Friday, July 29, 2011

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen — 288 pgs

The Peach Keeper: A NovelWilla Jackson is keeping a low profile in the small town of Walls of Water. Though she used to be quite a mischievous teenager, the grown-up Willa now runs a green sporting goods store and leads a very simple life. When an invitation to a society gala turns up in her mailbox, she wants nothing to do with it. It seems some of the wealthier young ladies in town have decided to refurbish The Blue Ridge Madam, a dilapidated mansion that was once home to Willa’s grandmother. Willa’s grandmother was once a smart society maven in her own right, and it was only due to chance and misfortune that she ever fell away from that kind of life. Paxton Osgood’s grandmother, however, never fell away from that lifestyle, and now that the women’s society in Wall’s of Water has fallen into her hands, she’s eager to celebrate its 75th anniversary with a gala. Paxton and her twin brother Colin have never been friends with Willa, but all that is about to change when strange occurrences and unexpected run-ins begin to take place between the three with alarming frequency. In her efforts to avoid the gala, Willa will begin to uncover the strange and magical secrets that led to the formation of the women’s society, and the hidden secrets of her own lineage. Meanwhile, Paxton seems to be in love with a man who’s completely unavailable to her, has her hands full with her wealthy mother who insists that she live at home, and the re-dedication of the Madam in time for the gala. Blending magical realism with a suspenseful southern Gothic feel, The Peach Keeper is a playful read with a serious side that will keep new and old fans alike caught up in the mystery of Walls of Water.

Sarah Addison Allen’s name is one I’ve heard in so many bookish circles that I can’t even remember a time when I didn’t know it. I guess what I’m trying to say is that she has a lot of fans out there, and that even though most people like her, I was hesitant to jump into the fray and try out her offerings because I was afraid I might be the only bookish person on the planet who didn’t like her work. I let all of her other books pass me by, and though I do have a copy of Garden Spells hanging around here somewhere, this was my first read by Allen, and it was facilitated by Books Babes and Bordeaux, who ambitiously decided that we would read two books for the July meeting. The first was the unforgettable Before I Fall and the second was The Peach Keeper.

When I first dove into this book, I was surprised at how compulsively readable it was. Allen has a way of making her story immediately engaging and just quirky enough to keep you flipping pages. There were small hints of magical realism that, while not tipping the book fully into that genre, provided a great mystical and magical feel that I thought were very clever. This is a book that seems to place its reader right into the action and begins to sort out the story around them as they read. There were several threads going on all at once, and each was given equal footing as it shared the stage with the others. There were really two protagonists here: Willa and Paxton; and though they were both dealing with very different issues, they shared some of the same character traits that it was impossible not to see as the story progressed. The men in this story played supporting roles, but they were each developed and nuanced like the more major characters, which is something that I really liked.

While this story would fit right into the women’s fiction genre, it also had the components of a mystery, a love story and it even bent into the genre of magical realism. That’s a pretty impressive straddling of genres in my opinion, and as the story wound its way around and through its vast permutations, it also became a story about friendship, family, and loyalty. Allen does a lot to make her story feel fresh and to keep her dialogue sparkling. I remember thinking that a lot of her character interactions were very witty and spunky, and I was pleased that so much care was given over to each piece of the puzzle. As secrets of the past and present intermingle, the story takes on the weight and heft of a more serious novel, but the lightness and verve of the writing doesn’t let the story turn dour and heavy. I read along at a good clip because Allen has a way of keeping her characters embedded in puzzling and intriguing situations, which translate well into keeping readers captivated and invested in their plights.

The only problem I had with the book had to do with a character's sudden reversal of a crucial personality trait, which I felt was just a little too convenient and conciliatory for me. It wasn’t a huge issue but it did make me wonder if all the confusion regarding this reversal was just an elaborate ploy to garner a more appealing and titillating plot. I’m hesitating to say more about this than I really want to because I don’t want to spoil the book for future readers, but it irked me a little more than it probably should have. I know this is something I’m going to be bringing up at the meeting and getting other opinions on, but I felt my review would be incomplete without mentioning the fact that I had one sticking point with the book.

While I did have a minor problem with one issue in the book, overall the story and execution pleased me greatly and I had a really good time with it. I’m glad to find that I enjoyed this first foray into Allen’s work and I look forward to sampling a few more of her books. I think a lot of readers would enjoy this book, and it’s really a prefect summer read due to it’s lightness and its ability to engage readers from the first page. I’m looking forward to hearing what everyone else thought about it and comparing that to the reception the book has gotten on the blogs. A really fun and undemanding read.

25 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I think that sudden revelation thing might be a stock characteristic of gothic novels, along with the magical element. I suppose part of the appeal of gothic requires a suspension of realism expectations, something which I don't manage very well except at certain times (Halloween and Christmas) and certain moods! :--)

Sandy Nawrot said...

My review should be up next week on this one. I certainly liked it more than I thought I would, certainly better than Garden Spells. It was the perfect read for the summer! And your peach pie was the perfect food to have while we were discussing it!

Jenna said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed your first Allen! The readability of her novels is what really stands out to me, and , like you mentioned, I can't help but to keep turning page after page. Definitely a perfect summer book. Great review!

