Help A Bitch Out

HaBO: Welcome Back, Hotter

Amanda has a two-part query:

I need help finding a book! I checked it out of the library a few years ago and now I’m dying to read it again but I can’t remember much about it.

It’s one of those books where the heroine was weird/ugly in high school, left town, got pretty and is now coming back. I think for her younger sister’s wedding? And she bakes cakes for a living, so the plan is she will bake everything for the upcoming wedding. Lucky her.

The hero is a guy who was Mr. hot-shot in high school (of course) and never left town. The heroine had a huge crush on his in high school and the scene I remember most vividly is the flashback of when, in high school, she went so far as to lie down in front of his car in protest of him dating some other girl.

Beyond this I can’t remember much. The sister’s wedding breaks off and the hero and heroine get their HEA. I think this books was published by zebra sometime in the 90s?

P.S. I love these novels where the girl comes back to her hometown completely transformed and dazzles the hero who blew her off in high school. Could you recommend any books with this sort of plotline?

It’s like a makeover plotline, only slightly different, and I confess, I like it too. Part ugly-duckling, part returning-home – all potentially awesome. Does anyone remember this book, and do you have any recommendations for “Coming Home Only More Hotter” books?



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  1. 1
    Emma Hillman says:


    I read this not too long ago and it sounds like ‘Falling for Gracie’ by Susan Mallery.

    From Publishers Weekly/Amazon: “In this diverting contemporary romance from Mallery (Someone Like You), wedding cake designer Gracie Landon was shipped off at age 14 to live with relatives when her obsessive crush on 18-year-old Riley Whitefield became a local media item and an embarrassment to her family. Now, 14 years later, she’s back in Los Lobos, Calif., to create a cake for her younger sister’s wedding while aching to be part of the family that turned her out. Her mother is as unloving and judgmental as ever, and both her sisters are self-absorbed drama queens. Despite her family’s selfish demands, Gracie, with all her eagerness to please, bends over backwards to accommodate their requests; sister Vivian demands a fabulous wedding cake that will take weeks of preparation, while sister Alexis insists that Gracie trail her husband, Zeke, whom she believes is having an affair. Since Zeke is Riley’s campaign manager in his race for mayor of Los Lobos, prowling around Riley’s house seems the right place for Gracie to start, but her snooping only puts her and Riley on the front page of the local press. While dirty politics, a vengeful ex-wife and a lot of backstory drama plump up the story line, some readers may find themselves wishing for a heroine who’s less of a doormat.”

  2. 2
    srishtee says:

    yep, i too think the same. Emma bet me to it. I only wish the book was better.

  3. 3

    My book ALL THE WAY HOME from Cerridwen Press (also available on Kindle) is a going-home-and-getting-together-with-the-high-school-hunk story. Maggie is a bit neurotic but no doormat :)

  4. 4

    Oh man, makeovers rank just below dance-offs on my list of favorite guilty-pleasure plot devices—Grease has both!! Makeovers must be the chick-flick equivalent of a sports training montage in dude-films. Love ‘em!

  5. 5
    JamiSings says:

    Makeovers are nice, I long for one IRL, but why would anyone care about their high school crush? I’ve seen some of the folks I went to high school with who treated me like crap because of my weight. They’re still just as shallow and cruel. They never changed. The same privileged brats as adults as they were as kids. I wouldn’t want to be in the same room as them let alone involved with them.

  6. 6
    Cassie says:

    Man, the only time I’ve actually recognized a book in the HABO section, and a ton of people beat me to it!

    I actually liked this one, and I usually HATE books where anyone has an obsession with anyone else (weird personal quirk, haha). But it’s well worth a read!

  7. 7
    Jenica says:

    Hmm…I know I’ve read lots of these, but the only ones that come to mind are After the Night by Linda Howard and Ain’t She Sweet by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.  Love them both, but they’re a little edgier than your average hometown girl returns theme (and their transformations were more internal than external).  I’ll have to look through my series books for more ideas…

  8. 8
    Betsy says:

    The classic example of ‘coming back hotter’ has gotta be Sabrina (the Hepburn/Bogie version of course)!  I can’t think of any good romance novels with this plotline at the moment, but I had to mention the movie.

