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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, February 17, 2019 1:00 am

Breezy Brit Kinsella sticks with winning formula

Reviewed by Karin Tanabe

Book facts

“I Owe You One” by Sophie Kinsella (Dial Press) 448 pages, $27

Sophie Kinsella has made a career writing bubbly, likable protagonists who are a smidgen obsessive. First came her “Shopaholic,” who never met a credit card she couldn't max out, followed by a steady stream of workaholics. Now there's the aptly named Fixie Farr, the fix-it-aholic.

Fixie is the kind of woman who walks into a stranger's living room and just has to straighten the crooked painting on the wall – and why not rearrange their bookshelf alphabetically and organize their spices by country of origin while she's at it? She is hard-wired to solve problems. So when a stranger in a cafe asks her to watch his laptop while he takes a call and the leaky ceiling happens to cave in just above it, Fixie doesn't think twice before jumping on the table, saving the computer and letting the deluge soak her instead. Thankful, the stranger scribbles an IOU “redeemable in perpetuity” on a coffee sleeve. Fixie doesn't intend to cash it. After all, she's spent decades being good to others, wanting nothing in return, as if she “were a juice fast or a series of TED Talks.” But when her lifelong crush Ryan Chalker comes home to London from Hollywood and needs a job, she changes her mind. Turns out the laptop owner, Seb Marlowe, is a successful investment manager and his employing Ryan could greatly help her love life.

With that box checked, Fixie focuses on her family's west London all-purpose shop, Farrs. Founded by her late father, she's been managing it successfully with her mother. But when her siblings decide to “help out” – bringing with them expertise in treating her like their doormat and stealing the limelight – disaster ensues. Her brother Jake, desperate to appear posh, wants to turn the shop into Harrods and pack it with YouTube influencers and #95 olive oil. Her beautiful sister, Nicole, is determined to kick the Tupperware to the curb, rebrand as a yoga studio and become Insta-famous as the face of Farrs. Fixie is trying to find her backbone, which has been more jellyfish than blue whale for nearly three decades, and save the shop. But she's also navigating increasingly choppy waters with Ryan and keeps running into (and trading IOUs with) handsome Seb. Are the two, she wonders, just swapping a growing list of favors, or is what she feels for him more than simple gratitude?

A humorous exploration of family life, finding love and the difficulties of coming into one's own as a young professional, Kinsella has returned to her roots. Her trademark Brit wit shines through Fixie, and the entertaining cast of characters that orbit around her will certainly remind readers why, 19 years after her first hit, Kinsella remains one of the reigning queens of women's fiction.

Karin Tanabe, a former Politico reporter, is the author of four novels, including “The Diplomat's Daughter.” She reviewed this book for the Washington Post.