Thursday, December 5, 2013

Book Review: Out to Lunch

By Melissa Amster

When I was in college, a guy friend of mine had started dating this girl around the same time we had plans (along with a few other friends) to see one of our favorite singers in concert. The night of the concert, he disappeared with his new girlfriend and didn't bother to tell us where to find him. We were short on time and had to go to the concert without him, given it was three hours away. And his girlfriend had the nerve to call and threaten me if I were to ask for money back for his ticket. At that moment, I knew I hated her and would do everything I could to make sure they broke up. None of my plans seemed to work too well and I always ended up looking like the evil friend. That summer, she managed to screw things up all by herself and I was so thrilled when he came back to school without her attached to his side the following fall. I lost track of this friend years ago, so it's a non-issue at this point. However, I cringed at the beginning of Out to Lunch by Stacey Ballis, knowing that Jenna was stuck having to look out for her best friend's husband, whom she couldn't stand. Of course, she was never vocal about it during the eight years they were married...before her best friend passed away.

Jenna and Aimee have been best friends for 24 years, and only death could do them part. When that death is Aimee's, Jenna wonders how she'll get through life without her, despite all the support systems she has. She suffers from panic attacks and everyone expects her to fall apart any moment now. Exacerbating the problem is that Aimee has put Jenna in charge financially of her husband, Wayne, a well-meaning klutz who is obsessed with Star Wars and geek culture. Jenna has to reign in his harebrained schemes before they eat up all his money. In the meantime, the guy she is dating expects more than she's able to give and Wayne unleashes a rather unexpected and inconvenient visitor upon her. When Wayne comes up with an idea that Jenna might actually like, she has to figure out if allowing it to happen will be what Aimee would want her to do.

I've mentioned quite a few times in the past that Inappropriate Men is my favorite novel of Stacey Ballis'. Well, Out to Lunch just shoved it out of top running. It's such an engaging story that I found nearly impossible to put down. If I wasn't entertaining guests (along with all my usual household and motherly duties) over the holiday weekend, I would have had it finished in one sitting! I love that this novel takes place during the winter holidays, as it fits in with the mood from this time of year. Not only was I feasting on my own Thanksgivukkah meal, but I was also gaining weight just thinking of the food at the various meals Jenna attended. Stacey Ballis uses her talent for describing things really well in order to bring me back to Chicago and allow me to see the people, visit the places and smell and taste the food. I even liked how she gave a personality to the canine characters.

What I really liked about this novel in contrast to Off the Menu was that there was a clear conflict winding through the story. It wasn't all "happy-go-lucky." I felt like I was on an emotional roller-coaster at the brink of tears one moment and laughing out loud the next. However, the underdog factor was missing as far as Jenna was concerned. She came off as a "poor little rich girl," which made her less sympathetic than I would have liked her to be. I ended up being more sympathetic to Wayne when she was angry or annoyed with him. I just felt like she had it too easy, aside from the loss of her best friend. Still, she was a strong narrator and I could definitely see myself hanging out with her. Also, while the Voix was fun to have around, there seemed to be a surreal aspect, like Aimee was really having these discussions with Jenna from the afterlife.

I really enjoyed Out to Lunch and would definitely recommend it to foodies and anyone who enjoys geek humor. I fit more in the second category (The Big Bang Theory has definitely helped that along), despite how much I love to eat and cook. I'm a picky eater (not as picky as Wayne), so some of the suggested food items didn't appeal to my taste buds all that much. I do appreciate that she included recipes so that I can attempt to replicate the recipes that interested me (ahem, desserts...). You should definitely check out this novel....and that's the truth, Ruth!

Of course, this didn't slip under my movie casting radar...
Jenna: Mary Lynn Rajskub (Originally, I was going to go with Melissa McCarthy, but I felt like someone more intense was needed for this role. Mary Lynn is how I pictured Jenna in my head.)
Wayne: Vince Vaughn (There can be no other for this role. It was written for him to play it!)
Elliot: Mark Ruffalo (True geeks will appreciate this choice)
Aimee: Julie Benz (She'll be needed for the flashback scenes)
Brian: Bobby Cannavale (That's all I need to say)

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review. They're doing a giveaway along with Stacey's interview.

More by Stacey Ballis:

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