Review and CONTEST: Anyone But You, by Jennifer Crusie

Anyone But You (click here for excerpt and buying info) is Crusie’s 5th book. It represents a shift for her from the Temptation line to the (short lived?) Love and Laughter Line.

I loved this book so much that I want to give a copy away. Alas, it is out of print (hey, TPTB: Can we get a reissue? Please?!) so the winner has a choice of (a) a digital version, or (a) a used version. Leave a comment by midnight EST on Thursday to enter.

1996 MIRA reissue

Anyone But You was was a Library Journal Best Book of 1996, RRA-L List Best Series Novel of 1996 and Best Romantic Comedy of 1996, an Under The Covers 1996 Readers’ Favorite Award for Best Series Romance, and a 1997 Holt Medallion Finalist for Best Short Contemporary Romance Novel. I’m kind of shocked it did not even merit a RITA nomination.

Help me out: would it have been up for a RITA in 1996 or 1997? According to Romancewiki, in 1996 the short contemp winner was Single Dad by Jennifer Greene, and in 1997 the winner was Cowboy Pride by Anne McCallister, with two of Crusie’s books (The Cinderella Deal and Charlie All Night) nominated.

Ok, enough trivia. Anyone But You is actually a very simple story: Nina Askew is a 40 year old woman who has recently left her life as “Mrs. Empire”, with an “overambitious ex-husband and overpriced suburban castle.” She is now living in a modest apartment and working as an editor, and she couldn’t be more pleased. She decides to adopt a frisky puppy and ends up with Fred, the dog on the cover above:

there was only one dog in the cage, and it was midsized and depressed, too big for her apartment and too melancholy for her state of mind. … The dog had huge bags under his dark eyes, and hunched shoulders, and a white coat blotched with what looked like giant liver spots. He sat on the damp concrete like a bulked up vulture and stared at her, not barking.

Naturally, Nina adopts Fred. She trains him to go outside using the fire escape, and in doing so attracts the attention of her very hot downstairs neighbor. Alex Moore is an E.R. doc, but his family of specialists (a neurosurgeon mom, heart surgeon dad, obgyn brother, etc.) want him to do more. He dates, but he doesn’t want marriage or kids. And he’s 30.

Anyone But You is often called groundbreaking, and that must be due mostly to the age of the heroine combined with the relative youth of the hero, because Cruise had already written two heroines who had been married prior to meeting the hero (Getting Rid of Bradley and What the Lady Wants). I also think the fact that Nina doesn’t want kids — “I’m just not the maternal type” — and that this is part of the basis for love between the hero and heroine, rather than an internal or external conflict to be overcome — was and is very rare.

Here’s how Alex sees Nina for the first time:

When she took two cans of soda out of the fridge and put the mugs and cans in front of him on the round oak table, he saw her face clearly for the first time, the tiny lines around her dark yes, the softness in her face. She was [his brother’s] age, maybe a little older. Her face looked settled, not serene exactly, but not the searching, anxious look that Debbie’s face had. She looked wonderful and comfortable and centered in herself, and he wanted to tell her so, but he stopped in time. She might think it was a pass.

Which it would be, come to think of it …

Nina and Alex become friends, watching old movies together, while they continue to try to date other people. Nina worries that she is not young or attractive enough for Alex, and after they finally consummate their attraction, she worries that she is too recently divorced for another relationship. Nina’s hysterical adventures with “the Incredibra”, which dog Fred falls in love with, are worth reading this book for alone.

Alex wanted Nina from the minute he laid eyes on her, but first he was a bit intimidated by her, then didn’t want to ruin their friendship, and finally he worried that he wasn’t serious enough about his career to make her happy.

The last issue is one that only crops up after consummation, and it provided a barrier to the HEA in the last 15% of the book. That Alex could seriously believe Nina wanted to move back to the tony neighborhood and lifestyle she left after he spent so much time with her was the only part of the book that didn’t work for me.

Virtually every Crusie category deals with the issue of how careerism and wealth accumulation fits in to a good life inclusive of romantic love. While the heroines on the surface reject “the American dream”, in favor of apartment living, artsy clothing and chipped Fiestaware, the tension remains that in every case they end up financially quite well off by most standards. It’s a tension I can live with, but the contrast between Nina’s ex and Alex was too much of a stretch to believe.

Alex describes himself as “cruising through life and the video store”. Really? That’s how he got through med school and residency? Nina describes him as “immature and unfocused.” Really? That’s how he works an E.R.? While I believed that Alex’s family could put pressure on him, the idea that, from Nina’s or society’s point of view, an E.R. doc represents the rejection of ambition in favor of living the simple life was too much of a stretch. Often careers are supposed to serve as tokens of personality in category romances. I get that. But then don’t make the hero a doctor.

