Desert Isle Keeper Review

Bet Me

Jennifer Crusie
2004, Contemporary Romance
St. Martin's Press, $7.50, 432 pages, Amazon ASIN 0312987854

Grade: A
Sensuality: Warm

Jennifer Crusie's newest, Bet Me, is straight-up 100-proof women's fantasy. I think you're gonna love this one.

Plump, plain, fashion-impaired Minerva Dobbs suffers one of the harshest fates of a single girl's life: she gets dumped by her boyfriend three weeks before her beautiful sister Diana's wedding. She was really counting on David to be her date, and it rankles when he dumps her because she won't sleep with him. It rankles a lot.

Said dumping is just a part of David's overall scheme for getting power in their relationship, however. He doesn't mean this to be over for good. But he is ticked at the lack of horizontal tangoing in their relationship. To get back at Min, he bets Mr. Successful, Calvin Morrisey (who he also can't stand), $10,000 that he can't get Min in the sack in a month's time. Unfortunately (or fortunately) for Cal, Min overhears part of their conversation, and is infuriated. But then she remembers the wedding, and thinks that Cal could turn out to be useful after all. Thus begins an amusing tale of misunderstandings, mistrust, misanthropy, misadventure, misery, and true love.

Bet Me is both a sentimental and joyful book, a bit of a departure for this author. Crusie's books are always smart, and always funny, but they aren't always sweet. This time out, however, Crusie nails both the mental and emotional components of romance to the wall. Her humor is there in full force, as is the sensuality, and yet overarching everything is sort of a fairy-dust happiness. There's nothing remotely cynical in this book. At its core it is extremely hopeful and romantic.

Though the book is not a paranormal romance, it contains any number of "coincidental" occurrences. Cal and Min's friends stick their noses into their courtship, but Fate also gives them several nudges. This alternate Crusieverse was very enjoyable. The author pulls strings with her story, cleverly repeating, mirroring, layering her book, making it fantastical, making things happen like they should happen. If you cheered when Horton hatched his baby bird elephant, you're going to love watching Crusie stage this romance.

Min is the kind of heroine through which most women would love to live vicariously. She is average-looking, smart, risk averse, and cynical about love - and she gets Prince Charming, who's absolutely smitten by her. Their initial interchanges, when he is trying to charm her and she is having none of him, are every dumped girl's dream. One can't help but wonder about what the percentage of loyal Crusie readers who have also at one point or another memorized the lyrics of Alanis Morisette's You Oughta Know, but it has to be significant. That readership segment is going to jones big time on this book. Min gets to say all kinds of honest, but brutal stuff to people who are bugging the crap out of her. You go, girl.

One of the book's more obvious themes is about food, dieting, and learning to love your body for what it is, not for what it "should" be. All the miserable characters in this book are skinny (though there are happy skinny people too). When we first meet Min, she's starving herself for her sister's wedding, compulsively avoiding carbs, and hiding her body in frumpy clothes. She hates that she'll never be a size 8, and she hates that her mother is constantly carping on her about her weight. But she figures she deserves this misery because she's overweight. Then Cal breezes in with his Krispy Kremes, his chicken marsala dinners, and his complete acceptance of her body. It's a bit of a shock to her that he can be attracted to her even though she will never look like a supermodel.

Cal is a great hero. He could have been card-boardy with his Mr. Perfect charm, good looks, good job, and great body, but he isn't. Crusie focuses instead on his vulnerabilities, and with his weaknesses revealed, it's easier to see why he falls so hard for Min and why he pursues her so doggedly. Cal and Min really balance each other out, and their relationship, even when fraught with misunderstandings and mistrust, is remarkably healthy.

As with any Crusie book, there is a full cast of friends and foes, and a strange-looking pet (this time, however, it's a cat). Mostly, they serve to enhance the author's contextual humor, but they also lend depth to Cal and Min, and, in their own way, make their HEA even happier.

Bet Me is a funny, upbeat, and smart romance about two likable people. Min is my favorite Crusie heroine to date, and Cal ranks up there with Phin Tucker (from Welcome to Temptation). Their love story is entirely satisfying, and I know you will be rooting for their HEA, just as I was.

-- Rachel Potter

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