Book Review: Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

While there are many book genres: literary fiction, popular fiction, women’s fiction, mysteries, thrillers, cozies, romance, and more, I’ve found the categories somewhat limiting. These terms tell us where to find a book when we go to the bookstore, but they don’t point to what to read when we’re in the mood for something smart, funny, moving and romantic.

What if you’re in the mood for a rom-com, sweet with a little sass and a whole lot of life lessons for you to ruminate upon? A story that’s shiny and fun with enough meat on it to sink your teeth into and get a good bite? A story you can see so vividly in your head that it seems like a really good movie. The best kind. The Nora Ephron kind.

If Nora Ephron had accompanied Cheryl Strayed on the Pacific Coast Trail, she would have made a funny, warm, tender movie about it—the lighter flipside to Wild. This is exactly what someone should do with the book Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center. Fleet and funny with characters you’ll remember—Center’s fifth book is a delight.

Helen Carpenter has a bit of a bad attitude, but she’s earned the right after more than her share of losses. At thirty-two she is divorced and the kind of lonely that cannot be assuaged by a new dog or her annoyingly effervescent younger brother. Especially when the rescued dog turns out to be vicious or at least perpetually in a bad mood and her brother is almost criminally undependable.

Knowing she needs to reboot her life, Helen sets her sights on a life-changing trip to the Absoraka Mountains with a survival group. She is sure that the trip to Wyoming will change everything and by everything she means herself. She plans to return to her home in Boston a different person—a person who has it together, a confidant woman, a woman who earns certificates for winning at survival camping. She’ll no longer be a woman who’s been kicked around by life, but rather, a woman who kicked butt in the mountains.

Her plans go awry, of course, when her brother’s best friend, Jake, joins her on the trip. Jake is ten years her junior and has had an oh-so-obvious crush on Helen for years. Jake is all but invisible to her, but when he hops in her Subaru for a cross-country trip, she begins to suspect there is more to him than unruly hair and well-defined abs. Will the dangers of the mountains change Helen’s life? Will she find happiness?

Like all of Katherine Center’s books, Happiness for Beginners has a heart of gold. Wise, charming and laugh-out-loud funny, readers will love this book.

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