Ok, so enough of the analysis and criticism. I loved, loved, loved this book. First of all, it is screamingly funny, in both dialogue and situations. Here’s Nina’s friend talking about her own ex:

“I caught him in bed with his secretary”, Charity said. “I don’t think she was taking dictation. Not with what she had in her hand.”

Nina on her mother:

“I have a mother,” Nina said, not wanting to discuss it. “She’s not interested in children. She gave birth to us and then we took it from there.”

Nina eyeing herself in the mirror when she first puts on the Incredibra:

Her breasts had never been this high. Nobody’s breasts had ever been this high. Incredibras had so much lift they could get Fred off the ground. Well, that was good. And all that red confused the eye. She could get away with it.

If you like sexual tension, it is absolutely smoking hot. The scene when they break down and give in was one of the best – and funniest —  I have ever read.  I dare you not to fall in love with both Nina and Alex. It is a total pleasure joining them on the journey to their HEA. There’s a cute subplot involving a memoir, eventually called Jane Errs, about the erotic misadventures of Nina’s friend Charity, which Nina tries to get her uptight editor to publish. But mostly Anyone But You is a warm, sexy, funny, and wonderful story. I loved it.

Contest: Just leave a comment before Thursday at midnight EST.

PS. I was tempted to ask people to come clean about their experiences with Incredibra-type devices, but I don’t want to prevent the shy readers, the male readers, or the liberated readers who would never in a million years try such a thing from taking part.

32 responses

  1. My god I love this book! I listened to it on audio and now own it, so no need to enter me. But now I’m yearning for a re-read. I remember the first time I listened to it on audiobook, I was driving home from the beach and laughing like a lunatic while going north on I-95. This is one of my favorite “mood changer” books. It can snap me out of almost any grouch.


  2. OK, commenting me. Did I just miss this one? Was I on too fast a glom? It sounds pretty great. Thanks for these terrif reviews … I hope someone has dropped a bug (metaphorically) in Miz Crusie’s ear what’s happening.


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  4. I dare you not to fall in love with both Nina and Alex.

    I didn’t fall in love with both of them, but I did like Alex a lot, and I enjoyed the snappy repartee enough that I was later sorry I’d given away my copy to a friend (at the time, before the current popularity of ebooks, the book was OOP and hard to find).

    Alex was a fun character but Nina didn’t do that much for me. While I understood her self-image issues, it was still hard for me to comprehend her hiding her breasts from Alex even after they became lovers. He’s bound to see them, or feel them in the dark, eventually, so why not get the discomfort of revealing them over with? It felt like one of those contrivances that is there for laughs but doesn’t ring true.

    ETA: Interestingly, Victoria’s Secret now has a bra called The Incredible.

    My biggest problem with this book was that Alex and Nina married within a few months of meeting even though she was freshly divorced and he did not want children. There was no biological clock rushing them to marry, so why wouldn’t Nina want to wait a little while just to make sure that she wasn’t jumping the gun? Divorce tends to make many people more cautious.

    I understand that since it was a category romance they probably *had* to be written as marrying at the end, but I would have preferred to see them marry in an epilogue that was set after a year of living together. That would have been more believable (and smarter) IMO.


  5. I’m not entering, just wanted to say I love this on audio (Susan Ericksen is great).

    Victoria’s Secret once had a bra called “The Chancery”–I guess once you get into it, you can’t get out (you have to have read Bleak House to get the full ridiculousness of this name). This led to a lunch hour of Victorianist grad students coming up with other Dickensian lingerie ideas. The Little Nell Training Bra? I think they had the “Emma” at the same time, which could lead to a whole slew of Austen-inspired undies. Good geeky fun.


  6. Clearly I’m missing out by having skipped most of the categories. I will look for this and the others at my local used bookstore but in the meantime, I’d love to be entered in the contest!


  7. I have never read a Crusie, I’d like to put that right.

    I really do have a problem getting past the covers of many romance books. I know, I know, I’m depriving myself, which is daft.


  8. I would totally share an Incredibra story, if I only had one! Maybe I should go try one on. Goodness knows I could use one.


  9. I, too missed this one. I enjoyed the review and have been enjoying reading the posts concerning Crusie. @Jazzlet: I started reading Crusie because of her covers. When my kids were 2 & 3, I started taking them to the library. Invariably, they would start screaming, I’d be embarrassed and in a hurry to leave. “Welcome to Temptation” had a bright red cover, and the only time my son didn’t scream that visit was when he picked the bright red book off the shelf for Mommy. My kids now have excellent library manners, but it took a while to get them there, along with reading a lot of stuff with weird covers they would pick off the shelves and finding a lot of good stories between those covers.


