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Reinventing Mona
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Reinventing Mona

4.1 8
by Jennifer Coburn

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What's new? Me, for starters...

It all began when my job offered me a buy-out package. That's when the realization hit: I'm young, I'm rich (thanks to a hefty inheritance), and I'm boring. Not "needs a little zip" boring, either. More like "mustard stain on a Sears tweed couch" drab. French's in a squeeze bottle, that's me. But


What's new? Me, for starters...

It all began when my job offered me a buy-out package. That's when the realization hit: I'm young, I'm rich (thanks to a hefty inheritance), and I'm boring. Not "needs a little zip" boring, either. More like "mustard stain on a Sears tweed couch" drab. French's in a squeeze bottle, that's me. But suddenly I have Grey Poupon aspirations! Things are gonna change-starting now...

Building a better mantrap...

First things first: Exercise. Carrot juice. Straight hair. Whiter teeth. Clothes that fit (I have breasts? Who knew?) But wait-there's more. Life's kicked me around a bit, and I've been nursing my wounds for too long. I'm finally ready to take a chance on love with the perfect guy. He's handsome. He's smart. He's reliable. He's my CPA. Problem is, I'm clueless about winning him over. It's time to call in an expert. It's time to call in The Dog.

Down, boy.

Mike "The Dog" Dougherty is a man's man. A guy's guy. Okay, he's a chauvinist pig, and his sty is "The Dog House," a testosterone-charged column in Maximum for Him magazine. On one hand, I abhor all he stands for. On the other hand, who better to coach me? So here I am. Learning the complex unspoken language of the American male (Talk, bad. Sex, good.); trying exciting new things (Stripping lessons are empowering. Really.); falling for Mike. Uh oh. But the Mike I'm getting to know is different from The Dog. And the Mona I'm becoming isn't quite who I expected, either.

This whole makeover scheme is getting crazier by the minute. But "crazy" beats "boring"...right?

Jennifer Coburn is an award-winning journalist who has written for magazines and newspapers in the United States, Canada and Australia. She lives in San Diego with her husband, William and their daughter, Katie. Jennifer desperately wishes she had Mona's unlimited cash, beachfront estate and singing voice.

When she's not living vicariously through chick-lit characters, Jennifer runs a public relations business which serves non-profit organizations and small businesses in southern California. She is also the coordinator of the Del Cerro Soccer Moms League and coach of the real-life Kickin' Chicks, the best seven-year-old girls to ever tear up suburban soccer fields.

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Reinventing Mona

By Jennifer Coburn


Copyright © 2005 Jennifer Coburn
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-7582-1640-8

Chapter One

It was the first truly impulsive decision I'd ever made. I'm not sure I can even call it a decision because it would imply that thought or deliberation went into making this choice. It might not even qualify as a choice. It was an instinctive blurt.

Last December when Larry Fontaine told our department that the company was offering elective buyouts for engineers, my hand shot up involuntarily, epileptically. There was only one answer to this question, and it escaped from my lips without a moment of consultation with my brain. Without thought. Like a gunshot signaling the start of a race, I fired the words that changed my identity from mechanical engineer to tabula rasa.

"Would you care to hear the details of the buyout package?" Larry asked with an eyebrow pointing upward like an accent mark. I couldn't tell if he was amused or annoyed that I so quickly embraced the idea of early retirement. Not exactly a scene from the company recruitment videos, but then again, with the recession layoffs in San Diego, hiring new engineers was not going to be a priority for Larry for quite some time. Still, no one likes to think of his workplace as one an employee would leave for what may have been a compensation package of an economy-size bag of Doritos.

It's not you, it's me, I said silently. I've always wanted to say that in a breakup, and thought I might as soon aseveryone stopped laughing at Larry's inquiry.

Larry continued. "Our goal is to identify five engineers in this department who are interested in taking a generous voluntary buyout package so we can avoid layoffs. Ms. Warren's response leads me to believe this may not be as great a challenge as some of our consultants had suggested." His use of my last name let me know without question that he was irritated with me.

