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Women are all too often told that we have to make a choice: Be pretty or be funny. Never both.

In Nick Hornby’s refreshing new novel, Funny Girl, that isn’t true. His heroine, Barbara Parker, is a small-town 1960s beauty queen who escapes to London with one ambition: to be the next Lucille Ball.

Clearly, this is easier said than done, especially in the less-than-progressive Mad Men era. But after some humiliating setbacks (including an agent who insists she change her name to Sophie Straw, to remind men of a “roll in the hay”), she charms a set of comedy writers into creating a sitcom with her as the star.

We spend the rest of the novel following Sophie and the cast and crew of her show, Barbara (and Jim). It’s a delight to spend time in this world, where Sophie is rewarded for her talent, and her handsome but dim-witted male star is relegated to a parenthetical role, even in the show’s title.

Hornby is the man behind some of our favorite rom-coms; he wrote High Fidelity, Fever Pitch and About a Boy. We love that he went a little deeper this time, giving us the same great storytelling and endearing characters mixed with a good dose of social commentary.

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