With regard to contemporary romantic fiction, the baton seems to have passed from Britain to the USA with many American writers, led by the redoubtable Nora Roberts, ending up top of the best seller lists. One of the writers who led the way back in the Eighties and Nineties was Jennifer Crusie who turned the genre on its head with her modern, sassy women who were anything but doormats. She created women with whom the ordinary female reader could identify and, more to the point, she gave them men to love who were not straight out of a Mills & Boon novel but were men with feet of clay.
When 'Bet Me' was released back in 2004, it immediately went to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List and straight to the top of many readers' list of all time favourite romance novels, and the reason was because the heroine wasn't skinny and gorgeous but a conservatively dressed, slightly plump and very ordinary woman but one who gives every bit as good as she gets.
Minerva Dobbs knows she isn't going to get a happily-ever-after, especially when the man who's asked her to dinner is doing it to win a bet. He may be sexy and successful and appreciate that Min wears great shoes but Cal is commitment phobic and one evening with the cranky Miss Dobbs is more than enough. They say their goodbyes and expect never to see each other again. Fate, however, has other plans and they're soon up to their necks in jealous ex-boyfriends, restaurant management, mending their friends' broken hearts and running the risk of taking the biggest gamble either of them has ever made.
I love Jennifer Crusie's books. She writes about real people and situations which any reader can identify with whilst still delivering a very satisfying story full of humour, great dialogue and, of course, romance. Her heroine here is a rather prickly thirty-something with a younger sister having pre-wedding jitters (justifiably), a mother who is determined to see her eldest daughter skinny and married and friends who are sometimes more of a hindrance than a help when it comes to wreaking vengeance on the man who agreed to a bet of $10,000 with her ex-boyfriend if he could get her into bed!
The male protagonist (I refrain from calling him a hero) may have feet of clay but he's a decent man at heart and had been so distracted at the time the bet was made that he failed to grasp what he'd agreed to. Despite acknowledging all Min's bad points, there is a spark of something which keeps him going back for more. Maybe it's her sassy comebacks and put-downs, maybe it's her taste in shoes which, despite her otherwise conservative dress sense, show there's a totally different woman inside just waiting to pop out.
Min and her friends are all very likeable (think a somewhat toned down Sex in the City gaggle of females and you're on the right track) and it's so refreshing to have a female protagonist who isn't stick thin and beautiful to boot. She's intelligent and despite knowing she's never going to be the slender vision of loveliness her mother hopes for, she isn't going to be the subject of a chauvinistic bet without fighting back. Her intention is to string Cal along at least for three weeks so that she has a date for her sister's wedding and then dump him unceremoniously. That plan goes awry more or less from the start.
Cal was a great male lead, too. It has to be said he was at something of a disadvantage with me as Min frequently addresses him by his surname of Morrisey. OK, different spelling but the very name kept conjuring up images of a certain unattractive Mancunian who, for me, ranks only slight lower than Jeremy Clarkson on my list of men who could never be thought of as love's young dream. Once she got past this and began to call him Cal more often, he became far more appealing. He may be the love 'em and leave 'em type but he's an innately decent man who cares for his friend and would never willingly have hurt Min, though he's blissfully unaware that she knows about the bet and can't understand why she isn't falling for his chat-up lines which generally have the women falling over themselves to snag a date.
This is American rom-com and a very enjoyable one at that. For me, it wasn't quite perfect as there were one or two little irritants. One thing I found mildly annoying was the frequent references to the music playing in the background, which was always appropriate to the situation. Min's mother, too, was rather stereotypical of the mother who only wants the best for their daughter but has a very strange way of going about it. For instance, she provides Min with a bridesmaid's outfit which is a couple of sizes too small because she'd hoped Min would slim down into it before the wedding. Min, rather unbelievably, takes this in her stride. I know exactly how my daughter would react if I did this and it wouldn't be without some retaliation!
With the exception of Min's mother, the secondary characters are well rounded, realistic creations. The author has a slightly different take on the heroine having a gay best friend by providing Cal with a lesbian friend and neighbour who comes to him for advice on her disastrous love life. His friends, too, are very believable.
Sadly, this isn't available in Kindle format but used copies can be picked up from 1p plus postage.
This book is a light and easy read and although the humour isn't laugh-out-loud, it's the sort that makes the reader smile. The characters are likeable and despite the odds not being in their favour, I really wanted Min and Cal to see beyond the surface to the real people beneath. This would make a great beach read as it's light and frothy with plenty of the feel-good factor. In fact, it's an odds-on winner.