Recent Reading: Welcome to Temptation and Faking It, by Jennifer Cruisie

Okay, so these are the first of Cruisie’s books I’ve read, and I’m sure the choice wasn’t random because I clearly remember her name coming up some time or other and a bunch of commenters here said, Oh, Cruisie is great, here are my favorites. So obviously I picked something off those lists of favorites.

Now, I thought I’d read Welcome to Temptation, but when I opened it up recently, I realized I’d only ever read the first part, probably the sample. I liked it and got the full book, but I’d never actually read it. So now I have. I liked it a lot, though I have to say, I don’t like any of the covers. If you’re curious:

Beats me who that kid jumping into the lake is. I don’t actually remember either apples OR cherries, so I guess maybe there was at least one apple in the book? But it didn’t stand out for me. I’m sure that the apple is meant to be all like Look! Temptation! Apple! Get it??? But that’s quite a stretch. Nobody in the story is taking the role of Eve or the serpent. There’s no symbolic tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There’s no symbolic apple, as far as I can remember. Nor, as I say, cherries. Sometimes I really wonder what marketing departments were thinking. Fortunately, the cover isn’t important in an ebook, as you don’t have to look at it.

So there I was, going along, reading a bit every day in between doing the [absolutely endless] proofing and revision for the Invictus duology. Temptation kind of went like this: it’s okay … yes, it’s pretty good … sharp dialogue, good writing … liking it better and better … and then wham! it turned into a murder mystery! I did NOT see that coming, and that sudden shift propelled the story right on up to I LOVED IT territory.

Okay, so, Welcome to Temptation

Sophie Dempsey didn’t like Temptation even before the Garveys smashed into her ’86 Civic, broke her sister’s sunglasses, and confirmed all her worst suspicions about people from small towns who drove beige Cadillacs.

Half an hour earlier, Sophie’s sister Amy had been happily driving too fast down Highway 32, her bright hair ruffling in the wind as she sang “In the Middle of Nowhere” with Dusty Springfield on the tape deck. Maple trees had waved cheerfully in the warm breeze, cotton clouds had bounced across the sky, and the late-August sun had blasted everything in sight.

And Sophie had felt a chill, courtesy, she was sure, of the sixth sense that had kept generations of Dempseys out of jail most of the time.

So you see, sharp, clever writing. This is just delightful. Sophie and Amy have come to Temptation to make a little film about a friend … that’s a strong term … an acquaintance, who wants this film made for various reasons that are too complicated to go into. Clea, the acquaintance, used to be romantically … that’s a strong term … sexually involved with their brother, Davy.

Clea is a self-absorbed, manipulative gold-digger who is fortunately not a big presence in the story, even though she’s why Sophie and Amy came to Temptation in the first place and the plot is wrapped around this movie.

Anyway, first thing, this little fender-bender with the beige Cadillac and everything unrolls from there and the story is fine and the characters are fine and the writing is excellent, and then there’s the murder mystery dropped on top and everything sharpens up. The story is suddenly excellent and the characters better and the writing even more delightful. There’s a big cast of characters, with the pov carried mainly by Sophia and by Phineas Tucker, the mayor of Temptation. I’m trying hard not to provide spoilers, even though this means I can’t mention some of my favorite details, things that made me laugh out loud.

I will say, the person who got murdered is a really unpleasant person, and also this is handled … it’s … okay, look, it’s handled in a tongue-in-cheek way that is almost, but not quite, too far over the top. This is one reason the story is low tension. Everybody pretty much gets what they deserve, everything works out for the people who ought to live happily ever after, and the game of pool between Phin and Davy was a particularly great scene and made me love Davy. So I typed “Jennifer cruisie davy dempsey” to see if there was a book from Davy’s pov and there was and I bought it immediately and read it promptly [still in between endless revision and proofing of Invictus].

Faking It

Every single cover is better, not that that’s a high bar, but although the yellow cover is baffling, at least it’s not implying all sorts of biblical allusions that aren’t in the story. Also, I know why there’s someone painting on the second cover, though a painting actually from the book would have been a better choice imo. Also, I quite like the dog on the third cover, though the purple chair is a bit strange. And the dog wasn’t a red sable Dachshund, but whatever, fine, he was a Dachshund and I liked him.

Matilda Goodnight stepped back from her latest mural and realized that of all the crimes she’d committed in her thirty-four years, painting the floor-to-ceiling reproduction of van Gogh’s sunflowers on Clarissa Donnelly’s dining room wall was the one that was going to send her to hell.