  9. 9
    Leah says:

    Definitely “Falling for Gracie” by Susan Mallery.  I remember the part where she laid down in front of Riley’s car.

  10. 10
    Chicklet says:

    Definitely “Falling for Gracie” by Susan Mallery.  I remember the part where she laid down in front of Riley’s car.

    I can see Gracie stole her life motto from Singin’ in the Rain: “Dignity. Always dignity.” *g*

    (Actually, I’m not sure I could read this book. It seems like it would be filled with scenes that generate the kind of second-hand embarrassment that gives me a stomachache.)

  11. 11
    Sara says:

    This is definitely Falling for Gracie.

    The Penalty Box by Deirdre Martin has the same theme. I can’t remember if I liked it though…

  12. 12
    Nadia says:

    Sleeping with Beauty by Donna Kauffman has a makeover-for-the-reunion theme, love how that one works out.

    Lead Me On by Victoria Dahl does it with a twist.  She never left town, just reinvented herself after a turbulent childhood and is terrified people will find out.

    I do like a good “How you like me know?” book, as long as the outer shell is matched with the inner growth.  Living well is the best revenge for high school asshattery. ;)

  13. 13
    Robin L says:

    Forever Blue by Suzanne Brockmann is a twist on this theme.  The guy comes back to his hometown instead of the girl.  Here is the blurb on the back of the book:

    Blue McCoy was once the hero of Lucy Tait’s teenaged dreams—quiet, dark and dangerous. After high school he left Hatboro Creek, South Carolina, to join the military. Years later, now a Navy SEAL, Blue was a man who embodied all of Lucy’s fantasies.

    Now Blue is back in town, and Lucy is not the person he remembered. She’s a no-nonsense police officer—and a woman Blue can’t take his eyes off. But then Blue is accused of murder. And Lucy is assigned his case. Now their brief affair has become part of an extensive investigation, where what’s at stake is critical—Blue’s future…and maybe Lucy’s heart. Is her hero still the man she remembered?

  14. 14
    Star Opal says:

    Since Betsy beat me to suggesting the movie, I’ll settle for seconding the motion:

    Sabrina, 1954 version.

  15. 15
    Beki says:

    Ain’t She Sweet is one of the best high school makeover stories of all time.  I just love Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ style of writing the smart woman who chose stupidly and now has to fix it.

    This book, though?  Sounds like a major embarrassment.  Laying down in front of the guy’s car to protest something he’s doing?  Oh, yeah.  That ought to work.  Like someone else said above, that’s the kind of thing that gives me vicarious stomach pains.

  16. 16
    Star Opal says:

    Urgh! Double post, please forgive!

    To me these “Coming Home Only More Hotter” books are a blend of:
    1. Ugly Duckling. Hence the make over.

    2. OMG You Went and Got Hot! Not necessarily the same as 1, it can be found in best friends become lovers, other types of returning home stories, etc. The heroine becomes hotter because both sides have grown up mentally, and grown into themselves physically. You know what I mean? Did that make sense?

    And usually, 3. The small town setting. Which we discussed in the Small Towns and Big Popularity post a couple days ago.

    And of course the underlying themes of revenge and closure.

    Okay I’m done.

  17. 17
    Zita Hildebrandt says:

    One of my favourites is a old Jayne Ann Krentz called “TheMain Attraction” It was originally written in 1987, but it stands up pretty well. Here’s the cover copy: “Ten years after she had left her hometown as a mousy, overweight, disgraced woman, Filomena Cromwell—now rich and beautiful—returns to Gallant Lake to seek revenge on her unfaithful ex-fiance+a7 and other small-minded townspeople.”

