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I'm generally skeptical of "makeover" books. They feel too simplistic in that the be all and end all is to get in shape to get the making over man. I'm not even sure how this trope came about because it is so unrealistic as to be imbecilic. So thank the stars, Stephanie Evanovich is a better writer and smarter person than that crew. Her characterization and thoroughness really took me by surprise. Most romantic fiction steers clear of ugly, if human, thoughts - the sort of nasty impulsive thoughts we all have in moments of cynicism, stress or being wronged. Holly Brennan is so remarkably real, a plain Jane who thinks the snarky thoughts but has an actual (working!) filter of politeness and decency. Is it tragic that her socially functional personality is so refreshing to encounter?
Holly provides the heart and humor of this book, but in a soft way. Big Girl Panties in general is almost a gentle comedy (albeit with a surprising lot of sexual activity). Evanovich doesn't trying to pistol whip her readers with forced or excessive wit. It's nice not to have an author impress superiority on readers with obnoxious characters and contrived relationships to advance a plot. People's actions make sense through the (nerd alert: third person omniscient) narration and creates a bond that endears them to you. Holly's transformation takes place painfully and gradually, giving hope to every woman who has despaired of turning a body or a life around. Real life changes suck on many levels and we're along for Holly's bumpy (but mercifully angst-free) ride. Things don't work out easily or perfectly and I really loved Holly for it. The girl's got agency and uses that power to make choices about her future, make over her self-esteem, and make good friends.
There are a couple romance plots running through the story and these other characters are surprisingly nuanced. I enjoyed even the unnamed regular people that the main characters interacted with. It's an achievement to make everyone pertinent, interesting, memorable. I'm definitely looking forward to more from this author.