Book Review: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.

When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They’re all—or mostly all—excited to meet her! She’ll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It’s a disaster! And as if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn’t he realize what a terrible idea that is?

Nina considers her options.

1. Completely change her name and appearance. (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair.)
2. Flee to a deserted island. (Hard pass, see: coffee).
3. Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth. (Already doing it.)

It’s time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn’t convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It’s going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.

Review:
I really enjoyed this book. Nina is a fun, quirky character, full of flaws and anxiety, but also a passion for books and trivia. It’s a fun book for bookish people to read because it is full of book and pop culture references.
Nina grew up with no family around, raised by her nanny. She loves her structured life, it feels full to her and she’s organized herself to minimize her anxiety. One day, everything gets turned upside down when a lawyer comes into the bookstore and tells her that her (absent) father has died and that she has a whole herd of family. She also realizes that she’s falling for a man on the opposing pub trivia team and the bookstore where she is working is threatening to close.
Nina doesn’t react well to all of these changes to her carefully structured and well thought out life. It was interesting to watch her reactions and thoughts and see her develop and grow. At one point she has a serious panic attack and I thought this was dealt with really well.
Overall, this is a fun, light read. Nina is a quirky character and I was totally invested in her, wanting her to figure out a way to resolve her inner conflicts. I loved the pop culture references, the descriptions of her bookshelves, and how she grows as a person. This is a great book for book lovers looking for a summer read.
Thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for a review copy of this book.
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Book Review: My Sister, the Serial Killer

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister, the Serial Killer is a blackly comic novel about how blood is thicker – and more difficult to get out of the carpet – than water…

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…

Review:
The title and cover of this book were instant draws for me. Then there’s the synopsis, which is absolutely wonderful.
I really enjoyed this book — the story of 2 very different sisters, Korede who takes care of everything and does what is expected of her and Ayoola who is very beautiful and flits her way through life. This is the story of Korede and how she cleans up after her sister after Ayoola murders her boyfriends, but there is also so much more.
It is a story of family relationships and expectations and how we are perceived. It’s about wants and desires and what we do to get them. It’s about social media and how men view women.
I loved Braithwaite’s writing and how she used satire and dark humour to get her points across. The characters were well developed, even in this short book, and I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. She certainly doesn’t mince words!
Overall, this is a short and sweet read that is engaging, funny, and well worth the read.
Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for a review copy of this book.
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Book Review: Rabbits for Food

Rabbits for Food by Binnie Kirshenbaum

A heartbreaking, irreverent, laugh-out-loud funny meditation on what it’s like to lose your mind from acclaimed novelist Binnie Kirshenbaum.

It’s New Year’s Eve, the holiday of forced gaiety, mandatory fun, and paper hats. While dining out with her husband and their friends, Kirshenbaum’s protagonist—an acerbic, mordantly witty, and clinically depressed writer—fully unravels. Her breakdown lands her in the psych ward of a prestigious New York hospital where she refuses all modes of recommended treatment. Instead, she passes the time chronicling the lives of her fellow “lunatics” and writing a novel about how she got to this place. Her story is a hilarious and harrowing deep dive into the disordered mind of a woman who sees the world all too clearly.

Propelled by stand-up comic timing and rife with pinpoint insights, her examination of what it means to be unloved, and loved; to succeed, and fail; to be, at once, both impervious and raw ultimately reveals how art can lead us out of—or into—the depths of disconsolate loneliness and piercing grief. Rabbits for Food, Kirshenbaum’s first novel in a decade, is a brauvra literary performance.

Review:
I’ve just finished reading Rabbits for Food and I’m not completely sure how I feel about it. It is definitely a vivid and compelling story of a woman, Bunny, and her life experiencing mental illness. The story is told unapologetically and with humour, shining light on some of the darkest days that people with severe depression often have. There are brilliant glimmers of thought and realization, along with explorations of despair.
Bunny, herself, is not all that likable, but she’s been severely depressed for years. She’s not often even been liked by the other people in her life, not even her family. Her spiraling mental illness is hard to witness and is incredibly sad. There are clear moments of writing where the author vividly captures what it is like to be clinically depressed and these are necessarily disturbing.
Finally, Bunny ends up in the psychiatric ward of the hospital where she refuses all drug treatment and therapy. There she writes and evaluates the other “psychos”, which broadens the scope of mental illness in the book. Again, there is an honesty presented, like the author was explaining a personal experience or that of someone close to her (or she did a lot of great research — I don’t know enough about the author to claim to know her personal story!).
Perhaps I found the book difficult because mental illness is difficult and everyone has different reactions and symptoms. There is no one size fits all cure and doctors are often guessing at which treatments will be effective. I do like the humour the author used when discussing this subject because I think humour helps in hard situations.
Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for the review copy of this book.
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Book Review: Chronicles of a Radical Hag (With Recipes)

Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes) by Lorna Landvik

A bittersweet, seriously funny novel of a life, a small town, and a key to our troubled times traced through a newspaper columnist’s half-century of taking in, and taking on, the world

The curmudgeon who wrote the column “Ramblin’s by Walt” in the Granite Creek Gazette dismissed his successor as “puking on paper.” But when Haze Evans first appeared in the small-town newspaper, she earned fans by writing a story about her bachelor uncle who brought a Queen of the Rodeo to Thanksgiving dinner. Now, fifty years later, when the beloved columnist suffers a massive stroke and falls into a coma, publisher Susan McGrath fills the void (temporarily, she hopes) with Haze’s past columns, along with the occasional reprinted responses from readers. Most letters were favorable, although Haze did have her trolls; one Joseph Snell in particular dubbed her “liberal” ideas the “chronicles of a radical hag.” Never censoring herself, Haze chose to mollify her critics with homey recipes—recognizing, in her constantly practical approach to the world and her community, that buttery Almond Crescents will certainly “melt away any misdirected anger.”

Framed by news stories of half a century and annotated with the town’s chorus of voices, Haze’s story unfolds, as do those of others touched by the Granite Creek Gazette, including Susan, struggling with her troubled marriage, and her teenage son Sam, who—much to his surprise—enjoys his summer job reading the paper archives and discovers secrets that have been locked in the files for decades, along with sad and surprising truths about Haze’s past.

With her customary warmth and wit, Lorna Landvik summons a lifetime at once lost and recovered, a complicated past that speaks with knowing eloquence to a confused present. Her topical but timeless Chronicles of a Radical Hag reminds us—sometimes with a subtle touch, sometimes with gobsmacking humor—of the power of words and of silence, as well as the wonder of finding in each other what we never even knew we were missing.

Review:
I was absolutely drawn into this book by it’s fantastic title, and it did not disappoint. I tore through this uniquely written book and enjoyed getting to know the characters of this small town — and reading the yummy recipes!!
The book uses Hazel’s newspaper columns from over 50 years to structure the story of Hazel, the people in her life, and the people who’s lives were touched by her columns. It seems like this might be confusing, but it isn’t because it’s handled really well.
I love Hazel and her no nonsense point of view. She is not shy on giving her opinion and has the courage to say things that might be unpopular — with the understanding that at least she will be engaging people in important discussions.
This book gives strong opinions on a lot of hot social and political topics — everything from feminism, to gay rights, to war, and beyond. I imagine that the author was hoping to be like Hazel, to put her thoughts out there and inspire some discussion. I did find that near the end, it felt like a lot of issues were being thrown at the reader in a bit of a rush.
One of my favourite characters was Sam, the struggling teenager who learns to find his way, largely through reading through Hazel’s columns. He’s absolutely adorable and it was nice to see the growth in this teen and how he learned to inspire others.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for granting me a review copy of this book.
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