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If You Like Jennifer Crusie hosted by Morgan S

I started reading Jennifer Crusie’s books after reading reviews on this blog and at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Until then, I’d never heard of her.   

A brief history of the Crusie oeuvre: her first nine books, starting with Sizzle published in 1994, were category romances. Then came Tell Me Lies (1998) followed by five more single-title novels. In 2004 she began collaborating with Bob Mayer, a former Green Beret and the author of more than 30 books. Together they wrote Don’t Look Down (2006) and Agnes and the Hitman (2007). She also co-authored The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes with Eileen Dreyer and Anne Stuart; this is her only paranormal book.

Setting (era and geographic): Contemporary, USA

Crusie’s books are always in the here and now, set in America, and the action often takes place in small Midwestern towns. There are no exotic locations, no foreign parts, no travelogue scenes. In some of her books the insularity and peculiarity of small communities are integral plot elements, as in Manhunting, Charlie All Night, Welcome to Temptation, Tell Me Lies, and Crazy for You. In a town where everyone knows you and your business, other people’s expectations can be barriers to self-understanding and growth. And you can never escape your parents.

Occasionally those placid little towns are backdrops that mirror the ruts the protagonists find themselves in. In Crazy for You, Quinn the heroine is living with Bill, a fellow teacher.   Her life is okay, very ordinary and set, but she’s vaguely dissatisfied.

Then she meets a homeless mutt. She’s got a history of rescuing strays. She knows she can’t have a pet in the apartment she shares with Bill. But when Quinn can’t figure out a better solution, she decides to keep the dog.

This one little change in her life is the falling domino that sets off a series of events: she leaves Bill, chops off her hair, buys a house, and seduces her old friend and ex brother-in-law, Nick.   Her actions – her decision to "go for it" –   inspire her best friend to leave her husband and Quinn’s mother to move in with her lesbian lover.

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Here’s another example. In the small town of Temptation, Phin Tucker is forever getting re-elected even though he is not sure he wants to be in the Mayor for Life rut. Sophie Dempsy and her sister breeze in from the big city (Cincinnati) to make a film. Phin takes one look at her and suddenly he’s in another type of rut.

Phin’s political rival and his mother, both Pillars of the Community, warn him to stay away from the trashy "movie people." Family histories, petty rivalries, and small town politics play out in the backdrop of Phin’s growing interest in a woman he considers to be the "devil’s candy."

As Phin’s seduction of Sophie progresses, the town’s water tower, like some sort of phallic mood ring, keeps changing color. It starts out flesh-colored. Then it’s painted with cheap red paint the same day Phin and Sophie have sex for the first time. As their relationship hits a rough patch, the color on the tower starts to bleed and run. By the end of the book its rosy color reflects the HEA.

Heroine Type: Feisty, Funny, Self-Assured

Crusie’s writing reflects the trend towards romance imitating life: her heroines are not the beautiful young innocents of yore. In some of her books the "difference" of those women is an integral part of the story, and dispensing with the convention gives life to the plot.   For instance, a significant age gap – older woman, younger man – is an important source of romantic conflict in Anyone But You. In Bet Me, Minerva Dobbs, the heroine, is overweight, and coming to grips with her fat is what brings the hero to his knees.

Some of Crusie’s heroines start out disabled by blows to their self-esteem – I am thinking here of Nell in Fast Women, depressed by the failure of her marriage, and Maddie in Tell Me Lies – but by the end of the book they’ve gained strength and self-assurance. Others are focused on career or some other goal (Lucy in Don’t Look Down, Allie in Charlie All Night, Kate in Manhunting, Mae in What a Lady Wants), and one is getting court-ordered therapy for her rage (Agnes in Agnes and the Hitman).   All of these attributes play a part in the romantic conflict. For example, Allie is trying to turn a reluctant Charlie into a media star so she can salvage her career; Lucy is directing a film and doesn’t know that the hero, J.T., has   infiltrated the set to foil terrorists. Kate is so determined to find a husband she’s made out a list of qualities, and she’s so focused on carrying out her plan she doesn’t realize the perfect guy is the one she’s been hanging out and drinking beer with.         

The heroines are usually in their thirties or forties.   Rocky past relationships are often key to subsequent actions; they’ve learned from past mistakes (Nell in Fast Women, Lucy in Don’t Look Down). They are upfront about their sexual needs, and the physical relationship is important to the heroine. In Strange Bedpersons it is Nick’s refusal to have sex in a parking lot (symptomatic of his buttoned-down personality) that leads Tess to split up with him. There’s no sign of that persistent, romantic double   standard: approval of female virginity and admiration of male promiscuity (a.k.a. "rakishness," and for an explanation of what that’s all about, check out Laura Vivanco’s post).

Au contraire, the women in Crusie’s books are just as comfortable with their sexuality as the men. Here’s 42-year-old Nell, who’s sitting in a restaurant with her ex-husband Tim, her one-night stand Riley, her hero, Gabe (the one-night-stand’s partner), her sister-in-law Suze, and the ex-husband’s new wife, the bitch Whitney.

-Gabe poured the last of the beers and said, "What shall we drink to?"

Nell looked around and said, "Good grief. Drink to me. I just realized I’ve slept with everybody at this table."

"And God knows we appreciate it," Riley said, while Tim gawked.

"Except for Whitney, of course," Nell said.

"To Nell," Gabe said, raising his glass.

"To Nell," Riley said and drank, and Suze clinked her glass with Nell and drank, too.

Whitney tried to share a superior eye-roll with Tim, but he was staring at Nell. She turned back to Nell and leaned across the table to her, looking condescending and amused. "That’s really wild of you. Three men in what? Fifty years?"

Die, bitch, Suze thought, and said, "And me." She held up her hand, and all three men turned to her on the instant, leaving Whitney with no audience at all. Suze beamed on the table impartially. "She’s a terrific kisser. And when you consider she’s nailed three of us in less than seven months, that’s pretty good." She patted Nell’s arm, thinking, Do not tell them we only necked. This is payback time.

Gabe had already turned to Nell, a grin splitting his face. "Hello?"

"After Riley, before you," Nell told Gabe solemnly. "I don’t cheat."

-Whitney looked at them sourly. "We don’t need the details."

"Oh, sure we do," Gabe said, not taking his eyes off Nell. "Start at the beginning. What were you wearing?"

"My blue silk pajamas," said Nell. "You know, the slippery -"

"God, yes," Gabe said.

"Just the top, though," Nell lied.

"Good, good," Gabe said.

"Did you get the bottoms?" Riley said to Suze.

She shook her head. "No, I was wearing an old T-shirt."

"Not as good as the silk thing," said Riley, "but acceptable. Was there a pillow fight? You get extra points if there’s a naked pillow fight."

Hero Type: Competent, Middle-Class, Manly Men

Crusie’s protagonists are regular guys. No billionaires or chairmen of the board, sheikh, Greek, or otherwise. They are typically unambitious, attractive, and good at what they do: auto mechanic (Nick in Crazy for You), detective (Gabe in Fast Women, Mitch in What the Lady Wants), book-shop owner (Phin Tucker in Temptation), disk jockey (Charlie in Charlie All Night), resort manager (Jake in Manhunting), cop (Zack in Getting Rid of Bradley), accountant (C.L. in Tell Me Lies), soldier (J.T. in Don’t Look Down).   

One character with a driving determination to succeed is Nick in Strange Bedpersons, and this is critical to the plot: his relentless ambition to make partner in his law firm is the source of conflict with his laid-back hippie girlfriend.

For the most part the heroes are content with their lives (until those lives are upended by the heroine), and this sometimes sets up the romantic conflict. For example, in Crazy for You, Nick likes his friendship with Quinn so much that he is loath to act on his sexual attraction for her. The same dynamic is at work in Anyone But You.

While they are all alpha males, none of them could be described as arrogant or overbearing. In most of the stories they approach love in typically guy fashion, which is to say, sidling up on it cautiously and ready to scuttle away at the first sign of a Cling-On female persona or the utterance of the C word (that would be commitment).

Villain Type: Believably Human

I’ve read so many complaints about unbelievably evil villains that I want to note that Crusie usually gets wrong right: except for the antagonists in Tell Me Lies, the baddies are more than just cardboard caricatures, and there’s none of the shorthand that relies on ugly prejudice, like making the villain gay. I seldom find myself wondering "Now, what’s the motivation for this dastardly deed?" Instead, the   antagonists’ emotions are revealed, and while they may not be sympathetic characters, at least you understand where they’re coming from.

