Prettier if She Smiled More by Toni Jordan

Reviewed by Tricia Simms-Reeve

When our lives are battered by interest rate hikes, cost of living pressures and the  environmental devastation of floods or fire, it is a very welcome relief to read Toni Jordan’s latest novel. She handles a family’s dramas with clever humour and delightful descriptions. Her characters’ everyday lives, although ordinary, are elevated by her writing skills, into narratives that become page-turning pleasure…

Kylie is the main character, who first appeared in the wonderfully enjoyable comic saga Dinner With the Schnabels. Her family returns and together provide a hugely entertaining sequel.  Kylie, a pharmacist, is confronted with the threat of job loss after twenty loyal years working in a job she loves. A huge national chain, Pharmacy King, has acquired the business and she becomes virtually unemployed and now has to apply for her current position.

This is the first disaster to strike. The discovery of her husband Colin’s unfaithfulness is the next blow and, after mental tussles, she gives him his marching orders and finds herself, a middle-aged woman, single.

Life inflicts yet another setback. Gloria, her determinedly headstrong mother, has an accident and breaks her ankle. Kylie feels her mother must have full-time care, so steps are taken. Managing Gloria’s resistance to this monopolises Kylie’s fast disappearing patience and flagging energy.

Gloria has an outrageous stance down to a fine art and her retorts and quips are like a sauce that compliments an already delicious dish. This is enhanced by the Pomeranian, Caesar, a ball of caramel coloured fluff with tiny legs. He is the canine equivalent of Gloria, and his care and needs are Kylie’s responsibility while her boss is away.

Stress threatens to overwhelm her as yet another problem arises. Possible pregnancy looms  and she rationalises, agonises and generally worries about this. This conundrum frequently occurs in fiction, but Toni Jordan adds a freshness to Kylie’s predicament that raises it above the ordinary.

Toni Jordan’s degrees in psychology and creative arts, as well as her wide experience when working in various occupations, mean that she weaves some social commentary into her novels with seamless effort.  She deftly portrays Gail, the Pharmacy King representative, with a commitment to the company, and as a disciple of its ruthless efficiency in pursuing company goals.

Society’s readiness to underestimate people, often because of their appearance, is the dominant theme that underlines both Kylie herself and Leo who eventually looks after the difficult Gloria.

Ultimately Prettier if She Smiled More is a delight to read. The narrative is sustained by the sympathetic character of Kylie. Although a borderline control freak, she shows that she is caring, utterly reliable and really efficient. No time for smiling, however!

Her family are a colourful backdrop, especially Monica, the half-sister, successful influencer and web designer.

Devoted readers will be wishing for further episodes of the Schnabels family chronicle to appear in the future. Lighthearted pleasures are not frequent enough!

Prettier if She Smiled More

[2023]

by Toni Jordan

Hachette

ISBN 978 073364 514 3

$32.99; 342pp

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