Romance, plus.

There is some excellent storytelling going on over in the romance genre nowadays, as I was telling my friend Janice in book club last month. I started recommending titles to her and then I thought, why not just tell everybody?


Anything for YouThis may be the best romance novel I’ve read in, I don’t know, the last five years? It has everything you could possibly want and then some: a complicated, totally believable heroine, one of the sexiest heroes walking around fiction on two legs, terrific dialogue, a plot with a couple of truly hair-raising reveals, the best brother-sister relationship I’ve ever read (two, actually), and one of the best ensemble casts ditto. And then there is Davy, the FAS brother Jessica is parenting. Higgins pulls no punches here, making the entire novel un-put-downable from beginning to end. Closed door, mostly.


Sustained

Read this for Jake’s relationship with the six kids. Funny and poignant, and very much open door.


Good Boy

The hero is so damn delightful, but his mom, oh, his mom. Great dialogue, too. Door way open.


Steadfast

A lost-and-found relationship where the hero is a recovering addict, which Bowen handles superbly without letting it take over the storyline. Door open.


Crazy for You

One of the scariest villains you will ever read, all the scarier because Crusie puts the reader in his head and we get to watch his obsession with the heroine increase one completely rational–to him–step at a time. Shiver. Closed door.


 

This screwball comedy/stalker thriller is a balancing act that not every author could pull off.

The Jennifer Crusie CollectionThe Jennifer Crusie Collection by Jennifer Crusie

It had been a while since I’d read Jennifer Crusie, so when Sarah Wendell alerted me to a one-day screaming deal on this collection on Kindle (7 books for $14!!), I went for it. I still love Welcome to Temptation best, with Davy’s story, Faking It, a close second, but I want to single out two other novels in this seven-novel collection as being of special interest. Spoilers follow.

The first is Crazy For You, which is a romance novel that, wait for it, is also one of the best deep dives into stalking you’re ever going to read. It’s an out-with-the-old-boyfriend/in-with-the-new, but the old boyfriend won’t let go. There follows a truly disturbing plotline involving, in order, dognapping (multiple times), housebreaking, intent to commit malicious wounding (he breaks in–again–and boobytraps her house), and outright assault. Best (or worst) of all, Crusie puts us front and center in Bill’s head, and of course his behavior makes perfect sense to him.

When he stopped by again the next day, she said, “Bill, we have nothing to talk about ever again. Go away, please,” so he was forced to do something to bring her back.

Bill is an utterly convincing and truly terrifying character. I have read straight, hard core crime fiction with bad guys who creeped me out less than Bill does. Through it all Quinn the art teacher is falling in love with lifelong best friend mechanic Nick, who is reluctantly falling back and also happens to be her sister’s ex-husband. Insert smirk here, but it works, partly because of Crusie’s always great dialogue and partly because of the subplots involving Quinn’s parents and Quinn’s best friend Darla. This screwball comedy/stalker thriller is a balancing act that not every author could pull off. And think about that title for a minute. Talk about double duty.

The other novel I want to draw attention to in this collection is Bet Me. According to Crusie’s prologue, it’s also her first, which like so many first novels didn’t publish until she’d hit it big with her later work (and also after, she says, a massive rewrite). It’s the story of actuary Min and business seminar teacher Cal. Both are afraid to commit for fear it won’t work out so it hasn’t for either of them so far, and Min has major body image issues. I admit, at first I was like “Oh, please” because aren’t we all so tired of those books where the woman emerges from her chubby/plump/zaftig/always self-hating cocoon aided by the attention of that One Great Guy (an exhausted chick lit trope if there ever was one), but it works here, partly because Cal really is that great guy, and partly because of Liza and Bonnie, Min’s terrific friends. Not forgetting Min’s mother and sister, object lessons for Min in how not to live her life.

But what I like best about Bet Me is that it is a straight romance, no bodies show up, no aliens appear, no vampire materializes out of the mist to bite anyone on the neck. No, this is Min and Cal and their journey to love and happy ever after. It’s everything a romance novel should be and all too frequently isn’t.

There is never much setting in Crusie’s novels, but memorable characters and lots of smart, smartass dialogue more than make up for it. Recommended.

View all my reviews