An example is Bill, the control freak boyfriend in Crazy for You. His point-of-view is given throughout the book as he quietly goes mad trying to get Quinn back. He stalks her, sabotages her house, hurts her dog, attacks her, and yet in the end I felt sorry for him.   (This is a contrarian view, I think, as other readers have found him hateful; to me he seems deranged and pitiful.)

The beautiful, manipulative, slim Cynthie in Bet Me (she is fat Min’s foil) does what she can to derail Min and Cal’s romance, but she is nonetheless a sympathetic character. She’s in love, she wants him back, and her attempts to sabotage their relationship are just pathetic.

On the other hand, there’s the one-dimensional sniper in Don’t Look Down. What a creep. We get his point of view, and what a nasty one it is. (Spoiler alert: he’s done in by a five-year-old, the hero, and the alligator in the swamp, in that order.)

And then there are the dogs

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Animals in Crusie books are comedic counterpoints to move the plot along, and they do it better than the plunging stallions found on the covers of some older romances.  

The creatures are invariably losers until they have the good fortune to be taken in by the heroine. The mangy cat in Bet Me bolts inside Min’s apartment and soon learns to channel Elvis; Fred in Anyone But You is a reject from the pound who brings the hero and heroine together.

The cat is smart, but the dogs? They may have brief flashes of perception when they attack an antagonist, but the rest of the time they are charmingly stupid. Here’s an excerpt from Getting Rid of Bradley. Zack has arrived to question Lucy, who had beaten him up earlier with a physics book. She thinks he’s a mugger, slams the door on his foot, warns him she’s got vicious attack dogs, and then learns he’s a police detective.   

She closed the door behind him and then opened the vestibule door, and the dogs attacked.

The big sheep dog was the first to reach him. It immediately leaned heavily against his leg, shedding all over his jeans and drooling into his shoe. The little skinny brown one draped itself over Zack’s uninjured foot and stared off into space at nothing in particular. And the one that looked like a floor mop barked at him once and then rolled over onto its back with all four short legs in the air and lay there, motionless.

"These are vicious attack dogs?"

Plot (action-oriented / character-driven): Both

Sometimes the action in the plot is so screwball comedy it seems it’s being driven by one of those miniature clown cars. In Manhunting, Kate keeps accidentally maiming her dates; in Agnes and the Hitman, Agnes has a penchant for whacking faithless lovers and anyone else who crosses her with frying pans; in Welcome to Temptation, Sophie uses her experiences with Phin to write sex scenes for the movie she and her sister are making.

Even events as unamusing as death have comical elements: a wife beans her husband with her Franciscan Desert Rose pitcher and the body is stuffed in a freezer (Fast Women); after a blackmailer who’s threatened half the town suffers a heart attack, his body is moved, run over twice, shot, and clubbed (Welcome to Temptation).

The exception is Don’t Look Down, which is more romantic-suspense-serious than any of Crusie’s previous works, with a gruesome body count and moments of angst, as when a child is lost in the swamp and later, kidnapped. This is one book that’s almost entirely action-oriented.

But the more central plot mover is the protagonists’ characters; as mentioned above, the men are often commitment-leery, getting into the relationship because of a mutual physical attraction, but not sure they want to take it any deeper.   Or, the hero or heroine may fear that a perfectly good friendship will be ruined by sex. These are some of the barriers to resolution.

All these hurdles are overcome as the main characters get to know each other and as the commitophobic hero falls in love. In the beginning of What a Lady Wants, Mitch explains what it is men want:

"-the fact is, men cheat. We have to. It’s a biological imperative."

"An imperative," Mae repeated. "This would be testosterone we’re talking about here, right?"

"Well, that’s part of it. But a lot of it is just man’s need to see what’s beyond the next hill. It’s the reason men crossed the oceans, built the pipeline, opened the West-Look, there’s no point in getting upset about this. You can’t understand because you’re a woman, and women don’t think like that."

"Women don’t want to open the West?"

"No. Women want to say home and keep the East looking nice."

Mae took a deep breath as a red mist rose before her eyes. "You’re deliberately trying to make me kill you, aren’t you?"

"No." Mitch’s voice was the Voice of Reason. "This is just biology. Men need multiple breasts in their lives. Women need to make a commitment to one penis."

By the end of the book, though, it’s "No more pipeline. I’ve lost all my interest in the West. The only thing I want to explore is you."

Plot (slow / medium / fast): Medium to Fast

In Crusie’s category romances the plot moves along at a pretty fast clip, partly due to the shortage of the story (getting to HEA in 60,000 words or less). This doesn’t detract from the buildup or denouement; there’s just less detail in the subplots and fewer characters to keep track of.

The later single-title books have more action, more nuance, and more fully developed subplots, and Crusie takes more time to describe the difficulties that are keeping the lovers from resolving their conflicts.

Writing style (simple vs. ornate): Simple words, straightforward narration, showing not telling, multiple points of view

Crusie doesn’t suffer from adjectivitis, and there’s not a lot of lyrical description of settings or people. There is, instead, abundant dialogue to reveal character, and simple actions to evoke the sense of place. For example, the police chief and mayor in Temptation volunteer to fix plumbing and electrical problems for newcomers – something that could happen in an idealized small town. Bet Me takes place in a city large enough to have a yuppie bar, several restaurants, Little League teams, and apartment buildings, and we learn all this because that’s where the scenes take place.     

The stories start out in the heroine’s head. When the hero arrives on scene we get his perspective, and later and to a lesser degree, that of friends, family, or antagonists. It’s given as deep point of view nearly always with the two main characters, and sometimes with ancillary characters: their thoughts accompany the dialogue and action. There’s no shifting POV from one paragraph to the next, so it’s not difficult to keep track of whose experience we are reading about; we get one head per scene.

Dialogue: (lots / little / balanced): Lots

There’s dialogue on just about every page; even the backstory often comes out in conversations.

Humor (Yes / No-serious / Some): Yes, Lots

I think what distinguishes Crusie from many other contemporary romance writers is the humor and wit that saturate her books, including, in some stories, the clever incorporation of cultural references that enhance the theme.

The sexual banter can be amusing at the same time it’s arousing, but just as funny are scenes and dialogue with friends. Here’s an example from the beginning of the long seduction of Min in Bet Me. Cal has picked her up in a bar and taken her to an Italian restaurant to win a ten-dollar bet:

"Ah, Mr. Morrisey," Emilio said, and Cal turned to meet his old roommate’s glare. "How excellent to see you again."

"Emilio," Cal said. "This is Min Dobbs." He turned back to Min. "Emilio makes the best bread in town."

"I’m sure you make the best everything, Emilio," Min said, offering him her hand. She looked up at him from under her lashes, and her wide smile quirked wickedly.

Emilio cheered up, and Cal thought, Hey, why didn’t I get that?

Emilio clasped her hand. "For you, my bread is poetry. I will bring my bread as a gift to your beauty, a poem to your lovely smile." He kissed the back of her hand, and Min beamed at him and did not pull her hand away.

"Emilio, Min is my date," Cal said. "Enough kissing already."

Min shook her head at him, with no beam whatsoever. "I’m not anybody’s date. We don’t even like each other." She turned back to Emilio, smiling again. "Separate checks, please, Emilio."

"Not separate checks, Emilio," Cal said, exasperated beyond politeness. "But a table would be good."

"For you, anything," Emilio said to Min and kissed her hand again.

Unbelievable, Cal thought, and kicked Emilio on the ankle when Min turned to look at the restaurant again. The guy was married, for Christ’s sake.

"Right this way," Emilio said, wincing, He showed them to the best table by the window, slid Min into a bentwood chair, and then stopped by Cal long enough to say under his breath, "I sent the servers home half an hour ago, you bastard."

"You’re welcome," Cal said loudly, nodding to him.