  18. 18
    Kelly N says:

    I highly recommend Kathy Love’s 3 book series following the stories of 3 sisters in a small town.  They all have the “reunion”/ugly duckling like storyline:

    Getting What You Want
    Wanting What You Get
    Wanting Something More

  19. 19
    Stephanie says:

    I love everyone’s suggestions!  I just made a list to order all these titles inter-library loan!

  20. 20
    MeganB says:

    @Sara – The Penalty Box was the first one I thought of, and I really liked it.  Better than Martin’s other books, which I would normally rate in the C+ to B category.

    Try Unlawful Contact by Pamela Clare for a twist.  Good girl looses her virginity to the high school bad boy and it’s “perfect”.  Ten years later, she’s a journalist and he uses her as a hostage to break out of prison.  Loved it. 

    But I am a sucker for the “he loved her desperately from afar” kind of plot.  I like my heroes to have a sort of endearingly desperate awkwardness.  Branden Kel-Paten in Linnea Sinclair’s Games of Command is my current favorite.  It’s sci-fi romance, FYI.

    The plot where she returns to her hometown hot only works for me if he wasn’t a dick to her back in high school.  And I really hate the cringe-worthy vicarious shame (the kind I think would be inspired by a heroine laying in front of a car).

  21. 21
    megalith says:

    Christina Dodd did a rewrite of “Sabrina” as a historical in her book “In My Wildest Dreams.” I love the Billy Wilder version of the movie with Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, and William Holden. And the book didn’t suck either, even though I had the movie running in my head the entire time I was reading it. I’ve read the book two or three times now, and I still enjoy it. So, job well done there, Ms. Dodd.

  22. 22
    Ash says:

    Yikes, way to promote healthy behavior! Laying down in front of a car because the guy the heroine is obsessed with doesn’t sound like something from Fatal Attraction at all!

    Less being obsessed with Ye Olde High Schoole Days And The Hotte Guye Who Didn’t Notice Me please.

  23. 23
    Alpha Lyra says:

    I can certainly see the appeal of this kind of storyline. I’m sure I had some similar daydreams back when I was in high school.

    You know what’s funny, though? I never had a crush on any of the popular boys at my high school. Instead, the fact that the popular boys treated me badly seens to have shaped my attraction patterns. I’m not attracted to extremely handsome men, because when I see a man like that, my emotional response is fear and feelings of rejection. I don’t enjoy that emotional reaction, so I avoid men like that, even giving them the cold shoulder if necessary. But I had good experiences, during my formative years, with boys whose looks were a little less conventional and less classically handsome. Those are the men I have good feelings around now and whom I’m physically attracted to.

    In one respect, it’s good, because I’m not secretly lusting after men who are out of my league; I’m truly attracted to more average-looking men.

    It’s bad when it comes to reading romance novels, though, because virtually all romance novel heroes are written to be classically handsome. As soon as the writer describes the hero’s rugged good looks, I hate him. Usually I have to imagine him differently in order to make him more attractive to me. This is frustrating when I write, because I want to write a less classically handsome hero, but probably any editor or agent will force me to turn him into the standard hot guy, whom I’m unable to muster any attraction towards.

  24. 24
    AllyJS says:

    I do like the stories where the popular guy is actually a big sweetheart. I get so much guilty pleasure from A Cinderella Story with Hilary Duff in it.

    But in real life? Most of the attractive men at my school (the very very few, since most of my village is inbred) weren’t men I’d like to have a thing with. All the decent guys were in the other towns and I saw them at church but of course, the cute decent ones were taken.

    And makeovers…love em too. What Not to Wear has taught me all i ever need to know.

  25. 25
    Lisa says:

    I have always theorized that the American Dream is to make everybody jealous at your high school reunion.

    I see so many people post “Whatever, it was high school, get over it,” but I think it’s easier to say than to do. After all, we see all the time people who are shaped by their childhoods – and high school/middle school are just the last (and for a lot of us, the most sensitive) part of childhood.

    I also think it’s really cathartic to see a story in which “that kid” from high school makes good. To me, it actually helps me get over high school nonsense, because it reminds me how uninformed and shortsighted high school judgements are.

