This is my first encounter with Sarah Addison Allen and I plan on reading more from her! I loved the premise of the book — a descendant from one of the wealthiest families turned poor from financial ruin still feels the troubled past she came from. Paxton, an old classmate of Willa’s whose grandmother was best friends with hers back in the day, decides to restore The Blue Ridge Madam — the grand house built by and lived in by Willa’s descendants before the scandal took place. As the restoration takes place, dark secrets from the past surface and bring Willa and Paxton, two girls who couldn’t seem anymore different, together to find out the past and protect their respective families. What they discover goes beyond the dark past of their families…they learn from their grandmothers just how important the bond of friendship can be.
I really quite enjoyed this book! The author’s writing and storytelling abilities took me captive and I found myself easing into the story quite comfortably the way one does into a hammock on a sunny day. I love magical realism anyways and I think the author does a great job incorporating a tiny bit of magic into an otherwise completely realistic story. It just really fit without being too bizarre or contrived….it was just subtle. It was a light read that combined the sweetness of friendships, both budding and enduring, and romance with a bit of a dark family mystery.
The theme of friendship was my favorite aspect of this book. It’s not often that I read a good “friendship-themed” book that makes me want to cultivate new friendships, repair broken ones and just generally want to have giggly sleepovers and rock the Girl Power. This quote from the book, one of my favorites, pretty much sums up what I took away from the book…which seems quite fitting for where I am in my life right now — “All we have is our deep and abiding love for each other. We can’t lose that or we lose ourselves. If we don’t help each other, who will?”
The storylines of Willa, Paxton and the grandmothers were all so compelling. I found myself really relating to both Willa and Paxton in different ways. I felt like I was in a similar place as them here in my mid-twenties (they are in their early 30′s). What I found interesting and relevant to my own life was how the searching for who you are doesn’t end. I used to think by this point I would know exactly who I am and what I want. We are always working out the kinks and discovering bits and pieces of ourselves through our new experiences and interactions with others. We are constantly changing and I loved how these characters didn’t have it all figured out. I don’t know, I guess I just really connected to them and felt truly invested in their story. I also really enjoyed some of the minor characters— the author did not let them fall flat at all but rather created really lively and memorable characters. I thought the relationship between Paxton and Sebastian was so unique and intriguing and might have been the one aspect of the book I wasn’t sure WHAT would happen.
I really enjoyed this book but it is not without its flaws; despite the fact that the experience of reading it outweighed the negatives. I think my big issue was how predictable it was. Honestly, I predicted everything. I knew how relationships would end up and I guessed what happened with the grandmothers. There wasn’t much complexity to any of it and it was such a shame because the mystery and scandal had such promise..but I felt like nothing deviated from the course I thought it was going to take. I wanted to find out more about Tucker Devlin. I don’t want to give away details so I’ll leave it at that. Overall, I really enjoyed the book despite the fact I knew what was going to happen. It’s a testament to Sarah Addison Allen’s writing and characters because normally I get perturbed when I am two steps ahead of the book.