The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser (Women’s Fiction)

What better way to get over a humiliating divorce than to inherit a house in a remote part of Scotland that is replete with antiquarian books? While Thea Mottram bemoans her all-too-cliched fate (husband fell in love with her good friend), she does a nice job swimming to the surface when she checks out the inheritance from a great-uncle she had only met four times previously (he liked her because she preferred reading to talking — our kind of girl!). While intending to stay just long enough to decide what to do with the house, she ends up working at the local bookstore owned by the curmudgeonly (but naturally also quite hunky) man of aristocratic origins, Edward Maltravers.

A thoroughly enjoyable read. While the bones are pure “women’s fiction,” the frills include Scotland, a bookstore selling both new and antiquarian books, and a few twists on the standard chick-lit plot. Good, humorous, writing and a strong, though self-deprecating, heroine that I would be happy to call a friend. My only complaint is that there wasn’t really enough discussion about the cool books! Her contributions to the book talk were denigrations of various classics with toss-off comments about how she doesn’t really care for it for some (to me stupid) reason.

A happy book and I learned a new (to me) phrase: Fourth Wave Feminism — a phase of feminism that began around 2012 and is characterized by a focus on the empowerment of women and the use of internet tools, and is centered on intersectionality. Who knew?

Thank you to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on May 4th, 2021.

I Was Told It Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman (Fiction)

Writing: 4/5 Character: 4.5/5 Plot: 4/5

A fun new offering from the author of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. LA lawyer and single mom Jessica and her 16-year old total-teenager Emily tour East Coast colleges. Along the way they connect with old friends, colleagues, and a personality-ridden tour group. Plenty of great banter (both live and text based), likable characters, and some quite decent insight. Amidst the lightness are serious themes around getting into college: pressure, competition, how far parents are willing to go to give their offspring a boost. There is a lot of focus on how to know what the “right thing” is and how to make sure you are doing it. Nicely drawn relationships — mostly female but without (too much) male bashing.

I put this in the category of “hanging out with friends” books — meaning that while I’m reading it, that’s exactly what I feel like I’m doing. While some of the events towards the end veered off the credible scale, they really didn’t affect the main themes or take up too many pages so I found them easy to forgive.

Just a couple of fun quotes:

“I know a lot about philosophy, and people say it’s a pointless subject, but I swear I see human thought changing in front of my eyes every day. In the two decades I’ve been teaching, opinions and attitudes have evolved and altered and swung back and forth, and I have a ringside seat.”

“It’s not a constant interview which is what seems to happen when two adults get together. What do you do for a living? where did you go to school? What does your wife do?” She looked out the window. “You guys are weird, you don’t know how to communicate, you’re too busy stratifying.”

Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on June 16th, 2020.

The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Writing: 4/5 Plot: 3.5/5 Characters: 4/5

A family drama steeped in a colorful Punjabi travelogue.

The three Shergill sisters reluctantly make a summer pilgrimage to India to fulfill their mother’s dying request. Plodding through an extensive and detailed itinerary, each is simultaneously dealing with a personal crisis she is unwilling to share with the others. Hyper-responsible Rajni is reeling from the discovery that her 18-year old son has vowed to marry a woman twice his age; Wild Jezmeen is suspended from her role as DisasterTube host due to an unfortunate interaction with a highly sensitive Arowana fish (the fish didn’t make it); and Shirina, who arranged her own marriage to a traditional Indian man and his controlling mother, has a particularly distressing secret mission for the trip.

Good writing with some interesting and topical social commentary. I consider it chick-lit — disasters are all successfully avoided and it willingly supplies the mandatory happy ending. The family is Sikh and there was some information on Sikh heritage, practices, and monuments, though not as much as I would have liked. It did spur a quick Wikipedia check which I found useful and interesting.

Many of the story threads address different issues faced by women in this region of India and traditional Sikh communities around the world. These affect the story in multiple ways, though primarily from the outside (our heroines are second generation British immigrants with little identification with their Indian heritage).

Overall an interesting read.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman (Lit Fiction)

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Berkley Publishing Group through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The book will be published on July 9, 2019.

Writing: 4.5/5 Plot: 3/5 Characters: 4/5 Pleasure reading: 5/5

Fun book with a capital F!

Nina Lee Hill is introduced to us as the “spinster of this parish and heroine both of her own life and the book you’re holding in your hand.” The parish in question is Knights — an independent bookstore in Larchmont Village (a quaint neighborhood in central Los Angeles) and her place of employment. She is a delightfully interesting character — an anxiety-ridden Millenial with a super-active brain who thinks of books as “medication and sanctuary and the source of all good things.” A surprise bequest from a father she didn’t know she had coupled with an obnoxious but attractive trivia competitor form the scaffolding of the simultaneously modern and Edwardian plot of this ultra-literary, romp through a central LA I never knew existed.

Funny, intelligent, and clever writing coupled with an array of engaging and quirky characters make this book what it is. Great dialog and banter and even … grammar jokes! The literary references range from Harry Potter to Chinua Achebe, Dickens and Austen to SF biggies Gaiman and Stephenson, Star Wars to Flowers for Algernon. I even discovered some new “classics” — a rare occurrence for me. Part Eleanor Oliphant, part Jane Austen, a great, fun, read that will leave you gasping on the floor from too much lol-ing.

Delightful Quotes:
“Grilled cheese in any form was her spirit animal.”

“Nina might battle crippling anxiety once or twice a week, but she also worked in retail, and rudeness is the special sauce on the burger that is the Los Angeles shopping public.”

After sputtering the phrase “Cool Beans” at the object of her affection … “At this her brain threw up its metaphorical hands and curled upon its stem like a pissed off hen.”

Quotes about Los Angeles:
“Whenever Nina was stuck there, which was rarely, because she would rather have filled her ears with flaming dog turds than go to the West side…”

“Sartre said hell was other people, but that was only because the 405 hadn’t been built yet.” <— my favorite!

New (to me) words / concepts:
– bullet journaling – https://bulletjournal.com/
– vampiring other people’s feelings
– quisling – a traitor who collaborates with an enemy force occupying their country.

 

In Dog We Trust by Beth Kendrick

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Berkeley Publishing Group through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The book will be published on Jan 8, 2019.
A fun, cheerful, chick lit + canine installment of Kendrick’s Black Dog Bay series (this is number five but each is a happy standalone). Black Dog Bay is a new island paradise for the recently discarded. Known as “breakup central,” the locals are tapping the economic gusher with businesses like “Better Off Bed & Breakfast,” “Jilted Cafe,” “Eat Your Heart Out Bakery,” and “Rebound Salon.” Tourist money has infused life into the island’s economy but also served to accentuate the differences between the locals and summer visitors.

Jocelyn Hillier runs a linen service for the tourists, but gains extra employment as “nanny” to three pampered but lovable show dogs when she saves one from a poorly driven speeding vehicle. When cranky owner Peter Allardyce dies and leaves everything to the dogs with Jocelyn as their guardian, suddenly things start to change — and not always for the better. Throw in a sassy best friend with unacknowledged psychic abilities, a hunky guy who is apologetically suing Jocelyn for Allardyce’s beach house, and a Duran Duran road trip for two “old” ladies, and you have the makings of a hilarious and heart warming read.