Tilda is one pov protagonsist, Davy Dempsey is the other. Tilda has a secret past. Davy has a secret past, or at least a past he isn’t eager to mention around. They meet when Tilda tries to steal a painting from Clea (same Clea as above, obviously) and Davy was already trying to steal passwords to Clea’s computer, and they both hide in Clea’s roomy closet to avoid being caught. Davy sends Tilda home, steals the painting for her, it’s the wrong painting, and the story goes on from there, surrounded by Tilda’s wildly eccentric family on one hand and Clea’s attempted machinations on the other.

I loved Tilda’s family. Not Davy’s dad so much. We got occasional brief pov sections from Tilda’s mother’s pov, which I enjoyed since anybody can see she’s going to wind up in a much better place by the end. I’m pretty sure the reader will realize how that part of the story is going to work out. It’s a very low-key romance taking place tangentially to the central romance between Tilda and Davy and the histrionic romance taking place between Tilda’s sister and Davy’s friend.

We also get some brief pov scenes from Clea’s pov, which I didn’t particularly like. You probably all recall how much I detest villain pov scenes. However, in this case, for a change (a) Clea’s pov sections were actually crucial to understand some things that would have been difficult to handle in any other way; and (b) Clea’s pov sections set up the climactic confrontation scene, which is wildly funny and also shows that Clea is not really such a villain as all that. Though definitely a self-absorbed, manipulative gold-digger.

I know that Cruisie has a big backlist. I’m interested in Agnes and the Hitman, but I’ve got Lavender’s Blue on my Kindle already, so I’m torn.

Here’s the beginning of Agnes:

One fine August evening in South Carollina, Agnes Crandall stirred raspberries and sugar in her heavy nonstick frying pan and defended her fiancé to the only man she’d ever trusted.

It wasn’t easy.

“Look, Joey, Taylor’s not that bad.” Agnes cradled the phone between her chin and her shoulder, turned down her CD player, where the Dixie Chicks were doing a fine rendition of “Am I the Only One,” and then frowned over the tops of her fogged-up glasses at the raspberries, which were being annoying and uncooperative, much like Taylor lately.

Here’s the beginning of Lavender:

On a cold April Day, thanks to an awful card my awful Aunt ML had sent me, I was driving down Route 52 along the Ohio River toward my home town for the first time in fifteen years. I had a six-foot plus teddy bear riding shotgun (color: Guilt Red) while I told myself not to be ridiculous, everything would be fine, and look how beautiful the Ohio River is, and ML is nuts anyway. (The card ML had sent had one sentence on it: ‘Your mother is sick and in terrible trouble and needs you, but you don’t care because you’re a cruel, thoughtless daughter and a disgrace to the family.’ On the front, it had said, ‘Thinking of You…’)

I may flip a coin.

If anybody’s got a specific Cruisie favorite, let me know, because I’ll definitely be reading more by this author!

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5 thoughts on “Recent Reading: Welcome to Temptation and Faking It, by Jennifer Cruisie”

  1. Lavender’s Blue is the first of a set of three featuring Liz Danger as the protagonist, that she has recently written together with Bob Mayer; the second book Rest in Pink is out too, and the third, One in Vermillion, will be out next month.

    Agnes and the Hitman was co-written with Bob Mayer too, before her long hiatus. He’s ex-military and writes books with a lot more violence, like spy thrillers and such.
    With her input for the snark and emotions, and his for the fast plotting and violence, together they write pretty good books.
    Bob wrote IIRC 2 sequels to Agnes, but I gave the first sequel away and didn’t read the second, as his undiluted style is too agressive for me.

    I did like Lavender’s Blue, but I confess I have a soft spot for the more comedic, snarky romance books she wrote on her own, earlier in her career. She likes dogs, so there’s a good dog in several of them.
    Some of those do have villains, not just antagonists, and excitement too, but a bit less aggressiveness than the collaborations. Still, I’m very glad the new co-writing series has gotten her unstuck from the writing hiatus; they’re working on the next set of 3 books now.

  2. Bet Me! I am passionately jealous that you get to read Bet Me for the first time. I would tell you all the reasons I love it, but they would all be spoilers and so I’m not going to. Welcome to Temptation is probably my second favorite, and then my next two would be Fast Women and Tell Me Lies, possibly not in that order. I have both the new ones on my Kindle, but I’ve been trying really hard not to read anything new until I finish writing something, anything, but now I can feel a rereading binge coming on.

  3. I went back and re read Welcome to Temptation and Faking It. I recently read Lavender’s Blie and absolutely loved it- her writing is so sharp and snappy it can cut you like a knife, it’s that funny. I vaguely remember Bet Me as being the same. I don’t think you can go wrong with her. However, I’m waiting for a little bit before I try the next in her Lavender Blue series, so her writing will seem fresh again, and I can be happily surprised again.

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