In the Fall 2004 Fashion supplement to Time magazine, writer Joel Stein confessed he has "no idea why so many women are into" shopping. After he proclaims to hate the activity, he goes off for a shopping spree with two expert shoppers, hoping to garner some inside understanding of "why" women do it. By day's end he says, "I am starting to understand how women make this shopping thing more exciting. They turn it into gambling."
Bingo! It's as if Stein spent the day with fictional Becky Bloomwood, world-class shopper extraordinaire and heroine of Sophie Kinsella's fourth installment in her funny and bestselling Shopaholic series. For Becky, shopping IS gambling. Gambling with her credit limits. Gambling with her bank account balance. And, in SHOPAHOLIC & SISTER, gambling with love and family.
After nearly a year of world travel, homesick Becky and her new husband Luke curtail their honeymoon to return to England. Becky soon learns that a year is a long time, and though her shopping tendencies haven't changed (well, maybe they've gotten worse, if that's possible), other things have changed. For instance, in her absence, her best friend Suze seems to have found a new best friend, Lulu. And Becky's mom and dad are acting strange and secretive...for good reason. It's not long after her return that Becky finds out she has a half sister --- a dream come true for Becky.
With Suze distracted by motherhood and her new friend, Becky shifts all her focus and enthusiasm to her new sister Jessica. "The point is," Becky observes on their first shopping excursion together, "we're here! It's a fantastic day, sunny but not too warm, with tiny cloud scudding across the blue sky. As I get out, I look around the sunlit street, feeling all buzzy with anticipation. My first shopping trip with my sister!" Sounds great, doesn't it? Not so fast. Jessica, it turns out, is not the shopping enthusiast Becky is and, in fact, is frugal (a word foreign to Becky).
Becky's high hopes of an idyllic sisterly relationship with weekend manicures and pedicures, forays into Versace shops, and lazy afternoons at outdoor cafes gossiping over lattes are dashed quickly. And, as if familial trouble isn't enough, Becky's novice marriage is on shaky ground too. Not thinking, Becky promises a questionable character that Luke will help him market the opening of a new hotel. When Luke finds out what Becky has committed him to without his permission (and all because the gentleman in question bought her a handbag!), he is livid. And, in Becky's eyes, it looks like Luke is beginning to prefer mousy, practical and cheap Jessica to her.
Everything is on the line for Becky: her marriage, her sister, her friendship, her allowance! As in all the Shopaholic books, Kinsella gives us an over-the-top, almost unbelievable, but highly comical Becky, ever gambling, this time trying to buy time with creditors and win her husband's love back. Kinsella gambles too: Becky verges on formulaic (how much more can she buy, and how many more clever letters can she write to avoid paying bills?) --- but it's a winning formula. Becky is as funny as ever, and you can't help but root for her.
Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on January 23, 2011