A lively blend of suspense, comedy, and paranormal fiction and women’s fiction, THE ROMANCE READER’S GUIDE TO LIFE pulls the reader into the post WW II life of two sisters — one a daring, world wise woman eager to find and exercise her power as an adult, the other a shy bookworm who never quite manages to fit in neatly with what the world expects of a woman. With touching irony, it turns out that the more experienced of the two is not as adept at seeing people for who they are as her less worldly sister.
Fans of Hoffman’s Practical Magic will appreciate the touch of whimsy that turns what might have been a heavy handed sermon of a story in the hands of a less adroit writer into a touching portrayal of the bond sisters share.
Set in the 1940s and fifties, the book follows the unusual upbringing of Lilly and Neave, two sisters with very different outlooks on life who end up establishing a cosmetics company clearly based on Mary Kay and Avon, using a sales force comprised entirely of women who sell cosmetics out of their homes using the now familiar method of hosting parties in their homes for potential buyers.
At this point in American history, women working outside the home are seen as neglectful and bringing in an income is often threatening to their husbands, so the women become harbingers of a later feminist movement by battling their spouses for permission to spend their time earning money instead of cooking dinner.
The story is told from several viewpoints, each chapter clearly labeled so the reader has no difficulty keeping track of who is speaking. One viewpoint is a character who is dead, another is from a character who is still alive, and the third viewpoint shows parts of the gratuitously violent and wildly melodramatic bodice ripper romance novel that has shaped one of the sister’s lives, which she had to steal from a neighbor’s house because the local library refused to let children check out or read adult fiction.
Beyond the straightforward plotline of the salvation of both sisters, the story opens some very interesting questions about the intersection of love, romance, danger, sex, and violence that have no simple or easy answers.
Cara spent 10 years as a Library Reader’s Advisor in between performing with a belly dance troupe and teaching dance classes. She prefers Swinburne to Shelley, Faulkner to Hemingway, and can be found on most rainy days curled up with a good book and a cup of earl gray, hot.