In the past, I haven’t been the biggest ‘must read everything from that author!!!1!1!!!ELEVEN!!!’ kind of person. I like to spread my literary love around, see what’s out there, experience new-to-me authors as often as I can. While I love backlist, there’s always the fear of running out of backlist (*cue morbid screams*), because then what would I do? Wait until the next book comes out? WHAT KIND OF PATIENCE DO YOU THINK I HAVE??? But at this point in my life, it’s safe to say that Jennifer Crusie is a heavy favorite. Peeking in at her list of books on Goodreads, I’ve read eight of them, and I’m not sure I can say that about any other author (possibly Stephen King, but that’s reaching back into my childhood and teen years). So when my next task from the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2019 Reading Challenge was a book in the backlist of a favorite author, Jennifer Crusie was the first author who came to mind, and I grabbed a copy of Welcome to Temptation (St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2004) from my library.
Sophie is not loving the town she and her sister are rolling into. Small towns in general aren’t her thing, and they’re (grudgingly) here in Temptation, Ohio to shoot an audition film for Temptation’s most (only) famous resident, actress Clea Whipple. The drama starts with a bang, literally, when Sophie gets into a fender bender with a jerky town council member. Everyone’s okay, but when Sophie meets the town mayor, stupidly-hot-with-no-right-to-be Phin Tucker, she knows she’s in big, big trouble.
The film crew’s presence in this family-values town causes more uproar than they initially bargained for, and Sophie’s plans to film and run are dashed to the ground when the movie evolves into something a little dirtier, as does her budding relationship with Phin Tucker. Sophie had no plans on getting involved with anyone, especially not a town boy, but Phin? Irresistible beyond measure. When Clea’s ex turns up dead, the gossip mill works overtime to make half of Temptation seem guilty, and this movie- exactly what kind of movie is it?- isn’t helping matters. It just goes to show you that small towns don’t mean small drama.
Murder (maybe?). Adultery. Politics. Financial intrigue. Fame. Love. Lust. Revenge. Big dreams. Complicated sibling relationships. While there’s a lot going on in this book, Jennifer Crusie weaves each element of the story into a seamless tapestry. I did initially struggle to keep the large cast of characters straight, but I think that was more due to my daughter’s chattering (she really likes to hear herself talk and basically narrates her entire day; my son was the same way, but he was content to listen to the sound of his own voice and didn’t require answers every three seconds the way my daughter does) than it was the book itself, because once it was bedtime and things were a little quieter, I settled easily into the book and had no issues.
I feel like Jennifer Crusie is Christina Lauren’s super cool big sister; while their styles are different, their characters all engage in such easy, witty banter that I don’t think I’ve ever read either author without laughing out loud at least once in the book. Take, for example, this conversation Sophie and Phin have one night, not long before their first romantic interlude, about Julie Ann, a character in an old Appalachian song Phin’s grandmother used to sing him to sleep with:
“She fell in love with a bear?”
“No, a bear ate her.” Phin rolled his head to look at her. “Appalachia is not big on silly love songs.”
“A bear ate her.” Sophie shook her head. “Leave it to you to think that’s romantic.”
“The song’s beautiful.” Phin looked back at the stars. “It ends with her ghost wearing a crown of sorrow. Very romantic.”
“Dead women are not romantic,” Sophie said flatly.
“Okay, she’s not dead,” Phin said. “The bear ate her and she came her brains out.”
I laughed so hard, I scared the cats.
There was a joke or two early in the book that I felt didn’t necessarily age well, but otherwise, this is a fun, funny, complex-but-not-complicated romance novel. While the characters move quickly in their relationship- Sophie and Phin are together for only a number of weeks before they start planning for their future- unlike the couple in Nicholas Sparks’s Every Breath, I had no problem believing in their immediate connection and in their chemistry, because the two of them are positively swimming in it, and it’s nearly enough to light every page on fire (again, this is also something that Christina Lauren excels at, and was SO good in the book I’ll have a review for next). The sex scenes are steamier than a five-jet shower fueled by twenty hot water tanks (they’re graphic, but not what I would consider explicit, so if you’re a more fade-to-black romance lover, Jennifer Crusie’s books may not be for you) . And when it comes to the non-romantic parts of the story, Ms. Crusie keeps the reader drawn in with the same witty banter that matches up with everything we would have wanted to say in that situation…but wouldn’t have thought of until later that night, after we’d gotten home and crawled into bed. Nothing is too heavy, and even something like a possible murder is still treated as something that’s just a little ridiculous.
Suffice it to say, Welcome to Temptation further fueled my love for Jennifer Crusie, and I’m looking forward to reading more from her in the future. I haven’t read any of her collaborations with Bob Mayer, so if you have, I’d love to hear your impressions of those books, especially. But if you’ve read any of hers, let’s talk! What have you read and loved?