Apr 26 2011 5:00pm

Welcome to Crusie Town: A Jennifer Crusie Appreciation

The Cinderella Deal by Jennifer CrusieSo, everyone’s heard it at one time or another, right? “Romance novels?!” Cue quelle horreur. “Why would you read that crap?”

The answer to the question—once you’re done rolling your eyes, of course—is very simple: Hand that misinformed book snob a novel by Jennifer Crusie. For my money, she’s the go-to romance author for people who don’t think they like romance. Crusie’s books are smart and hilarious (nobody does better banter) and deceptively layered, featuring heroines and heroes who act like real people. They have kids and dogs and headache-inducing family members and bad, awkward sex (when they’re not having fantastic wall-banging sex, anyway). On occasion, they tangle with Mr. Wrong before they find Mr. Right. And, always, they’re funny and clever and warm-hearted—people you just want to spend time with.

Even though all of her books are set in average suburban neighborhoods (almost always in Crusie’s home state of Ohio, the heart of middle America), she has a talent for world-building that rivals any epic fantasy author. More than just solo characters, Crusie writes dynamic communities, ragtag oddball families, forged by choice if not blood, who invite you in.

Lucky for us, she’s a veteran author with a nice long backlist we can sink our teeth into. These might not all be her top sellers, but they’re some of my favorite Crusie novels and the ones I’d hand over first to turn someone into a romance convert:

The Cinderella Deal (1997)

Daisy Flattery is a free spirit, a painter and storyteller. Her neighbor Linc Blaise is a stuffy history professor who overthinks everything and is afraid of having a little fun. But he’s in need of an adoring fiancée to present to his bosses at the college he wants a job at, and as much as he dislikes Daisy’s careless abandon and weird idiosyncracies, she looks perfect for the part. Not to mention she can tell a story like nobody’s business. Their relationship starts out as a business arrangement, but deeper feelings soon emerge. Daisy is a force of nature, sweeping up people and pets in her wake and charming the socks off just about everyone she meets—Linc included. But has she told the story too well? And will Linc ever be able to accept the real Daisy, and maybe even let her save him too?

Why I love this book: This particular oldie but goodie remains my all-time favorite because a) I love stories about storytelling; b) there’s a brilliant blend of whimsy and emotion here; and c) most importantly, Linc and Daisy BOTH make compromises to meet each other in the middle. Each changes and grows over the course of the novel, progressing from prickly business partners to a genuine friendship to ultimately a deeper love. It’s a beautiful evolution of a relationship. As is her strength, Crusie creates a very vibrant world here and you’ll want to be swept into the little yellow house in Prescott, Ohio and fed cookies and tea by Daisy too. Plus, there’s a fascinating (and feminist) symbolism to Daisy’s paintings when you look at them closely.

Anyone But You by Jennifer CrusieAnyone But You (1996)

40-year-old Nina Askew just got divorced and moved to the city, trading her stifled suburban housewife existence for single-in-the-city living. She’s got a new apartment, a new dog (a total charmer Bassett hound named Fred), and a sexy new neighbor…who’s 10 years younger than she is. Despite their chemistry, Nina doesn’t want to take a chance on delicious Dr. Alex Moore because she’s convinced he’s all wrong for her. But, of course, she’ll soon come to realize he’s really Mr. Right.

Why I love this book: I am almost never a fan of big age differences in romances (I blame Jo choosing Professor Bhaer instead of Laurie in Little Women!), but there is zero question in my mind that Alex and Nina are completely perfect for each other. Crusie builds their friends-with-benefits relationship into the real thing in a charming, no melodrama way. Alex himself might even be one of my most favorite Crusie heroes. How do you not love a guy who insists he loves you because of not in spite of your wrinkles and thinks a perfect night is eating Oreos on the couch and mocking bad movies?

Tell Me Lies by Jennifer CrusieTell Me Lies (1998)

Maddie Faraday is having an exceptionally bad day. First she found underpants—-not hers—-shoved under the seat of her husband’s car, then she became convinced her nosy neighbors were talking about her (not that that’s anything new), and then her darling 8-year-old demanded they get a dog (Yes, every Crusie book has a dog), and then…her mother called. Next thing she knows, Maddie’s resorting to gnawing on a frozen brownie and hiding in her kitchen. As her life spins more and more out of control, Maddie realizes she can’t worry about everyone else in her life, she just needs to go after what she wants…even if that includes her steamy one-time-fling C. L. Sturgis.

Why I love this book: Crusie made a big step up from category romances to big time hardcovers with this novel and it shows. Her heroine, Maddie Faraday, is just as relatable as all of her others, but Crusie skillfully adds some more high concept plotlines (blackmail! Embezzlement! MURDER!) but never loses the grounded poignancy of Maddie’s predicament. Especially touching are the scenes from 8-year-old Em’s perspective. There are many more secondary players in this novel than her previous ones, all of whom are endearing and quirky in their own ways.

Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer CrusieWelcome to Temptation (2000)

Sophie Dempsey is only sticking around Temptation long enough to help her baby sister film a documentary about an aging movie star. At least that’s what she thinks… But then all hell breaks loose in this small town by way of politics, pornography and murder! And despite her best efforts, Sophie finds herself succumbing to the town’s charms—-and that of its slacker Mayor Phineas Tucker.

Why I love this book: More is definitely more when it comes to Temptation. Crusie stuffs this book full of Dusty Springfield songs, movie quotes, hilariously self-important town council meetings, amateur soft-core porn, popsicles, con artists, slightly kinky sex, and one incredibly phallic water tower, yet somehow it all works. Sophie’s from a family of grifters, but determined to go straight (her brother Davy pops up late in the book and nearly steals the whole show—-luckily he comes back later in his own book, Faking It) and she more than meets her match in Phin, who, like most Crusie heroes, has a lot going on under his easygoing surface. He seduces Sophie and the sparks fly, but it takes time for these two to get (out of bed) past their personal baggage and learn to trust and care for one another.

Wild Ride by Jennifer Crusie and Bob MayerWild Ride (2010)

In 2006, Crusie decided to team up with action-thriller writer Bob Mayer to match her down-to-earth but frequently frazzled heroines with his hard-charging, often-military alpha heroes. Their first collaborations served up Crusie’s usual cocktail of bantery goodness and suburban goddesses complimented by high-octane hijinx and stoic machismo. But with this third joint effort, they threw paranormal elements into the mix with a tale set at Dreamland, a rundown, cursed, demon-populated amusement park. Enter Mary Alice Brannigan, known as “Mab,” who doesn’t believe in the supernatural and just wants to focus on her job restoring the rides and buildings at the park. But mysterious happenings keep happening and Mab keeps getting into dangerous situations....

Why I love this book: The setting is, more than in any of Crusie’s previous books, a vivid character in its own right. Dreamland is such a captivating place with a rich and ancient supernatural mythology that slowly unfolds throughout the story. It’s a kick reading along as all of the characters discover their inner psychic, sorceress, demon hunter, etc. And as in all of Crusie’s books, as things come to an epic climax, Mab’s also busy learning how to follow her heart, and that she doesn’t always have to be the one in charge of fixing things.

With so many wonderful novels in her backlist, there’s easily a bunch more I could have added here. Which Crusie novels are your favorites?

Post edited on 4/30 @ 9:54 p.m. ET


Tara Gelsomino is a reader, writer, pop culture junkie, and internet addict. You can tweet her at @taragel.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. bungluna
I would add two more to her categories that I think are essential:

- "Manhunting" lol funny
- "Charlie All Night" best slacker hero

Of her stand-alone, I always include "Bet Me". I've re-read this one so often, I can recite whole pasages by heart. As for a man who loves action, I'd recommend "Agnes and The Hitman" for it's high octain humor and it's high body count.
2. ReaderCarolyn
There are only about a handful of authors I buy and keep, and Jennifer Crusie is one of them. I can't come up with a favorite, but I'm so glad you've included Wild Ride, as I love this one, and I know it's not everyone's cup of tea. Sometimes people just want more of the same from their favorite authors (Obviously because they do what they do so well, so who can blame them?), but I love a writer like Crusie who keeps things fresh and interesting while still demonstrating their amazing talent. Whatever story she wants to tell, I'll be reading it!
3. Deborah Blake
Jenny Crusie is one of the few authors I have in hardcover (who could wait for a new Crusie to come out in paperback?)--plus an extra to hand out to my friends.

Her characters are so real, you're sure you know them. And I've been fortunate enough to meet her in person, and she is just as funny and charming as you would expect.

These books are ALL on my favorites list!
Jacqueline Code
4. JacquiC
I absolutely love Welcome to Temptation. It seems as if it has just the perfect combination of dry wit, zany plot (but not TOO zany) and amusing secondary characters. And I adore Phin.

I haven't read it in a while, but I also remember loving Fast Women.
5. Katydidinoz
Love Crusie, love your choices (but I think Davy shows up again in Faking It, not Fast Women). Especially love that Crusie isn't afraid of an 'older' heroine who's got the chops to pull off quirky!
6. Taragel
@bungluna I loved Agnes too. Honestly, you can't go wrong with ANY Crusie IMO.

@ReaderCarolyn Absolutely, she's a keeper. I've had the opportunity to talk writing with her a few times and she's so smart and so determined to constantly challenge herself to do bigger/better storytelling. So great!

@Deborah Blake She's definitely a must-buy/worth the hardcover price.

@JacquiC Temptation was just too much, heh. I need to read it again soon (and I seldom re-read!)