Darlene said...

I really liked this one of hers although my favorite remains Garden Spells. I haven't read one of hers that I haven't liked though.

I'm trying to figure out which character you mean but it's been a bit seen I read it and it's not coming to me.

I'm glad you enjoyed this book. Maybe you'll give her others a go too.

Audra said...

I think you and I might have been irked about the same moment! It marred my otherwise total bliss reading this book. And it was still great, just slightly...well, jarring!

Aths said...

I still haven't read a Sarah Addison Allen book and it mostly has to do with all the hype. She certainly has a lot of fans and I'm not entirely convinced her books will work for me. But I'm glad you liked it so I feel more inclined to trying it out.

Jenners said...

I too feel like I need to read this author because of all I've read about her on blogs. I have a book by her waiting to be read ... but I've just not gotten around to it yet. (It might be The Sugar Queen???). Glad to hear it was worthwhile ... despite that one things that irked you.

christa @ mental foodie said...

I haven't read Garden Spells yet... but had read all the rest. Of those, I like the Sugar Queen the best. This and The Girl Who Chased the Moon were just okay for me. So now I can't wait to read Garden since so many rave about it!

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

I've heard very good things about this but it hasn't really seemed like my cup of tea until your review. despite the minor flaw, it looks like I might actually like it and should get to it...

celawerdblog said...

I hate it when authors use random and convenient events just to make their story work. I recently read Bleak House by Dickens and even he does it too. Dickens needed one of the characters to die so he had him spontaniously combust, literally. How random is that?

Anita said...

I really want to read this book, I've heard many good things.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Peach Pie? I think I need to wiggle an invite into your book club!!

Liz @ Cleverly Inked said...

I love a good book with a splash of mystery. I can see why the author is so raved about.

TheBookGirl said...

The only one of this author's books that I have read is Garden Spells. I remember it being a sweet, entertaining read, and of course, any book that has food playing a major part has an advantage with me.

I think I tried to start The Sugar Queen, and couldn't get into it. This one sounds like it might be a better fit, but I'm a little leery of the plot contrivance thing -- that sort of thing can ruin a book for me.

Amy said...

I haven't read any of Sarah Addison Allen's books for reasons similar to yours. I was also concerned that her books might end up being too light and like chick-lit (I hate that term but for lack of another coming to mind!) for me and my review would end up very unfavorable. This has happened to me with 2 other authors. I have seriously considered reading The Peach Keeper because of the review I've read. Now yours has convinced me I should have trusted my gut. I'm happy you enjoyed this book and Allen's writing. I like the combination of genre's which usually keeps a book moving at a good pace. And her themes are ones I usually enjoy in books.

I like to have some lighter books available for the days when I don't feel great and this book sounds like it's light enough but would also completely absorb my attention. I have to admit I'm really intrigued by the part of the book that you didn't like personality trait change in a character! That occurred in one of Piccoult's books I read years ago and it really annoyed me although it didn't ruing the book.

Thank you for a great review, Heather...and a book to list on my tbr!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

You made peach pie for your book group's discussion of this?!?

I've read some very positive reviews of this one, but, like you, I have to be in the mood for magical realism or sudden (unrealistic?) changes of character traits.

I likely will read this though, as people are saying it's Addison's tops to date.

bermudaonion said...

I haven't tried Allen's work yet, but I do have a couple of her books. I really do think I'll like it, so I need to find time to read them.

Marg said...

I do enjoy Sarah Addison Allen's because they do straddle genres, are compulsively readable, and can be a lot of fun.

This one didn't work for me as well as some of her earlier ones did. I will still be waiting with bated breath for her next book to come out though!

Steph said...

Like you, I haven't read anything by this author, but I do know she has tons of fans. I do like books with magical realism, so in that respect I think I might like Allen's writing, but I did try Alice Hoffman a while back (who I think of as similar for some reason) and didn't really love her, so I'm still on the fence...

Wall-to-wall books said...

This one is arriving from the library for me tomorrow! So I will be reading it soon. I haven't read any of her books yet, but do own a couple.

Thanks for the review.

Meghan said...

I have really enjoyed most of Allen's books - they're just the right amount of whimsical for me. I'm glad you at least mostly enjoyed this one.

stacybuckeye said...

I loved Garden Spells and likde her second. I'm really looking forward to this one. I agree that the quirky factor keeps the pages turning at a fast rate.

Geosi said...

I love books with good endings. Sounds like a good one to read. Thanks for this.

Amy said...

Sounds like a good book. Like you I've also heard this author's name everywhere but have been hesitant to try her books :)

Alison's Book Marks said...

Your first SAA! I love her writing, and really enjoyed Peach Keeper, but so far my favorite is The Sugar Queen. I'm slowly making my way through her books - just finished Garden Spells. You hit the nail on the head, though...fun, undemanding. Perfect for summer!

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

"Compulsively readable." That is a PERFECT way to describe Sarah Addison Allen - for some weird reason, as soon as you pick up one of her books, it's near to impossible to put the book down! This one is a lot less on the magical realism side than her other books, so if you did like that piece of it, than you might like her other books, too!

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