The Reader’s Shelf: Lessons Learned: Strong Women Make the Story
(includes review of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict)
Edited by Neal Wyatt, Library Journal
Life lessons are valuable, but they rarely come without unpleasant side effects such as self-doubt, regret, worry, and the potential for huge amounts of embarrassment. Wouldn’t it be nice to learn the lesson while avoiding the pitfalls? The heroines of these six novels each navigate particularly thorny problems, ranging from the wacky to the tragic, and as they make their way, they offer readers the chance for a variety of vicarious tutorials.
In Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler (Plume: Penguin Group [USA]. 2008. ISBN 9780452289727. pap. $15), Courtney Stone lives a fairly typical life for a 30-year-old single woman in L.A. But after breaking off an engagement, Courtney decides to drown her sorrow in a seemingly innocent evening of pizza and reading Pride and Prejudice. But something goes wrong, and she finds herself in Regency England, surrounded by strangers calling her Jane Mansfield. Attempting to figure out how she took up residence in Jane’s person quickly becomes the least of Courtney’s worries, however. Two men vie for her attention, and she must choose wisely in order to create her own happy ending in this new time. Janites will adore the underlying P&P story and romantic comedy tropes, while all readers will enjoy the honest, nitty-gritty details of early 19th-century life.
In Sophie Kinsella’s funny and smart Twenties Girl (Dial: Random. 2010. ISBN 9780385342032. pap. $15), Londoner Lara Lington’s world is turned upside down when she suddenly begins seeing and hearing her recently deceased great-aunt Sadie. Why is Lara the only one who can see Sadie—now in the ghostly form of a young flapper? And why is Lara going on a date with a guy Sadie finds dashing? Navigating life in the company of a ghost with an agenda has its issues but quite a few benefits as well, as Lara begins to find bravery, daring, and love along the way.
The final (for now) book in Lisa Lutz’s Spellman series, The Spellmans Strike Again (S. & S. 2011. ISBN 9781416593416. pap. $15), is more of a beginning for Isabel “Izzy” Spellman. Izzy may be 32, but her acceptance of adulthood is haphazard at best. Now that she’s agreed to take over the family’s Spellman Investigations, Izzy is finding it even harder to balance her impulsive nature against her duty to do the right thing—and current cases aren’t making it any easier. With her family up to their usual unusual behavior, and Izzy’s dating issues taking on a life of their own—all seems in free fall. Luckily, the Spellmans are great at what they do—as is Lutz, in this sharp, endearing, and hilariously zany tale of detection.
Stephanie Gayle’s character-rich debut, MY Summer of Southern Discomfort (HarperCollins. 2008. ISBN 9780061236310. pap. $13.95), insightfully explores the hard fact that when love leads you astray, there’s only so much a girl can do to set things to rights. Natalie Goldberg is dazzled by the attentions of a partner at her law firm until he makes an error and pins the blame on her. Leaving Boston, she heads for a fresh start down South. The town of Macon, GA, might not be the obvious choice for an East Coast Jewish girl who leans hard to the left and liberal side of life, but unlikely friends, a job in the D.A.’s office, and the chance at an honest relationship all wait to be discovered in the heat and humidity of a Georgia summer.
When Jill Murray’s husband, Seth, leaves her and their three-year-old daughter to join the Peace Corps, Jill eventually adjusts and creates a new life for herself and now ten-year-old Anastasia in Claire Cook’s tender, humorous, and comforting novel of female strength, Seven Year Switch (Voice: Hyperion. 2011. ISBN 9781401341640. pap. $13.99). When Seth unexpectedly reappears, his presence deeply unsettles Jill. How does his return impact the life she has built and her relationship with the easygoing Billy? In classic Cook style, Jill must reinvent herself anew, navigating choices where no clear, or easy, answer awaits.
Holly Maguire is certain love has finally come her way—complete with an adorable child she longs to mother in Melissa Senate’s The Love Goddess’ Cooking School (Gallery: S. & S. 2010. ISBN 9781439107232. pap. $15). Unfortunately, it seems an odd prophecy told to her by her grandmother Camilla has once again come true, and love passes her by. Bereft, Holly returns to her grandmother’s home on Blue Crab Island, hoping for solace. What peace she finds is short-lived, however, as her grandmother soon dies, leaving Holly with a cooking school known for its magic—a magic Holly knows she did not inherit. But something is afoot as Holly slowly constructs a life for herself, helps friends new and old, and finds the possibility of a love that can overcome Camilla’s prediction. Rich in detail and atmosphere, Senate’s novel offers readers a lovely mix of light magical realism, recipes, and abiding friendship.
This column was contributed by Stacey Hayman, a librarian who enjoys suggesting books for readers of all ages and tastes at the Rocky River Public Library, OH
Neal Wyatt compiles LJ’s online feature Wyatt’s World and is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers’ advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader’s Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net