Crusie’s stories are very American, and the pop cultural references can make her humor somewhat obscure to a reader who’s not up on cult classics. In Welcome to Temptation, in which the plot revolves around the making of a movie, Sophie repeatedly uses film quotes to mask her anxiety. You’ve heard of film noir (Prizzi’s Honor, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas); you may have heard of film blanc (feel good, care bear movies). And then there’s film blank, which I characterize as comedic nonsense (Tootsie, Stripes, Young Frankenstein, Rocky Horror Picture Show).   Crusie uses quotes from these movies to punctuate the dialogue, and there is an interesting progression in the book: as the quotes go from black to blank, Sophie goes from thinking Temptation is Amityville to finding it a "nice little town." In the beginning of the book it’s mostly fear and loathing and looking out for dive-bombing bats; toward the middle and at the end it’s more "Oh, you men are all alike. Seven or eight quick ones and then you’re off with the boys" (Young Frankenstein) and "This isn’t the chamber of commerce, Brad" (Rocky Horror). These scenes are funnier if you "get" the references.

For the reader with a higher brow, here’s an example of how Cruse uses the classics to heat up a seduction scene.   In Crazy for You, Quinn and Nick have split up over his fear of commitment (which he expressed by rolling out of bed and suggesting they have a post-coital pizza), and he’s trying to recover:   

"I did not pancake the third time."   Nick came closer, blocking her off from the rest of the stage, and her pulse kicked up as she edged back until she was flat against the wall. "I may have made a small musical error and blown my dismount, but pancake, no. As I keep reminding you, you came."

"I faked it," Quinn lied.

"You did not," Nick said. "You were like wet Kleenex afterward."

"Thank you," Quinn said. "That was very romantic. You can go now."

"You liked it," he said, and she refused to meet his eyes.

"Some."

"A lot." He leaned over her, his hand on the wall above her head, and she could feel herself flush, just because he was that close. "We should try it again-Want to talk Shakespeare with me?"

Quinn put as much scorn into her voice as she could. "You don’t know Shakespeare."

" "Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds,’ " he said. -

Quinn tried to glare at him without meeting his eyes. "Where’d you read the sonnets? They’re putting them on cereal boxes now?"

"College," Nick said. "GI Bill, remember? Business major, English minor. Good for seducing women. "The grave’s a fine and private place, but none, I think do there embrace.’ Be a shame if we never tried again and died not knowing."

"I can live with that."

He leaned closer, his cheek almost touching hers, and whispered in her ear,             " "License my roving hands, and let them go/Before, behind, between, above, below.’ " His breath was warm on her skin. "Let me touch you again. Come back to me, Quinn. I’ll drive you out of your mind, I swear."

"Who was that one? I got Marvell, but not -"

"Donne. My favorite." He looked down into her eyes, so close. " "Thy firmness makes my circle just/And makes me end where I began.’ Come home with me tonight."

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Finally, there is Bet Me. The story is bracketed by the classic lines of a fairy tale: it starts "Once upon a time" and ends with "They all lived happily ever after."   At the heart of it, Crusie turns the Cinderella fairy tale on its head. It starts off with Cal (Prince Charming) completely unimpressed with Min, who looks like a prison warden in an ugly gray suit. He’s not interested in marriage, and neither of them are smitten. It is so not love at first sight that they spend half of the book determined to avoid each other, and when random events (or bets) throw them together, they argue – mostly about what Min is not eating. There are no ugly stepsisters; instead, there are two beautiful friends and a beautiful sister, Diana, who all think Min is wonderful and deserving of a prince. Cal brings Min a gift of open-toed, fur-lined bunny slippers – about as far from a glass slipper as you can get.   When they finally make love it is on a pumpkin-colored sofa.

Bet Me has another theme: food as a metaphor for love and acceptance. Min is dieting to get into an ugly maid-of-honor dress for Diana’s wedding, and throughout the book Min’s mother nags her to stay away from carbs and butter. At the outset Min is doing her best to comply; she has a poor self-image. Then Cal persuades her to sample forbidden fruit (bread and doughnuts) and finally tells her that losing weight is misguided in a woman with her body type, and unnecessary anyway:

"The truth is, most guys would rather go to bed with you than with a coat hanger, you’re a lot more fun to touch, but most women don’t believe that. You keep trying to lose weight for each other."

Min rolled her eyes. "So I’ve been sexy all these years? Why hasn’t anybody noticed?"

"Because you dress like you hate your body," Cal said. "Sexy is in your head and you don’t feel sexy so you don’t look it."

"Then how do you know I am?" Min said, exasperated.

"Because I’ve looked down your sweater," Cal said, flashing back to that. "And I’ve kissed you, and I have to tell you, your mouth is a miracle. Now eat something."

At the same time Cal is accepting Min as she is and trying to get her to eat what she wants, Diana’s fiancé Greg is failing to provide food. He’s supposed to order the wedding cake, but doesn’t; he’s supposed to bring wine to a family dinner, but forgets; he’s supposed to arrange for the rehearsal supper, and neglects to do so. Each time this happens Min and Cal save the day. Greg doesn’t love Diana.

Emotional Angst (high / medium / low): Low to Medium

In the romance realm, any tension derives from conflict resolution on the road to the happy ending, and each emotional moment should lead to change. We expect the protagonists to stay in character at the same time they are growing. When they do fall in love it shouldn’t be irrational or the result of a   deux ex affecta (the emotional equivalent of a deux ex machina).   

Emotional moments in Crusie have very little bathos. Changes can be painful or difficult, but never as emotionally wrenching as what is found in works by Laura Kinsale, for example; and they makes sense in the context of the characters’ development.

In Tell Me Lies, Maddie lives according to others’ expectations, and she covers up for her husband for fear of what others will think. When her daughter, distraught because of   her father’s death, accuses her of being a liar, Maddie has an epiphany that lets her move forward with healthier relationships.

Then there’s the final revelation in Welcome to Temptation. Sophie’s going to marry Phin and they’ll have four thousand useless Tucker for Mayor – More of the Same posters, since he has decided not to run again. That’s when she sees her destiny:

She’d have two years to get to know everybody in town. That was only about two thousand people; she could do that. And she could make a difference, she was good at making people do what she wanted. She was born to make people do what she wanted.

"My God," she said, as the full meaning of her family’s legacy for lying, cheating, and scheming hit her.

She was born to be a politician.

To paraphrase a famous quote from the movie A League of Their Own: There is no crying in Crusie.

Conflict (externally-driven / internally-driven / both): Both

Crusie has "opposites attract" as a set up for the romantic conflict. Min is an actuary, Cal is a risk taker; Phin is respectable, Sophie is not; Kate is focused, Jake is laid-back; Gabe is a slob, Nell is orderly.

The internal conflict is often due to the protagonists’ insecurities and uncertainties: Min thinks she is unattractive because she is overweight; Sophie is the low-class "daughter of a thousand felons" from a family with a tradition of con artistry; Nell is shattered by the end of what she had thought was a good marriage.

In some of the books, external conflict comes from family and friends. In Tell Me Lies, Maddie has ample reason to divorce her cheating husband, but her mother tries to guilt her out of it. In Bet Me, Min’s mother tries to keep her away from fattening food, her friend Liza tries to keep her away from Cal, and her ex-boyfriend David sets up the bet that creates all the trouble. In Welcome to Temptation, family members try to sabotage Sophie and Phin’s relationship.   

Heat level (kisses / warm / hot / scorching): Hot

The sex scenes are funny and hot. The buildup of interest may be long or short – it varies from months (Fast Women) to mere days (Welcome to Temptation) – but it’s always the culmination of some funny verbal foreplay. Here’s an example from Manhunting:

"Are you playing pool tonight with me or not?"

"Yes," Kate said. "But I’m going to win."

"Oh?" Jake looked amused. "And what makes you think that?"

Kate batted her eyes at him once. "I’m not going to wear any underwear."

Jake looked at her for a moment and then pulled his hat back over his face. "Me neither," he said.

There isn’t a lot of explicit description. We get the woman’s perspective, what she’s thinking and feeling, and then we get post-coital comedy.

Here’s later on in Manhunting, after sex in an old rowboat out on a lake:

Gradually she realized there was something wrong.

"Jake, have you noticed the wet spot is bigger than usual?"

"Hmm."

"Jake, I’m all wet."

"I don’t care," he said into her neck. "I’m not making love to you again tonight. I have to   be able to walk around tomorrow."

"Not that kind of wet." She pushed him off her and sat up. "The boat is leaking."

"What?" He put his hand between the cushions where her hip had been. The boat was filling with water. "I knew I heard something crack a while back. I thought it was my spine. Thank God, it’s just the boat."

