Sunday, January 27, 2013

ARC Book Review & Author Interview: The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society

The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking SocietyAuthor: Darien Gee
Publication Date: January 29, 2013
Publisher: Ballantine Books

Perfect for fans of Kristin Hannah, Beth Hoffman, and Kate Jacobs, this luminous novel from the author of Friendship Bread follows a group of fascinating women who form deep friendships through their love of scrapbooking—as memories are preserved, dreams are shared, and surprising truths are revealed.

Welcome to Avalon, Illinois, Pop. 4,243

At Madeline’s Tea Salon, the cozy hub of the Avalon community, local residents scrapbook their memories and make new ones. But across town, other Avalonians are struggling to free themselves of the past: Isabel Kidd is fixing up her ramshackle house while sorting through the complications of her late husband’s affair. Ava Catalina is mourning the love of her life and helping her young son grow up without his father. Local plumber Yvonne Tate is smart, beautiful, and new to Avalon, but finds that despite a decade of living life on her own terms, the past has a way of catching up—no matter where she goes. And Frances Latham, mother to a boisterous brood of boys, eagerly anticipates the arrival of a little girl from China—unprepared for the emotional roller coaster of foreign adoption.

Enter Bettie Shelton, the irascible founder of the Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society. Under Bettie’s guidance, even the most reluctant of Avalon’s residents come to terms with their past and make bold decisions about their future. But when the group receives unexpected news about their steadfast leader, they must pull together to create something truly memorable.

By turns humorous, wise, and deeply moving, The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society is a luminous reminder that the things we hold most dear will last a lifetime.

“The morning light streams in behind her, a generous sliver of sunshine falling onto the farmer’s table that rests in the middle of the kitchen. Fresh loaves of Amish Friendship Bread, scones, and muffins are cooling on wire racks. Two arugula-and-bacon quiches are in the oven. Her kitchen is fragrant and inviting, and Madeline knows that her customers find these smells a reassuring comfort. They come to Madeline’s Tea Salon for that very reason – the promise of good food and an encouraging smile. A kind word and possibly a joke or two, depending on her mood.” – ARC Copy pg. 4

“‘Pictures are only one part of it,’ she tells them. ‘And these days people take hundreds of pictures and none of them get printed or put into a photo album. This is different – when you scrapbook, you’re evoking the memory of the feeling and the experience by the colors you choose. The little mementos you paste to the page.’ Enid breaks the seal of the packet and spreads the contents onto the table. ‘You take your favorite pictures, you look at all of this, and you think, what fits? What goes together? Not just aesthetically, but emotionally. Scrapbook pages capture all of it. For example – how did the two of you meet?’” – ARC Copy pg. 36

Scrapbooking supplies, it read, for all your memory-keeping needs.” – ARC Copy pg. 57

“‘Memories can happen anywhere. It’s not just the big events, but the small moments, too. Scrapbooking isn’t about making things pretty on the page, but about how you feel, about the details in life that are special, that feel good. Invite others to take an emotional journey with you. Using textures in your layouts is one of the fastest ways to get people there.’” – ARC Copy pg. 144

Books like this one here are my absolute favorite kind to read. Books that include the lives of so many people who are bonding over one commonality and here it just happens to be scrapbooking. Each chapter focuses on one of the main characters who are a part of The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society and there are some chapters in between that focus on outside characters that are either joining the Society or have already been affected by the idea and joys of Scrapbooking. Bettie Shelton is the lead organizer of the Scrapbooking Society and has a way of making people participate in her group’s activity, often times without their personal consent. This book blends humor, love, and loss with a touch of small town hospitality.
This story shares the lives, secrets, and secret desires of an array of women. We have Bettie Shelton, who is the town busybody and founder of our group. Yvonne Tate, who is the town plumber and often gets sideways glances for her career choice. Isabel is a young widow who is recovering from the betrayal of her cheating husband and then his sudden death soon after he left her. Ava is the product of Bill, Isabel’s husband’s, affair and is trying to cope with being a single mother and all alone. Madeline runs the local tea shop and Connie is her right hand woman. Each of these women has a story that is worth reading and they are the basis of what makes this book so inviting. They fill the town of Avalon, Illinois with love, friendship, and the need to feel a sense of belonging and fulfillment. I honestly connected to each of these women in some way or another and could feel their inner desires and personal aspirations as I read their stories.
This book has just a cozy, feel good factor about it. I mean this in a cuddle up under your heated blanket with a cup of cocoa kind of way. There is talk of food and the mention of the famous Friendship Bread from Darien’s first novel, which I thought was super cool. You all know how much I love books that put food descriptions is such heavenly terms. I also really enjoyed the scenes when The Scrapbook Society meets. You can feel the chaos and utter dysfunction that so often comes with a room full of loud, chatty women. They bond over good food, warm tea, and lots of scrapbooking, pictures, and memories. I long to be a part of something like this one day.
My only complaint is a small one and it honestly does not affect my final judgment, hence the five adorable pink cupcakes. I will be honest is saying that this book incorporates A LOT of different characters, but this makes no difference to me. I did not find it confusing or distracting I just did not always see the need to include so many different people. Like I said, I in no way found this confusing. The writing is very easy to follow and you always know whose perspective you are reading from. I will read this book again, possibly in the near future. I found it enlightening and inspiring. Some of these women felt lost and alone, and something as small as a Scrapbooking Society brought light to the dark tunnels they saw as life! Stay tuned for my interview with Darien Gee below.
***A big thank you to the publishers at Ballantine Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest and unbiased review***
Below is my interview with Darien Gee! Such a fabulous lady and author!
Me: What was your inspiration in writing this book?
DG: I was putting some of my own photos together and realized that if my house were on fire and I only had time to take one thing from the house, this would be it (this, of course, is assuming everyone in the house is outside and safe). You hear that all the time, even in this digital age. It’s not the clothes, your tax return, or even the house itself. It’s the albums, the letters, the photographs, the baby blanket, the locket. The memories alone are never enough—we need these triggers, the solidity of something we can hold in our hands and feel the weight of. In The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society, we enter the lives of six women whose houses are, metaphorically speaking except for in one case, on fire. They all must choose what to take into their new life and make peace with what they have to leave behind.
Me: Tell us something about yourself that we, as your readers, would never guess.
DG: I’m thinking about going back to school for an MA/PhD in Educational Policy.
Me: What was your favorite part of this book to write?
DG: I love the anecdotal chapters that dot the novel. In both Friendship Bread and The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society, I wanted to give readers a glimpse into the lives of the residents of the town of Avalon, Illinois, and to also use these chapters as a way to show how, in the case of this novel, Bettie Shelton was pulling everyone into her scrapbooking fold, helping them find ways of documenting and celebrating what was true for them.
Me: What book are you reading now?
DG: I just finished Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. I loved it.
Me: What is next for you as a writer?
DG: I’m working on my next book and researching ideas for future novels, which keeps the energy moving for me. Research is a great reason to get out in the world and do things you might not otherwise do. For example, I just sent in saliva samples for a DNA test that will give you ancestry, health and trait reports. It’s already birthed several possible story lines, and my own response to the results of test will show me which one to follow. I also did a cacao farm tour and chocolate making workshop, which I have (ahem) been researching for several years now.


  1. This sounds like my type of book, I love these books where women come together amidst all these issues in their lives. It reminds me a little of THE FRIDAY NIGHT KNITTING CLUB. Beautiful review, I know for some people the large cast of characters would be distracting but I think it's sometimes what makes the book.

  2. It's really nice post. This is what i have been looking for. I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post. Keep sharing more.
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