Leave It To Cleavage
by Wendy Wax
(Bantam, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0-553-58614-9
****
Every now and then a book comes along to remind me why I keep reviewing books after 5+ years. There are two perks to this volunteer job 1) discovering new authors and 2) loving a book that you normally would not have a touched with a 10-foot pole. This second novel by Wax definitely falls into the second category. It’s got a silly title, a bright orange cover featuring a pink bra, and it screams romantic comedy – a subgenre that very rarely works for yours truly. So you can imagine my delight when I read the first page and was immediately hooked.

Miranda Smith is a former beauty queen and heir apparent to her family’s long-running lingerie business. However, while she has an MBA, her husband is the one running the company. Miranda is more of a spokeswoman than anything else. However it’s on a cold January day when her world comes crashing down around her.

She’s in her husband’s office looking for a stamp when she finds some pictures – pictures of Tom wearing women’s lingerie. Also in one of these pictures is a woman’s hand, sporting a perfect French manicure, poised on Tom’s butt. Flabbergasted, Miranda also discovers a letter from the bank that mentions an audit of her family’s company, Ballantyne Bras. Seems Tom was cooking the books.

But that’s not the worst of it. Tom also emptied their joint bank accounts and his closets. He then left her a “Dear Miranda” letter saying he wasn’t coming back. With Ballantyne Bras as the driving force of the local economy, plus with no clue as to extent of the damage her husband has wrought – Miranda has no choice. She’s going to have to take over the running of Ballantyne, try and come up with a plan to save the company, find the weasely Tom, oh and divorce his sorry butt. However things get even stickier when the handsome local police chief starts snooping around. Why won’t Blake Summers just leave well enough alone?

Blake won’t leave well enough alone because he gets a tip from an anonymous caller claiming that Tom has met with foul play, and that Miranda had something to do with it. So Blake decides to do some snooping around – only to become seriously distracted by Miranda.

I loved this story from the get-go thanks to Wax’s charming, breezy writing style. It’s crisp, clear and kept me easily turning the pages. It also helps that it’s funny without trying too hard. While some of the plot borders on silly at times, Wax reigns herself in before she goes over the top. She also has a way of making the silly sound totally plausible, and making the reader swallow every spoonful with nary a nagging doubt in sight.

What seals the deal though are the characters – which are often found in silly circumstances but are never silly themselves. Miranda is a refreshing woman with a lot working for her. She’s a former beauty queen with brains. She’s battled infertility problems, but thought her marriage was sound. Tom’s disappearance is a rude awakening that allows our heroine to take control of her life. Blake is a sexy and charming, with an older father to look out for and a jock teenage daughter to raise. Imagine this poor guy’s confusion with his basketball star “little girl” decides she wants to enter a local beauty pageant, starts wearing make-up, and has boys sniffing around!

Leave It To Cleavage is much more than a standard romantic comedy, and I can’t help thinking that Bantam shoe-stringed it with its dopey bubblegum cover art and title. It’s a cozy mystery and women’s fiction novel with a romance tucked neatly inside. While Miranda is taking control of her life, she also has to figure out where the heck Tom is, plus deal with her burgeoning feelings for Blake. The romance is just gravy for our girl, and by the end of the novel this reviewer was cheering her on has she makes her final stand. Very easily one of my very few standout books of the year – don’t miss it.

--Wendy Crutcher


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