Nina Hill, 30, was brought up by a nanny hired by her single mom who preferred to be off traveling the world as a news photographer. Nina now lives with her cat Phil in Larchmont – a small, trendy neighborhood in Los Angeles – and works at Knight’s, an independent bookstore. She loves her job because she feels more comfortable around books than people: she considers books “medication and sanctuary and the source of all good things.” People make her anxious, she avers, although she has plenty of involvement with them. She runs a number of book clubs and is in a trivia group called “Book ‘Em, Danno” that competes weekly in area pubs.
She and her trivia team members, having been thrown out of their regular bars because they win too often, is now “cautiously testing a new venue,” where they encounter another high-powered trivia team, “You’re a Quizzard, Harry.” Nina is attracted to the leader of that team, Tom Byrnes, and Tom is drawn to Nina, but neither of them want to admit to it. Nevertheless, each of their team members conspire to bring them together.
But Nina feels her life has gotten too complicated to add dating to the equation. She recently found out she not only had a father in the area, William Reynolds, but that he just died, and left her, along with the many other members of his large family (he had had three wives), something in his estate. He was an entertainment lawyer in L.A. and had been quite wealthy. His lawyer invited Nina to attend the reading of the will, and let her know she would be hearing from her brothers and sisters. In particular, he had asked Peter Reynolds, one of Nina’s nephews, to contact Nina and explain the family to her.
She feared the sudden addition of all these new people in her life, but when she met Peter, 33, who described himself to her as “your fabulous gay nephew,” she was immediately charmed as well as astounded by all of her physical and behavioral similarities to him. She was also surprised to find out that her siblings ranged from Peter’s mother, who was 59 – to Millie, aged ten, the daughter of William’s most recent wife.
How would she deal with the anxiety of her suddenly-transformed life?
When Nina met Peter’s sister Lydia and complained that having all these new family members was “too much” for her, Lydia countered: “You’re an idiot. We’re family; you can ignore us completely. We’re like succulents: Minor occasional attention is entirely sufficient.”
Discussion: This writing in this book is quite entertaining, but the repartee is a little too clever and cute, in my opinion, to seem realistic. Not only is Nina smart, witty, and quick with comebacks, but so is everyone else in the book, even the very small kids. In fact, so is the author, who inserts herself into the book often, such as in these examples:
“Saturday nights Nina had a ritual: She went home, fed Phil [her cat], had a shower, got dressed, and headed out into the night to sink her teeth into the neck of any virgins she could find. Clearly, this isn’t true: There are no virgins out on Saturday night in L.A. No, Nina would grab her camera and go out to take pictures.”
On selecting books and readers for her many clubs:
“Nina did her best to keep things fair, but she had been known to succumb to bribery (See’s Candies were her weakness, in case you’re wondering).”
Thus, I never felt “close” to the characters because they all seemed to have scriptwriters. Moreover, Nina kept maintaining that she preferred solitude and people made her anxious. But she sure has a busy life interacting with people for someone like that!
I did enjoy the wit though, and the numerous funny observations to which I could relate, such as the fact that, for Nina, “grilled cheese in any form was her spirit animal.”
Evaluation: This book is amusing and entertaining and perfect for a lighter read.
Published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2019