Minerva Dobbs is ready to kill her suddenly ex-boyfriend David when he dumps her in a crowded bar a couple of weeks before her sister's wedding. Flanked by her two best friends, Liza and Bonnie, Min tries to focus on the fact that she never liked David much anyway and she's actually quite relieved to be rid of the smarmy loser who insisted she stay on a strict diet and always picked the restaurants they went to. At the same time, in another corner of the bar, Calvin Morrisey is happy to be rid of his marriage-hungry former girlfriend and is looking forward to just running his company and spending time with his buddies. He is neither amused nor interested when David Fisk bets him $10,000 he can't make it with Min within a month. Lucky for Min, she overhears the conversation and determines to beat (and hopefully humiliate) them both at their own game. So when Cal approaches Min in an attempt to get away from David, the game is on and he doesn't even know it. What he does know is this woman wants to be with him approximately as much as he wants to be with her, which is to say not even a little bit. Also, there is nothing exciting or colorful about her except the unlikely and impractical shoes she's got on. But he asks her to dinner anyway and she inexplicably accepts. Hilarity, heat, and shenanigans ensue.
Jennifer Crusie had me from page one. I liked Min and Cal so much it was perfectly delicious watching them push each other's buttons and alternately despise and surprise each other. I liked all four of the best friends--particularly the sappy-but-impossible-to-dislike Bonnie and Roger, determinedly pursuing their happily ever after no matter how hard their well-meaning friends tried to convince them it doesn't exist. Yes, it was utterly predictable fluff. But the writing was surprisingly deft and the characters were no cardboard cutouts. Every now and then I'd run across a sentence that was at once airy and light and perfectly placed to resonate with the reader or sketch out what was going on between characters at the time. There were a couple of "villains" that behaved just as you might expect, but even they turned out to be grayer than I thought. But secondary characters aside, Min and Cal make this romantic comedy. They're real and fully-fleshed out and they have histories and families and careers and it all comes into play as they try and fail to remain detached from each other. So much of why I had a ridiculously good time reading Bet Me was the nonstop humor. An early example from that first dinner:
Cal turned and saw Emilio, this time with a fragrant platter of chicken marsala, golden-brown filets and huge braised mushrooms floating luminously in dark wine sauce.And just for fun, here's an early scene where Min tries on her Maid of Honor dress and deals with her mother:
"Oh, my Lord," Min said.
Emilio beamed at her as he served. "It's a pleasure to serve someone who appreciates food. Taste it."
Min cut into the chicken and put a forkful in her mouth. She looked startled and then she closed her eyes and began to chew, her face flushed with pleasure. When she'd swallowed, she looked up at Emilio, her eyes shining. "This is incredible," she said, and Cal thought, Me, look at me like that.
"Try the mushrooms," Emilio said, happy as a half-Italian clam.
"Go away," Cal told him, but Emilio stayed until Min had bitten into one of the huge mushrooms and told him with heartfelt passion that he was a genius.
"Can I get some credit for bringing you here?" Cal said when Emilio was gone.
"Yes," Min said. "You are a genius at restaurants. Now be quiet so I can concentrate on this."
Cal sighed and gave up on the conversation for the rest of the meal. There was a skirmish at the end when Min tried to insist on separate checks, but Cal said, "I invited you, I pay. Back off, woman." She looked as though she were going to argue for a moment, and then she nodded. "Thank you very much," she told him. "You've given me a lovely meal and a new favorite restaurant," and he felt appreciated for the first time that night.
When they left, she kissed Emilio on the cheek. "Your bread is the greatest, Emilio, but the chicken is a work of art." Then she kissed him on the other cheek.
"Hey," Cal said. "I'm right here. I paid for the chicken."
"Don't beg," Min told him and went out the door.
"Morrisey, I think you just met your match," Emilio said.
"Not even close," Cal said, grateful to be without her for a moment. "This was our first, last, and only date."
"Nope," Emilio said. "I saw the way you looked at each other."
"That was fear and loathing," Cal said, opening the door.
"God, you're dumb," Emilio said, and Cal ignored him and went out into the dark to find Min.
Min took a deep breath and popped the button on her skirt. "Look, Mother, I am never going to be thin. I'm Norwegian. If you wanted a thin daughter, you should not have married a man whose female ancestors carried cows home from the pasture."Sigh. I loved this book. Clearly a case of the right one at the right time. I took it back to the library knowing I would need to go out soon and procure my own copy because I can tell I'll want to revisit these characters. I laughed so much reading it and by the time I finished everything was bright and lovely inside once more.
"You're half Norwegian," Nanette said, "which is no excuse at all because there are plenty of slim Nordic beauties. You're just eating to rebel against me."
"Mother, sometimes it's not about you," Min snapped as she held her skirt together. "Sometimes it's genetics."
"Not your loud voice, dear," her mother said, and turned to Diana as she held up the corset. "We'll just have to tie it together."
"Good idea," Min said. "Then when I pass out at the altar, you can point out how slim and Nordic I am."
"Minerva, this is your sister's wedding," Nanette said. "You can sacrifice a little."
"I'ts okay, it's okay," Diana said, holding out her hands. "There's time to have one made in Min's size. Everything will be fine."
"Oh, good." Min stepped up on the platform to look at herself in the trifold mirror. She looked like the blowsy barmaid who worked in the inn behind the castle, the one who'd trash-picked one of the princess's castoffs. "This is so not me."
"It's a great color for you, Min," Diana said softly as she came to stand behind her on the platform, and Min leaned back so their shoulders touched.
"You're going to be the most amazing bride," she told Diana. "People are going to gasp when they see you."
"You, too," Diana said, and squeezed Min's shoulder.
Yeah, when my corset explodes and my breasts hit the minister.
"What happened to your eye?" Diana said in Min's ear, low enough so that Nanette couldn't hear.
"The beast hit me last night," Min said, and then when Diana straightened, she added, "I walked into his elbow. Not his fault."
"That's the wrong bra for that dress," Nanette said from behind them.
"You're not by any chance my stepmother are you?" Min said to her mother's reflection. "Because that would explain so much."
"Here, darling," Nanette said and handed her five different colored lace bras. "Go in there and put one of these on and bring me that cotton thing. I'm going to burn it."
"What cotton thing?" Diana said.
"I'm wearing a plain white bra," Min told her as she stepped off the platform, her hands full of lace.
Diana widened her eyes and looked prim. "Well, you're going to hell."
"Diana," Nanette said.
"I know," Min said as she headed for the dressing room. "That's where all the best men are."
"Minerva," Nanette said. "Where are you going"
"It's Thursday," Min said, over her shoulder. "I'm meeting Liza and Bonnie for dinner, and I don't want to talk about my underwear anymore." She stopped in the doorway to the dressing room. "Order the bigger corset--much bigger, Mother--and we'll try this again when it comes in."
"No carbs," her mother called after her as she went into the dressing room. "And no butter."
"I know you stole me from my real parents," Min called back. "They'd let me eat butter." Then she shut the door behind her before Nanette could tell her to avoid sugar, too.
Note: I went on a bit of a Crusie binge after this and, four books in, Bet Me is far and away my favorite. Definitely the best of the lot.
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Dissecting Perfection Review
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Petit Fours and Hot Tamales Review