Chick Lit to the Rescue: Sage Advice from Summer's Best Beach Reads

There's a secret about chick lit, that diary-style fiction genre (spawned by Bridget Jones's Diary) featuring quirky, feisty protagonists on a mission to land their dream life, or at least shoe. It's not only fun to read, but it's also teeming with tips about love and the many challenges of courtship and relationships. And this season's best beach reads are no exception:

SUSHI FOR BEGINNERS
by Marian Keyes

Though they work at the same women's magazine, Lisa Edwards and her assistant, Ashling Kennedy, are polar opposites. Lisa is bitchy, self-absorbed, arrogant and certain that no man can resist her. Ashling is sweet, insecure and inclined to like everyone, until she meets Lisa. What they do have in common: Both are newly single and about to become romantically linked with their tough but oh-so-sexy boss, Jack Devine.

LESSON:
Letting Your Guard Down Leads to Love

Even though they hate each other, the women work well together. Lisa's uber-demanding way of dumping excessive article assignments on her subordinate exposes the talented writer behind Ashling's unassuming facade. And Ashling's gentle, caring nature shows Lisa that sometimes 'tis better to be nice than nasty. Their influence on each other also helps them find love. Ashling's newfound inner strength helps her open up to Jack, who previously would have intimidated her. Lisa's discovery of her sensitive side gives her the courage to show her true feelings and let her ex-husband know she's finally ready to make him a priority. Sushi says: Stop hiding behind walls of self-defense and be true to your heart. It may be scary, but the happy ending will make it all worthwhile.

The Botox Diaries

by Janice Kaplan and Lynn Schnurnberger
Between surprise visits from ex-husbands (bearing many, many flowers) and daughters who secretly sign up their moms for reality dating shows, midlife angst has never been this raucously funny. Jessica Taylor and Lucy Baldor are lifelong best friends in their 40s. Single mom Jessica is determined to age gracefully, while Lucy, a TV producer who's married to sensitive, handsome Dan, is doing her best to stay young. Unfortunately, Lucy's fountain-of-youth cocktail includes a double shot: Botox and infidelity. The bond between Lucy and Jessica is tested when Dan discovers the affair and comes on to Jess.

LESSON:
Girlfriends Are Forever

Terrific as Dan is, Jess would never betray her oldest friend by falling into bed with her estranged husband. Instead, she helps Lucy see reason, renounce her fling, embrace her age (well, for the most part, anyway) and reclaim her marriage.

Girls' Poker Night

by Jill A. Davis
All her life, Ruby Capote has hidden behind words and wit. A good thing when you write a Sex and the City-style column for a New York newspaper. A bad thing when the man you're nuts about is aching for you to admit you're nuts about him. The centerpiece of the novel is her weekly girls-only poker game, a constant source of hilarious anecdotes for her column. However, the heart of the novel is the will-they-or-won't-they dance between Ruby and her boss, Michael Hobbs. Their mutual attraction is obvious to both of them (and everyone else on the newspaper's staff), but it takes half the novel for Ruby and Michael to go on a date -- a weekend at his home in the Hamptons. Then it happens: The reality of being with Michael far exceeds her fantasies, so in her typical fashion, Ruby panics and withdraws to avoid getting hurt. As an out, she writes a column about a near-affair with her wacky neighbor. Taking his cue, Michael bails, leaving Ruby alone again.

LESSON:
Risk Leads to Reward

Tragedy can make us stronger, or it can make us dive underground. Scarred by her father's infidelity and subsequent suicide when she was eight, Ruby doesn't let anyone get close. So for most of her life, she took the latter approach, which was safe but didn't make her happy. Near the end of the novel, she finally engages in some high-stakes gambling: Ruby puts it all -- and we mean all -- on the line to win Michael back. But whether she gets the guy or not, she's a winner just for rolling the dice.

Five Men Who Broke My Heart: A Memoir

by Susan Shapiro
This memoir (yes, nonfiction can be chick lit, too) begins at a crisis point in journalist Susan Shapiro's five-year marriage. In the middle of her "no-book-no-baby summer" she gets a pleasantly surprising call from her ex-boyfriend Brad, whom she'd dated on and off from ages 16 to 31. What may have started as an old friend asking for tips on publicizing his new book leads to a series of emails where the two analyze their stormy relationship over the years. Susan realizes that she'd always blamed "Brad the Cad" for their breakup. But now she faces up to the truth: Before marrying her husband, Aaron, she'd only sought out unavailable men. Seeing Brad, fighting with him and finally understanding both sides of their train wreck of a relationship proves liberating. In the style of High Fidelity, she's then inspired to track down her four other major heartbreaks to figure out where she's been and where she needs to go.

LESSON:
You Can Go Home Again

Sometimes it takes steps backward to move forward. By spending alone time first with her ex-boyfriends, then her dad -- the first man to disappoint her (albeit unintentionally) -- Susan takes responsibility for the pain she's inflicted on herself and the various men in her life. This enlightenment allows her to shift her energy to where it's really needed: her marriage.

Gotham Diaries

by Tonya Lewis Lee and Crystal McCrary Anthony
Lauren Thomas never has to work a day in her life. Her billionaire husband, Ed Thomas, elegant king of Manhattan's affluent African-American community, wants her to spend her days doing things with charities. But Lauren, a promising producer, longs for her own life and identity. She's also upset because lately Ed's attention seems focused on a hot young ballerina. (Supporting the arts is one thing?) Unfortunately, Lauren's suspicions about Ed are accurate. And as if that's not bad enough, she's betrayed again when her two best friends concoct a real estate scheme to con her and her husband out of $10 million.

LESSON:
What Doesn't Kill You...

Instead of crumbling when the people she loves deceive her, Lauren gains strength. She looks inward to determine what it was about her character that invited such contempt, and in the process, she learns to respect the most important person in her life: herself.

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