He handed everyone in the department a thirty-page proposal which outlined a pay schedule, retirement bonus and an eighteen-month continuation of health and dental benefits. I flipped through the pages pretending to review every section. I didn't want to insult Larry any more than I already had, but my mind was already made up. Regardless of the offer, I would take it. Early retirement sounded a little ridiculous at my age. With just three weeks before my thirty-first birthday, it seemed more appropriate to call this buyout option a late-bloomer's second chance. Or my last chance at blooming at all.

It's funny how the timing on this worked. Just that morning, I was looking in the mirror lamenting the fact that I had absolutely no life whatsoever. I realize when people say this, they're often being dramatic. Perhaps they're having a bad day. Maybe they're a year or so behind schedule in reaching their lofty goals. Sometimes it's just a case of PMS. Not the case with me. I really and truly had no life. I would've welcomed a bad day because it would mean something happened in this otherwise currentless puddle known as the existence of Mona Warren. I would've even welcomed failure because it would mean that I actually tried something.

Last December, I really and truly had no life. No family. No boyfriend. No friends. No hobbies. No passion. No clubs. No style. No look. No skeletons in my closet. No regrets. Just a good car, a huge house, TiVo, and an unmaxable charge card-all fine trappings in Southern California, but no actual signs of life.

I'd been buying my coffee at the same place for the past six months and every morning the guy behind the counter looked at me and asked for my order as though he'd never seen me before. Every morning, I'd tell him the same thing. Iced chai latte with nonfat milk. Then he'd ask my name. I'd tell him it's Mona. And every morning it was the same routine. Even if there was absolutely no one else in the shop, he'd announce my name and look around, wondering who the iced tea could possibly be for. After all, the store was empty in his eyes. "Mona?" he'd shout. "Chai nonfat latte for Mona?" Sometimes I'd make up fake names to see if he'd notice the difference, but he never did. Even when I gave myself outrageous names like Cleopatra or Spartacus, I never seemed to register.

This is not, as one might suspect, the downside of life in the big city. I live on an island that prides itself on being a tight community. An oasis south of downtown San Diego and north of Mexico. Coronado is a posh version of Bedford Falls. Coronado people are always very sure to mention that when something bad-or even unfriendly-occurs it is "over the bridge." A puppy was abandoned-over the bridge. A homeless person begged for change-over the bridge. A sales clerk was discourteous-over the bridge. Because things like that just don't happen in Coronado. The bay and bucks act as a filter, protecting us from any disturbing realities of life.

The freckled clerk at Starbucks always shot off everyone else's name and regular coffee orders, too. Even tourists staying at the Hotel Del Coronado for a long weekend registered with him. Yet every single day, he stared blankly and asked what I wanted. Like he's never seen me before, he asked the same question: "What would you like this morning, ma'am?"

What would I like? To be seen. To be known. To matter. That, a nonfat chai latte, and a life. "Skinny iced chai for Beyoncé," he'd shout five minutes later.

So anyway, I was looking in the gold rococo bathroom mirror that morning in December, impressed only by the fact that I was a perfect sample of extraordinary plainness posing a stark contrast to the ornate frame. Quietly, I reminded myself that in three weeks I would be thirty-one years old, and I hadn't achieved a single goal that I never set for myself.

I looked at my shoulder-length brown hair, neither curly nor straight. My body was not fat, but certainly not thin. It was doughy. I checked out my face, neither strikingly ugly nor pretty. My coloring could only be described as mashed potato with sunspots littered around the edges. I sighed with disgust at the sight of my eyes, puffy with exhaustion far beyond my years. Of course, a little makeup and a hairstyle wouldn't have hurt, but primping always seemed futile. I've seen unattractive women with a face full of makeup and it looks a bit silly to me. Silly and sad, like someone trying too hard to be what she's not.

"Mona Warren," I said to myself in the ridiculously ornate mirror. "You are a mustard stain on a Sears tweed couch." Not even fancy mustard, I silently added. Though my economic status would clearly cast me as Grey Poupon, the rest of me screamed French's picnic-style mustard in the squeeze-top dispenser.

I read every piece of spam I receive because it's the only time the e-mail guy tells me I've got mail. I stared into a mirror that was purchased forty years ago by my dead grandmother, who decorated every square inch of this colossal home. She died nearly a year ago, and I've done absolutely nothing to make this house my home because these two words mean nothing to me. My. Home. If you have no idea who you really are, how do you create a home?

