Ah, the frothy fun and occasional heartbreak of a slightly snarky, narcissistic sob story. Who doesn't like that? Especially when mixed with lulling surf, a comfy lounge chair and a long, cool drink nestled nearby. If this recipe for relaxation holds appeal, then be sure to slip Up for Renewal: What Magazines Taught Me about Love, Sex, and Starting Over into your beach tote.

Author Cathy Alter, with a neurotically humorous flair for enumerating her foibles (think Bridget Jones), sets out to improve her junky, less-than-wholesome lifestyle by turning to the pages of slick consumer magazines for guidance. Alter, a 37-year-old freelance writer churning out "painfully dry sales and marketing material" by day, is recently divorced and living life on the edge. She engages in risky "cubicle" sex with a playboy co-worker, fuels herself on pepperoni and Cherry Coke and compulsively overspends so that she's "reduced to paying for my morning coffee with fists of pennies." Enter O, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmo and the rest of the SWF 20s-to-30s demographic glossies to the rescue. For 12 months, Alter vows to follow, to the letter, these magazines' dictums on cooking, diet, exercise, entertaining, sex and the path to true love.

Her writing is witty and raunchy, and her attempts at change are often (comically) tragic. She sticks to her self-help guns, eventually realizing that "you can't solve life's mysteries with the right pair of shoes or the perfect shade of lipstick. . . . But at least I tried."

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