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on 18 April 2003
In a post-Bridget Jones world where any book with a single, female protagonist is considered "chick-lit", FASHIONISTAS might be placed in the genre, but it surely ranks among one of the best. It is a witty, fun, intelligent and clever story centered around a woman who is not desperate to find the man of her dreams, nor lose weight. She simply dislikes her job (something many of us can relate to) and finds herself at the center of a wickedly funny scheme to make the workplace better. The author does a fantastic job of showing the insides of what it must be like to work at a brainless fashion magazine, and keeps the story and characters fun, fresh and interesting. It is the perfect summer read. Without question.
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"Fashionista" is little more and little less than your average fluffy chick-lit book: A single smart gal in a job-from-hell, some quirky coworkers and plenty of witty little observations about whatever business Single Smart Gal is in. It's a guilty pleasure with a literate twist and a likably wry main character.

Glossy magazine Fashionista is like "Seinfeld" -- it's about nothing. All they do is retread celebrity fashion of the moment, check out celebrity fashion of the past, and just about anything vapid involving celebrities. (Seeing a trend here?) Vig Morgan got involved in this magazine for the glamour, but finds that it's sadly lacking. Iron-rod editor-in-chief Jane McNeill is intent on keeping it vapid and celebrity-driven, even though her staff yearns to give the mag a little substance.

Then a rebellion starts brewing in the ranks. Vig finds herself turned into the linchpin of a conspiracy to get controversial fashion artist Gavin Marshall and his Gilding the Lily (or, to be blunter, "Jesus in Drag" -- Jesus statues in designer women's garb) exhibit into the magazine. But will the uproar be enough to overturn Jane?

Ever since the publication of "The Nanny Diaries," there have been a slew of my-job-is-hell-and-my-boss-is-a-demon books. "Fashionistas" manages to avoid the pitfalls of most books like that. The biggest pit that it DOES fall into is the not-a-relationship that Vig has with the mysterious Alex Keller -- it really adds nothing to the book, and just seems to take up pages that could be devoted to catty power struggles.

Those catty power struggles are what make "Fashionista" so delicious at times. Vig's deadpan recounting of the quirky workplace characters is fun to read. While their oddities sometimes strain believability, they always manage to seem like people who could actually exist. And Messina does a decent job of lampooning the art world (Jesus statues with women's designer clothes), the fashion world, and magazines in general. Since she herself writes for magazines, it somehow doesn't seem surprising.

Vig actually seems like a smart, interesting female lead. She doesn't whine constantly about her weight, her boyfriend, and grimly takes it in stride when she has to cover Cate Blanchett's "curly" phase. Sort-of-boyfriend Alex is a nonentity, and so are quite a few of Vig's coworkers. Maya is a good sidekick for Vig: She's an emotional mess with unpublished novels, a nasty ex, and many stages of grief.

Lynn Messina's take on the fashion world is a nice beach-read. Or if you don't have a beach handy, then "Fashionista" is merely a pleasant light read with plenty of cattiness, fashion and inter-magazine power struggles.
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on 17 July 2003
Vig Morgan works on a glossy magazine, whose editor in chief is the dragon lady from hell. When an old protagonist of the editor is appointed in a directors position some of the junior editors rope Vig into a plot to dispose the existing boss and replace her with the newcomer. Along the way we meet a variety of characters, some of them very promising, but the story is not fleshed out nearly enough and ends leaving many questions unanswered. This was a very quick read that requires little of the reader, and would be a fairly good book for a train or plane journey, however it left me feeling cheated that I had wasted time bothering at all as the opportunity to do so much more with this book was wasted. I was also unimpressed by the sloppy presentation as one of the main characters, Alex was described as James on the book cover, a small point but annoying when you have shelled out good money for what you hope is a decent read.
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