The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

Nina Hill is funny, smart, anxious, organized, and loves books. She’s also excellent company in this novel about a bookstore clerk in Los Angeles who finds out that her previously unknown father has mentioned her in his will and discovers a big, complicated family. When she’s not at a book club or competing in a trivia contest, Nina would rather be home, reading. Her other favorite activities include avoiding yoga class and planning her week, even if she doesn’t always follow her plan and scolds herself when she runs out of toilet paper. There is a cute guy on a rival trivia team, but it might be hard to work a date into her schedule, especially with new relatives to meet. Nina is also intense and likes to share random facts; this has gotten her trivia club in trouble. Numerous funny scenes add to the book’s appeal, including a woman trying to return a Jane Austen novel, her kids book club, and an ice cream fight outside the bookstore. Witty and heartwarming, I wanted the book to be longer, even after a satisfying conclusion. Her first book, The Garden of Small Beginnings, is also a good read, if not quite as funny.

Brenda

 

If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home by Now

If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home by Now by Christopher Ingraham

Chris writes an article for the Washington Post about the least scenic counties in America and keeps getting polite comments from the residents of Red Lake County, Minnesota, ranked worst. He visits, writes another article, and eventually moves to Red Lake Falls (which has neither a lake nor a waterfall) with his wife Briana and young twin sons. He leaves behind an awful commute from Baltimore to Washington, a cramped row house with three flights of stairs, and very limited time with his wife and sons. Briana takes time off from her government job to stay home with the boys, then gets involved in local organizations. In northwest Minnesota, they find a purple house with a playroom and back yard, a wide variety of mostly friendly neighbors, and brutally cold winters that have its own rewards. Candid and humorous, this memoir about discovering the joys of Midwestern small town life is sure to be popular.
Brenda

Cherokee America

Cherokee America by Margaret Verble

Cherokee America, known as Check, is a mother of five sons, running a farm in Indian Territory in 1875 while her husband Andrew is dying. She tries to spend time with all of her sons daily, from toddler to teenagers. Hired hand Puny goes missing, Check’s son Hugh is injured, and a man is killed. A young girl may have been kidnapped, and then a Cherokee man is killed, perhaps because of a rumor of hidden treasure. Check, her sons, their extended family and friends come together to mourn Andrew, search for the girl, and protect their neighbors when U.S. Marshalls come calling. This is an intricately plotted novel, with a strong sense of place, and a memorable female lead character. Not a fast read although there’s plenty of action compressed into a few weeks; this is a historical novel to savor.

Brenda

This Is How It Always Is

This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

A contemporary novel about a family with five boys in Madison, Wisconsin facing a challenge when young Claude wants to wear dresses and sparkly barrettes. Rosie, an emergency room physician and Penn, a writer, agree that Claude can dress however he wants on vacation. But when Claude says her name is Poppy and wants to start kindergarten in a dress, the family worries about the consequences. When they relocate to Seattle, Rosie and Penn don’t know how and when to share that Poppy used to be Claude. Eventually the secret is revealed, and Rosie takes her youngest child to a rural clinic in Thailand for a time-out. Charming, compassionate, messy, and thought-provoking, the Walsh-Adams family reminds me of Jeanne Birdsall’s Penderwicks and Hilary McKay’s Casson family (Saffy’s Angel), although these large families have different challenges. The Tuesday Evening Book Group will be discussing Frankel’s book this spring.
Brenda

Unsheltered

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Finally, a book set in dual time periods where each story is well worth reading. Both are centered around a house in need of repairs in Vineland, New Jersey. Thatcher Greenwood is a science teacher with a young, materialistic wife and an eccentric neighbor who corresponds with Darwin. Willa and her gorgeous but impractical husband are struggling financially, while simultaneously caring for an elderly parent who swears in Greek and a new grandson. Willa looks for grant money to repair their historic house and learns about the town’s remarkable history. Somewhat preachy ecologically and bittersweet in tone, this is a pageturner in both time periods.
Brenda

Eight Hundred Grapes

grapes jacketEight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

Georgia Ford comes home to her family’s Sonoma Valley vineyard the week before her wedding, needing time to think but finding secrets and chaos. Two marriages are in trouble, and her parents are selling the vineyard. Georgia, a real estate lawyer, has just found out that her British fiance Ben has a daughter. It’s not clear when Ben meant to share that news with Georgia, even though they are moving to London right after their wedding. The Fords’ last harvest festival is just around the corner, and Georgia and her brothers struggle to reconnect while the reader learns through flashbacks the history of the family vineyard. I think the number of problems and secrets affecting the Ford family is much too high, but the characters feel real and the vineyard setting is well drawn. More of a family drama than a romantic comedy, this novel may become a movie. I think readers of books by Robyn Carr about the Lacoumette family, The Promise and New Hope, would enjoy this book.

Brenda

Wide-Open World

wide open jacketWide-Open World by John Marshall

John and Traca Marshall were growing apart. Jackson, 14, wouldn’t put her phone down long enough to talk with her dad, while shy Logan was 17 and headed for college soon. It was time to reconnect, and John dreamed of taking the family and traveling around the world for a year of service. This was not the memoir I was expecting to read. They didn’t have a lot of money, and almost gave up on their dream. Finally, they rented out their Maine house and set out for a half year of volunteering. I thought the trip would be organized well in advance. While the author gives practical tips for other families who’d like to volunteer abroad, including how not to rent out your house, the Marshalls didn’t always know where they were headed next. I expected humor, adventure, illness, and increased closeness of the family. No one got sick although John did get attacked by a monkey in Costa Rica, on more than one occasion. They certainly had adventures, traveling to New Zealand, Thailand, India, and Portugal, and the people and settings they visited sound quite appealing. The teens grew and changed during their travels, and are continuing to travel and volunteer. There are some humorous anecdotes, but the family as a whole didn’t reconnect they way they had hoped and not all of the volunteer experiences were positive. A very honest, reflective memoir of a family who followed their dream to make a difference and see the world.
Brenda