9780345525376The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society by Darien Gee
Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House
Review copy provided by the publicist

Avalon, Illinois is a small town with huge heart. It’s 4000+ citizens have a tendency to come together for lots of reasons – to share tea at Madeline’s Tea Salon, to take care of one of their own who is struggling, and most recently some of the ladies of Avalon come together to scrapbook their memories, under the guidance of Bettie Shelton. Bettie founded the Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society, bringing together many women of Avalon who wouldn’t have otherwise met, and in the process, helping several of them through some truly rough times in their lives.

After quite enjoying Gee’s first novel, Friendship Bread, I was happy to return to her fictional town of Avalon, Illinois for this novel. Gee really brings this small, Midwestern town to life, and having grown up in Illinois (outside of Chicago) I do feel like she understands the essence of the Midwest. She does a great job capturing the open, kind nature of the people there and especially since this is set in a small town, really gets to the heart of this town and the people in it. I was more than happy to spend time in Avalon with familiar characters, but mostly getting to know new characters, and reading this novel was a comfortable, enjoyable experience.

I do have to admit, though, that I don’t know how much I want Gee to continue to repeat the formula she’s been working with for these two novels. Basically, it’s the story of several women, all with something significant going on in their lives, who eventually come together and most of their issues get solved, or at least stresses are relieved. I liked this book, for sure, but I feel that reading a third book with more of the same type of thing might get old.

That being said, I DID enjoy the novel. I liked all of these women – Isabel, dealing with the death of her husband and discovering he had an affair before his death, Ava, the “other woman” in Isabel’s life, also dealing with the death of the love of her life and (gasp) father of her child, Yvonne, dealing with secrets from her past, and Frances, a woman equal parts excited and terrified about her impending adoption of a little girl from China. I think that the Isabel/Ava dynamic was the most interesting to me, because I could truly see things from both perspectives and felt deeply sad for them both. I was so rooting for each of the women to get some peace and move past their issues with one another, to come together for the sake of Ava’s son. These women felt real to me and I absolutely enjoyed every second I spent getting to know them. Plus, it was fun to see a few characters from Friendship Bread make appearances in this novel.

While I do feel that Gee is becoming a bit formulaic with these Avalon novels, I did enjoy this book and can definitely recommend it. For a solid women’s fiction read that is incredibly sweet, with real characters in a charming setting, The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society is a great choice.