Stars: ***** / 5
I have a confession to make. This is the first Jennifer Crusie book I’ve read.
I know, right? What kind of romance fan am I?
I blame my mother. If you’d heard her talking about ‘Mills and Boon’ (the UK brand for Harlequin) with the kind of disgust usually reserved for serial killers and estate agents, you’d have paused before buying one too. My heart beat reached 178/minute when I researched–in the dark, by torchlight–how to be published with them, and I prayed she’d never find out.
But when my wonderful agent said my writing reminded her of Crusie, one of her favourite authors, I just had to bite the bullet, risk being disowned, and buy one.
Naturally, I bought the one with a cute dog on the cover.
Nina Askew has exchanged a rich husband, a mansion, and financial security for the chance to adopt a dog. In short, she’s a woman after my own heart. Mr Kaling knows that the cats come first, and he’d better shut up and put up when we’re both cowering on a two-inch strip of mattress because Sir Tedward McGinger manages to take up three square feet of space despite weighting 4kg.
I digress. Cats do that to me.
Nina has her heart set on a perky puppy, but when a manically depressed part-beagle part-basset-hound catches her attention, and the assistant informs her he’s on death row, she’s lost.
Fred, Nina’s new relentlessly melancholy companion, leads her to meet her neighbour Alex, a doctor who wishes women would want him for him instead of his baby-making abilities. He’s ten years younger than 40-year-old Nina, and looks 15 years younger. No matter how attracted she is to him, she could never let him see her naked 40-year-old body… could she?
I was a lifelong Crusie fan by page 8:
“It’s okay, Fred. I just rescued your butt.”
The dog rolled his eyes up to stare at her.
“No, don’t thank me. Glad to do it for you.” Nina stood up and followed the attendant down the hall. At the end, she turned, and Fred moved forward, pressing his nose through the bars. “Hey, it’s okay,” Nina called to him. “I’m coming right back as soon as I get you sprung from this joint.”
Fred moaned and stumbled back into the depths of the cage.
“Oh yeah, you’re going to cheer me up,” Nina said and went to sign the papers and pay the fee.
How can you not love it?
Fred is an endless delight. For a character with (obviously) zero dialogue, his personality is painted perfectly from the moment we meet him. He reminds me of Marvin the Paranoid Android from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, except with Fred the depression is just a front. He’s a cad and knows exactly what he’s doing in his devious pursuit of cuddles and Oreos.
Nina is intelligent, strong-minded and vulnerable. Utterly likeable and utterly relatable. Alex is funny, sexy, endearing and frustrating. He’s also devious in his pursuit of cuddles and Oreos. I have a little crush on him (sorry, Nina). These are two mature characters who know what they want and go after it. It’s very real, very relatable fears that hold them back. No ‘Too Stupid To Live’ characters here.
I was rooting for Nina and Alex the whole time. If that’s not a marker of a good romance, what is? I felt the attraction. I felt the sexual tension. I felt the relief when Nina finally gave in to her feelings. I felt her frustration when Alex nearly screwed it all up with his stupid good intentions. I felt their joy when he came to his senses.
Crusie’s writing is very clean, and very funny. My agent compared us because of the humour and, if I’m really as funny as Crusie, I’ll wear that badge with pride.
I’m going to be telling everyone to read this. Except my mother. Hell, I haven’t even told her to read my book. I can just see the review now: “Very disappointed in my daughter for being published with this nonsense. Too much sex and swearing. Returned to Amazon for a refund.”
Now, recommendations for my next Crusie book?