FEMINISTA, by Erica Kennedy, St. Martin's Press. 358 pp., $24.99

The idea behind Erica Kennedy's second novel, "Feminista," is promising. Kennedy jazzes up the chick-lit formula with a brainy, biracial heroine, a cast of colorful characters and plots inspired by TMZ and Page Six.

Even the title sounds smart and trendsetting. A feminista is a feminist and a fashionista - a woman both feminine and powerful, whether she is a CEO or a stay-at-home mother. Think Oprah, Angelina Jolie or Tyra Banks.

Kennedy's main character, Sydney Zamora, seems to have everything: smarts, good looks, style and a gig writing about celebrities at Cachet magazine. Still, her life is anything but happy. While she deftly negotiates the racism and back-stabbing culture at Cachet, she bemoans her unfulfilling love life.

She wants, at 33, to be married, but is having a hard time landing the guy of her dreams because of her independent ways and acerbic personality. Enter Max Cooper, the good-looking slacker son of a luxury retailer who takes an interest in Sydney but hides the fact that he's wealthy, after Sydney reveals her dislike for the jet set.

Kennedy, at first, does a good job of keeping readers interested with an engaging plot and somewhat lively cast, which includes Mitzi Berman, an overbearing matchmaker; Jeffrey-James Eliot, Sydney's fashion-absorbed gay best friend; and socialite Lulu Merriwether, who's out to derail the budding romance between Sydney and Max.

The problems start about midway through, with a series of silly scenarios. In one chapter, Sydney beats Max in rock-climbing, baseball, bowling, pool, Scrabble and tennis - making her superhuman and him ridiculously weak. In another, Sydney seems to channel Jack ("24") Bauer when she takes on a pervert near her brownstone - scratching the offender's face, rolling into a flower bed, then leaping up, kicking off her heels and taking off after the guy with her "shredded chiffon dress flapping behind her." Both scenes have "gimme a break" written all over them.

Another problem? Kennedy's bad habit of introducing characters and then letting them disappear, among them Jeffrey and the deliciously hateable Lulu, who return fleetingly at the end.

Still, readers will enjoy Kennedy's humor (she's a master of the well-aimed zinger) and the fictionalized real-life dramas she inserts in the story (a technique she used in her first novel, "Bling," about the hip-hop industry).

Kennedy also models many of her characters on pop culture icons: Sydney's best friend Jeffrey seems like a version of Vogue editor André Leon Talley, while Lulu recalls Paris Hilton. A boisterous Eminem-type rapper, Brett Babcock, and a gender-bending Prince-inspired celebrity called the Raven, also make appearances.

But the fun of figuring out who's who in "Feminista" does little to make up for the book's erratic storyline or fairy-tale ending, where everything comes out right as rain.

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