (and a lot more powerful) than Javascript.

    I do know Cindy works with all sortsa computer software and programming languages—definitely more than me, since I can barely hack my way through Javascript as it is (and Javascript is hardly the most difficult or rigorous of languages). However, the errors were so neat and consistent, especially the switching of the comment tags, that I wasn’t sure they could entirely be attributed to poor editing, but it sounds like that was the major culprit.

  9. 9
    Briana says:

    Whoever copy-edited or transcribed this ARC needs to be hung by the thumbs.

    Bwwaahaaaaaa….. (Manaical laugh insertion.) Ain’t that the truth.

  10. 10

    Oh, I love the thought of evil chick lit.  This is a book I’ll have to read!

  11. 11
    Alyssa says:

    I’m stuck on this:

    From pillows stuffed with cat hair

    As someone who is allergic to cats, I can say with complete honesty that this would be a nasty form of revenge, indeed.

  12. 12
    Kel says:

    I meant to say She writes javascript in her day job. My bad.

  13. 13
    Candy says:

    According to Cindy Cruciger, I called it totally wrong when I thought one of her characters, Sam, was gay. There were at least two references in the book that made me think so, here are the two I dug out:

    On page 24 of the ARC:

    I gave him [Sam] my best smile as I slid his chardonnay and creme de cassis onto the coaster in front of him. (…) The smile is a wasted effort on him. His eyes were fixated on the mirror behind him. He is watching the guys walking in from the street entrance. A string of Harley Davidson cycles are now parked in view of the bar’s front window. Men are so fickle. But, interesting. I wonder if it’s the bikes or the bikers that grab his interest. I’m guessing both.

    On page 61 of the ARC, right after Sam kicks out a pain-in-the-ass character:

    “Thanks, Sam.” God, I wish he were straight.

    There may have been more, but seriously, don’t take my word for it because it’s been a little while since I’ve read it, and these were two that stuck out in my mind.

    But Cruciger claims that Sam is bisexual, sexually omnivorous. On the very bottom of page 63 and going into page 64 of the ARC:

    And that is why Sam would make a bad boyfriend. If vacations were a guy, Sam would be the number one destination spot. He’d be a Club Med. Gay, straight, bisexual…if it’s fun, he’s up for it, as long as it ends in under two weeks.

    My question is: Why in the hell would Tara pine for his straightness when he bangs women? She shows no squeamishness about bisexuality in the book at all (and lots of people, gay and straight, are really squeamish about bisexuals—I’ve talked to some gay friends about this, and they seem to view bis as “cheaters”).

    And if her squeamishness stems from him being a bad boyfriend, as the quoted passage suggests, then why didn’t she think “God, I wish he were straight and not such a whore”?

    Just tryin’ to tell you why I thought what I did. I may have jumped to conclusions, but I think given the information I did, I made a somewhat valid (if controversial) interpretation. Other interpretations are valid, of course.

    For this reason, I’m going to just mark the para in the review as “controversial” and leave it up to readers to decide.

    Feel free to weigh in.

Comments are closed.

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