2003 reissue of 1994 release, Series Romance
MIRA, $5.99, 256 pages, Amazon ASIN 1551667436
Jennifer Crusie writes books that I urge on other people. "Yes, yes, I know you don't read romance novels, or if you do, you don't read series romance. Read this!" And about ninety percent of the time, my victim loves every word of it and comes back asking for more. Unfortunately, Crusie's category romances are all out of print, but well worth tracking down if you can find them. Strange Bedpersons is the first one I read, and it made a loyal fan out of me.
Nick Jamieson and Tess Newhart are a classic mismatched couple. She's a liberal, soft-hearted do-gooder who was raised on a commune. He's a no-nonsense conservative lawyer and, in Tess' estimation, yuppie scum to boot. Somehow (I was never clear on how) they became friends, but had an ill-fated date and now Tess won't see Nick at all.
But Nick needs Tess. He needs her to go away on a weekend visit with his friend and his boss from his law firm, as they all go to work on a major author they hope to sign as a client. If he can get the client, he'll make partner. Tess has motivation to go, too, because the author is on the board of a school where she hopes to teach. Unfortunately, he is also a Limbaugh-esque boor, and naturally, Tess can't keep her mouth shut. Fortunately, the author likes spunk. And so it goes.
The plot continues on this seesaw throughout, and it is a testament to Crusie's skill as a writer that she never loses control. At every step of the way, either the angsty or comedic parts of the plot threaten to run away with the story, but she keeps them tightly reined in. Moreover, she has a stable of secondary characters - quite a few more than the usual category romance - who are quite well-developed and who enhance the main plot without getting in the way of it. The secondary romance between Tess' friend Gina and Nick's friend Park is charming and mirrors the "opposites attract" theme of Tess and Nick's relationship. The character of Norbert Welch, the author who is Tess' nemesis, is by turns revolting and empathetic as the story progresses. And Nick's long-suffering secretary deserves a book of her own.
The book's climactic restaurant scene brings to fruition every theme that Crusie has developed in the book, along with the plot itself, in a chapter that is hilarious from start to finish. I first read this book alone in a hotel room on a business trip, and I'm afraid my neighbors thought I was insane, I laughed so much at this scene. I've since pulled it out and re-read just that chapter several times, and it holds up. If there is justice in the universe, someone will make this book into a movie, and thus pay off the karmic debt that "Godzilla" has placed on Hollywood.
I loved every second of this book. I loved the love scenes, I loved the fights, I loved the secondary plots and characters. I have since tracked down and read most of Jennifer Crusie's other Harlequin books, and they are also quite good. This one holds a special place in my heart as the first one and still my favorite so far.
-- Colleen McMahon
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