HQN, $5.99, ISBN 0-373-77064-2
Contemporary Romance, 2005
Note: this book was reviewed together with Asking for Trouble.
No Strings Attached is the story of two friends, Samantha Brady and Jack Turner, whose happy life of her cooking and cleaning after him while consoling him and giving him a shoulder to whine on in return of him doing the manly handyman thingies around the apartment they both share turn into a bad Harlequin romance when they get drunk and have sex. Of course they will realize that they are in love and then get married, but getting there is pretty painful.
Asking For Trouble is the story of our heroine Beth Randall whose staggeringly minuscule business acumen is clearly no help in helping the Two Sisters Ordinary Inn in Mediocrity Pennsylvania, out of the hole of debts it is sinking into. Worse, the two aunts Ivy and Iris are clearly no help as they are typical Horny Eccentric Loud Banshee Old Women that authors with clearly no imagination of their own love to use when they imagine that they are writing just like Janet Evanovich. Those two aunts are clearly no help. In fact, they are a terrible liability because everyone in Mediocrity is convinced that the aunts are either witches or murderers that have buried Ivy’s lover in the basement. And yes, Beth finds bones in the basement so naturally she imagines that her aunts are indeed murderers so now she must keep quiet and save the murderesses from the law! When our hero Dr Brad Donovan comes along with his obligatory “I want a braindead Mummy today!” daughter to snoop around looking for (ahem) a long-missing person, Beth of course cannot lie properly while Iris and Ivy start acting like predictable busybody loud nuisances.
These two books share a few similarities. One, they are driven by the heroine’s stupdity in each story. The stories will be clearly much shorter if the heroine in each story isn’t as stupid as she is currently being. Beth is more batcrap insane than Sam but that is akin to me saying that one kind of injury is more pleasant than another kind. Even so, Ms Criswell cannot sustain the momentum of each story and soon things start to get bogged down in circular arguments and psychobabble as the heroine and the hero in each story start rehashing the same issues between them again and again. The secondary characters are loud in a discordant manner, really doing nothing to the story other than to create a commotion as if to distract from the fact that Ms Criswell doesn’t seem to know how to keep things interesting during the sagging middle. And of course, Ms Criswell still doesn’t trust her readers. She italicizes her punchlines or capitalize everything, placing a punctuation mark at the end of each punchline. Then again, maybe she suspects that she isn’t being as humorous as she would like to be and the blatant “laugh at this” way of her writing reflects this insecurity, who knows?
Apart from the plots, both books are similar in terms of the addled behaviors of the heroines, the muddled and repetitive pacing, and a baffling kind of comedy that caters to the lowest denominator by trying to be loud and in-your-face rather than actually witty rather than sophisticated. The last isn’t so bad – hey, it works with Everybody Loves Raymond– but Ms Criswell ends up coming off like she’s trying to combine Everybody Loves Raymond with Mr Bean without any self-awareness about how ridiculous things are becoming. And that, people, is when things stop being not so bad and the alarm starts booming to tell everybody to run for higher ground.