Yep, I'm on a roll this week. Amazing how that works when you're reading books with the substance and complexity of cotton candy. #40 was Queen of Babble in the Big City, by Meg Cabot (William Morrow, 2007). Yes, the same Meg Cabot who wrote The Princess Diaries and its countless spinoffs. She also wrote Size 12 Is Not Fat, which I haven't read, but it's a great title. Mostly, Cabot's a young adult author who's written a few books aimed at grown women (read: the characters aren't really any more mature, but they're older and have sex now and then, though it's all off-camera); I picked this one up after Littlehazel, who's read a few of her YA novels, insisted that I'd like her. So, complaining that this was a silly, fluffy read would be akin to complaining that the Finger Lakes are cold this time of year, or that I get my hands dirty when I work in the garden. Um, yeah -- but isn't that the point?
The story opens with heroine, Lizzie Nichols, freshly graduated (almost) from the University of Michigan and just moved to New York City. Her plan is to get an apartment with her BFF Shari and find a job restoring and preserving vintage dresses, but that quickly gets scrapped when her summer-fling-cum-boyfriend Luke (who just happens to be descended from French royalty and have a small-but-posh apartment on Fifth Avenue) invites her to move in with him. (I didn't read the original Queen of Babble, but suspect the summer romance with Luke may happen there.) Lizzie's not as lucky finding a job in the vintage clothing biz, though she does volunteer to work for a wedding-gown restorer and preserver for free, but Shari's prince of a boyfriend Chaz hooks her up with a part-time receptionist's gig at his father's law firm so she can pay the bills. There, she meets Jill Higgins, the ugly duckling of a zookeeper whose impending marriage into a Manhattan society family comes with far more media attention than she'd bargained for. Various and sundry hijinks ensue.
Interspersed throughout the narrative are illustrated excerpts from Lizzie's guide to wedding gowns -- presumably a book she's working on with all sorts of information about different dress styles, sleeve lengths, and so on. Exactly what this is or why Cabot included it wasn't quite clear, unless it's to drive home the point that Lizzie is, frankly, obsessed with weddings ... specifically, with wedding dresses. Not only is this what she wants to do professionally, the woman just plain has weddings on the brain all the time ... so much so that she's fantasizing about marrying Luke only 3 months after they meet, and automatically assumes that "a secret about Chaz and Shari" means "Chaz is going to propose."
For the most part, this is a pretty typical chick lit book, Big City style. Lizzie's exuberance and compulsion to babble incessantly were funny at times, but seemed a bit over the top; again, I haven't read Queen of Babble, but suspect this may have been a joke that played out there. One thing that does set it apart from others in the genre (The Devil Wears Prada and pretty much anything else by Lauren Weisberger; The Nanny Diaries) is the narrator's frank discussion of what it's like to live in the ritzier parts of Manhattan if you're broke. The aforementioned posh apartment has an honest-to-goodness original Renoir painting in the bedroom, but in some ways, Lizzie envies Shari and Chaz's apartment ... it's a walk-up in a much grittier neighborhood, sure, but at least there are cheap groceries and takeout a stone's throw away.
My biggest complaint about the story is that the romances tend to fall flat. (Seeing as half the point of these books is supposed to be enjoying an amusing, juicy romance, this is a problem.) We know Luke's rich, good-looking, and has the pseudo-royalty thing going on, but frankly, Lizzie seems to have far more chemistry with Chaz. And without giving too much away, there's another relationship that crops up midway through the book that Just Doesn't Make Sense. These drawbacks make the ending, which is ambiguous, distinctly unsatisfying. I suspect Cabot's gearing up for yet another sequel, but honestly, I probably won't bother.