"Just the boat?" Kate grabbed her tank top and pulled it on over her head.

"I was wrong." He lay back against the cushions, exhausted and happy. "You’re not going to kill me with sex. You’re going to drown me."

"Jake, the boat is going down."

"So did you." He smiled at her in the moonlight. "Have I mentioned that was great?"

She grabbed the front of his shirt and shook him. "Jake!"

He sat up slowly. "What do you want me to do? Sing "Nearer, My God, to Thee’?"   

If you like Jennifer Crusie, you’ll like-

Crusie at her best is incomparable.   

This is true of other great romance authors as well, but they are incomparable in other ways. I read Janine’s description of Laura Kinsale’s novels as I was writing this, and was continually reminded of the famous Monty Python line: And now for something completely different! Kinsale is uniquely excellent, but her work could not be more different from Jennifer Crusie’s.

The closest I’ve found to Crusie is Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Match Me If You Can and Natural Born Charmer, in particular, are very similar in tone, treatment, and story arc.   She incorporates comedy, interesting subplots, great friendships, and well-developed characters in contemporary stories that are set in the American heartland.

Mr. Perfect, by Linda Howard, has got some wonderful give and take between an assertive heroine and a cop. But it gets less and less funny as sympathetic characters are killed off.

Nora Roberts is another author who melds wit and humor with hot romance, but her later novels are more romantic-suspense than Crusie’s; there’s likely to be a murder plot driving the action, often a loathsome serial killer, and that can be a real downer. Probably the closest to Crusie are the stories about the Quinn brothers: Sea Swept, Rising Tides, Inner Harbor, and Chesapeake Blue.

I recently started reading Rob Byrnes, who writes m/m romance. When the Stars Come Out is a lighthearted, charming book about the difficulties of being who you are in a world where people expect you to be someone else. It’s more sweet than erotic.

For more in the sweet, not particularly hot line, there is Susan Wiggs. She writes contemporaries as well as historical romances. Her Lakeshore Chronicles are set in a small town and tell the story of connected families.

Suzanne Brockmann writes hilarious romantic suspense with unconventional heroes (in the sense that they may be short, balding, older, gay, or otherwise different from the usual) and heroines who kick ass and take names.

Janet Evanovich has the same sort of comedic outlook as Crusie, I am told, but she’s been hit or miss for me. I couldn’t get into the Plum line, but read Metro Girl and liked it. Then, unfortunately, I picked up Love Overboard (one of her older categories), got to the part where it is revealed that the heroine is an ex-cop in her thirties and still a virgin, soldiered on, got to the part where "her doodah started to hum a little tune," and could not go on. The magic was gone. So if anyone can suggest other books of hers that are funny but doodah-less, I’d like to know the titles.

Improper English by Katie MacAlister has some high comedy, a hot romance, a wonderful hero, and a not so wonderful heroine. The humor devolves into slapstick at times, but I’d give some of her other books a go.

Blame It on Paris by Jennifer Greene was recently reviewed here by Jayne, and while I haven’t read the book, it sounds like fun.

Smart Mouth and Heiress for Hire by Erin McCarthy are funny contemporaries; most of her other books are paranormals, and don’t work as well for me.

If you, gentle reader, have any other ideas, I’d like to hear them.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

60 Comments

  1. handyhunter
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 06:01:50

    Awesome post!

    The closest I've found to Crusie is Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

    Same here. Some of the other authors you’ve mentioned have been a hit-and-miss (and occasionally just a miss) for me, or there’s something in their writing that prevents me from enjoying the book as much as I do Crusie’s (or Phillips’).

    I also enjoyed the Crusie/Mayer collaborations more than I thought I would; I think I read reviews of them here and at SBTB and I can see why they wouldn’t be an A grade, but nevertheless, I liked the books (maybe because my expectations were low? or prepared for some of the issues in the writing). I’d read more by the two of them.

    I recently started reading Wiggs’ books and am in the “like, but not love” stage with them (are her historicals reissues? Because they read a bit like early/first books, unless her writing style changes depending on the time period). Her latest, Just Breathe, looks interesting, but not for hardcover price; I’ll wait for the paperback or library copy.

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  2. Jessica
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 06:03:50

    Maybe I haven’t had enough coffee yet, but it’s really hard to think of another writer who does all or even most of the things you identify as traits of Crusie. I definitely think, though that she has been influential on the contemporary subgenre.

    The funny, snappy dialogue and humorous erotic scenes in Jane Graves’ Tall Tales and Wedding Veils, for example, or Susan Mallery’s Sizzling come to mind.

    I find Crusie almost beyond the genre in some ways, almost unromantic, because the specter of failed or tragic or disappointed love shrouds most of her characters in a much more realistic way than I usually see (this puts her worldview at odds with SEP IMHO). You mention Fast Women, and that’s an example of where the realism about romance today chipped away at satisfaction of the HEA for me. Another writer who can write modern (post no-fault divorce) love like that, although without most of the other traits (the snappy dialogue, humor, etc) is Megan Hart.

    And thanks for mentioning the role food plays in Crusie. I felt she went overboard in Bet Me and Charlie All Night, but now I have a new frame of reference and appreication for how she uses it.

    Great article!

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  3. Sarah C
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 06:54:44

    I can’t compare her to SEP. SEP’s book are too campy and unrealistic for me. I only tried two books though, but I still remember the TSTL heroine from Nobody’s Baby But Mine. Her characters don’t feel real to me.

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  4. sandia
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 07:52:45

    I love SEP and haven’t read as many Crusie’s as SEP novels. I did however, just finish “Just one of the Guys” by Kristan Higgins. I absolutely LOVED it and I think it shares a lot of the similar elements of Crusie and SEP novels. Wonderful humor and great family/friend dynamics aside from the Hero/Heroine relationship.

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  5. MaryKate
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 08:02:53

    Sandia, you took the words right out of my mouth. Kristan Higgins’ work definitely reminds me of Cruisie’s. The only difference being the first person narrative.

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  6. Lori
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 08:32:04

    I love SEP, especially her football series but nobody has had such an immediate effect on me as Cruisie. Major kudos Morgan for such a brilliant essay on such a brilliant writer.

    The first Cruisie book I ever picked up (years ago and quite by accident) was Welcome To Temptation and I was lost forever.

    Even at her worst, Cruisie is still best.

    Thank you so much for writing this and to everyone else for author suggestions. I’m going to look up some of these other author authors mentioned.

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  7. sallahdog
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 09:15:10

    Since Crusie is my all time favorite, and I also love SEP(SEP tends to go more to the sentimental and digs deeper into the multigenerational relationships around the main couple). I would also reccomend Rachel Gibson, especially her books, Truly Madly Yours, True Confessions, See Jane Score.

    Higgins books (which I just glommed last week after the reccomends) do have a breezy feel to them that the vintage Crusies had. I still love Crusies work (although I didn’t like ” Don’t look Down”.) They have definately taken a darker edge, with her Mayer collaberations, and while still having Crusies humor, tend to be more action driven. Not bad, just different.

    someone mentioned Linda Howards “Mr. Perfect”, I would also submit her “Open Season” and her “To Die for”…there is a lot of humor, but darker, probably more for people who do like the Crusie/Mayer collaberations…

    One of the things that these authors all have in common, which I love,is that there isn’t a lot of internal navel gazing going on. They tend to focus on dialogue moving the story and informing the reader.. Since I listen to a lot of books on tape, they are also all great “listening” books… (except for higgins and gibson, who don’t have audiobooks yet)…

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  8. RfP
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 09:31:53

    I don’t find SEP anything like Crusie. As Sarah C said, SEP is far more camp; I find her books saccharine. But that’s what makes it difficult to recommend humor.

    Crusie handles dark topics with a light touch, and for me the honesty of revealing those darker underpinnings makes me believe in the HEA. I’m not a fan of the overly perfect.

    A few other romances-with-humor that straddle genre lines:

    • Marianna Jameson’s Big Trouble (my review)
    • Paul Levine’s legal caper romance Solomon vs Lord is a good snappy romance and a medium-grade mystery (my review)
    • Elaine Fox’s Special of the Day and Hot Stuff. I don’t enjoy all of her books, but those two worked for me.
    • Maybe Jane Graves’ Light My Fire, though I’ve forgotten the details

    Added: I’m pretty sure I’ve enjoyed a Rachel Gibson, though I know I’ve not enjoyed another of hers.

