How to Change a Life by Stacey Ballis

33155461After a few months of gymnast memoirs and Joel McHale books, I needed a change of pace. I went through my To Be Read list and pulled a few of the new releases through InterLibrary loan. I decided to start the beautiful stack of books with Stacey Ballis because I know it’ll be a quick read that makes me hungry. I swear I end up buying her books most of the time, just for the recipes in the back (even though they are always WAY above my meager skill level – some people make their own croutons?!)

Once I got past how unrelatable [to my life] the main character is (I mean, she’s a private chef to the kindest billionaires ever, so she never worries about money), Eloise is pretty great. After losing her favorite teacher, she reconnects with her high school best friends just as they are about to turn 40. They decide to challenge each other to life improvement plans, with the losers having to donate to charity if they don’t finish.

I totally related to meeting back up with people you were friends with in high school after life happened to all of you and realizing that maybe you wouldn’t be friends with them if you met them today. Eloise is a LOT kinder to her frenemy than I would be, and it’s never really explained WHY she needs her in her life. The romance starts out super cute and then it veers into unbelievable. I kept waiting for the conflict to happen, the thing that breaks them up for a while before they get together in the end, but it just never comes. I mean there’s a conflict, but it’s dumb and Eloise could really just skip it.

IMG_2753All that to say, I did really enjoy this book and it was a super quick read. I finished the middle third with this view during my recent trip to Vegas, so it was never going to be bad. I wish the two high school friends had been fleshed out more than “stay-at-home mom” and “PR maven who only thinks about her career,” but I guess we only get to see Eloise’s point of view. The book also made me want to go back to Chicago on vacation, so I guess that’s a win as well, since it was probably snowing while I was reading.

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Wedding Girl by Stacey Ballis

26067937This is another Stacey Ballis novel set in Chicago about a woman who works with food, and I still can’t get enough!

Our heroine is Sophie Bernstein, a nice Jewish girl whose FABULOUS wedding falls through when the groom runs off with another woman that afternoon. She’s left at loose ends, destroying her professional reputation and ends up moving in with her grandmother. A part-time job at the neighborhood bakery ends up changing the entire course of her life, but without the usual chick-lit cliches.

Sophie’s family and friends are well-drawn characters, and I didn’t want to leave this world behind as the book as coming to an end. The romance really works as well, since it doesn’t dominate the book or Sophie’s return to “real life.” I also thought her new friend’s “gift” to help her pay off her credit card debt was inspired!

There’s a tiny cross-over with Sophie mentioning Anneke several times throughout the book (she’s pregnant with twins), but otherwise, this book exists in its own world, which is nice given that the main character is still part of the restaurant world. Great book as always!

The Overnight Socialite by Bridie Clark

6411599This is another Friends of SFPL purchase, which is now nearly a year old. I’m still not entirely sure what to think. It’s pretty basic My Fair Lady chick lit, with our wannabe fashion designer heroine from Minnesota who runs into her Henry Higgins, a Manhattan playboy, looking for his next project. He thinks turning Lucy Jo Ellis into the next IT girl of the NYC socialite scene will make a great academic book as an anthropological study of the class of people to whom he also belongs. Lucy Jo gets a makeover and a promise of contacts to launch her fashion line.

It proceeds as expected with Lucy changing her name, her accent, her backstory and her body to conform to the expected socialite standards. Wyatt, her Henry Higgins, feels guilty for not telling her about the book that will unmask her as the fraud she is, but never enough to actually TELL her about it. And everyone they meet seems to think they are an item. I assume we’re supposed to think that too, but it’s never really clear that he does like her.

The end is more satisfying that I expected and I did like how it was kinda open-ended. I didn’t think I’d finish this book feeling good, but here we are.

The First Affair by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus

18775396Hey remember Monica Lewinsky? Ever wonder what it would have been like if that situation happened fifteen years later? Well, then, I’ve got a book for you.

The fictional president is clearly a mix of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, with the first lady being way more Laura Bush than either of those two men’s wives. Our “heroine” is disturbingly naive in a way that because really annoying by the end. Her family is a piece of work, with an in-denial alcoholic dad, an enabling mother and a sister who only looks out for herself. Even when you’re exasperated at her heart eyes at the President, you have to feel for her when her whole family wants to leave instead of watching the July 4th fireworks from the White House lawn.

This was by far the shortest book I’ve read all year and yet I struggled to get through it. The romance isn’t fanciful enough to get carried away by (like my favorite “secret prince” stories) and having lived through the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton, I had no interest in reading about it again. The smugness at the end also seemed out of place, given how in the tank for the president Jamie was before the FBI got involved. Total miss.

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English as a Second Language by Megan Crane

332695This is another public library book sale purchase and my streak continues. With blurbs by Carole Matthews, Melissa Senate and a plot of an American girl going to England for grad school, I thought it was a winner, but alas no. I finished this book nearly a month ago, but I just never got around to writing about it.

Our heroine hates her job, so she applies to grad school in English in England, mostly because she runs into an old boyfriend who says she’d never get in. But it doesn’t really feel Elle Woods-y. It’s not really a fish out of water story because there isn’t much time spent on that. It’s not really about grad school, though the author does seem to follow the heroine and her students through all the terms with papers and such. It’s kinda about our heroine and her new housemates who become friends (some of them), but there’s just a lot of drinking, partying and arguing. She has a crush on a professor, but it never really goes anywhere.

I kept waiting for it to get interesting or at least have a coherent plot, but then it ended. It’s not a bad book, but it’s not great either.