fiction · romance · romantic comedy

Book Review: Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie

A book about divorce? Sure! Next on the 2023 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge comes an older book from a favorite of mine: Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie (MIRA, 1994). I’ve loved everything I’ve ever read from Ms. Cruise, and this was no different. She has a knack for humor, intrigue, mystery, quirky characters who aren’t overdone, and turning tense situations into something a little funny, a little sexy, and a little ridiculous without being over-the-top. And dogs. Her books always have the best dogs.

Lucy Savage’s divorce from her husband Bradley has finally gone through, and she’s vowed to become a new person: independent, more spontaneous, more fun. Beating up what turns out to be a cop isn’t exactly her definition of those words, but as it turns, Officer Zack Warren was trying to save her from someone who’s trying to kill her. What does her boring banker ex-husband have to do with this? Lucy’s not sure, plus there’s another Bradley involved in this, but sparks start to fly when Zack moves into her house to provide 24-hour protection.

When her car blows up (how Jennifer Crusie made me laugh during this scene is a testament to her ability as a writer!), followed by her bed, things get serious…and things heat up between Lucy and Zack. It’s a warp-speed romance and a mystery all in one, but Zack and his partner will take down both Bradleys, and Lucy will get what she wants in the end.

This was SO much fun. Dated just a little, as it was originally published in 1994 and I think there are a few lines that wouldn’t fly in today’s romance, but it’s still a really solid romance. (And while I wouldn’t necessarily pick up a romance with a police officer these days – just not my thing – I made an exception for this one, since it was older and I enjoy the author.) Lucy is fun, determined, and just the right amount of dismissive of Zack at first. Zack is a little world-weary at first, but he’s absolutely smitten with Lucy from the start, going from a committed bachelor to ready to propose in days. It makes for a fun pairing, and Ms. Crusie is a master of chemistry between her characters.

And the dogs. Dogs who do jokes. Dogs who fully understand their humans. New dogs who join the pack and fit right in. I love Jennifer Crusie’s dogs. 

This was a really enjoyable read and I really should make it my business to get to all those Jennifer Crusie novels I haven’t tackled yet.

Visit Jennifer Crusie’s website here.

fiction · romantic comedy

Waiting for Tom Hanks- Kerry Winfrey

Contemporary romance rooted in romantic comedies of the 1980’s and ’90’s? Sign. Me. Up.

I requested Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey (Berkley, 2019) from the library the second it became available and I was still the second person in line…which was okay, because I had a stack of other books to read first, but wouldn’t you know, it became available on the Thursday of our vacation, when we wouldn’t return until Monday. But you better believe that as soon as we got home and I unpacked the bathroom bag and started our laundry, I was at the library, picking this up.

I realize I may have a problem.

Annie is twenty-seven, a freelance-writing loner who still lives in her childhood home with the nerdy Dungeons-and-Dragons-obsessed uncle who finished raising her after her parents died early, one after the other. The romantic comedies her mother raised her on are still front and center in her own heart; they are, in fact, the only action she’s getting these days. Unable to make a connection with guys, Annie’s holding out for Tom Hanks- not the celebrity himself, but what he represents from all of his romantic comedies: a guy who is kind, funny, thoughtful, a little sarcastic but with a heart of gold and the need for the same deep, forever kind of commitment she’s longing for. Of course, Annie’s best friend thinks she’s a little nuts, but Annie knows what she wants, and she refuses to settle for less.

The news breaks that a mega-famous director will be filming a rom-com in Annie’s neighborhood, and Annie can’t believe her luck when said director turns out to be her uncle’s college roommate. Annie’s in as his personal assistant, which means plenty of time to ogle/humiliate herself in front of Drew Danforth, the male lead of the film. He’s got a reputation as a Hollywood prankster, but before too long, Annie realizes she needs to forget all the old Hollywood stereotypes, because what she has with Drew just might be the real deal, if only she can believe in something slightly less perfect than that flawless rom-com she’s designed in her fantasies.

This was cute. All the references to the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan/Sandra Bullock romantic comedies of the 80’s and 90’s made my heart so, so happy. I binge watched everything that Meg Ryan and Sandra Bullock were in during those years; I practically have the entire scripts of French Kiss and While You Were Sleeping memorized (you ever realize how creepy those movies would both be if someone tried to pull off the stunts that the main characters did in real life? Most romantic comedies are like that. All these people committing fraud and breaking and entering, among other crimes, in order to pretend to be someone they’re not is more than a little weird, to be honest. How did this genre grow so popular?). So a book that centered around the movies of my teenage years was enough to make my not-exactly-old-but-no-longer-young heart sing a little.