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  9. Ann Bruce
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 09:38:18

    Ditto for not finding SEP like Crusie. I love both but SEP’s books are more emotional reads for me than Crusie will ever be.

    Really, I can’t think of anyone like Crusie. I’ve tried other authors that people said were “Crusie-like,” and they all came up short.

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  10. handyhunter
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 09:45:06

    I would also reccomend Rachel Gibson, especially her books, Truly Madly Yours, True Confessions, See Jane Score.

    I liked her earlier books Рthe ones you list Рbut not her newer ones; I found the writing clich̩d/overly generalized, unfortunately.

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  11. Mfred
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 09:57:41

    IMHO, SE Phillips is nowhere as good as Cruise. Maybe its because of her books I have read so far, too many have featured virgin or near-virgin heroines. I’m a bit tired of that trope in the historicals I like to read, I find it near impossible to stomach in contemporary romances.

    SEP does good humor and good banter/ sexual tension, but her books don’t make me feel happy (happier?) about the human condition the way Cruise’s do. I’ve been desperately searching for a Cruise replacement, but nothing has held up to the comparison.

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  12. Val Kovalin
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 10:10:45

    What a terrific, comprehensive analysis! I’m completely unfamiliar with this author’s books, but you made them sound very funny and worth reading.

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  13. Kerry
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 10:25:39

    You know, she doesn’t write straight romance or straight science fiction, but Connie Willis is a writer who has a lot of common with Crusie’s writing style and worldview. A huge theme in her writing is the connections among people, she’s very funny, and her characters are usually smart and thoughtful. Some of her books can be very wrenchingly emotional, but she often writes lighter pieces that center on romance.

    I’d start with Bellwether, which features a sociologist who studies fads meeting by chance a neuroscientist whose grant gets dropped. They help each other out by designing an experiment featuring a flock of sheep. To Say Nothing of the Dog has time traveling historians searching for something called “the bishop’s bird stump” in the late Victorian era.

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  14. Zeba
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 10:28:39

    I too am a big Crusie fan who has resorted to Rachel Gibson when feeling that I can’t re-read all of Crusie yet again. I also liked a couple of MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead & Unwed books. Otherwise, recently I’ve enjoyed historicals more – Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death (v. gruesome in parts, be warned, but the romance is very touching), Jude Morgan, particularly An Accomplished Woman and Anne Gracie’s Perfect Rake. These were fun and lively.

    An american writer living and working in the UK who I really enjoy is Julie Cohen, who has a skewed perspective on romance that I enjoy too. It’s early days, but I think she has potential to be a great romance writer.

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  15. Ldb
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 10:36:10

    IMO one of the reasons it is hard to match Cruise up withing the romance genre is because she’s on the line of romance/chicklit/women’s fiction, which was the reason I stoped reading her. When I was reading her I was also reading more chick lit and she seemed to fit in with that genre better then romance I was reading. An example would Donna Kauffman (sp) who did a fairy tale series. Same kind of h/H and no prettying up of real life, but still with some kind of humor.

    I also agree with those who don’t feel that she and SEP match up so well. While I think SEP should definatly be on the list, I don’t think they are so close as to be the first choice. She’s my favorite contemperary author mainly because she doesn’t make her h/H seem so average like Cruise, and there is much more emotion and angst in SEPs.

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  16. DS
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 10:38:39

    Ditto To Say Nothing of the Dog by Willis. But don’t start with Passage. Passage is an excellent book, one of the most affecting I have ever read by any author, but it deals with Near Death experiences in a very serious way and

    Not really a spoiler but just in case

    whoops

    I

    guess

    I

    need to put some words in here.

    people who expect an HEA would hate the ending.

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  17. Maggie's Mom
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 10:39:43

    I adore Crusie. Have for years. Unfortunately, Don’t Look Down didn’t live up to the hype. Agnes and the Hitman was okay, but still not “Crusie”. The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes was good, as these three women pulled off an difficult writing accomplishment.

    I’m seeing all these collaborations with other writers, all of whom have written great books on their own, but books certainly different than Crusie’s earlier voice. But it makes me wonder if Crusie has lost the ability to write solo…I miss the old Crusie style of storytelling as described above (and I’ll note, fantastic dissection of her work). So, even Crusie isn’t Crusie anymore.

    And I must disagree with SEP ever writing a TSTL heroine. While SEP’s voice is different than Crusie (unique in it’s own way), her heroines and heroes come alive on the page, and live in readers’ memories long after the story is done. The demand on SEP to more Chicago Stars stories must drive her nuts!

    I’m enjoying the discussion and look forward to others comments.

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  18. handyhunter
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 10:40:41

    Maybe its because of her books I have read so far, too many have featured virgin or near-virgin heroines. I'm a bit tired of that trope in the historicals I like to read, I find it near impossible to stomach in contemporary romances.

    Yeah. It was pretty much the one main thing I disliked in Lisa Kleypas’s contemporaries, which I was quite pleasantly surprised by otherwise.

    I think SEP tends to be more on the conventional side (in terms of romance novel standards) with her relationships than Crusie, and, I agree with the overly sweet complaints (especially in epilogues that are unnecessary and therefore do not exist), but I like the humour and most of the characters. I liked some of her older work quite a bit — Hot Shot, Honey Moon, Fancy Pants.

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  19. Jill Sorenson
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 10:51:06

    Great post and awesome excerpts! When I read my first Crusie, Welcome to Temptation, I was blown away. Immediately after finishing that book, I turned to page one and started again. It’s that good.

    I agree that no one compares to Crusie in the humor department, but I also love SEP and think she’s a great choice for “if you like.” Can’t wait to try Kristan Higgins. In her RITA acceptance speech she thanked her husband for great sex. It was hilarious.

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  20. Tabitha
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 10:51:11

    I glommed Kristin Higgins books after the review here of ‘Just one of the Guys'. Then last week I stumbled upon ‘Bet Me' by Jennifer Cruise and I agree that Kristin Higgins' work is similar to Cruise's, minus the first person narration. I have read a few books by SEP but I can't say I liked all of them. I think there were only two of hers that I enjoyed but it's been so long since I've read them that I can't recall which ones they were.

    I have only read one book by Cruise so far (which I really enjoyed) so I'm hoping I will enjoy her other ones as well.

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  21. This and that « Jorrie Spencer
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 11:02:23

    [...] 8, 2008 by Jorrie Dear Author has a great article entitled If You Like Jennifer Crusie, hosted by Morgan S. Interesting analysis and interesting comments. If you’re a big Crusie [...]

  22. Michelle
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 11:07:35

    This was great to read.

    I do agree that Jennifer Crusie is great in ways that no other romance author is. Her realistic/more cynical portrayals of romance and other mainstream elements of her stories make me wonder if there are mainstream authors that would be more comparable to her than other romance authors. Perhaps folks like Alice Hoffmann? Alas, I barely read mainstream – I’m a genre/nonfiction reader – , so I can’t come up with a lot of recommendations.

    Crusie almost feels outside of romance at times because she doesn’t accept the same assumptions that a lot of romance authors do imo. I really like SEP a lot, but she does accept those assumptions more – particularly since she moved to Avon. Crusie’s books are very smart, but I never get as swept away by them as I do in my other favorite romance novels. I read more historicals than anything else in romance, so I may be more comfortable with those romantic assumptions/tropes than others.

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  23. Tara
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 11:11:28

    Lani Diane Rich (who is now co-writing with Crusie) has a similar quick, witty humor to Crusie’s older solo efforts. Check out her early books, esp. Maybe Baby (which is very reminiscent of her older style with slapstick, the banter between the hero and heroine, and a lot of flap over a pet, though in this case it’s a chicken not a dog.)

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  24. MS Jones
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 12:20:02

    I recently started reading Wiggs' books and am in the “like, but not love” stage with them (are her historicals reissues?

    I too like but “less than three” (<3) Wiggs’ books – she’s not an auto-read for me, and one of them I couldn’t finish. I think her earlier work was in the nature of categories, but not sure about that.

    I find Crusie almost beyond the genre in some ways, almost unromantic, because the specter of failed or tragic or disappointed love shrouds most of her characters in a much more realistic way than I usually see

    That’s especially true about Fast Women, as you observe, which has the thread of failed marriages throughout, not just Nell’s but those of her friends; but it seems to me that this makes the HEA that much more satisfying.

