On a gloomy March afternoon, sitting in the same high school classroom she'd been sitting in for thirteen years, gritting her teeth as she told her significant other for the seventy-second time since they'd met that she'd be home at six because it was Wednesday and she was always home at six on Wednesdays, Quinn McKenzie lifted her eyes from the watercolor assignments on the desk in front of her and met her destiny.
Since this is a romance novel, you might think her destiny was tall, sexy and gorgeous, but, this being Jennifer Crusie, the next sentence goes:
Her destiny was a small black dog with desperate eyes, so she missed the significance at first.
And so begins a by-turns funny and suspenseful romp, but with a very serious side story about stalking. This was my first Jennifer Crusie book and although I stated in the review that I had no intention of rereading it, I have done so at least twice. In fact, I finished re-reading it yesterday for (possibly) the third time. Below is the original review, posted on my first 52 Books blog, in October 2004, and no. 36 in the weekly challenge that gave the blog its name.
Just beware: there are spoilers in it. I wrote it before I had figured out that a review doesn't have to give away the whole, or nearly the whole, plot.
Author: Jennifer Crusie
Year published: 1999
Where got: Public library
I promised I'd review a romance for book-of-the-week, and here it is. Jennifer Crusie is a popular author of contemporary light (i.e. funny) romances, and was specifically recommended to me by a romance-reading friend.
Quinn McKenzie is bored to death with her life. On the surface everything is great: she has a teaching job she likes, is surrounded by friends and family who all love and depend on her, and is living with high-school basketball coach Bill Hilliard, otherwise known as Mr. Wonderful Hometown Hero. When Quinn decides to adopt a stray dog and Bill sneaks off to the pound with the dog because it doesn't fit in with the perfect life he has mapped out for them, she decides she's had enough. Enough of being taken for granted and subtly controlled by Bill, enough of being dependable, enough of being good. So she moves out, buys a house and starts flirting with her former brother-in-law, car mechanic Nick Ziegler. Nick and Quinn have been the best of friends since high-school, and while Nick has always had sexual fantasies about Quinn, she has never seen him as anything but a friends - until she notices him looking at her with rather more than friendly interest. Things get complicated when Bill refuses to accept that Quinn has left him and starts stalking her, Nick's brother Max and his wife Darla have a fight, and Quinn's mother kicks her father, Joe, out of the house. Both Joe and Darla move in with Quinn. Bill makes life difficult for Quinn, but that doesn't stop her from trying to reel in the irresponsible and commitment-phobic Nick. Things come to a head when Bill finally goes too far and Quinn is hurtâ€¦
Technique and plot:
The book is well written, the characters believable and well rounded for the most part, and the story moves along well. The small town atmosphere is realistic, with everyone seeming to know everything about everyone else. I had a good laugh at the lessons in female vs. male mentality when Quinn is educating Nick and Max about what women want and expect from men. The story is sometimes funny, sometimes suspenseful, and even a bit scary at times, especially the glimpses we get into the mind of the increasingly disturbed and confused Bill. The sex scenes are sexy without being overly descriptive, which is good because if there is anything that spoils a book like this for me it's pornographic passages swathed in purple prose.
The very serious theme of stalking is handled with understanding. Bill is never knowingly vicious or gloating, he just does what he thinks is necessary to get Quinn back. Even the meddling with the handrail and electricity and gas is just meant to gently show her that the house is unsafe without him, and was certainly not meant to harm her the way it did. Bill is so supremely self-assured and has such a perfectly one-track mind that it takes the human equivalent of being hit by a bulldozer to get him off track, but Crusie still manages to give him a distinct personality and show his vulnerability as his perfect life comes crashing down around him.
The dog is cleverly used as a way of showing how different people think: Bill thinks the dog is the reason Quinn left him and that if only he could get rid of it, Quinn would come back to him and live out the life he has so precisely planned for them; for Quinn the dog is a sign of her independence; to Darla the dog is the snake in Quinn's Eden, and so on.
Nick is a romance hero to die for, an irresponsible but caring man who finally finds a woman who can hold his attention and keep him happy, and Quinn is sweet and likeable and just sexy enough that you believe her to be capable of keeping Nick interested.
All in all, I liked the book and although I have no intention of rereading it, I will be looking out for more books by Crusie.
Rating: A funny, sexy, entertaining and suspenseful romance with a very yummy hero. 4 stars.