    So um… long story short, I love a good “sweeps back into town to show ‘em what you’ve become” story. Does anybody know of a story when it’s the HERO who does this? That sounds awesome.

  26. 26
    JamiSings says:

    @Alpha – You too, huh? I can’t stand the Hollywood pretty boy version of handsome for the same reason. All the good looking boys treated me like crap. Well, so did the ugly boys though. Actually, all males except for a few whom were like baby brothers to me treated me like if I was a big old pile of dog puke. Loved to do things like throw food at me and moo or oink. Purposely trip me. Etc.

    Heck, I’m so down on handsome men that even though he’s not real, whenever “V’lane” (the Death By Sex fae from Karen Moning’s Fever series) posts something on Facebook about how human women want him I go and post something snarky. I’d never be able to do that if he was a real person and this was the real world. I’d be the one hiding in the corner, expecting him to start chucking cookies at me while mooing for the amusement of all the pretty people and hangers-on around him. Praying he doesn’t ever acknowledge my existence.

    I also thought Christine a fool for going with Raoul rather then staying with Erik and Roxanne was a complete moron for liking Christian better then Cyrano.

  27. 27
    Ash says:

    I see so many people post “Whatever, it was high school, get over it,” but I think it’s easier to say than to do. After all, we see all the time people who are shaped by their childhoods – and high school/middle school are just the last (and for a lot of us, the most sensitive) part of childhood

    It’s not so much that I think people should “get over it”. I know, probably better than most people, that the High School years are very responsible for shaping who we become. I personally had a more hellish time there than I want to get into. It’s when we become obsessed about what happened that it gets in the way of our personal and emotional growth. I don’t think it’s healthy.

    I’m more of the “I’m going to take these negative experiences and make myself stronger” school of thought than an “OMG I can’t stop thinking about those jerks and wait ‘till I get hot then I’ll show them!” waste of time. Reading about that kind of thing feels petty. I’d rather have a heroine grow and evolve past her High School experiences and have her later relationships become so fulfilling that she doesn’t need to obsess about the HS tripe.

  28. 28
    Estelle Chauvelin says:

    I also thought Christine a fool for going with Raoul rather then staying with Erik and Roxanne was a complete moron for liking Christian better then Cyrano.

    Well, Raoul had the not killing people thing going for him, but yeah, completely with you on Cyrano.

    I can see the get hot, go home and impress guy from H.S. thing working only if he weren’t a jerk in H.S. but just a good guy who didn’t know that she had a thing for him/thought of her as a friend.  If he blew her off in H.S., I’d rather read about her getting hot, going home, and blowing him off for the nice guy she hadn’t noticed/thought of as a friend.  But this description doesn’t make me think of the former, and obviously it’s not the latter.

  29. 29
    RebeccaJ says:

    I see so many people post “Whatever, it was high school, get over it,” but I think it’s easier to say than to do. After all, we see all the time people who are shaped by their childhoods – and high school/middle school are just the last (and for a lot of us, the most sensitive) part of childhood.

    Wow, I don’t buy the “whatever, it was high school” line at all. How many women are still remembered as ‘easy’ YEARS after hs is over?! People don’t forget.

  30. 30
    JamiSings says:

    The thing is about the high school bullying – it’s abuse. You don’t tell someone who was abused by a parent to “just get over it”, right? Maybe it was only for a few hours a day but it’s still abuse, plain and simple.

    I remember in elementary school our teachers would tell us that being bullied would “Make you a stronger, more confident adult.” And we were not to “tattle” about people calling us names. Even then I thought that was a crock.

    Of course, now they know better. It’s just too bad it took kids bringing guns to school to kill their bullies and all those who stood by and never defended the victim to wake people up.

    @Estelle – Since Phantom is fiction I like to imagine that the people Erik did kill – when he was no longer under the control of the Sultana – were bad people. Like maybe Joseph ended up in Erik’s torture chamber after trying to do something disgusting to one of the child dancers. I can see someone like Erik, abused, unloved, unwanted, taking cold vengeance on some pervert, can’t you?

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