Jennifer Crusie
March 1994, Series Romance
Harl Stolen Moments, $1.99, 92 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373832710

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Hot

Sizzle is a slim 92-page novella from Harlequin's short-lived Stolen Moments series. Only 18 books were published in this series, but this is the only one I've ever seen. It's mainly remembered and sought after because it is one of Jennifer Crusie's first appearances in print (although two of her series titles were released prior to the release of Sizzle, it was actually the first thing she wrote that was published.).

The story is one you've seen a million times: sharp businesswoman is forced to work with a sharp businessman. He's domineering, she's resentful, they butt heads even as they desire to bump other body parts, and eventually the bumping overwhelms the butting and they fall in love, and incidentally, resolve the business dilemma as partners. In this case the names are Emily Tate and Richard Parker, and they are supposed to be designing a marketing campaign for a perfume (Sizzle, of course) together, but that barely matters.

Classic Crusie touches are already much in evidence here. Dialogue is snappy, the sex is hot and a bit edgy, and there is a sassy female sidekick/secretary to keep everyone in line. The heroine makes at least one snarky comment about the patriarchy. The only thing missing is an ugly, abandoned dog.

At the same time, this is definitely an early book, and shows it. Emily and Richard fall in love with neck-snapping speed, and I had a hard time getting past Richard's extreme lack of listening skills. I also was not very comfortable with both characters' extremely unprofessional behavior at work. Richard seems to have beamed in from the Planet Where They Don't Have Sexual Harassment Laws, and Emily, for all her asides about the patriarchy, doesn't do much to discourage him. On the other hand, the tension of workplace attractions is what can make them so delicious, and the story certainly plays on that, tacky sex-at-work scenarios and all.

My main frustration was that the story seemed to be patterned after typical plots of Harlequin Presents books, a line where I've never successfully finished a book because the heroes are so annoyingly uber-alpha, and the heroines so annoyingly passive. But in the end, Crusie slyly subverts that stereotypical plot by having Emily take command in a clever and sexy way, first in private, and then in the climactic business conference.

Sizzle is very hard to find and sells for premium prices on-line. Is it worth it? If you are a Crusie completist, perhaps. It is a quick and mostly enjoyable read, but it's over in an hour or so. As Harlequin/MIRA has started reprinting some of Crusie's out of print series romances, it might be better to wait and see if this one makes a reappearance. But if you stumble across it in a used bookstore somewhere for a good price, it's certainly worth a look.

-- Colleen McMahon

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