Saturday, April 07, 2007

Book Review: "Bet Me," by Jennifer Crusie

As you can probably guess, I've been backed up with my book reviews, so I'm getting them all done while I can.

This was the first book I read after I finished my University reading - and let me tell you, what a palate-cleanser it was! This is, by the way, the first official romance novel I've ever read - and I have the lovely Bitches over at Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Novels to thank for that. I'd been lurking over at their blog for quite a while, but I'd never had the chance to get any romance novels, because I had books to review for University, and books to read for my parents/grandparents, and of course, the towering pile of sci-fi/fantasy books I bought for myself but haven't had the time to read yet!

I'm kind of a stickler for reading books in the order I've acquired them (since I still have the three books I bought at Coles/Chapters when I was fired - last summer - and they still haven't been read yet), but after all the heavy "thinking" books I had to pore through for English (Cosmopolis? Like, gag me with a spoon!), I said "Screw it!" and picked up Bet Me, which had been languishing somewhere near the bottom of my TBR pile.

The book opens on our protagonist Min (short for Minerva - because her mother wants her to be a goddess - kill me now), who is having an extraordinarily bad day. First, David, her boyfriend of about three months, breaks up with her because she won't have sex with him. Second, this break-up means she will be dateless to her sister's wedding, and her calorie-counting-appearance-is-everything-Harpy-QUEEN of a mother is going to hold that against her and probably link her failure to her weight, which is ample, but not unhealthily so. Third, she overhears her spineless ex-boyfriend make a bet with another man, Cal, that he won't be able to get Min into bed within a month.

Inconveniently, she doesn't hear all that clearly: Cal, not being the oblivious ass that David is, refuses the bet, but not wanting to offend David (who is a client) he deflects it with another bet: that he can take Min to dinner. He succeeds, but only because Min decides to string Cal along for a month to revenge herself AND have a conveniently HAWT date for her sister's wedding (she justifies her behaviour because her friends inform her that Cal has a reputation for being incredibly commitment-phobic). The date proceeds horribly, and Cal and Min decide never to see each other again - but Fate (or Chance, given the book's theme) seems determined to keep throwing them together.

There's so much about this book to love. First of all - the characters. Cal and Min are by no means perfect, or similar, but their differences and personal problems and despicable families (seriously - they both lucked out and missed the asshat gene that claimed most of their relatives) complement each other in delightful ways. Min, in particular, is very concerned with her weight - she's not obese, but she's definitely not thin, and her hateful mother is convinced that "all men are visual" and that if she and her daughters aren't Barbie-perfect, their men are bound to cheat on and leave them. Cal responds to this with flat-out denial. Crusie is brilliant at describing how attracted Cal is to Min, especially while she's enjoying good food. There's one scene in the book that is just perfect: Min, after enjoying chicken marsala at a local restaurant, tries to improvise a low-fat version and fails miserably - Cal simply says that some food, and some people, are just meant to have a little butter and oil in them to be delicious. This is the part where I swoon, people.

Cal and Min are both backed up by a hilarious bevy of friends, each of whom is fully-drawn and contributes something meaningful to the story while still remaining a distinct personality. Crusie masterfully depicts how these groups of people become more and more integrated as Cal and Min become closer, until they become one lively, cohesive bunch of friends.

The closeness of the friends also emphasises the complete and utter wrongness of the novel's villains: David, of course, is not only determined to have Min back, but doesn't want to pay off the bet should Cal succeed: he still thinks Cal accepted the bet, a bet David put ten thousand dollars on. David is aided in his plans to break Cal and Min up by Cynthia, Cal's ex-girlfriend, a gorgeous couples therapist Cal broke up with when she proposed marriage. She got famous preaching all these four-step plans to love so often she believes it herself, and knows that her career is pretty much dunzo if she and Cal don't tie the knot. Her textbook referrals to behavioural patterns are pretty funny, especially when she puts her theories into action, but in the end she knows Cal just as little as David knows Min.

Crusie also has a wicked sense of humour, particularly in dialogue. I could practically hear the zings as Min and Cal verbally spar, break up, find an understanding, spar again, fight again, end up closer together, and then go back to bickering. The pacing is also, for the most part, fast and even, although it drags a little in the third act. The amazing and wonderful thing about the writing is that it isn't only funny, and heartfelt, and sexy (I can never look at chocolate donuts the same way the book and you'll know what I mean), but it's intelligent. The characters are all smart in their own way, and while they are prone to their own mistakes and prejudices, Crusie describes their motivations in a way that allows the reader to relate to them, even when they're being stubborn or wrong-headed. Especially Min - what a wonderful heroine! I'm no twig either, and I've had my share of humiliations whenever I go to a clothing store and the pretty tops won't fit or the pants are too small - but she comforts herself in a way that I do, by collecting funky accessories that aren't affected by size. She collects gorgeous shoes (like the pair on the cover!) whereas I like dangly earrings.

Hot damn, this book is Romantic with a capital R, but the writing allows it to be such without having unnecessary sex scenes. In fact, there is only one, near the end, that I shan't describe because you have to read it for yourself to truly enjoy how yummy it is. Crusie builds up love and affection and attraction through action and dialogue - she doesn't rely on the out-of-the-blue-OMG-HAWT-SECKS scene as a crutch. This is definitely a Keeper book - and not just a Keeper book, but a Comfort-Reading-Break-the-Spine-Reading-It-A-Million-Times Keeper book.

Crush du Jour Rating:
Hugh is in love! (Translation: "Fantastic!")


  1. Anonymous12:54 PM

    AnimeJune!! Your review was great!!! I'll defintely be picking this one up. I'll let you know once I read it.

    BTW, I have an extra copy of Jennifer Haymore's book if you'd like it. I'll bring it with me to RWA. Let me know. Oh and I LOVE Eloisa James' cover for her upcoming release!! Stunning.

  2. Awesome - I love turning people onto new books and authors!

    About Haymore's book -really? That's so nice! I'd love a chance to read it!

    Agreed about the Eloisa James' covers. She certainly lucks out.