Audiobook Mini Review: The Bottom Dollar trilogy by Karin Gillespie

About mini reviews:

Maybe you’re not an audio book person, or maybe you are. I provide mini reviews of audio books and give a recommendation on the format. Was this book improved by a voice actor? Would a physical copy have been better? Perhaps they complement each other? Read on. . .

It was Bill @ The Australian Legend who turned me on to Karin Gillespie (she/her). First, it was Love Literary Style (I loved it, Bill loved it) and then I grabbed Girl Meets Class (an okay novel that I did not review). But lately, my two-person book club with my mom, Biscuit, has been reading some fairly serious works. I decided we need some fun and lighthearted reading, and thus chose The Bottom Dollar series, a trilogy of books set in Cayboo Creek, South Carolina.

A few surprises right away: first, I didn’t realize that all three books would focus on different characters — and I’m relieved! Both Biscuit and I enjoy books in which you revisit the same town, but don’t directly follow the same character or two. In Bet Your Bottom Dollar, the first novel, Elizabeth is the general manager (a title given to her in appreciation more than an indicator of her responsibilities) of the Bottom Dollar Emporium. The news is that a new corporate dollar store will move in soon, and there is no way the owner of the Bottom Dollar can compete. You get lots of run-of-the-mill underdog stuff here.

But the second surprise for us when we were listening to the novel is that I could make a bang-up argument for Gillespie writing satire. Things are very hillbilly, but even more hillbilly than you can believe. For example, one local store is the bait shop and tanning salon. Then, there are the things people say, like Elizabeth being booted out of hair school for failing pin curling. Her instructor tells her that “pin curling separates the wheat from the chaff,” and thus Elizabeth is doomed to menial labor. Because you get that satiric undercurrent, the novel is even funnier.

The Bottom Dollar Girls does create tension beyond the laughs. I was convinced for about 50% of the novel that Elizabeth was having “relations” with a long lost brother or cousin, a wealthy guy named Timothy who spent years meditating in a monastery because his parents booted him off to boarding school his whole life. I was all nail-bitey until the romance situation became clearer to me, so I was a rapt listener! And it wouldn’t be a hillbilly novel if we didn’t have a lying, cheating ex-boyfriend and his floozy constantly popping up.

In A Dollar Short: The Bottom Dollar Girls Go Hollywood the focus leaves Elizabeth and settles in two places: on sisters Chiffon and Chenille. Chiffon is a stereotype — used to be a beauty queen, now a little pudgy, married ten years to a hound dog, has three children, and works herself to death as a waitress so her man can buy boats and pool tables. Chenille is a mild-mannered public school teacher whose teaching assistant thinks Chenille doesn’t value her. After some miscommunication (or willful twisting of words), the assistant threatens to kill a student with a machete. Okay, it’s plastic, but she really has it and threatens him with it. Chenille is fired after the assistant claims she had permission to use whatever means necessary. Now, the sisters are living together in Cayboo Creek because Chiffon’s husband has run off, again. But this time, he’s with a famous movie star, one who likes guys rough and “real” (whatever that means).

Despite the title, the Bottom Dollar girls do not physically go to Hollywood. Instead, they find confidence and independence, and we get a healthy dose of humor. For instance, Attalee laments how ten years ago her husband was hit by a bread truck and killed, struck down “in his prime” at 85, and still with all his teeth “in his upper jaw.”

The final book, Dollar Daze, unabashedly lays out that this novel is about all the Bottom Dollar women finding or rekindling love. Gillespie is not going to attempt other plot lines, because this is the happy ending of the series, one readers should expect from a whole creek away. In the beginning, those who declare they are not interested in love anymore due to their advanced years become entangled with older gents. Those who feel unappreciated as mothers want to reinvent themselves as individuals. And 80-something Attalee is going to scare up the most tacky — and big! — wedding you can imagine. Overall, this series was a great way to distract myself from whatever, and I know that Biscuit bought all three books for my grandma, suggesting Gillespie’s novels can be enjoyed by any age. I’ll women AND men would like the Bottom Dollar series since Biscuit would turn on her audiobook in the truck while she and my dad were on the road, and he was laughing and having a good time, too.

Carrington MacDuffie, who reads all three novels, is a great audiobook narrator, keeping the personalities, or “voices,” distinct and true across three novels. I never had problems with increasing/decreasing the volume due to her voice level.

24 comments

    • Do you have a favorite small-town book? Anything set in the area in which you live? I’d like to read more books that feel uniquely Canadian in setting, not the cities, but the small towns. My mom and I just read a collection of Alexander MacLeod books, and she said she could tell he was Canadian, but I felt like it was man + city.

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      • I loved LM Montgomery’s books for this reason, especially the Anne series, because she wrote several short stories set around Avonlea where familiar characters would show up. As far as stories set where I live, there is not much that comes to mind. For a long time the Canadian literary scene has been centred out east, either in Ontario or in the Maritime provinces. (Quebec is its own thing!) Was the collection you read Animal Person? I actually have a post about Canadian books I’m working on and I talk about that book. I liked it but it felt really Nova Scotia specific to me. The two BC writers that come to mind right away are Jack Hodgins and Bill Gaston. Maybe Patrick Lane for poetry. And in BC we have a lot of Asian-Canadian writers. Madeleine Thien comes to mind. And Wayson Choy wrote a lot specifically about Vancouver’s Chinatown. That might be the closest to a book that would describe the city as I knew it growing up.

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        • Definitely Anne of Green Gables. I didn’t think of that series because I’ve already read it. The book I read by MacLeod is Light Lifting. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame, where I did my MFA, so he came back to give a reading when Light Lifting came out. Looking at the dates, I see that was 12 years ago. Woops.

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  1. These sound great – weirdly they are £0 on Kindle Unlimited and expensive in any other format so I’m going to see if I get the free trial to KU and then read them all in a hurry one month! I love a small town novel – that’s why I like Debbie Macomber so much, lovely long series.

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  2. These sound very cozy, which I love. I’ve been re-watching a bit of the Golden Girls series when I have time, and these sound similar. Biscuit is likely right in that these are a good series for your Grandma (how old is she? My grandpa turns 99 next month!) and it makes me hope that people are still recommending books to me when I’m a Grandma too 🙂

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