    Sandia, MaryKate, Sallahdog – thanks for the recs, I will definitely read some Kristan Higgins.

    And Lori, thanks for the compliment.

    Rfp: You’re right, humor is a funny thing! I thought the opening of Natural Born Charmer, and all the subsequent interactions of the hero/heroine, were more snarky than sweet.

    When I think about the way the heroes in Welcome to Temptation and Bet Me propose (Phin’s comments when he hands Sophie a ring: “Put that on and stop playing hard-to-get. God knows you never have before”; and Cal giving Min a chocolate doughnut as an engagement ring – when she says “this is so sudden” his response is “you in or not?”) I have to agree with you and Sallahdog and Ann Bruce that Phillips is more sentimental/emotional than Crusie.

    And yet, when it comes to contemporary wit, I can’t think of anyone who comes closer to Crusie (of course I haven’t read Higgins yet – maybe she is The One.)

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  25. Jorrie Spencer
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 12:53:19

    I haven’t read HelenKay Dimon, but the way some of her books have been described by others made me think she might be an if-you-like-Crusie author. Of course, I keep meaning to read Dimon to find out!

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  26. Janine
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 13:15:10

    Great article, Morgan!

    Although I see some differences, I also see similaries with SEP, Gibson and Kristan Higgins.

    However, to me, the author most reminiscent of Crusie is Alisa Kwitney, in her chick lit novels — The Dominant Blonde, Does She or Doesn’t She?, On the Couch, Sex as Second Language and Flirting in Cars.

    There are several differences including the fact that most of Kwitney’s books are set in the big city (though The Dominant Blonde takes place on a Caribbean island and Flirting in Cars in a small town) and Kwitney’s endings are often HFN rather than HEA, but there is also overlap in several areas, including the bite of the humor, the characters’ quirkiness and the conflicts deriving from their insecurities and foibles, the way the heroines (frequently divorced) gain confidence as the story proceeds, the colorful side characters, believably human villains, and the plots which are both action-oriented and character-driven.

    Crusie herself has recommended Kwitney, both in cover blurbs and in an article I once read where several authors were asked to recommend an up and coming author whose writing they liked and Crusie chose Kwitney for that honor.

    Despite these similarities, I haven’t observed a lot of overlap in their readerships. Still, I think some Crusie fans might enjoy Kwitney.

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  27. MB
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 14:09:26

    Yay! Jennie Cruise! One of my all-time favorite authors and nearly always an auto-buy for me!

    One of the things that I want to mention that I think she does especially well that the reviewer did not mention is how she always make the reader experience the book by appealing to our senses. They are multi-dimensional reads! There is theme music, signature smells, movie quotes, allusions, food descriptions (donuts, orange-pineapple muffins, dove bars, chicken marsala, wonderful word pictures (Min’s shoes, wonder woman collectibles, flamingos, alligators, the scam breakdown, etc. etc.) Her books are absolutely smashing at putting detailed colorful word pictures in this reader’s head!

    My favorites are: Bet Me, Welcome to Temptation, Faking It, Fast Women, Agnes & The Hitman, and Crazy For You.

    Cruisie writes the funniest dialogue in the business and I think you are right in comparing her to Susan Elizabeth Phillips who is the only author that even comes close. SEP’s books, however, are very different in tone which may be throwing off some of the other readers above. I would also give a “maybe” to Linda Howard (especially in To Die For, Mr. Perfect, and Open Season). Katie Macalister and Lani Diane Rich are also maybes but don’t come anywhere near Cruisie in mastery. I’d also like to nominate Lynsay Sands and some of the older Susan Andersens. Eloisa James has witty dialogue. Although a lot of people love Janet Evanovich, I never really thought they were that funny.

    There is one new to me author to who writes hilarious dialogue that made me think of Cruisie–that is Claire Cook especially in Summer Blowout. She would be up there with SEP. And don’t forget Georgette Heyer!

    Outside of the romance genre, here are some author’s whose humor makes me think of Cruisie:

    - Christopher Moore
    - Jane Green (somewhat)
    - Jennifer Weiner (somewhat)

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  28. Keri M
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 14:14:47

    Great review! I have all of Crusie’s books and Bet Me and Welcome to Temptation are two of my favs. I also have all of SEP’s and I don’t see them as being alike one another. I love them both, but for different reasons and don’t see one as being better then the other, just different. Crusie’s characters are more grittier and down to earth and SEP’s more emotional but they are both humorous in their way.

    For my recommend, how about Susan Andersen, her early stuff was real intense in a romantic suspense kind of way. But starting with Baby Don’t Go forward, she started leaning more toward Crusie’s style of writing. Anything prior to Skintight is a recommend from me.

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  29. Amanda
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 14:57:42

    Wonderful analysis, Morgan! You touched on so many things I love about Crusie. And made me realize there are quite a few of hers I haven’t read yet.

    Someone who hasn’t been mentioned in comparison to Crusie is Marianne Stillings. She writes light, funny romantic suspense and though she sometimes leans a little more toward slapstick than Crusie, I really enjoy her books and think she’s comparable. Her dialoge is especially nice.

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  30. Meriam
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 15:49:35

    What a great article, Jane. It made me remember all the reasons I liked Crusie so much.

    Throwing Lisa Cach’s The Erotic Secrets of a French Maid into the ring. It doesn’t match Crusie for all the reason you state above – nothing really does. But it is funny and contemporary and it made me laugh.

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  31. che
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 18:29:56

    I think it’s hard to find other authors comparable to Jennifer Crusie because she has such a distinctive voice. If you read her collaborations (Miss Fortunes and the ones with Mayer), and are familiar with her other works, her voice is very easy to spot.

    Having said that, authors that are relatively similar are, as mentioned previously, SEP and Rachel Gibson, and also Susan Andersen, especially her Baby books. Even so, I have to say if those three ever collaborated on a book with Crusie, I’m sure I’d still be able to pick out Crusie’s voice while not being able to tell the others apart from each other. Well, except if there’s a mention of sin in relation to the hero, it’s probably Gibson.

    It’s funny that you find her heroes alpha. They’re not alpha to me, not much. Maybe somewhere between alpha and beta. Linda Howard’s heroes are alpha to the max, as are Rachel Gibson’s. What I like about Crusie’s heroes are that they are so charming. Zack considering becoming a step-dad to the heroine’s dogs in Getting Rid of Bradley, for example. Also FBI agent Alec’s fretting over what he mistakenly believes is Dennie’s criminal background in Trust Me on This In TMOT, she is a journalist trying to get an interview with his aunt, but he thinks she’s out to con her. Even so, he’s so besotten with her he says to his partner, “And Harry, she’s got a lot of power. If she tries to seduce me into a life of crime, I’m going for it.”

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  32. che
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 18:45:22

    Wanted to add…

    To think I was planning to sell all my Crusie books on eBay some time soon. I have two of her OOP and HTF books- TMOT and The Cinderella Deal, so I probably could get upwards of $10 for each. But after reading this post, it made me change my mind. Must read every one of them all over again.

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  33. orannia
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 19:40:16

    Thank you Morgan. I’m still working my way through Jennifer Cruise’s books but I just loved Bet Me! I read it one wet and miserable Sunday morning (I stayed in bed) and it cheered me up no end. It is probably my favourite of her books to date. I read Agnes & The Hitman earlier this year and while I liked it I became increasingly frustrated with the editing – because it felt like the book hadn’t been edited at all. Did anyone else find that?

    SEP I love – the beginning of Natural Born Charmer had me giggling like mad (luckily I was alone :) I’m still working my way through her back catalogue. So many books :)

    Hmmm, I may have to give Kristen Higgins a go. To those in the know, does it matter where I start please?

    orannia

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  34. DS
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 19:41:54

    Eileen Dreyer when she is writing her medical thrillers reminds me a bit of Crusie. I don’t like SEP at all– have never been able to finish one of her books but I do like Crusie.

    The book I read she wrote with Mayor bothered me. I recently read Agnes and ended up not feeling good about it. I passed it on to a friend to see if she could help me figure out what the problem was. It’s the only book I have read by Crusie that has caused this reaction.

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  35. authors we like « Books to the Sky
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 19:48:56

    [...] that there’s no one really comparable. This time they tackle one of my favorite writers, Jennifer Crusie, so if you want a run down on her novels, check it out. (Although my personal favorite Crusie [...]

