"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Monday, March 28, 2011

Room For Improvement by Stacey Ballis

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Summary: An interior designer finds success as part of a reality show on home improvement.

After reading a series of disappointing books, Room For Improvement was a satisfying chick-lit read, with many of the typical chick-lit elements in place, but with a few refreshing changes.  Instead of being set in New York or Los Angeles, as so many chick-lit novels are, this one was set in Chicago. That alone was appreciated, although I would have liked more scenes where the snow or weather alters their plans, since that is often a factor here in the Midwest.

Lily Allen is a moderately successful interior designer (as opposed to someone struggling) when she is chosen to be on the American version of her favorite BBC reality show Swap/Meet. Two designers and two single guests are chosen to redesign one room in the other single's houses, and then after the reveal, the singles meet and sometimes hook up. This show could launch Lily's career and give her national exposure.

The book opens with Lily escaping after a bad one-night stand with a jerk. The jerk, Ron, says some incredibly sensitive things and then keeps calling Lily. Can't he take a hint? Lily meets her friends and a personal trainer once a week for exercise where they catch up and dish. Hillary is her uber-successful lawyer friend (doesn't every chick-lit book have one of them nowadays?) and there's also a gay friend, except this time, the gay friend is her former roommate Naomi. I was impressed that the gay friend was female instead of male.  Like many chick-lit characters, Lily struggles with her weight, and scarfs down brownies at the show's craft table when she gets her period. In the show, there are carpenters, one a studly annoyance and one a solid friend, two gay stylists, a bimbo presenter and my favorite character, Bob, one of the cameramen. Bob is always asking, "Really with the (crying, sex, fighting, eating... pick your topic), really?" and I would just giggle every time Bob would walk by at some inopportune moment.

I could have done without Lily's Rules. The rules by which a chick-lit character lives or make sense of her life have been done to death (!) and I was disappointed that this creative author used something so cliche, especially when it didn't help or advance the plot any. If anything, Lily's Rules could have been home decorating tips that can apply to real life. Lily's Rule #278: Totally matching is boring; a little contrast makes a more interesting room. See how easy that was? I just made that one up.

Lily's show is a hit and Lily has a steamy romance with one of the guest featured on Swap/Meet. Lily also hooks up with an interim producer on her show and has lots of sex. But she never seems satisfied, always dumping the guy if he likes her too much, and pouting if he doesn't.  The ending is surprising and sweet. I rated this one 4 stars, because it was exactly what I was looking for at the moment.

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