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.

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!

Recipe for Disaster by Stacey Ballis

22571603There really is nothing like a good Stacey Ballis book.

Anneke’s life implodes on her in one day and she’s left to figure out how to move forward without a steady job, her cheating boyfriend or any family to speak of. Anneke and I have very little in common considering she’s a master contractor who loves to rebuild homes for fun (turned full time work), but her struggles with money, trust, food and men were very familiar. There’s a little part about a third of the way through the book where her friend Marie says “You are running the risk of becoming a complete asshole” and it just hit me a little bit. There’s always something in one of Ballis’s books that grabs me and worms its way into my brain for later.

It was a nice change of pace that the main character isn’t a food professional, but there’s definitely some good recipes happening anyway. The romance was a little unexpected and I don’t know that it’s quite earned at the end (massive time jumps do that to me), but this time I’m happy with the nice little bow on everything. It’s been a long month and this was just what I needed.

Out to Lunch by Stacey Ballis

17166231This is the next book in Stacey Ballis’s line of foodie novels, full of cooking, food and recipes with ingredients I’d have to look up. The last fifty pages of the book are just recipes that have been described in the preceding novel. Luckily, I’ve heard that Ms. Ballis is putting out a cookbook compilation of all the recipes she’s written about so far, so I look forward to picking that up and maybe using it as some inspiration for my 35-for-35 project.

Jenna has just lost her best friend/business partner/soul sister, Aimee, to a long illness and is struggling to rebuild her life. Adding to the grief that she doesn’t want to express, Aimee has put her in charge of her husband, Wayne’s, finances for at least a year. Jenna and Aimee had started different but complementary business when they got out of grad school/culinary school, which they had then combined and then sold to a big conglomerate. Wayne is a 44-year-old geeky manchild that Aimee loved to the bottom of her soul, but Jenna never really understood AT ALL. And Wayne is a train-wreck, but maybe it comes from a good place after all. Slowly Jenna starts to find her way in a world without Aimee.

It was a good book, a nice book, but not nearly the book I thought it might be (so that’s on me). I’m never quite comfortable with the amount of wealth that Ms. Ballis’s recent characters all seem to have. It’s like I need the protagonist to be poor, but never having to work again at 42 is NOT going to be a thing I understand. And while I enjoy eating and interesting food, I’ll never be a foodie, so the constant descriptions of elegant, complicated dishes start to wear after a while. I also wasn’t totally on board with the romance, but if Jenna’s happy, I’m happy.

Off The Menu by Stacey Ballis

13186433The food theme continues in Ms. Ballis’s latest book as our main character is the executive culinary assistant to a TV chef with boundary issues. Through a fluke of a fake eHarmony dating site, she meets a fabulous, non-crazy man who is perfect for her. Her family is big, but loving, and she has a weird-looking, but amazing dog named Dumpling that is the love of her life (until RJ, that is).

The book is full of enough Big Name Food People to keep it real and current, while fictionalizing the story so no one gets sued. Unfortunately, our heroine suffers from Has Everything Syndrome, making her hard to relate to. She owns two houses (one in Chicago, natch), is ridiculously successful at her job, where she works on two television shows, writes cookbooks and hobnobs with the fabulous. Her big conflict in the book is trying to choose between two once-in-a-lifetime job opportunities. Alana wasn’t off-putting, but it did get a little ridiculous after a while.

We get to catch up with Melanie from her last book, and everything’s coming up roses for her as well. All the business ventures were successful and her brand continues to grow.

Ms. Ballis’s next book is also set in the culinary world, but luckily it doesn’t come out until March 2015, so I have plenty of time to de-tox from all this delicious food talk.