2004 reissue of 1996 release, Contemporary Romance
MIRA, $5.99, 256 pages, Amazon ASIN 077832107X
Charlie All Night was the first Crusie book I ever read, and while What the Lady Wants later replaced it as my favorite of her series titles, this one is still right up there.
Allie McGuffey's life revolved around her job as the producer of the prime time radio show at an Ohio station. Then the show's host, her ex-boyfriend Mark, has her booted from the position so his current girlfriend, who happened to be Allie's former intern, can have the job. Allie finds herself banished to producing the late-night show with a new DJ at the station, Charlie Tenniel, the equivalent of radio purgatory.
Allie is determined to return to the big time by making Charlie's show a hit, something he wants no part of. He says he's not planning on sticking around long and just wants a modest little show for a few weeks. What he doesn't tell her is that he's not a DJ at all, but has entirely different reasons for joining the station. Charlie soon learns that it's not easy resisting Allie when she sets her mind to something, and it doesn't take Allie long to see that Charlie is no pushover. As usual for this author, the banter starts to fly fast and furious between them. As Charlie's show becomes a success despite all his intentions, they fall into a relationship they both intend to keep simple, but soon becomes much more.
Charlie All Night was first published in 1996 as Harlequin Temptation #570. It features several elements that would later become romance novel standards. Here, Crusie executes them with a freshness and flair that few of her followers come close to delivering. It's a book where the characters fall into bed the first night they meet, with the relationship forming afterward. While these days it seems like contemporary romance couples are tripping over themselves to fall into bed from page one - with the romance a result of sex instead of the other way around - what makes it work here is that Allie and Charlie have a natural chemistry that's apparent from their first meeting. The author also doesn't shove them into bed beginning at chapter one. It takes a couple of chapters for them to get to the bedroom, which gives them a chance to get to know each other a little. While the sex is still fast, it works. Though the characters don't necessarily know it at the time, the reader can see there's a connection between them from the start. Another familiar element is that Allie's roommate Joe is gay. This was back before the gay sidekick became the accessory of choice for contemporary romance heroines, and unlike many of the books that came in its wake, Joe seems like an actual person and not a walking cliché.
This is the kind of romantic comedy I enjoy. It's very funny, with good lines and great scenes, but it has a lot of heart and a great deal of emotion, including a poignant subplot involving a tiny newborn puppy Allie and Charlie struggle to keep alive after it's rejected by its mother. It's a workplace comedy that fleshes out a full cast of distinctive personalities. This is a short book, yet by the end the whole group seems as familiar as old friends. Charlie is one of my favorite kinds of heroes, the laid-back good guy. Allie is a smart, fiery heroine. This is a series book as it should be, packed with story and brimming with character, so that even though it’s short, it feels like a bigger story than the page count would indicate.
I love that the book isn't just a comedy; it's actually about something, touching on serious issues toward the end of the story. It's not just a disposable read or fluff, but a story with actual meat and substance. Charlie and Allie have such a pointed and relevant exchange fairly late in the story that if this were a movie I would have applauded. It also earns points for being a romance novel set at a radio station that doesn't involve a crazed stalker or a serial killer. About the only thing I don't love about it is the contrived bet Crusie uses to keep the characters apart for a while, as they each wager that they can last longer without sleeping with the other. Considering how good the rest of the book is, though, I'm hardly going to quibble over that.
Charlie All Night was the author’s final Harlequin Temptation, and while I wish that wasn't the case, this was a good one to go out on. It's a short, breezy read that manages to combine humor, heart, emotion and relevance in one great story. I laughed, I cheered, I loved it.
-- Leigh Thomas
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