There’s no room for romance in ‘The Bookish Life of Nina Hill’

Nina Hill loves her life. She loves her studio apartment in a quiet neighborhood of Los Angeles, and she loves her cat, Phil, who shares it with her. She loves making lists and planning her days down to the hour. She loves her job at a nearby independent bookstore, and she loves the book clubs she leads at the bookstore, especially the one for kids. When she isn’t leading a book club in the evening, she loves spending time with friends at weekly movie nights and pub trivia games. She doesn’t have a boyfriend, but frankly, she doesn’t have time for one, anyway.

At least, that’s what she thinks at the start of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill (2019) by Abbi Waxman. There is that cute guy on the trivia team that is the fiercest rival for Nina and her friends, but c’mon. He mostly answers the science questions and never the literature questions, so clearly they have nothing in common — no matter what her friends and his friends think. Or do they? She also doesn’t have time for the extended family she suddenly discovers she has, when the father she never knew dies and names her in his will. Trying to incorporate complicated family relationships into a life that is already planned down to the hour was very much not in her plans.

I enjoyed this novel for what it is, a light-hearted romance with appealing characters and just enough conflict to keep it from being boring. Nina is described early on as someone who was diagnosed with ADD as a child, and the only person who could calm her down was the school librarian, who “simply clicked her tongue and told her she was imaginative and creative and couldn’t be expected to wait for everyone else to catch up.” The librarian let Nina check out extra books above her grade level, instilling a love of reading and the belief that books are “medication and sanctuary and the source of all good things. Nothing had yet proven her wrong.”

The only fault to pick with the book is the way the narrative too often veers off into long digressive mental soliloquies or dialogues that do little to advance the story or provide further insight into Nina’s character. On the other hand, the inventive team names for the various pub quiz contestants were a delight, from Menace to Sobriety to You’re a Quizzard, Harry to Olivia Neutron Bomb and Spanish In-quiz-ition. Any veteran of pub quiz nights knows having the right name is the key to having a winning team.

Thanks to my friend Katie for putting this one on my radar. I’m encouraged to seek out other books by Waxman.

Published by Julia

I learned to read before I started kindergarten, and I haven't stopped yet.

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