Recently, I've been on a streak of reading a lot of British "chick lit." I put chick lit in quotes because it's a fairly loaded term that isn't exactly accurate, but there isn't another shorthand term that quickly encompasses the idea of the genre. These aren't the books of bubblegum-pink covers and city girls questing for the perfect job, fashionable accessories, and/or Mr. Right. Instead, they're books about women, usually in their 30s, looking for happiness but willing to settle for contentment.
There is a formula — Dear gods, is there ever a formula! — but it's one that I quite like. It generally goes something like this: A middle-class woman in her 30s experiences a crisis of some sort (adulterous husband, early widowhood, job loss, mountains of debt/impending poverty... or sometimes several of these in combination) and moves to a new home, often in the country. (If she already lives in the country, there will be no moving.) There are at least two potential love interests — one who is OMG hawt and the other who is the best friend/shoulder to cry on. (Guess who she ends up with.) There are animals: usually a quirky dog and often some sort of farm animal. There is at least one scene where our heroine gets completely plastered and making an arse of herself. There is also inevitably a scene where our heroine is caught outside her home wearing wellies, a dressing gown, manky knickers, or any combination thereof. There is at least one idiosyncratic friend, one social group (book club, church choir, co-workers, or some such), and one or more eccentric/self-centered/emotionally exhausting family member. It all combines into a perfect storm of slapstick humor, heart-wrenching emotion, and a real sense of accomplishment for having gotten through it all.
I think my love of this type of book can be traced back to Bridget Jones's Diary. I could never identify with the ladies of Sex and the City, but I felt like Bridget and I could have been friends. It's only recently, though, that I've been turning to this genre as my comfort-food reading. I'm completely enamored of the books of Jill Mansell, who is my go-to in this category. However, having recently binged on her titles, I've turned to such authors Freya North (Secrets), Catherine Alliott (A Crowded Marriage, the forthcoming A Rural Affair), Hester Browne (Swept off Her Feet), and Isabel Wolff (A Vintage Affair, which is lovely, though a little less humorous than the others). These are the books I turn to when I don't quite want a Romance, but still want a love story with a happy ending, and, so far, I haven't been disappointed.
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Billie Bloebaum is a bona fide romance reader and would be reading romance novels even if she weren't reviewing them. She is also a new convert to eBooks, thanks to the writers of the blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, who kindly loaned her a Sony Reader. However, since Billie has a deep and abiding love for the traditional book, she attempts to review books that are available in both formats.
Books mentioned in this post