"Skinnydipping" (Touchstone/Simon and Schuster), by Bethenny Frankel: Bethenny Frankel has worn many hats in her rise to success. The reality TV star and self-help author has also designed everything from sangria to shapewear ... so why not novelist?
In her new book, "Skinnydipping," Frankel takes the advice "write what you know" seriously with a thinly veiled protagonist who closely resembles herself. The story mirrors Frankel's own journey, so while it's hardly groundbreaking fiction, her affable doppelganger will likely amuse and inspire young female fans.
Faith Brightstone is a college grad who ditches her family problems in Manhattan to follow her dreams of fame and fortune in Hollywood: "One day, I vowed, I would belong in first class, and people would wonder who I was ... kissing my fully-paid-for Manolos."
A wannabe actress, Faith learns quickly that she's much better being herself. She stumbles through L.A. adventures, dating the wrong men and struggling to pay her bills with various entertainment and hospitality jobs, building her resume and her confidence for her big break.
Taken for granted by both employers and lovers, Faith decides she's over L.A. and heads back to New York to figure out what's next in her quest to make a name for herself. She's eventually tapped by producers of a reality TV contest run by a domestic diva named Sybil Hunter. As Frankel did on Martha Stewart's version of "The Apprentice," Faith becomes a fan favorite and finally gets closer to the good life she covets.
When Faith's not cracking wise, the dialogue is stilted. The L.A. chapters are teeming with trophy wives, producer couches, drug parties and an overall obsession with looks, status and money. There are several implausible plot points and a predictable ending.
But the pace moves as fast as a Hollywood rumor, and the voice of Faith is all Bethenny. She's plucky, hardworking and street-smart, but often raunchy and inappropriate. You never know what she'll say next, but you don't want to miss a zinger.
You cannot help but root for imperfect Faith. She trusts the wrong people and makes bad decisions — but learns from her mistakes and continues to believe in herself.
Like the persona Frankel reveals on her reality TV shows and in her books, Faith has a tough exterior but reveals sensitivity and insecurity underneath the bravado. At some points it seems Frankel is using Faith to work through her own personal issues.
Admitting she wanted to be an actress for the wrong reasons, Faith says, "I wanted it ... for the attention and love I never got as a child."
When Faith has the opportunity to marry a rich, handsome man and pay off her debts and settle down, she breaks off the engagement because she wants to succeed on her own. It's that message of empowerment that appeals to many young women. Frankel has a knack for tapping into how women feel about themselves and their place in the world.
Frankel preaches the gospel of modern success for women, and with more than 862,000 Twitter followers and a multimillion-dollar brand, she has the disciples and collection plate to prove they're listening.
As summer approaches, expect to see Frankel fans in oversized sunglasses sipping Skinnygirl margaritas while clutching a copy of "Skinnydipping" on a beach near you.
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- Bethenny Frankel