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How I Lost My (Romance Novel) Virginity...

  • Dec 10, 2010
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If you’re sitting there scratching your head, thinking, “How the hell did The Book Lady end up reading a romance novel?,” then you obviously missed this post.

Here’s what I read:

Because this was my first romance novel EVER, I’m not going to write a traditional review. I’m hardly qualified to do so, given my lack of familiarity with the genre and its conventions and the fact that, oh, you know, I have no idea what a romance reviewer looks for in a book. It wouldn’t be fair to the book, and it wouldn’t be fair to you.

In lieu of a critical response to the book, I’m going to tell you about this romance reading experiment, the literary fiction critic who lives inside my head, and why I’ll never look at a Krispy Kreme doughnut the same way again.

Are you excited?

So, Bet Me begins with heroine Min Dobbs (whose real name is how-far-from-sexy-can-you-possibly-get Minerva) getting dumped. At a bar. By a guy she didn’t really like all that much to begin with. And he’s dumping her because they’ve been dating for two months and she won’t sleep with him.

Say it with me: douchebag! 

Min is at said bar with her two best girlfriends (one an uber-romantic who is looking for the fairy tale, and the other a superhot man eater who doesn’t buy the fantasy), and the saucy friend (Liza) spots a hot guy across the room and sends Min over to meet him.  As Min approaches, she hears the guy who just dumped her bet the guy she’s come over to meet—his name is Cal and he is smooth with the ladies—that even he couldn’t get frigid Min in bed within a month. The men, of course, don’t know that Min overhears this conversation, so when Cal asks her to dinner and she accepts, he has no idea what’s going.

Let me rewind for a minute to tell you that Min is chubby, a frumpy dresser (except for her funky shoes, her one indulgence), unhappy (because she’s just been dumped), and always on a diet (thanks mostly to her neurotic mother, who forbids her to eat carbs or butter…or, really, anything that tastes good).  She is also an actuary (hello, most boring, practical job ever), so she is practical to a fault, and she’s not interested in being charmed or wooed or romanced in any way. (Unless the man is Elvis reincarnated. Min loves Elvis.)

Poor Cal Morrissey, smooth operator that he is, has his work cut out for him.

Anyway, Cal gets Min to go to dinner (which was a side bet, by the way), and there’s witty banter and sexy food talk (because Min actually eats, and man does she enjoy it), and it’s obvious that they have great chemistry….but Min isn’t looking for a relationship, and Cal’s not used to having to work for it, and they end up deciding they are wrong—ALL WRONG!—for each other. And that’s basically the premise of the book. Two people who make absolutely no sense on paper are meant to be, but there’s a lot standing in the way, including both of their exes AND their families and the fact that neither of them is willing to be the first to admit to falling for the other.

And oh, by the way, this whole story takes place inside a month. (Which is really my only quibble with this book in the end.  I just can’t suspend my disbelief quite enough to believe that people can not only fall in love but build the foundation for a rest-of-our-lives marriage in thirty days.)

In between the beginning and the ending, which—spoiler alert—is exactly what you’d expect from a romance novel (sex! love! marriage!), there are several misunderstandings, a few more fights, some really delicious talk about food and foreplay (in a very Nine 1/2 Weeks kind of way), and somebody gets tied to a couch and covered in the icing from a chocolate Krispy Kreme doughnut. And Crusie does it so well that by the end of the scene, you’re all, “Yeah! Krispy Kreme is sexy.”

Or maybe I should just speak for myself.

So, that’s the story. But how was it for me?

I’m not going to lie. It was hard at first (no pun intended). I’m so used to reading literary fiction, and to always (always!) reading with a pen in my hand, that I think I just went into auto-pilot for the first couple chapters. It irked me that Min seemed so stereotypical for a romance novel heroine—I mean, come on, does she have to be a frumpy girl whose one touch of frivolity is shoes? Does she have to take near-sexual delight in eating? Why do I feel like I’ve heard this story before?  And as fun as her banter with Cal was, it too seemed too perfect.

But then it dawned on me that that is what romance novels are all about—they’re about the fantasy. They’re about being flawed and imperfect and finding someone who seems way too good to be true but discovering that that person thinks YOU are perfect.

So yes, Min isn’t glamorous.  How many of us would really identify with her if she were?  Would anyone want to read a romance novel about an uptight skinny bitch who counted calories, was always miserable, but looked great in a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress? She’s the woman we love to hate, not the woman we believe ourselves to be; not the woman whose shoes we can easily slide into for a few hundred pages.

After that realization, I put the pen down and made a conscious effort to shift out of my usual reading mode and into a mindset of just giving in to the story and enjoying it. And guess what? It totally worked!

When I asked for a romance novel recommendation, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into. I assumed romance novels were essentially “lady porn,” for lack of a better descriptor, and I expected there to be sex and lots of it. Bet Me, as it turns out, is heavier on the romance than it is on the sex (though there are several makeout scenes that aren’t too shabby), and it was a lot like reading a romantic comedy. You don’t ask too many questions and you let yourself believe because hey, it’s fun.

It doesn’t hurt that Bet Me has many of the features I enjoy in my usual reading fare: the plot is presented from multiple perspectives, and there are layers of story where different characters have different amounts of knowledge about what is actually going on. Crusie’s writing is crisp and snappy, and the story moves along at a pace that, though not quite feverish, keeps the pages turning. This is smart romance, and I am glad to know it exists.

But I do wish it had been a little dirtier.  I mean, all the wanting and wanting for 350 pages before any actual sex?

I guess there’s always next time….but until then, I’ll be thinking about Krispy Kreme.

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More Bet Me reviews
Quick Tip by . July 03, 2010
Very funny and very cute. A good read.
review by . December 27, 2009
Bet Me by Jennifer Cruise
Loved this book! Enjoyed the chemistry between the hero and heroine. I think it's great that Min isn't a skinny rail, but a real women with real curves. And I love that Cal falls in love with her because of that! Most people didn't like that it wasn't as sexy as her latest novels, but I enjoyed the banter and flirting between these two great characters. There was a lot of great secondary characters also. It's a must read!
About the reviewer
Rebecca Joines Schinsky ()
Ranked #326
Panty-throwing, book-loving wild woman behind The Book Lady's Blog. Reader, critic, lover of indie bookstores, National Book Critics Circle member.
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About this book



Author: Jennifer Crusie
Genre: Chick Literature, Fiction, Romance
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Date Published: 2004
ISBN: 0312303467 / 9780312303464
Format: Hardcover
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