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Summer Reads: Two Beach Books About Beginners

Woman reading at the beachChanging up the reading list a little with two novels about families and growing up. Officially the genre is called coming-of-age, and though it specifically refers to the transition from youth to adulthood, I don’t think it’s a process that’s ever complete.

Both of these novels are engaging, and good vacation reading.



Matchmaking for Beginners

Welsh Rarebit on Cracker
Welsh Rarebit

Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddi Dawson is a charming book. I wasn’t overly impressed at the beginning, but the story grew on me. Marnie MacGraw, the protagonist, has a challenging time. We meet her at a holiday party given by her fiancee’s mother. She’s just turned down a canapé called Welsh Rarebit, because she thought it was made with rabbit. It isn’t.

Blix, an older woman in poor health, is the eccentric aunt who takes Marnie under her wing. Blix has an unusual talent. She can tell when people are meant for each other, and she’s sure Marnie isn’t meant for her nephew. Blix also senses that Marnie has the same ability.
Blix is so taken with Marnie that she wills Marnie her house in Brooklyn, but Marnie has to live in it before she can take legal possession. Marnie thinks she wants a suburban life in Florida, but first she has to camp out in Brooklyn. Blix thinks Marnie will be happier in Brooklyn. It’s a book is about love, life, and finally realizing what path should be taken.

Here’s a sample from the first chapter of the audio version. The character speaking is Blix.



Soy Sauce for BeginnersAs the book begins, protagonist Gretchen Lin has several problems. She’s thirty years old. Her marriage isn’t going well. Her graduate studies may not lead to a career. She doesn’t want to work in the family business brewing artisanal soy sauce.

Gretchen arrives from San Francisco to her parents’ home in Singapore. She’s there for the summer to take a break, work in the family business, and help take care of her mother who, it turns out, has a serious drinking problem. Gretchen’s goal is to figure out what to do next.

Singapore Rice Noodles

As Gretchen goes through the motions, the reader is treated to the sights, smells, and sounds of Singapore plus a pleasant course on how soy sauce is brewed and the difference between artisanal and manufactured soy sauce. Like many people, I never realized what an art brewing soy sauce can be.

Soy Sauce for Beginners is a delightful book, well-written, and one I’ve read twice, most recently about three months ago.

Author Kirsten Chen, a Singapore native, has just released her second book Bury What We Cannot Take, a story set in Maoist China. I’ll be checking it out.



Girl Reading at the Beach by El coleccionista de instants. Creative Commons Attribution.

Welsh Rarebit on  a Cracker by GeoTrinity. Creative Commons Attribution.

Singapore rice style noodles with soy sauce by AlekhyasDas. Creative Commons Attribution.

Maddie Dawson.

Kirsten Chen

Kim Curtis.”‘ Matchmaking for Beginners’ is a Romantic Summer Read.” Washington Post. Jun 1, 2018.

Chloe Krug Benjamin. “Soy Sauce for Beginners.” Washington Independent Review of Books. Jan. 22, 2014.

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.


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