Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Peach Keeper - Sarah Addison Allen (Audio)

My last experience with Sarah Addison Allen's "Garden Spells" was not a good one, unlike 98% of the rest of the world.  I didn't mind Allen's injection of a little magical realism, which is something she is known for.  I didn't mind that it was sappy.  My issue was that the main character was infuriatingly repressed, and desperately fought the urge to be HAPPY.  Combined with a narrator that made my hair stand on end, I was extremely disappointed.  BUT.  I thought I might give her another chance if I were in the right mood.

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                         





15 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Hah, your review made me all the more eager to read the new Marisa de los Santos! LOL

Care said...

LOL at Jill - I agree; I still need to read something by Marisa de los Santos. But I still love SAA - I don't disagree with your idea that it might be sappy, but it works for me. I have not read this one yet. I enjoyed The Sugar Queen.

Zibilee said...

I think this was a great review that perfectly encapsulated the book and all the reactions that we had to it. I would have to agree with you that it was a touch sappy, which is something that would normally bother me. But since I have been reading some blindingly dark reads over the past few months, the book was actually just what I needed. I am curious as to how I would feel about it had that not been the case. Very wonderful review, Sandy!

bermudaonion said...

I haven't tried Allen's work yet, but I'm eager too. Sappy works for me at times, so that probably won't bother me.

farmlanebooks said...

It sounds as though you at least had a good discussion about it. I hope your next book club read is more enjoyable.

caite said...

maybe it helps to start with low expectations.

Alyce said...

I gave this one a halfhearted try when I just wasn't in the mood to read it and then sent it back to the library. I did like Garden Spells though. I think Sugar Queen was her best so far.

Julie P. said...

I have only read one of Addison's books but I liked it. Would love to get my hands on this one.

Ti said...

I can't do sappy in real-life, so I suspect that sappy fiction won't work for me either.

heidenkind said...

I loved Garden Spells, but I kind of feel like 1 SAA book was enough.

My mom told me that Allen is going through chemo treatments right now for cancer. :(

Jenny said...

Soft and romantic is the perfect way to describe the books of hers ive read. I don't think I'll read this one because I wasn't really into the other two (I think I have a review pending for the girl who chased the moon). Great review though!

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I enjoy Sarah Addison Allen's books but I read them versus listen to the audio of it. Her books are such a quick read and much more enjoyable that way, and I can totally imagine how an audio production with a miscast narrator could make that experience annoying. Definitely try the next one in print - Allen's books are usually quick one-day reads and a lot of fun.

Jen - Devourer of Books said...

Low expectations can be a real blessing sometimes, although you don't have me exactly raring to read the one SAA book I have anytime soon.

bookjourney said...

Thanks for the audio thoughts on this... I have had my eye on it

Melissa said...

I've read a couple of Allen's books and enjoyed them, but I guess I should stick to them in print.