Skinny Bitch in Love, by Kim Barnouin, is frothy chick-lit that checks every box. Heroine Clementine has a suitably bizarre family, a gay best friend and a fat best friend. Her fat best friend is actually an aspiring actress, hoping to play the Fat Friend in movies. (That means she is probably Los Angeles fat, which is what we in New York sometimes call “a person”) Her gay best friend likes to make cupcakes. Her corporate sister refuses to use her given name, Apple, and asks their hippie family to please use her middle name, Elizabeth. Later on, Clem spies her love interest with a gorgeous young lady who turns out to be his as-yet-unmentioned, fraternal twin sister. So much chick-lit goodness!
In the beginning of the book, Clem dramatically loses her job (that beloved chick lit standard!) when the vegan meal she prepares for a high-profile food critic mysteriously contains butter. Although she’s pretty sure she’s been sabotaged by a jealous coworker (Is there any other kind, in chicklitland?), she’s blacklisted from the vegan restaurants of Los Angeles.
She sets up vegan cooking classes, does some personal catering, and, of course, meets a handsome and wealthy man who is opening a steakhouse across the street from her apartment, because of course he is. Skinny Bitch In Love follows the caught-between-two-guys model, not the he-was-there-all-along model, and the second love interest is a sweet British vegan chef. Actually, I was rooting for the British chef, even though he was fairly two-dimensional, because Clem and Steakhouse Guy just kept clashing. I’m not really moved by a cycle of dramatic fights over misunderstandings, and more dramatic reconciliations, with expensive gifts. Although I admit to enjoying a male lead who makes every single grand gesture possible in the course of just one book, I’d rather Clem had ended up with less door-slamming in her lovelife.
Meanwhile, fat friend Sara starts going vegan, and weight just disappears, leading to the inevitable moment when a guy sees her thinner and stylish, and really notices her for the first time. Chick lit cliches, how I love you!
I discovered after reading it that the Skinny Bitch novel is actually a spinoff of the Skinny Bitch cookbook, which fit in well with Clementine’s No-Crap Cafe, but made Sara’s magical weightloss while feeling so full and eating such yummy things seem like more of cookbook advert and less chick lit magic.
Still the book includes all the charming chick-lit standards, against the exciting backdrop of LA.
The sequel, Skinny Bitch Gets Hitched, by Kim Barnouin, is continues the vegan romance nove. It's also another spinoff of the Skinny Bitch vegan cookbooks, with the same tasty, healthy treats in the background.
As a result of appearing on a reality-show cookoff toward the end of the first book, heroine Clementine has won the start-up capital for her new vegan eatery, Clementine’s No-Crap Cafe, and her sidekick, Sara, the obligatory Fat Friend, has started dating the show’s abrasive host. Sara has an underwhelming co-host role on her boyfriend’s cook-off show, which at first seems like a step towards her dream of playing the sassy Fat Friend on a TV show, but is just another way poor Sara is settling.
Clem’s new restaurant is, of course, a massive success. I read this as more of the Los Angeles magic, and less of the chicklit cliche. Themes for the first book come full circle, with an important food critic once again visiting vegan LA spots. Clem and Steakhouse Zach continue their door-slamming romance, misunderstanding each other whenever it’s humanly possible to misunderstand. Los Angeles, with gorgeous classy venues and unspoiled beaches just a few minutes apart, is a perfect setting for a romance-novel proposal, with a clever twist. I won’t ruin the truly delightful proposal sequence for you, because it really is escapist romance at its unabashed best.
Clementine’s friend Sara also gets engaged, without fanfare, to her obnoxious boyfriend Joe. (Because anything Clem can do, Sara can do not quite as well.) Then, Zach’s eccentric old aunt gives Clementine the family earrings and a List of Important Things To Do Before Getting Married.
Although the book is a collection of romance novel stock characters (Eccentric And Wise Old Aunt! Evil and Pretentious Mother-In-Law! Supportive Fat Friend!), these tropes are so common because they work. Family members have tempestuous clashes, wedding planning brings out the worst in everybody (except classless Joe, a nice twist), and Clem and Sara ponder their careers, independent of their successful husbands-to-be. Sara’s story arc, once it gets rolling, is also LA magic.
The vegan dishes, either perfected for customers in Clementine’s No-Crap Cafe or whipped up by Clem in Zach’s apartment, always sound delicious. I can’t help but roll my eyes at vegan recipes that involve frying a meatless cutlet in fake eggs, or similar substitutions of lab-created compounds with long lists of unidentified ingredients, and I loved Barnouin’s descriptions of healthy dishes, with real, recognizable ingredients, for vegan foodies. The story is charming if forgettable chicklit, but the vegan treats make it stand out.