Fictitious Avalon, Illinois(population 4,243) and its homey tearoom is the setting for this second novel by Darien Gee, a town whose friendliness and caring first became apparent in Gee's tale Friendship Bread. This latest installment was our book club's April selection and we had great fun last Thursday telling who was our favorite character and why. Like Deborah Macomber's Cedar Cove books, Gee's novels tell several stories at once, this time with scrapbooking expert Bettie Shelton as the "glue" that connects everyone together. Madeline, an older lady, who is very prominent in the first novel, is still running the tea room with the help of the young Connie. When Connie adopts a "lost" goat it appears that trouble may be around the corner for the tea room again. Perhaps the most dramatic interplay in the book is between Isabel (who has become withdrawn and bitter after her husband's unfaithfulness and subsequent death) and the young, lonely woman Ava who was his new love. When Ava has no one else to help her with her young son, she turns to Isabel.
At first glance, you's expect townspeople to run from quirky, outspoken Bettie and her passion for scrapbooking (and indeed a few like Isabel try to), but it will soon be apparent that her special club membership is JUST what each person needs, each for a special reason. And when it becomes known that Bettie herself has a new, serious challenge, the society members will be there to help.
The book offers light romance, fresh starts that require letting go of past hurts and hidden secrets, and most importantly opportunities to accept oneself and others. Despite its length - 448 pages- this was a quick and entertaining read. I thoroughly enjoyed the humor/serious mixture in both this book and Friendship Bread and can't wait for a return trip to Avalon. Hopefully the next one will continue Connie's story along with that of Yvonne, the beautiful plumber, a recent Avalon transplant. I am sure both young women have problems to overcome and secrets to share.