Saturday, October 15, 2022

The Bookstore Sisters, by Alice Hoffman

Amazon Original Stories, November 2022

Isabel grew up on Brinkley's Island, Maine, and always felt out of place. Her father ran a bookstore, but while he loved books, he was pretty bad at finances, or the most basic aspects of running a business. Family money was always tight. Their mother gave her and her sister a lot of love, though--until she died, when- Sophie was twelve and Isabel was ten. Their father did his best, and Sophie took over most of their mother's duties, but when their father died, Isabel had had enough. They had both promised to keep the bookstore running, but Isabel wants to sell it and split the funds. Sophie wins the fight, and Isabel leaves for New York.

She's only seen Sophie once since then, and that was twelve years ago, when Sophie's husband died while she was pregnant. Isabel knows she handled that really badly, and has worked hard to forget everything about Brinkley's Island. Then she gets an envelope in the mail, with a card that says nothing but HELP.

Isabel has been walking dogs for a living, and she has one dog with her that she can't return to his home that will be empty for several more hours--especially when Hank, the Labrador, starts howling in distress when they approach the house. She takes him with her to Brinkley Island.

Withdrawn, self-isolated Isabel arrives on Brinkley's Island with a dog, to find her niece Violet, whom she has never met, waiting at the dock for her. Violet is not happy with her, but had no other family to send for. Sophie fell, and broke her leg, and is laid up for six more weeks. 11-year-old Violet can't run the store. Isabel, unwillingly, starts cleaning and organizing the store, so they can reopen.

She also finds her mother's box of recipes, and making her mother's evocatively named cookies, cupcakes, and other sweets. My favorite are the "You'll feel better in the morning" cupcakes.

She comes up with ideas for raising money to reopen the store, and ways to bring people into the store buying things rather than just borrowing books (which their father had, in his love of books and people, and poor business sense, allowed).

She talks to Sophie, to Violet, to Mr. Hawley, father of Sophie's late husband, Matt. To a man she has almost forgotten spending some time with when she returned for Matt's funeral. She gets Violet, who doesn't read books because she associates them with Isabel, who used to read constantly, abandoning her mother.

Along the way, the ice around Isabel's heart starts melting.

It's a wonderful story. I love all the characters. Seriously, every character that has a speaking role, including of course the dog, Hank.


I received this short story as part of Amazon's First Reads program, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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