The premise drew me in a little more than the characters, however. Annie has the tragic rom-com character backstory, having lost both of her parents while still young, but her inability to change and her need to cling to the idea of the perfect happily-ever-after grew stale halfway through the book. Drew was more palatable, although at times I wondered what on earth possibly drew (ha!) him to Annie, with as wacky as her behavior could be. Uncle Don, however, was eleven thousand kinds of adorable, with his Dungeons and Dragons obsession, his awkwardness and nerdy side that dressed up as Chewbaca and could quote from all the nerd favorites: Star Wars, Star Trek, Tolkien. He completely and totally accepted himself for who he was, he was content with his simple life, and he loved the people around them exactly as they were. More Uncle Dons in fiction, please!

This is a light read, and would’ve made for a great vacation read, had it not appeared in the library when I was an eight hour car ride away. 😉 Waiting for Tom Hanks is not without its flaws, but it’s sweet and cute and will tug at your heartstrings if you spent way too much time in your youth wishing you could could wake up with hair just like Meg Ryan. (In this case, sadly, wishes never did come true. Alas.)

Visit Kerry Winfrey’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

romance · romantic comedy

Big Rock- Lauren Blakely

Sometimes, you see a book’s cover and read the blurb and it’s so unbelievably over-the-top that you can’t even, and it goes straight onto your Goodreads TBR. That’s what happened with Big Rock by Lauren Blakely. Her name was one that kept coming up over and over again in the things I’ve been reading online and listening to, and so I figured I’d check her out. Off to my library website I went. Big Rock was one of two of her books that they had on the shelves, and after reading the premise, I snickered. Loudly. (For real, go read the Goodreads blurb. I’ll wait.) Apparently, the whole story started when, according to the acknowledgements, Ms. Blakely asked a friend if they could make a C look like an R, and…well, that’s some pretty clever graphic design, if you ask me. *snort*

Spencer is, to put it lightly, extremely well endowed. He knows how to use what he’s got, and the ladies about town appreciate his playboy ways. His life thus far is pretty sweet- son of the owner of one of the country’s most successful and well-known jewelry store chains, creator of the uber-profitable Boyfriend Material dating app (known for featuring absolutely zero dick pics), and now, with his best friend Charlotte, co-owner of The Lucky Spot, one of New York City’s hippest bars. With all that and a handsome face to boot, you’d think Spencer would be an insufferable asshole, but…he’s not. When his father decides he’s ready to retire and sail the seven seas with his wife, the man looking to buy his jewelry business is eyeing the WHOLE family before he makes his final decision, and this includes on-the-prowl Spencer. What’s a man about town to do but convince his best friend that a fake engagement will help Dad seal the deal?

But as we all know, when it comes to romance novels, best friends and fake engagements don’t stay fake for long, and within days, Spencer and Charlotte are seriously burning it down. Spencer can’t believe all of this was sitting right under his nose for so long. Just as he’s come to terms with the fact that he’s feeling something he never expected to feel, it all heads south, and Spencer’s got to make things right, FAST, before he hurts and maybe even loses everyone he loves.

First off, I’m usually not at all a fan of the whole ‘fake dating/engagement/marriage’ trope. I don’t like lying in fiction and usually find the premise so unlikely that it kind of throws the whole rest of the story off. That didn’t really change here; I’m definitely not a convert to the trope and you won’t catch me singing its praises anytime soon. But Lauren Blakely made the story work well for me. Spencer is a fantastic character, carefully crafted in order to not stray into chauvinistic territory. He’s confident without being smug, alluring without being cocky, self-assured without being irritating. That’s no simple feat for a writer and I very much appreciate her hard work in that area. He may have had a different woman on his arm most nights before his agreement with Charlotte, but there were never any hurt feelings, and Spencer was not only respectful to women- all women- he routinely stepped in when other men were letting their misogynist flag fly. As both a narrator and the hero, Spencer gets an A+ and two enthusiastic thumbs up from me.

If you’re more in the market for a chaste romance, you can probably guess from the cover that Big Rock isn’t the book for you. This book is a five-alarm habanero bouquet with extra ghost pepper sauce. Have your fans and fainting couches at the ready, readers, because Lauren Blakely leaves scorch marks on every page, and you’ll find yourself panting, “I’ll have what she’s having!” after every smoking scene with Spencer and Charlotte.

Phew. I’m glad I picked this up. Spencer’s definitely more alpha male than what I typically enjoy, but having the story narrated by him and having his every thought accessible made him such a sympathetic character that it absolutely made this story. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more Lauren Blakely in the future! *dons fireproof suit*

Check out Lauren Blakely’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romantic comedy

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating- Christina Lauren

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating is my third Christina Lauren book and is adorable, sweet, and oh-so-swoony. I love dual (or multiple) narrative books, and they do it so very well.

Hazel is eccentric, full of energy, close to the very definition of ‘hot mess.’ Josh is calm, relaxed, the coolest cucumber you’ll ever meet. Hazel’s chaos and disorder; Josh is buttoned to the neck and organized to the hilt. Josh is just coming out of a long-term relationship that ended badly; Hazel has  never had great success when it comes to dating. But opposites attract, and they do it in a big way in this fabulous slow-burn rom-com.

