Reinventing Rose by Kandy Shepherd – or The Love-Rat Ritual

KandyShepherd_ReinventingRose[3]When I first read Reinventing Rose it was in manuscript form and I knew it by a different title, The Love-Rat Ritual. It’s this early title I love. It wasn’t right for the US market, though: apparently US readers don’t know what a “love rat” is; so it had to go.

Honestly? I didn’t know what a love rat was, either, before I read the book, but this story set me straight. It features quite a few love rats, old, young, gay, straight, male, female. They are human beings who, in their search to find The One – a man or woman with whom they might just possibly create a happy life – sometimes behave badly. Most of us, the story hints, have been love rats at one time or another. Love is tricky, but worth searching for.

With the characteristic humour which fans of Shepherd’s previous award-winning and best-selling novels have come to love, Reinventing Rose tells the tale of a newly divorced school teacher from Bookerville, California. After having met her internet lover Scott offline for outrageously good sex, Rose buys a ticket and flies to Sydney to hook up once more with her handsome Aussie hunk. It’s the start of the US summer school holidays and she’s giving her adventurous side full rein. On arrival, however, she discovers Scott’s not only married, but also his wife has a baby. He’s a love rat of the first order, and only too happy to get rid of Rose before she even leaves the airport.

Scott’s betrayal isn’t the only unwelcome discovery Rose makes as we follow her adventures “down under”. Her struggles to reinvent herself as a stranger in a strange land, however, are made a whole lot easier – and funnier! – by her outgoing Aussie flatmates, botoxed beauty editor Carla and artist-cum-trust-fund heiress Sasha, as well as their fiercely independent neighbour and friend, international model Kelly. These girls – women – are drawn with flair and deserve to star in books of their own.

The humour that propels this story wouldn’t have been possible without Shepherd’s inside knowledge of Sydney’s magazine scene. At the back of the book, Shepherd writes:

One of the things I most enjoyed during my years in women’s magazines was working with reader makeovers. There was something thrilling about helping transform women (and sometimes men) of all ages with the right hair, makeup and fashion advice. Often the makeover gave such a confidence boost it led to positive change in both relationships and career.

Here Shepherd emphasises the transformative powers of the makeover, and this is certainly an important element of the story. What strikes me more, however, are the makeover’s comic absurdities which Shepherd depicts with compassionate good humour, along with the seemingly never-ending obsession these women have in their attempts to look beautiful, to fit in, to attract the right kind of mate.

The story has a deeper side, too, as Rose struggles to come to terms with what she learns about her dead father, that her parents’ “happy ever after” was at the cost of him hiding his sexuality. Rose grows in self-awareness as she reconciles herself with and finally accepts what initially she perceives to be his betrayal.

Technically, Reinventing Rose is a well-written novel; told in first-person present tense, it has an engaging, at times laugh-out-loud style that Shepherd’s skill makes appear effortless. Who will enjoy it? Fans of chick lit and humorous romance, and anyone who enjoys fun, feel-good fiction.

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This book contributes towards my Australian Women Writers 2013 Challenge. My thanks to the author for giving me a copy.

Stella Makes Good by Lisa Heidke

Until this year, I could count on one hand the number of Chick Lit or contemporary women’s fiction I’ve read that hasn’t been written by friends, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Stella Makes Good. Yet I was swept up into the world Heidke created and found myself caring about her characters’ fates.

Although it’s ostensibly Stella’s story, this is actually an ensemble piece, tracking the lives of Stella, her friends and their families. While Stella is the most well adjusted – despite initially being faced with the most fraught family circumstances – her friends, Carly and Jesse, and Jesse’s sister Louisa are more than minor characters. They support and, in some ways, take over from Stella’s story, as circumstances force them to undergo greater character growth and change.

The setting is solidly suburban Sydney, North Shore, middle-class and privileged, but these characters’ lives are shown to be anything but bland. Heidke knits together mundane preoccupations which will be familiar to many women: work, husbands, children, ageing parents, repartnering after a failed relationship, fears for the future and regrets over the past; and she does so with skill, humour and more than the occasional insight into human frailties, making the novel overall a very quick, entertaining and engaging read.

Heidke makes no apologies for the everyday focus:

In another country, there might be a tsunami, a suicide bombing, war – but in Jesse’s world, the kids still needed to be fed, their homework completed, their teeth brushed. (p147)

Heidke writes with the confidence of knowing there are lots of women who will relate to and enjoy her insights into the everyday lives of her characters.

This review has appeared in GoodReads and is Book 8 of my Aussie Authors 2012 Challenge. Reviews of Stella Makes Good for the Australian Women Writers challenge include Paula, Jayne, Shelleyrae, Rachael, Monique and Bree.

Stella Makes Good
Allen & Unwin 2012
ISBN: 9781742378671

Gambling, Greed and Gullibility: Fall Girl by Toni Jordan

In March this year, the National Year of Reading’s theme was “laugh”. Two Australian authors whose names kept cropping up in my Twitter feed were Paddy O’Reilly and Toni Jordan. Initially I thought I wouldn’t get to read any books by Jordan until next year – my recent releases “to be read” pile is so high it’s tottering. But sometimes I buck my own system.

On the weekend, I went down to the library to find some “light reading” to give myself a break – and found Fall Girl, published back in 2010. What a gem!

Fall Girl is a mixture of romantic comedy, mystery, chick lit and fable, with an underlying Cinderella-cum-Robin Hood motif. The Cinders-Robin character is “Ella” – although that’s only one of the aliases she uses. Ella is an honourable young woman, in her own way, almost an innocent abroad, despite her years’ experience as a “grifter”. She, along with her circus-retinue-like family, have put the “artist” into “con artist”, as Jordan writes, and made a vocation out of duping people.

Within the parameters of her profession, Ella is as dedicated as any careerist, and it is her dedication to her work¬†– rather than its criminality – which provides one of the chief obstacles to her growing attraction to her “mark”, millionaire philanthropist Daniel Metcalf. But Metcalf, too, is not what he seems. The ensuing romp involves Ella posing as a field biologist and conducting a spurious hunt for the fabled Tasmanian Tiger in the wilds of Wilson’s Promontory, and it’s as madcap and funny as anything I’ve read in ages.

In her Acknowledgements, Jordan writes that Fall Girl was inspired by the work of the late Stephen Jay Gould, evolutionary biologist. The research Ella regurgitates while playing her part makes me think this novel could make an excellent text for high school students; but the science is never laboured and the book certainly doesn’t take this, or any other theme, too seriously. For me, Fall Girl had enough wit, charm and whimsy that made it a quick, delightful read. While the characterisations border on caricature and the plot is farcical, the dialogue is witty and laugh-out-loud in places. Underlying the plot is a cleverly serious point about gambling, greed and gullibility, but the satire is gentle, not cutting; the people depicted as foolish, rather than malicious.

Jordan’s first novel was Addition and her latest, Nine Days, was published this year. Fall Girl¬†certainly won’t be the only novel of Jordan’s that I’ll read.

ISNB-13: 9781921656651
Text Publishing, 2010
Borrowed from Avalon Community Library

This review counts as Book 7 of my Aussie Author Challenge 2012, and part of my ongoing participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

  • Goodreads

  • Country Secrets – anthology

  • Snowy River Man – rural romance

  • By Her Side – romantic suspense

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