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*****= An all-time favorite
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****The Cinderella Pact

by Sarah Strohmeyer

Reviewed December 17, 2006.
, New York
, 2006.  290 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (MCN F STR).

Sometimes, what you need is a good dose of chick lit.  That’s what I’m telling myself to excuse my setting a new record—on how “late” I’ve continued reading a book when I should be sleeping.  (If the sun’s up, that’s not a good sign!  Especially if I’m scheduled to work the next day.)  I was already up late doing Killer Sudoku puzzles.  I thought I’d read just one chapter to relax—and ended up reading the whole book, from start to finish.  On the good side, even though I was exhausted, the book put me in a good mood for the whole day.

Nola Devlin has a secret which even her dearest friends don’t know.  The wildly popular Belinda Apple, the dashing, witty, beautiful, thin and chic British columnist, is really Nola herself.  No one’s ever actually seen Belinda, so they don’t realize the picture over the column is in fact a digitally enhanced picture of Nola in her thinner days.

When the position of ethics columnist came up at Sass!, the magazine where Nola works, she submitted an application with sample answers.  However, it was clear that her boss thought her a bit heavy to be a featured columnist, with a photo at the top of the column.  Intending it as a joke, Nola submitted the exact same answers under the name Belinda Apple, and was quickly hired.

When Nola tells her fans that she once was fat—but easily lost the weight by exercising and eating a bit less, unfortunately her friends don’t realize that the column isn’t based on truth.  When a restaurateur doesn’t want the three of them to be seen at his front window table, they decide to take action.  Using Belinda Apple’s column as inspiration, her friends make a pact, and pull her into it.  They will lose weight, once and for all.  In six months, they will come back to the restaurant, thin and beautiful.

This book does not say that a person has to be thin to be beautiful.  But it does have undertones about loving yourself enough to treat yourself well.  I love the way Nola begins the narration of her story:

“We are all Cinderellas, no matter what our size.  This is what I, Nola Devlin, fervently believe.

“I believe that within every one of us is a woman of undiscovered beauty, a woman who is charming and talented and light of heart.  I believe that all we need is a fairy godmother to dust us off and bring out our potential and, while she’s at it, turn the rats in our lives into coachmen.

“I don’t know about the glass slipper, though.  That seems to me to be a design flaw.”

The book is full of excitement and surprises.  She and her friends try several different ways to lose weight, and Nola’s methods stay for awhile on the comical side.  While she is still overweight, she meets a handsome stranger whom she thinks is Chip from Technical Assistance, but turns out to be someone she never wants to find out about her secret identity.

The handsome and British Nigel Barnes, whom the tabloids report is dating Belinda, tries to contact Belinda through Nola, her purported editor.  When Nola reads the e-mail, she learns that Nigel has an aversion to overweight women, so Belinda finds she doesn’t have the time for him.

Meanwhile, Nola’s sister Eileen is getting married.  A huge fan of Belinda Apple, their mother gets Nola to have Belinda call Eileen on her birthday.  Next thing you know, Eileen has asked Belinda to be her maid of honor.  How will she pull that one off?  Nola’s trials include a possible film deal—for Belinda, and finally an investigation by the owners of Sass! magazine, looking into an ethics columnist who obviously faked her own resume.

At the front of the book, before the story begins, we find "The Fabulous Belinda Apple’s Guide to Indulging Your Inner Cinderella."  Here are some of the tips I especially like:

“Buy a tiara.  Admit that it looks good on you.  Fantastic, in fact.  Wear it whenever.”

“Stick with the program!  We know it’s hard treating yourself like royalty.  Keep in mind that eventually you will rise to meet your destiny.  It’ll be worth it.”

“Act like Cinderella.  Trill while you do the dishes.  Invite birds to sit on your fingers, chipmunks to nestle in the folds of your skirts.  Do not mind that the neighbors have called your relatives, expressing concern.  Pity them, for they know not that you are a woman of noble birth kept captive among commoners.”

This book is a lot of good-hearted fun, and worth staying up all night to read.  I strongly recommend not beginning it late at night!

Copyright © 2006 Sondra Eklund. All rights reserved.

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