They first meet in college, with a few awkward incidents involving vomit, sex, and post-wisdom tooth removal painkillers (not all at the same time, thankfully). Yet when their paths cross again years later, they’re able to immediately slip into a comfortable friendship, despite their differences. After an apartment flood that displaces Hazel for weeks, Josh’s sister gets him to agree to let Hazel stay at his place. He’s not going to be there anyway, as he’s off visiting his long-distance girlfriend…who’s cheating on him. And has been. For almost half the relationship. Ouch. Upon his immediate return, Hazel takes it upon herself to pull him out of his funk, and as their friendship grows, they set each other up on double blind dates…disastrous ones. Which leads them to have drunken sex, which totally changes nothing. They’re still friends, still double-dating…right?

When Josh sets Hazel up with a friend who turns out to be the guy who broke her heart, the stakes are raised, and Josh begins to realize his feelings for Hazel run far deeper than just friends, while Hazel still continues to think she’s not quite good enough for him. A spanner in the works makes time of the essence, though, and Hazel will have to get past her fear of ruining their friendship in order to define what she and Josh truly are to each other.

This was beyond adorable. I will admit, I had a hard time warming up to Hazel at first, though I did find her more relatable as the story went on. She’s loud and quirky and no-holds-barred; I’m more of the ‘text my husband from another room because yelling downstairs would be exhausting’ levels of energy, and I’m not sure I’d be able to handle someone like Hazel in real life. But in the book, she works, and she provides a lovely balance to Josh’s more relaxed nature. I found Josh to be a swoony delight; I was utterly charmed by everything about him. He’s so sweet with Hazel, so loving with his sister and parents, and I absolutely loved his connection with his Korean heritage and the occasional reference to his being bilingual (my marriage is similar; my husband is Belgian by birth and speaks both English and French). His growing feelings for Hazel were written so well; nothing was rushed or felt like it moved too quickly, and the ending- THE ENDING! That finally chapter practically had me on the floor. SO FULL OF ADORABLENESS.

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating is the swoon-worthy slow burn rom-com you need in your life. Drop everything and read this book, because it’s like a soft, fuzzy blanket you can wrap around yourself on the coldest day of the year.

Visit Christina Lauren’s website here.

Follow Christina Lauren on Twitter (and then follow Christina and Lauren separately!).

fiction · romantic comedy

My Favorite Half-Night Stand- Christina Lauren

I fell in love with the writing duo of Christina Lauren last year after reading Dating You/Hating You. The writing and plot were so sharp and fast-paced, and the chemistry between Carter and Evie was magnetic (and it’s a book set in Hollywood, so you know I’m down for that!), so I was excited to find two of their books on the library’s New Fiction shelf this week. My Favorite Half-Night Stand didn’t disappoint one bit.

Millie’s life isn’t perfect- her mom died when she was young, leaving her family fractured and Millie unable to open up about her pain; her father has been newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s and she can’t deal- but it helps that she has the most amazing group of friends. Guy friends: Ed, Chris, Alex…and Reid. Reid’s the guy she considers her best friend; things have always been just a little different with him, a little extra. When the five of them realize they need dates for their university’s upcoming black tie gala, the perpetually single workaholic friends make a pact to join a dating app, but that night, Millie and Reid burn it down in bed together. No biggie, it’s just a one-time thing…right?

When Reid begins to talk to women on the app and Millie gets nothing but dick pics and lascivious come-ons, she creates a second, secret profile…and matches with Reid. She’s sure he’ll recognize their private jokes in the message she writes, but when he doesn’t, she finds herself opening up to him in a way she can’t in real time. Their repeated steamy encounters only complicate the situation, especially when Reid’s still chatting with Daisy, a gorgeous blond, and Cat, Millie’s fake profile. When things come to a head, Millie needs to decide what she truly wants…and Reid will have to decide if he can ever trust his best friend again.

I loved this. Lying about identity always makes me uncomfortable in romance novels, but Millie’s character was so genuine and the chemistry, not only between her and Reid but among the friend group, was enough to make up for my unease. Each character has such a distinct personality and way of interacting with the others that made the group scenes an absolute delight to read; they had me wishing I had my own bad pun-cracking, loud belching guy friend group to wipe the floor with in Friday night Monopoly games, and the group chat scenes add an extra bit of modern day fun. Nothing about Reid and Millie together seemed forced, and I really enjoyed how each morning after situation contained no awkwardness, just an easy back-to-normal continuation of the way things had always been between them. Their witty banter had me laughing out loud several times (to the point where my husband asked if I was okay from the other room).

Christina Lauren is (are? What verb form does what looks like a singular person who is actually a writing team take???) a master of contemporary romantic comedy, and My Favorite Half-Night Stand slammed it way out of the park for me. I’ve got Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating coming up next and I can’t wait to dive in.

Check out Christina Lauren’s website.

Follow Christina Lauren on Twitter. And for more Twitter fun, you can follow Christina and Lauren separately!