  10. I love, love, love this book, even if, like you, I didn’t completely buy the final conflict. I think part of the reason is that it was the first book I ever read where the protagonists decided not to have children. First time I’d seen a woman in a romance novel who didn’t want kids and wasn’t the hero’s evil ex. But even without that, it’s so funny and sweet and romantic that I would have loved it anyway.

    Don’t enter me in the contest, btw. I have my own copy, and this is a book that should go to someone to try for the first time!


  11. If the randomiser picks me I would like the ebook! Following along the reviews makes me realise I have missed out on so much Crusie and it would be lovely to rectify that oversight.

    I don’t know about incredibras but my pet peeve in novels is the front opening bra. I haven’t seen any of those since the 1980’s and any woman with the need for industrial strength bras couldn’t wear one anyway.


  12. This was the first Crusie I read and I loved her voice and how different the book was from everything I was reading at the time (mostly Regency historicals). I loved how it made me laugh. This review, and the others this week, have been a great trip down memory lane. Don’t enter me in the contest, though.


  13. Would you believe I just read my first Crusie (Bet Me, of course) just a couple of months ago? I’m so looking forward to reading more and really glad that I can get this as an ebook. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying all of your reviews.


  14. I read Bet Me back when it was released in 2004, and really enjoyed Crusie’s collaborations with Bob Mayer, but I just couldn’t get excited over her other books (maybe the hype? I’m contrary that way). But your review interests me in this book, so throw my name into the hat.


  15. I want to comment, but DON’T INCLUDE ME IN THE DRAWING – I already have both a paperback and a hardcover version. I love this book that much.

    Of all Crusie’s books, I only enjoyed Bet Me more, but I think I have read this one more times than Bet Me, because it’s shorter. Alex and Nina are such a well-matched couple despite the age difference that you start rooting for them right away. The status conflict felt a little forced, but I overlook such small details in a good read.


  16. I’ve had a couple of Crusie’s more recent books on my TBR list for awhile now but still haven’t gotten to them. I’m not much for categories but this one sounds interesting – particularly with the h/h not wanting children – that’s far too rare in romances.


  17. Oh, I’d forgotten about this book! I read it just before my sister visited and since her name is Nina (pronounced N-EYE-NA, btw) I gave it to her to read. And she loves dogs and I thought Fred was the best!

    Having read all the comments, I thought I might not be able to wait to see if I won. And then, I realized – it doesn’t matter. I’m going to have to get the audio-book version anyway!


  18. (Incredibra-type devices? I can relate. I was remeasured last week and got to try on a whole bunch. I had similar reactions to Nina for many of them. I never knew the girls belonged near my chin. But then I’m not actually commenting on this since you didn’t ask.)

    Oh, and don’t enter me, I already have it – but thanks.


  19. Ah, I loved this book. One of my favorites of Crusie’s so I wouldn’t mind a digital copy since my copy is in paperback. And I agree that the dialogue and interactions are hilarious!


  20. She is so funny! And I want to fall in love with Fred. Please, please enter me for this
    great book.’



  21. I haven’t read this one in years. Thanks for bringing it all back. I remember laughing so hard, my mom tried to slap me, thinking I’d gotten hysterical. I’m so enjoying all the Crusie reviews. What a great idea.

    Please enter me for the digital copy.


  22. Sounds hysterical. I’ve been meaning to read more Crusie since I read and re-read and loaned out Bet Me a couple months ago. I would love to win the book in used paperback format as I have yet to break down and buy an e-reader.


  23. This is one of the few of hers that I haven’t read. I don’t have a really funny incredibra story (nor would I be shy about telling if I did!). Well, wait.

    The first time I went to go get fitted for a bra I was in my 30’s. I’d heard that the main Saks in Chicago had a woman there who had been fitting bras for a long time and was really good. So, I get a friend, and we took ourselves up there and asked for her help. She’s great, obviously knows her stuff and hands me a couple of bras to try on, telling me to let her know when I have the first one on. I do, she comes in, takes a look and then places one hand on each breast, boosts them up and tells me that THIS is the look we’re going for. It was a surreal moment being felt up by a woman old enough to be your grandmother. But I gotta say, turned out to be a great bra! ;-)

    And obviously not shy about sharing, am I?


  24. ok, folks, I decided to pick two winners. gave me Soraya and then Willaful. I hope you enjoy it!

    Thanks for these many great comments, by the way. Many of them provided a great laugh!


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