Jennifer Crusie is one of those "canon" romance authors that everyone who loves the genre seems to have read, but for some reason, I never got around to it... until now. Part of my trepidation was because a lot of those early contemporary romances that everyone loves don't really age all that well. Unlike historical romance novels, where you can say, "Okay, that's super uncomfy and problematic but it was set 200 years ago when men swam freely in the sea of privilege and everyone wore their racism like a merit badge instead of sneakily trying to get around it like a paywall in a freemium app," the problematic tropes hit much closer, which is why I wasn't able to enjoy the earlier books by authors like Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Rachel Gibson.
To my surprise, though... BET ME feels very progressive and was just as fun and breezy as some of my favorite recent romance novels. Plus-size rep is something that a lot of 1990s and 2000s chick-lits do HORRIBLY wrong, but even though Min has a lot of self-hatred, it's understandable because of her emotionally abusive mom... and honestly, Min doesn't let it get in the way of her living her best life. She has a great job and knows it (works as an actuary), has a squad of friend!goals BFFs, and the book opens up with her being dumped with a guy who's angry because she won't sleep with him and even though he says some cruel things, she's just like, FUCK THIS DOUCHE.
The douche in question is named David, and he's part of the reason Min has her meet-cute with Cal(vin), the reformed playboy who's just trying to live his best life while dodging clingy women and enjoying the peace and quiet of bachelorhood. David, angry at Min for not really being as repentant as he wanted, bets that Cal can't get Min in bed or get her to agree to dinner. Min overhears the bet and goes out to dinner with Cal. It's hate at first sight, even though the dinner is great, and they bicker through the meal and he walks her home (eeeee) although he accidentally elbows her in the eye. Then they go out again, and again, and AGAIN, and it starts to feel like this could be real. But both of them have huge hang-ups that they've been hiding from one another that might break the relationship before it even really sprouts the wings it needs to get it off the ground.
A really good romance has great side characters. I loved Cal's nephew, Harry, and his lesbian bartender friend, Shanna. Tony and Roger were great, too. Min's sister Diana is wonderful and much more complex than I was expecting, and I loved Bonnie and Liza. Even Cynthie was much more complex than I was expecting from an OW, although man did she have issues. All of the side romances were pretty funny and one of the best scenes in the book is the family dinners that Cal and Min have with each other's relatives where they defend each other against their families and it is SO CUTE. Easily one of the most casually touching scenes in a romance I've ever read.
I don't always like fluffy romances because sometimes they can be so sweet, you can practically feel the cavities sprouting like flowers in your teeth. But this really, really worked for me. I think it's because of how it kind of cheekily acknowledged its tropeyness while also deflecting some of them, and featured a genuinely likable and funny heroine who was self-conscious without kind of feeling like a soap box for Problematic Views About Heavy People masquerading as rep, and Cal was a wonderful love interest who was one of the best reformed playboys I've read about in a while. This is how you write a guy who is a bit of a cad but still redeemable. He was really sweet but a little immature and just needed to find the right person to love him for who he was while also not taking any of his bullshit. It takes a while to get steamy but once it does, it's surprisingly kinky haha.
If you're a fan of Lisa Kleypas, I think you'll really enjoy this book!
4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars