Cindy Cruciger,
Revenge Gifts
(Tor, 2005)

No one is ever going to classify me as a reviewer of romance novels, but I do dip a few toes in the pool of romance once every blue moon or so. Technically speaking, Cindy Cruciger's delightful debut novel, Revenge Gifts, is a work of paranormal romance, so I think I'm sort of covered on this one. Ghosts, murder, voodoo, revenge: these are topics I'm quite comfortable with. And as for the romantic element of the story, it's by no means mushy or overly dramatic (despite the frequent use of the moniker "Muffin"). They say this is women's fiction, but I say guys can enjoy this book just as much as the ladies, as it is wildly entertaining, consistently funny and delightfully original.

We all have moments when we thirst for revenge against someone else -- an unfaithful lover, a hateful boss, a nosy mother-in-law, etc. Wouldn't it be great if there was a merchant who catered to such needs, supplying all sorts of "gifts" designed to make your personal enemy pay for his/her actions? Tara Cole thought so, which is why she started Revenge Gifts from her home in the Florida Keys. This online site features a selection of goodies guaranteed to torment your worst enemies (anonymously, if you choose). Not surprisingly, her business is thriving. Her personal life, on the other hand, could use some work. It has been 10 years since her last serious relationship, she is routinely pestered by a number of ghosts in her home, and she is now the recipient of death threats from a local voodoo priestess. Ah, but there is also a new man in her life (the aforementioned "Muffin," also known as Howard), and that makes living with a refrigerator-raiding, knife-throwing ghost and the threat of a voodoo curse (not to mention the bad karma her revenge gift business is calling down upon her head) a little easier to deal with.

As I said, I know next to nothing about the romance genre, but from what I have heard and read I get the sense there is a lot of what I would call "fruitcake fiction" out there, with what is basically the same story turning up in one novel after another. Daring to be different, Revenge Gifts doesn't fit your standard stereotypical romance. Tara is not the type of girl to swoon, that's for sure, and I don't think there's anything swoon-worthy in play here, anyway. This is not a dramatic love story wherein two lost souls find in each other the mate each one has been searching for all of their lives. Howard and Tara's relationship is more about the moment; it's sexy, it's fun and both are really into each other, but that is about as deep as it goes for now.

Revenge Gifts is full of great characters and dialogue, with Tara herself really winning me over. She's a fiercely independent, somewhat mischievous, smart and sassy young woman who takes her crazy life in stride without ever losing her sense of humor (sarcastic as it is). To me, she's at her funniest and most charming during her most difficult moments -- it's a good thing, too, because, difficult moments take up most of her time.

If you're looking for some kind of sappy, melodramatic romance, you might want to pass this one by. If you're up for some sexy fun, with a little weirdness on the side, Revenge Gifts may just have exactly what you're looking for.

by Daniel Jolley
3 March 2007

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