I always envied women in films, especially the classics. Their roles seemed so clear to them and the rest of the world. You can immediately tell what type of people they were by the way they dressed, the way they spoke, and how they carried themselves. They always seemed to have a cohesive presence, whereas I am a thousand scattered pieces that no one has bothered to put together.

Silently, I looked in the mirror and realized, at nearly thirty-one, Mona Warren was never going to be a supermodel. I wasn't even going to be asked to pose with an oven mitt for the Bed Bath & Beyond insert in the Sunday paper. The transformation from duckling to swan was never going to happen. I was never going to be the uber-babe orthopedic surgeon for our pro football team. I was never going to speak seven languages and turn down marriage proposals across the globe. I was never going to capriciously refuse roses sent to my hotel room by a bullfighter named Enrique-or even Harvey. I was never going to stand on a foggy runway deciding whether I should get in an airplane with my Nazi-fighting husband or stay with Humphrey Bogart. I would never tell a man that we'd always have Paris.

What I wasn't going to be, or wasn't going to do wouldn't have bothered me quite so much if I had any idea whatsoever who I was or what I would do.

When I elected for the early buyout in December, I still wasn't exactly sure who I was or what I would do with myself. One thing was for sure, though. I was no longer a mechanical engineer for a military defense contractor, and the world was wide open before me in a way I'd never felt before. I could do anything with my life. I could dye my hair an angry shade of green and write poetry. I live across the street from the Pacific Ocean; I could learn to swim. I could take a trip around the world. The trouble was my poetic license had been suspended long ago, I have no desire to swim, and I have already been to every continent on earth with Grammy. Abroad, I learned that I am invisible on foreign soil, too. I am universally not compelling-even in Italy where I was warned that men would pinch my butt. They pinched Grammy, who cursed at them in Italian, but never once did they go for her nubile companion with the brand-new boobs and orthodontically enhanced teeth.

The truth is that my dreams were as pedestrian as I was back then. What I wanted most was to marry the love of my life, Adam Ziegler, have his children, and spend my free time volunteering at elementary school, cheering for their Little League teams, baking for fund-raisers, hand-sewing Halloween costumes, and learning how to make ceramics. Even as I silently uttered these words, my heart sped up at the thought. I was terrified that someone might hear my terribly unrealistic fantasy and lock me away in a home for the terminally out-of-touch. I know it's not as though I wanted to redesign the space shuttle or cure cancer, but the picket fence fantasy felt that out of reach to me. Because it was.

"So what are you going to do with yourself now, Mona?" Larry asked as we sat in his sterile office. He handed me papers upon papers and asked me if I wanted to have my attorney review them. Larry persisted in his inquiry. "Do you have another job lined up?"

"Kind of," I stammered. "Not really," I corrected. "Not a job job, like this. I'm just going to, I don't know, work on myself, I guess."

Larry's phone rang and he asked if I could wait a moment. That's my specialty, I muttered inaudibly. I leaned back in Larry's mushy leather chair and stared out the window at the ships docked at the bay. I mentally left Larry's office and dared to imagine my life as I hoped it would look by the next Christmas season.

I am wearing a Donna Reed holiday party dress, hanging Christmas tree ornaments with twenty-some-odd friends and neighbors. My hair is rolled into neat retro styled sections, and I am softly backlit at all times, creating a dreamy halo effect. We joyfully sing "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing" in a living room crowded with community, charity, and warm mugs of eggnog. Adam, frantically elated with the spirit of the holidays, looks at everyone as though he's seeing them through new eyes, wishes them a merry Christmas, and kisses me passionately.

It's a wonderful life. Okay, it's recycled, but the point is we're happy. Jimmy Stewart, Hollywood, Christmastime happy. And that's a wonderful kind of happy.

"Sorry about the interruption." Larry's voice snapped me back to reality. "I'll tell you, this is a tough time for us." He sighed. "You're fortunate that you don't have to work, Mona. What I'd give to be forty again and have the money to retire."

Forty?! Did he just say he thinks I'm forty?!

