In lesser hands, the plot of The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martins Press) could be the premise of a really bad Lifetime movie. In Harms’ deft hands, the story of two women who share the same name and both claim a gigunda luxury furnished house from the HomeSweetHome  network’s Free House Sweepstakes as theirs is a quirky, funny and bittersweet read.

Cedar Falls, Iowa boasts two Janine Browns. One, nicknamed Janey, is an almost recluse due to a personal tragedy. Her only friend and lifeline is her octogenarian aunt.  The other Janine, who goes by Nean, is a street-wise grafter. What happens when they meet at ground zero, the house on Shipwreck Lane, is the meat of the plot.

The plot easily navigates from Iowa to Maine, where the house is and all the action occurs. New characters are skillfully blended into the mix. The more you read, the more you begin to identify and care about the cast of likeable misfits.

Harms’ themes explore relationships and boundaries. She hones in on the idea of families, and how they can bolster or hold back a person. Through her characters interactions, she explores the ideas of what is a family: Is it a merely a group of people related by marriage and blood, or is it a group of people who pick and choose who they want to interact with in the boundaries of a familial relationship.  Along with the ideals of family, she also deals with how two personality traits of a family, trust and loyalty, are used and misused by family members.

In almost every family, children are labeled one way or another. One child is the “brainy” one; the other is the “pretty” or “wild” one. But what happens when the person chafes at the label or hides a completely different personality than the one that they’ve been told they are?  Harms’ works within these designations, and how they can utterly mold you into the person you’re not in Good Luck Girls… The unlikeable become endearing, the socially inept become ept: Misfits, once let loose from their designations, grow and bloom like transplanted plants in their new setting. Cold, rocky Maine seems to be the perfect soil for them to unfurl their leaves.

Harms’ writing style is warm and inviting with a soupcon of quirky humor, intelligence and compassion. The more you read, the more you become emotionally invested with Nean, Janey and Janey’s Aunt Midge. If you thought that Nean was a wild card character, Aunt Midge, an octogenarian, give Nean a run for her money. If you’ve seen The Proposal, let’s just say that Betty White’s character, Grandma Annie is the mild version of Aunt Midge. I kinda wish I had an Aunt Midge in my life.

There are a couple of events (no, if I go into them, I’ll give stuff away), that, to me, were as surprising as seeing the sun. Yah, I kinda knew they were coming. One character’s reveal (sorry, if I give more away, I’ll mess it up) seemed really out of left field. However, when I thought about it later, it made sense. Pride can screw anything and everything up really well.

When the book ended, I felt let down. I needed another page, or two, or three. The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane is this former editor and literary agent’s first novel.  Here’s hoping she’s got a few more in her as I’ve become a fan of her optimistically cock-eyed view of life.

PJ Gach is Managing Editor Spa Week Daily.