I gave up on TRICKSTER'S CHOICE. Aly was annoying and the plot didn't work. I'm sure I'll try it again when I'm in a more charitable frame of mind, for many of Tamora Pierce's books are wonderful.

Instead, I finished Jennifer Crusie's TELL ME LIES. This is a-- don't go away-- romance novel (sort of) and it's all words, no pictures, and features strictly straight couples who are not only not Japanese, but living in Frog Point, Ohio. But it does have something in common with GRAVITATION: it's funny, and it's not afraid to say that emotion is important. I think I only like plots which are primarily about a romance if they're also funny.

I first encountered Jennifer Crusie when I was playing the page 119 game in a supermarket. That's the one where you open a book to page 119 and read a random paragraph. I once played this with six randomly selected, identity-concealed paperbacks and the audience of a panel I was on at an sf convention. I had them critique a paragraph from page 119 (or 120, etc, if there was nothing on 119 without identifiable characteristics), then revealed the title and author. Their critiques were right on the mark, from their enjoyment of the smooth prose, subtle worldbuilding, and deft characterization in an extremely obscure scene from Ursula K. LeGuin's classic THE DISPOSSESSED, to their raucous mockery of a hideous Star Trek novel called THE PRICE OF THE PHOENIX.

Anyway, I was playing the page 119 game on a series of risible supermarket romances, then suddenly hit a page 119 that was good-- funny, smooth prose, believeable human characteristics. I looked again at the author: wait a sec, didn't Melymbrosia say Jennifer Crusie was terrific? The book was FAKING IT, a very funny novel about forgery, con men, love, and dysfunctional families, which employs many of the devices of screwball comedy to great effect, while sneaking in some darker undertones and a realistic bad sex scenes in which the heroine-- yes-- fakes it. With the hero. This is not what I expected from a romance novel.

I next read CRAZY FOR YOU, about a small-town woman whose life changes when she acquires a stray dog. It was enjoyable but not up to the level of FAKING IT. It had a fairly disturbing subplot which wasn't as well integrated into the lighter moments as was the case in TELL ME LIES, and it was frustrating that the heroine was always rescued by a man whenever there was any kind of physical danger.

TELL ME LIES is also about small-town life, but the heroine is a married woman in Frog Point, Ohio with a young daughter. Then she finds a pair of crotchless panties in her husband's car, her car gets totaled, and the man she lost her virginity to comes back to town. And that's just the beginning of her day. It's funny but not primarily a comedy. I don't want to give away too much as the plot takes some surprising turns, but it's mostly about small towns and secrets. I grew up in the Indian version of Frog Point, and Crusie has the dynamic down cold.

All of Crusie's novels that I've read so far, incidentally, have a dog as a character. The dog in TELL ME LIES isn't as well characterized as the memorably neurotic pooches in the other two. I'm guessing that Crusie likes dogs. All her books have had lots of good eating in them, which is nice to read about, and hot sex, which is also pleasant. Her sex scenes rely more on characterization and emotion than geographic detail "and then we did it on the floor/in a balloon/in the scoop-shovel of my Pa's tractor" for variety. This is good.

So far I'd rank them as 1) FAKING IT, 2)TELL ME LIES, 3) CRAZY FOR YOU. Which should I read next?

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