@Katydidinoz Ooh you're right! His book is Faking It! Another great one.
7. BrooklynShoeBabe
When my co-worker introduced me to Jennifer Cruise, I couldn't have been more grateful. I love Bet Me ( love of doughnuts and shoes!), Anyone But You (my all time fav), Crazy For You, and Getting Rid of Bradley. I love the dialogue. Her books just make me laugh outloud. Once I got into Jennifer Cruise, it was a slippery slope. I couldn't read just one.
8. Gloria Dittmann
If you haven't read "Agnes and the Hitman" or "Don't Look Down" (Co-written with Bob Mayer) then you absolutely MUST read these fabulous stories! My favorite is probably "Anyone But You" but it's probably tied with "Faking It" and "Strange Bedpersons". Oh heck....my favorite Jennifer Crusie novel is whichever one I am re-reading at the moment while waiting for her next new novel! I love them all!
Carrie Strickler
9. DyslexicSquirrel
Bet Me was the first book of hers that I read and it remains my favorite. It was the first book that I ever read more than once. Of my own choosing. In fact, I still reread it on occassion. I have even highlighted parts that were so freaking hilarious, I always wanted to be able to find it. And I bought it in HARDBACK. I generally do not deface my own hardbacks because they're so much more exspensive, but I couldn't help it!

I loved Min. Lovedlovedloved. Maybe because she reminds me of myself a bit, but that's completely beside the point. And Cal... Well, I loved him even when I wanted to smack him in the head (he really is too charming for his own good). And when he mouthed off to Min's mother at dinner? I melted. Cal is secrely the guy I'm looking for and Min is the woman I want to grow up to be.
10. Taragel
@BrooklynShoeBabe She writes the best banter in the biz, seriously. Just a whiz at that funny, rapid-paced repartee.

@Gloria Dittman I've read pretty much everything Crusie I could get my hands on. I felt like Agnes worked for me a lot better than Don't Look Down, but I think they were kind of hitting their stride with Agnes and, well honestly, it felt more seamlessly Crusie to me. But her voice often comes through really strongly in her collaborations I think. Even in the Dogs and Goddesses book with Lani Diane Rich and Anne Stuart, to me, it felt like a Crusie book.

@DyslexicSquirrel Re: Crusie and Dinner scenes. She writes some great ones. Is it Strange Bedpersons (I think) that has the amazingly disastrous and hilarious dinner scene with Tess and Parke and Parke's awful family? So good. And I always think of Bet Me as the "chicken marsala book", hehe.
11. Jennifer R
This list makes me very happy, but...*cough*

Uh, there's something implied in the Wild Ride mention that doesn't actually happen. I'm attempting not to spoil it, but it's a really misleading thing and definitely gives the wrong impression to new readers about the romances in that book.
12. Taragel
@Jennifer R Hmm, maybe I misremembered something? (Highly possible!) I read through but I'm not sure what you mean by something implied that doesn't happen? (Feel free to email me if you like, and maybe we can fix/rewrite above!)
13. Amanda Chesshir
I give praise to every Crusie book out there! I love them all. One of my favorite writers and I am constantly telling people to read her books.
14. Jennifer R
Hm, I don't see your e-mail, just Twitter, and I don't do that, so... okay, spoiling for Wild Ride goes past this paragraph.

Mab and Ethan are not ever romantically involved in this book. Saying that Ethan is watching Mab's back "and other body parts" sounds to me like they do get involved. Since I recall that the authors had a lot of issues with people thinking that Mab and Ethan were going to get together because they're the main characters/first people you see in the book (even besides them not being interested in each other, there's another plot reason why it'd be weird), I figured I'd mention it.
Carrie Strickler
15. DyslexicSquirrel
@Taragel: Hahaha really great dinner scenes in a lot of her books for reals. And I love how a lot of the relationships are just disasters lol Like when Cal elbowed Min in the face. Or when her parents walked in (with her ex) while they were getting busy. It is totally the chicken marsala book.
16. Patti D
I love any Crusie book I can get my hands on! My favorite has always been "Bet Me" because the characters were so relatable. That, of course, was my first Crusie book and I haven't stopped there. I usually read my books, then pass them on for others to enjoy- not my Crusies!
17. Barbara G
I just discovered Crusie after getting a Nook at Christmas. I looked up "Like Evanovich" on the web and her name came up. Then Barnes & Noble was offering Manhunting for $2.99, so I tried it. I have now been going through the backlist but as I want to share them with my aunt, I've started picking them up in paperback. To date, my favorite is "Bet Me" and then "What the Lady Wants". I've got "The Cinderella Deal", "Faking It" and one the other Bob Meyer ones on my shelf. I was a bit disappointed in "Anyone But You" but enjoyed "Getting Rid of Bradley".
18. bookloversandi
Hands down, Welcome to Temptation is my all-time favorite Crusie novel.Dove Bars, Dusty Springfield, Dillie, also known as the coolest little girl ever, not to mention her totally sexy dad plus, who could forget the phallic variations?
19. TaraGel
@JenniferR Doh! I had a total brain block/switcheroo in my head! Of course, you're right. Will see if I can alter that in top post! Thanks so much! (I put my email in when I post, but I guess it doesn't show up. Sorry!)

@Patti I'm with you. I love them all really. Sometimes when it's a while between new reads (or re-reads) I have a moment when I'm like "Oh I remember how much I love her books!" all over again.

@Barbara You have so much to look forward to! Yay!

@bookloversandi WTT is really fantastic, there's so many great details and characters packed into that one.
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