"I'm thirty," slipped out defensively.

"Of course, of course," he backpedaled, though it was clear that he really did think I was ten full years my senior. "You look like a college kid, Mona. You seem more mature than other people your age. There's a seriousness about you."

Lack of panache, I silently corrected him.

"I don't know how you'd describe it, but there's earnestness about you, Mona. There's nothing frivolous about you."

They call it boring. Insipid. Vacuous. Dry. Dull. Plain. Vanilla minus the vanilla flavor. But thanks for trying to make it sound like an attribute. Now I feel as though I should schedule an appointment with a cosmetic surgeon for both a facelift and a personality implant.

"I meant no offense, Mona. You seem older than thirty, that's all. You were probably one of those kids they skipped in school for being so precocious. Born older, you know the type?" Larry scrambled to change the topic. "I'll tell you, the things I'd do if I were in your position. I'd grab my wife and go to Maui, open up a bar on the beach and have pig roasts and limbo contests for tourists." He laughed. "Maybe I'd go without her and really live it up."

That's what I love about my Adam. He would never laugh about leaving me on the mainland while he "lives it up." He knows what we have at home is special, and that he doesn't need to jet off without me to experience life. Plus, I think he's Jewish so pig roasts are probably out of the question.

There was so much I needed to learn about Adam before our wedding. I needed to show him how perfect we could be together. I had to win over his friends and family, possibly convert to Judaism, then get him to propose. I needed a serious action plan.

I needed a first date.

Chapter Two

"You will absolutely, positively never believe what I just did!" I shouted into my cell phone as I pulled out of my office garage. Sunlight flooded my car as I reached the street, and the cool December air wrapped itself around my skin.

"I have a patient due to arrive in two minutes. May I call you then?" Greta asked. The first truly huge announcement I've ever had was superceded by the needs of the mentally ill.

"When are you going to call me back? I did something so unbelievably not me, I still can't believe it!" I shouted. I glanced at myself in the reflection of a convex mirror in the back of a Shell oil truck. I didn't even look like myself anymore, but this car has always given me a little zip. When Grammy died, I had no reason to get rid of her sky blue Mercedes two-seater convertible. When we used to drive together, she looked like something out of a movie from the era that boasted Technicolor. She wore a silk Kandinsky print scarf over her head and tremendous tortoise shell sunglasses as we drove up the Pacific Coast. "We are two single gals in Southern California in a hot sports car!" she'd exclaim. Every time. Without fail. This is who we were in Grammy's eyes. Two chicks on the open road. A car can do that for a person. Even I felt different in this car. If a car could transform a person, imagine what I could do with a well-engineered plan and no budget? I could completely reinvent myself. If my eighty-one-year-old grandmother with psoriasis and a heart condition could see herself as a babe simply by pulling down her convertible top, why couldn't I accessorize my life and make myself over into the ultimate after girl? Why couldn't I become the woman of Adam Ziegler's dreams? Why couldn't I shift gears and change to the wonderful life lane?

"I'd love to chat, but I've only got two minutes," Greta clipped. "Give me the abridged version."

"I quit my job," I shouted. "Meet me for lunch when you're done with your session? I have much to tell. I'm giving myself an early birthday present-a life."

Greta said, "I'm having trouble hearing you. Can you meet me for an early lunch? You sound distraught."

Distraught? Forty? I am misunderstood by the only people who bother to listen. The only one who sees me as who I really am-who I'm going to become-is the ass of a Shell oil truck. It's a start. A meager one, but a start.

I wasn't lying when I said I had no friends. There's Greta, but she only moved back to San Diego a month earlier. Greta and I met a few weeks after I moved in with Grammy, which was my junior year in high school. We were inseparable nerds, which earned us the nickname Mona and Groana. We were charged with the high crime of being "lezzies."


