Off the Shelf: Characters learn life lessons

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.

The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by Melissa Senate (2010). 

The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by Melissa Senate (2010). 

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 five novels each navigate particularly thorny problems, ranging from the wacky to the tragic, and as they make their way, they offer readers the chance to make their own discoveries.

–– Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler (2007).

Courtney Stone, a single Los Angeles woman recovering from the double whammy of a broken engagement and a failed friendship, wakes up after a night of self-medicating with her drug of choice, Jane Austen novels, to find herself in 1813 England.

She is inhabiting the body of Jane Mansfield, a manor-born Englishwoman who, at 30, has yet to find a husband.  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. (Also available unabridged on CD.)

–– Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella (2009).

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. (Also available abridged on CD.)

–– The Spellmans Strike Again by Lisa Lutz (2010).

This final (for now) book in the Spellman series 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.

Luckily, the Spellmans are great at what they do – as is Lutz, in this sharp, endearing, and hilariously zany tale of detection. (Also available in large print.)

–– Seven Year Switch by Claire Cook (2010).

After Jill Murray’s husband, Seth, left her and their daughter seven years ago to join the Peace Corps, Jill eventually adjusted and created a new life for herself and now 10-year-old Anastasia.

When Seth unexpectedly reappears, his presence deeply unsettles Jill and she must deal with the impact of his return on her life and her relationship with the easygoing Billy.

In this tender, humorous and comforting novel, Jill reinvents herself anew, navigating choices where no clear, or easy, answer awaits. (Also available in large print.)

–– The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by Melissa Senate (2010).

Holly Maguire’s grandmother Camilla was the Love Goddess of Blue Crab Island, Maine –– a Milanese fortune-teller who could predict the right man for you, and whose Italian cooking was rumored to save marriages.

When Holly inherits Camilla’s Cucinotta, she’s determined to forget about fortunes and love and become an Italian cooking teacher worthy of her grandmother’s legacy.

Rich in detail and atmosphere, Senate’s novel offers readers a mix of light magical realism, recipes, and abiding friendship.

–– Parts of this column originally appeared in Library Journal.

–– Maureen Curry is the chief librarian at the Vernon branch of the Okanagan Regional Library. Her column, Off the Shelf, appears in The Morning Star every second Sunday.