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.
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.