  36. Tabitha
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 20:56:02

    Orannia, Kristin Higgins’ books are not connected together so you can start with any one of them. I would suggest starting on her latest, Just One of the Guys, just because it is easiest to get your hands on a copy. But I love all three of her novels. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

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  37. Michelle
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 21:22:33

    I want to second the recommendation of Jane Grave’s novels. My favorites are from her Ballantine series with the TX family connected to criminal justice, but I’ve also enjoyed her Warner/Grand Central novels. I’ve heard she’s written category, but I’ve never read any of those.

    Speaking of category, you may want to consider looking up the Harlequin Superromance novels by Jan Freed. She stopped writing several years ago, so you’d have to find them in used book stores, online, etc. Several were funny while still feeling real.

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  38. Ann Bruce
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 21:39:41

    If someone’s going to read Jan Freed, get a copy of The Wallflower. Love that book! I have a copy and I’m never parting with it. However, I wouldn’t say she’s similar to Crusie.

    BTW, am I the only person who thoroughly enjoyed Crusie’s collaborations with Mayer? I found his sense of humor complemented hers quite nicely. I read some readers thought his parts sounded condescending, but I thought he was just very tongue-in-cheek. And that sex scene with the actress in DLD was priceless.

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  39. Jane
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 21:41:23

    RFP- I also really liked Marianna Jameson, but it doesn’t look like anything new is coming out in the contemp romance genre from her.

    Manhunting is one of my favorite books of all times. Morgan’s piece makes me want to re-read Crusie’s works.

    I don’t know if I have read Jane Grave’s. I keep thinking I have and I didn’t love her work, but I don’t have any specific recollection.

    I’m not a huge fan of the humor in books because humor is so subjective. I find that HelenKay Dimon’s works are great in dialogue and in that similar to Crusie.

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  40. MS Jones
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 22:21:48

    Thanks for all the great recommendations and observations, I truly appreciate them, as I prefer contemporary romances without a serial killer in them and those are getting hard to come by. I may have to start reading *shudder* chick lit. – Janine, I will definitely check out Kwitney; if she writes like Crusie then she must be good.

    I can understand why a lot of people don’t find SEP comparable to Crusie when I think back on her earlier books, like Fancy Pants or Heaven, Texas. But some of the scenes in her later work are just as funny as anything Crusie has written, like the one in Natural Born Charmer when Blue tells Dean he owes her another hundred bucks.

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  41. RfP
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 22:35:32

    Jane: I also really liked Marianna Jameson, but it doesn't look like anything new is coming out in the contemp romance genre from her.

    I see her new collaboration’s a disaster thriller. I may try it in hopes that her contribution is an interesting relationship between the “good guys”.

    Orannia: it felt like [Agnes & The Hitman] hadn't been edited at all.

    That surprises me. I think it feels highly worked-over and fitted-together, in both continuity and language. The first time I read it I lost track of an important detail, and I noticed a couple of colloquialisms, but I don’t recall actual errors.

    Ann Bruce: am I the only person who thoroughly enjoyed Crusie's collaborations with Mayer?

    I didn’t care for DLD, but I love Agnes. It sounds like Crusie but gallops full steam ahead like an action flick, and I like that her bonkers/dangerous heroine and his cold/dangerous hero find in each other someone who can accept a few murderous tendencies.

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  42. Ann Bruce
    Sep 08, 2008 @ 23:19:38

    I love Agnes. It sounds like Crusie but gallops full steam ahead like an action flick, and I like that her bonkers/dangerous heroine and his cold/dangerous hero find in each other someone who can accept a few murderous tendencies.

    *sigh* And there were no awkward, inopportune “I love you”‘s exchanged in Agnes. I so didn’t want this book to end. Will be rereading it this weekend.

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  43. Diane/Anonym2857
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 00:50:27

    I love Crusie.

    In fact, two of her books are on my Top Ten All Time Favorite Keepers List (Manhunting and Anyone But You), and Sizzle is probably in the top 20. I quite reading the HBs on the bus, because I’d get too many odd looks when I would bucksnort and LOL while reading.

    I do have one quibble with her work, tho obviously it hasn’t stopped me from reading it. LOL It suffers from what I call the ‘yeah, buts…’ It usually flows well and is enjoyable while reading, but as soon as I finish it and start thinking about it, I’ll start going, yeah, but that wouldn’t have happened, or the timeline is way too short, or how could that take place without blah blah, or whatever. Yet still I love ‘em.

    I also love Freed’s old stuff, and can vouch for its quality, tho I never would have thought it to be similar to Crusie’s, other than strong independent female characters.

    One author who I believe no longer writes (at least not mainstream romances) but is in that same Crusie/SEP/Gibson/fast-and-fun style is a woman named Michelle Martin. Disclaimer: I haven’t read them in years, so I am not sure how well they would hold up these days, but as I recall I thought she had a lot of potential at the time. They are about 10 years old now. The contemps are STOLEN HEARTS, STOLEN MOMENTS, and THE LONG SHOT. I haven’t read them, but she also has (had?) about six regencies and one lesbian regency as well.

    Diane

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  44. Kaetrin
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 02:37:52

    I LOVE Jenny Crusie. The pace of her novels is refreshing without things moving improbably fast relationship wise. I laugh out loud at the humour. I thought that scene you quoted with Nell, Gabe, Riley, Suze, Whitney and Tim from Fast Women was the funniest in the book and it makes me laugh even now. My fave I think is Bet Me. I laughed more in that book than any other and I had a real soft spot for both Cal and Min.

    IMO, there are some Linda Howard books (To Die For, Mr. Perfect), some Rachel Gibson books (The Trouble With Valentine’s Day), some SEP books (Natural Born Charmer and Heaven Texas (esp this one!)) like Crusie’s work but I haven’t come across another author that is just like her consistently. I guess that’s why I love her so much – I can only get her from her so she never bores me. Perhaps I don’t want there to be another Crusie??

    I was a bit dubious about the collaboration with Bob Mayer but I have really enjoyed both books – they were a little different to her own novels but only in how long it took timewise from start to finish. I thought it might be disjointed having 2 authors, but I found it (surprisingly) quite authentic – the male “voice” and the female “voice” expressing how guys and girls think and relate in their different ways.

    I haven’t managed to read Sizzle but I’d happily get my hands on any of Crusie’s work even if it’s not her best.

    I will try and look up Kristin Higgins (when my TBR pile goes down) as well as some of the other authors recommended.

    I would add though that JD Robb’s novels have a similar level of banter (especially between Dallas and Peabody and Peabody and McNab) that reminds me a bit of Crusie but that’s the only part, on the whole, JD Robb is in her own “category”. I will put the Quinn brothers series on my must read list though!

    Thanks for a great review Jane. I want to go and read my Crusie’s again now!!

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  45. Michelle
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 09:24:00

    Kaetrin,

    The Quinn brothers series is SO good. You have such a treat ahead of you.

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  46. Moth
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 10:40:11

    I’m still leery of her collabs. Miss Fortunes was unreadable to me except for her parts (I loved Jude the Toad). I loved Agnes and the Hitman but I hated Don’t Look Down (a lot. Why did he say I love you after less than a week?).

    I don’t usually read contemps. They seem too unrealistic- Kwitney’s suffered from this hard core (especially Dominant Blonde)…(although the romance novel scenes in Does She or doesn’t She are spot-on and hilarious- too bad the rest of the book is a wall banger for me) but I love Crusie. Agnes, Faking It, Bet Me…these have become some of my all time favorite books ever.

    I can’t recommend any comtemp authors like Crusie but I would say that if you’re looking for a similar level of satisfaction (with humor, hero, relationships, quippy dialogue, etc) you could do worse than to try some Georgette Heyer (The Unknown Ajax, The Talisman Ring and Cotillion) or maybe even some of Lois McMaster Bujold’s SF (A Civil Campaign or Cordelia’s Honor). Crusie, Heyer, and Bujold all kind of tap similar chords for me when I read them. And all of them reside with much love on my keeper shelves.

    I love this thread by the way. I can’t wait to try some of these recommended reads. :D

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  47. MB
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 11:00:46

    Moth, I agree…Miss Fortunes was unreadable except for Cruisie’s character. Sounds like we have the same taste. I didn’t care for Don’t Look Down either but loved Agnes. (I did find that I enjoyed DLD more when I re-read it after reading Agnes.)