Excerpted from Reinventing Mona by Jennifer Coburn Copyright © 2005 by Jennifer Coburn. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Lynn Isenberg
Jennifer Coburn's giving personality and warm heart makes for a giving novel filled with the best of chick lit, so sit back, enjoy, and receive her gifts with a smile.
Valerie Frankel
A coming-of-age novel for women approaching, at or over 30, Reinventing Mona is a witty, surprising, and sometimes sad-in the good-cry way.
Laurie Graff
Jennifer Coburn has invented a Mona with misadventures you'll remember, and a heartwarming, page-turning, funny story that will leave you wanting more.
Donna Kauffman
Reinventing Mona is a clever, sparkling tale of personal discovery, that kept me turning the pages late into the night! Jennifer Coburn does a lovely job of developing characters that shine, not despite their flaws, but because of them. You can't help but find something familiar in each of them. I was rooting for the entire cast from beginning to end. Mona is a real winner!
author of Catch Me If You Can (and/or Dear Prince Charming.)
Whitney Lyles
Watching Mona Warren reinvent herself is like watching Plain Jane metamorphose into a modern day Scarlett O'Hara. Original, funny and heartfelt Jennifer Coburn once again delivers another creative page-turner. This book is a wonderful invention!
Diane Stingley
The two great pleasures of reading this witty, wisecracking novel are witnessing Mona Warren discover her own possibilities as you watch her discover the key to real love: having the courage to be yourself!
Dress You Up in My Love, I'm With Cupid
Lauren Baratz-Logsted
By turns funny and poignant, combining elements of screwball comedy with a quest to get over the past and be loved in the present, Reinventing Mona is sure to please the readers who enjoyed The Wife of Reilly.
author of The Thin Pink Line and Crossing the Line
Jennifer Crusie
"An over-the-top, laugh-out-loud romp."

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Reinventing Mona 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading this book, it had a good plot and great characters. I especially liked Mike and thought that he was one of the most realistically portrayed males I've ever seen in this genre of books. However, I have to say that although I was glad for a happily ever ending, I couldn't help but be as disappointed as the audience 'from the book' was in the climax of the story. It was great if a little unrealistic, but was *definitely* lacking that key element of a great love story. Then, the author takes us from that scene straight to the end with hardly any explanation in between. I honestly got through about two paragraphs of chapter 42 and flipped back to see of some pages were missing. There seemed to be some crucial parts left out. I felt like I had been reading a romance novel for the first 41 chapters only to find out in the last chapter that it was actually about a girl finding herself which made for a nice story, but not what I expected. All in all it was a good book with an abrupt but still nice ending.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reineventing Mona was a good read. I literally bought the book and just started reading till I got to the last page. Though I don't completely agree with the way Coburn ended the book, I felt she just kind of rushed and ended the book. It could have been developed better. The characters were great. Mike 'The Dog' is a believable male character who gives females out there hope that even male chauvanists like him still have a 'sweet' side. Overall, it was a good read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved Wife of Reilly and it's original story. While Reinventing Mona isn't as original, it's another book that has you turning pages and hoping it doesn't end. Reading about self-described 'boring' characters like Mona can be boring, but not here. Mona is funny with a great voice, and I loved her friend Greta. I think Jennifer Coburn writes books that everyone can enjoy because her characters, while not perfect, are just so darn fun to read about. I'm already looking forward to her next book.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Coronado, California Mona Warren summarizes her life as a big no; having nothing in terms of personal relationships not even in the closet. For most of her life, she did not care, but now her strategic long term goal is to marry Adam Ziegler and have children with this hunk so that she can PTA her way through the next decade or two. However, at thirty in spite of her former boss (she grabbed the downsizing check) thinking she is forty, Mona has not gotten to the batter¿s box with Adam.--- Knowing she needs help if she is to hit a home run and not believing her psychiatrist best friend Greta can assist her in swinging the bat, Mona concludes she needs male advice. She turns to Mike ¿the Dog¿ Dougherty, author of a guy¿s monthly advice column that is a chauvinists dream. However, instead of help, she finds herself within two inches of falling in love with Mike; thus Mona is more confused on getting to the plate.--- REINVENTING MONA is an amusing yet serious character study that digs deep and shallow into relationships due to a fabulous cast ready to advice magnificent Mona, who begins to learn that relationships start solo by being true to yourself. The story line is very entertaining while also leading the audience to think about what is happiness and how is that intricate in a strong relationship. Jennifer Coburn provides a deep humorous tale.--- Harriet Klausner