The mood came along a couple of months ago, when Books, Babes and Bordeaux was looking for a light, easy summer read and this book was mentioned. My expectations were fairly low at this point, but I gave it a go.
Synopsis: Willa Jackson's family were once respected in town of Walls of Water, NC. They were owners of the stately Blue Ridge Madam mansion, but financial troubles and a scandal contributed to their fall from grace. In order to make a name for herself, Willa was the fearless class prankster in high school, but now as a 30 year-old, tries to fly under the radar and live a simple life as a small business owner. She often wonders, though, who is the REAL Willa?
Paxton Osgood's family stepped in where Willa's left off, with wealth and influence, and are now the proud owners and renovators of the Madam. Paxton may look like a polished, calm and collected debutante, but she still lives with her parents a decade after high school and would love to have a life of her own. Deep inside Paxton is still just an insecure school girl that obsesses over the need to be perfect.
These two young women, while high school classmates, have never been friends until a long-buried mystery resurfaces with the re-opening of the Madam and brings them together. In each other they find true friendship, and at the same time search (and struggle) to find true love.
And as expected, Allen incorporates just a whisper of magic that surrounds Willa and Paxton in their discovery of the history of their families that sealed their friendship decades before they were ever born.
My thoughts: While I don't think Allen will ever be able to duplicate the beautiful writing, the dynamics or beloved characters of those in the books of Marisa de los Santos, this book did exceed my expectations. In fact, there were parts of this story that vaguely reminded me of "Belong To Me". For example, through Willa's eyes, Paxton appears to be a snobby socialite. But when we get inside Paxton's head, we see a whole different side of her. I love that perspective. And I love that two very different women can come together and find friendship.
The characters of Willa and Paxton had their issues, but they were much more willing to "go for it" when the potential for adventure presented itself. Thank goodness, or I would have had to smack them. The supporting characters, which included both women's grandmothers, and the love interests, were multi-dimensional and memorable. I was pleased to see the issue of sexual orientation addressed (and the confusion surrounding it).
I still felt like the plot was a little too soft and romantic (trying not to use the word "sappy" again) for my tastes. The ending had everyone living happily ever after. But this is exactly the type of book we were looking for, wasn't it? In small doses, these books work well to smooth out our rough edges.
For those 99% of you that loved "Garden Spells", Claire Waverly and her catering team do make cameo appearance in this story. Despite my annoyance with her at the time, it was good to see her again. She seemed to have relaxed a little.
A word about the audio production: The narrator for "The Peach Keeper" was Karen White (not the author). So I'm just going to put this out there. Allen is not well-served by her narrators based on my last two experiences. White was marginally better, but had the vocals of an older woman, not one suited for 30 year-old women. If I ever read another Sarah Addison Allen book, it will be in print.
A few thoughts from Books, Babes and Bordeaux: The reactions to this book were mixed, but all generally positive. Some were lukewarm, and some loved the book. We had some discussion on the almost belligerant refusal of one of the characters to state their sexual preference, and that the ultimate "reveal" of said preference was a little contrived. The overall takeaway was one of sweetness, some gentle magic, and something suited for beachside reading.
3.5 out of 5 stars