    Yay to you for suggesting Bujold! I should have thought of her.

    Thanks everyone else for the great suggestions! I’m going to have to try some of these authors.

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  48. Susan/DC
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 11:56:20

    Thank you Morgan for such a wonderful column about what makes Jennifer Crusie’s books so special. There are those who say you can’t analyze romances due to the intrinsic nature of the genre, but you’ve proved that to be false. There are those who say analyzing anything kills it, but you’ve shown that to be false as well. When I next read (or reread) anything of Crusie’s, I’ll have new things to think about and new things to notice, and that can only enrich my reading.

    As for contemporary authors like her, I can’t really think of any. If you want to look at historical authors, I think Loretta Chase may come close. They have quite distinct voices, but both have strong heroines, snappy dialogue, plots propelled by both character and action, and both strike me as smart in all senses of the word.

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  49. MS Jones
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 15:01:59

    Susan/DC – I couldn’t agree more with you about Loretta Chase. Her books are consistently funny and witty.

    And Moth, the same goes for Georgette Heyer; as you say, she is in the same vein of wonderfulness when it comes to incorporating humor in her books. I’ve also started on Bujold and so far am liking her writing a lot.

    I don’t expect every page to be hilarious, but for me a good book has to be an intelligent read, which is kind of hard to define. I’ll be checking out a number of the recommendations that have been offered above.

    And one final recommendation of my own: just lately I’ve discovered Naomi Novik, who’s written a delightfully subversive series, the Temeraire books. It’s dragons fighting in the Napoleonic wars and the series is often summed up as Master and Commander meets the Dragons of Pern, but it doesn’t take any great analytical perception to see that it is fundamentally about the evils of intolerance and discrimination. And the books are just LOADED with intelligence and wit.

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  50. Jen C
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 15:44:37

    Love it. I started reading Crusie when I happened upon Crazy for You at a Book Swap in Spain. It was delightful. From there, I have now ready every book she’s written (except Sizzle, damnit). I love her work, even though I tend not to like children in romance novels and I also tend to dislike reading about pets.

    I also disagree that her heros are Alphas. I don’t think they are, unless my idea of Alphas has been so destroyed by the thousands of rakes with giant muscles out to pummel the nearest man because he looked at the heroine. I get more than a little tired of the hero as Strongest!Man!Ever! who can beat five men with his bare hands blah blah blah. None of Crusie’s heros annoy me in this manner.

    Also, if I am not mistaken, don’t all her books take place in Ohio? I think they do.

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  51. SonomaLass
    Sep 09, 2008 @ 18:41:26

    Ms Jones,

    If you like Loretta Chase and Georgette Heyer, you should definitely check out Sherry Thomas. I found both Private Arrangements and Delicious to be intelligent and entertaining.

    And I couldn’t agree with you more about Naomi Novik — I love the Temeraire books.

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  52. Diane/Anonym2857
    Sep 10, 2008 @ 00:23:54

    ~~I haven't managed to read Sizzle but I'd happily get my hands on any of Crusie's work even if it's not her best.~~

    Kaetrin,

    I’m curious… are you thinking Sizzle will be inferior reading? If so, I’m betting you’ll be very pleasantly surprised when you do locate a copy.

    It’s a very good story for its kind. She did a fine job with 100 pages. It’s not profound or life-changing, but it’s definitely an excellent diversion for an hour or so, and a very satisfying read. It also has some really great lines in it, like (explaining why she dumped an ex), “because he has the attention span of a fruit fly and the morals of a mink.”

    Granted, mine — I believe she does them *all* this way — is signed, “Diane, please burn this book. Thank you. Jenny Crusie,” but I always thought it’s more because of bad feelings over the way Harlequin treated her in contracts than because of any serious dislike of the story. I could be wrong, tho. Maybe she does really dislike the book. ::shrug::

    But I would have to respectfully disagree with her. LOL

    I'm sure there are some things in there worth tweaking, but it definitely stands on its own merits, as is.

    Diane
    apologizing in advance for any and all typos, since I can never see them until after the editing time has elapsed

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  53. AnjSmith
    Sep 10, 2008 @ 00:24:35

    Crusie is my favorite author of all time. I love her so. I started with Bet Me a few years ago and I’m pretty sure it was less than a day before I had finished it, and it was within the week I started re-reading. And then in college when I had to put together a speech with a theme, I picked Crusie. Min and Diana’s wedding confession scene from Bet Me makes a great speech I’ll tell you what!

    I do really enjoy her collaborations with Bob. I find his voice very funny and interesting as well. And while I didn’t love DLD, I do really adore Agnes. Not as good as some of her single titles, but good in its own way.

    I’m going to side with Keri M and say Susan Andersen is similar. I find her characters to be more angsty in the “big problem” scenes but she’s got good humor and is very lighthearted. Baby Don’t Go is one of my favorite re-reads.

    I also really like Katie McAlister’s Aisling Grey series. They’re funny and action-filled with good dialogue and out-there characters. Although sometimes I do want to kick Aisling… but the hero is worth it. I didn’t enjoy the single titles I tried, but that may just be me.

    I’m currently searching some of the other authors suggested here. Thanks for all the suggestions guys! And thanks for a great Crusie run-down that makes me need to read Bet Me again : )

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  54. MB
    Sep 16, 2008 @ 12:02:02

    If you like Cruisie, you might try Hot Dish or Skinny Dipping by Connie Brockway. In these books the humor comes more from the fascinatingly complicated and quirky characters, plot, and settings than it does from the dialogue. They are both very enjoyable books and not at all typical romance novels.

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  55. Review: Strange Bedpersons, by Jennifer Crusie | Read React Review: Rethinking romance and other fine fiction
    Dec 30, 2010 @ 12:56:05

    [...] fun: Dear Author’s “If you like” on Jennifer [...]

  56. Alla
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 23:02:16

    I really loved finding this article, and the comments that follow it. I felt like, Yes! someone gets that all “chicklit” books are not the same, and some are absolutely outstanding, with Crusie as their queen. I have recently found Lisa Cach as someone who I enjoy, who, though does not have quite Crusie’s complexity and style (who does?), she is hilarious, and even among her books, the style alters in wonderful ways.

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  57. Neeru
    Aug 13, 2011 @ 13:56:04

    I agree that Jennifer Crusie’s totally incomparable.
    But when it comes to sunshine and romantic comedies, I think Debbie Macomber’s classic.

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  58. BillooB
    Aug 14, 2012 @ 05:00:14

    The only other author whose writing style I found similar to Crusie’s was Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series. While the genre is totally different somehow the books had me ROFL .
    Again Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms series will definitely make you laugh out loud. Julia Quinn’s Brighter Than The Sun and What Happens in London are hilarious historical romances.
    But for contemporary comedy romance I agree – there is none better than Jennifer Crusie.

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  59. Bessie
    Jan 09, 2014 @ 14:11:34

    Hello friends, nice post and pleasant urging commented here, I
    am genuinely enjoying by these.

    ReplyReply

  60. er
    Mar 16, 2014 @ 14:46:50

    Thank you for this review Jennifer Crusie’s work and all the book recommendations!

    As pointed out, humor is subjective. I’ve tried to find books like Crusie’s, or at least smart, funny books, on Amazon by looking for five-star reviews of Welcome to Temptation and clicking on the reviewers’ names to see what else they liked. I have found some books I’ve enjoyed but just as often I am disappointed. Noone writes like Crusie, but I am going to list a few books that have made me laugh out loud. Again, these aren’t Crusies, but they are funny and smart in their own way:

    True Confessions by Rachel Gibson. I think this is her best.

    The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Just read this and the Kindle price is only $1.99. So good. It’s about a man with Asperger’s syndrome who decides he wants to find a wife. Main character is like Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory.

    The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot. Young adult fiction/romance, and the grandmother is a bitch–nothing like Julie Andrews in the movie. Told in the first person. Cabot draws on her own teenage diaries and the humor comes from the distorted viewpoint of a teenager–the dramatic highs and lows, etc. Mia is a very likeable main character.

    Catherine, Called Birdy, by Karen Cushman. Young adult. Very like the Princess Diaries but the girl/narrator lives in the Middle Ages.

    I wish I could think of more. I hope readers keep adding to this thread. Truly funny books are hard to find.

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