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Saturday, February 2, 2013

"The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society" by Darien Gee

Perfect for fans of Debbie Macomber, 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.

“In a gathering of women there will always be compelling stories. Throw in a love of craft and these stories take on a whole new dynamic. There are shared secrets, support, encouragement, and love as the Avalon Ladies come to terms with the past and boldly step forward into the future.”—#1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber

Published by Random House
Pages:  448
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction/General Fiction
Purchase:  Barnes & Noble
Find our more:  Darien Gee


Darien Gee is the author of the novels, The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society and Friendship Bread. Her short stories have been anthologized and she also writes an occasional column, From the Writer’s Corner, for her local newspaper. Darien lives in upcountry Waimea on the Big Island of Hawaii with her husband and three children.
Darien attended Wellesley College and graduated from Rice University with a B.A. in Political Science. She has served on the boards of several nonprofits, including the Friends and Foundation of the San Francisco Public Library and ZYZZYVA, an award-winning literary magazine. Through it all she read voraciously, wrote short stories and journaled, and dreamed about one day writing a novel.
In 2000 she and her husband had the crazy idea of quitting their corporate jobs (Darien was an international tax manager), selling their things and moving to Hawaii (note to reader: they also thought it would be fun to do this with no jobs, very little savings and while Darien was seven months pregnant). They landed on the Big Island of Hawaii with four suitcases (twenty banker boxes came by USPS via the slow boat a few weeks later). The years that followed were “life changing” (this is the polite way of putting it), but they made it through, saved some money, had a couple more children, and learned a thing or two about themselves. They fell in love with Hawaii and agreed never to move again (Darien had moved thirteen times in her life). They also started writing (visit the Mia King FAQs for more information about her husband, Darrin Gee, who is partly to blame for why Darien’s first books were written as Mia).

In 2007, Darien published her first novel, Good Things, under the pen name Mia King. Her second novel, Sweet Life, followed in 2008. In 2009, Table Manners was published. Darien was homeschooling her children at the time, and started writing Friendship Bread after her daughter brought home a bag of Amish Friendship Bread starter and the bread. She wrote the first draft in five weeks, and then spent a year in revisions. The novel sold at auction in 2010. It was published in 2011 in the US as well as in 11 countries. Friendship Bread is the first novel written under Darien’s own name.


Hello, Darien,  I so appreciate your stopping by The Bookish Libraria for these interview questions.  Let's jump right in!

First of all, please tell us a special something about what makes you “tick.” When you aren’t writing, what are you doing?
I like to keep my mind and fingers busy. I enjoy creating or making something with paper, fabric, burlap, found objects. I also started taking piano lessons again. I quit when I was 12; I’m now 44. I love learning, so I’ll attend workshops, go on a farm or factory tour, browse through second-hand stores, will take or teach a class. I spend a lot of time in the library, especially between books. I’ll wander the nonfiction aisles and see if an idea starts to form in my head. It’s not uncommon for me to leave with 20-30 books at a time.
We’re always curious about where a writer chooses to write. Could you tell us about your favorite place to write?
After years of writing in coffee shops and in bed at home (the warmest spot in the house late at night), I finally have a dedicated writing space in our new home … only to find that I can’t work there. I use it for edits and other writing-related tasks, and all of my files and inspirational goodies are there (jars of colorful vintage buttons, glass apothecary containers containing shells and sands, scrapbooking tags and labels, little statuettes picked up on my travels), but sitting at a desk just doesn’t work for me. I type on my lap a lot, like now, and at times I favor our kitchen table. It seats 14 and I’m able to spread out if need to. My kitchen is open and airy, with skylights and high ceilings, hardwood maple floors, butcher block countertops. The previous owner spent half of her time in France, so most of what’s there is simple, clean, and very Provencial. It feels like a blank slate, which is great for a writer.
In your opinion, what makes a book a great one?
That moment when you finish the last page and sigh with satisfaction. For a few minutes, you can't do anything other than think about the book or how it ended. You might even pick up the book and flip through it again, already missing the characters or the simple beauty of the prose. Sometimes there's a longing for more. Whatever the case may be, there's a beautiful lingering that happens at the close of a great book, sort of like how you're rooted in your seat at the end of a good movie.
Which author(s) most influenced your love of books?
Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume kicked it off for me. I learned about the importance of relatable characters, plus it was fun to read their books. Next would be Richard Adams (Watership Down) who taught me about plot and character development. Gabriel Garcia Marquez blew the lid off of what I thought you could do with good literature. I realized then that you could write about anything, in any way.
Read any good books in the past 6 months?
I just picked up Lois Battle's 1997 classic, Bed and Breakfast, which I finished minutes ago (that had me rooted in my seat for a while). Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan was wonderful. I also enjoyed The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson.
Choose 4 guests from any era for dinner. Who would they be and what would you choose for a topic of conversation?
John. D Rockefeller. Kate Chopin. Steve Jobs. Richard Branson. "What's the definition of a successful life?"
There’s a song that goes along with your book, what is it?
"Uncharted" by Sara Bareilles. It's a song about going your own way despite the difficulties. When I was getting to know all of the women of the book--Isabel, Ava, Bettie, Yvonne, Frances, Connie--I knew (as well as they did) that there was no precedence for what was happening in their lives. There was no roadmap telling them where they were going or what was going to happen. It was all uncharted territory to them.
If you could cast your book for a movie, who would you choose for your 2 main characters?
Since The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society has an ensemble cast, there are several main characters. Clear the red carpet, here we go: Cloris Leachman as Madeline, Helen Mirren or Eileen Atkins as Bettie Shelton, Katherine Hiegl as Yvonne, Lauren Graham as Isabel Kidd, Michelle Williams or Amy Adams as Ava, Kate Winslet as Frances. I'd love for Connie to be played a young, unknown actress, since that would be Connie in a nutshell.
How much research did you do before and during writing this book?
Research is my very favorite part of the book writing process. I write very organically--I start with an idea, and then I let the research reveal more. I'll spend weeks or even months reading, searching online, in libraries, etc., but I'll be writing at the same time as well. The two processes go hand-in-hand for me.
Psychologists tell us the thing we think we’d most like to grow up to be when we’re ten years old is our avocation. What did you want to be?
I knew I wanted to be a writer in the fourth grade, and I was definitely penning original work by fifth and sixth grade. I also knew then that writers didn't get paid much money, which is probably why I went through several careers before I finally had the courage to publish my first book in my mid-thirties.


I had a love-hate relationship with "Friendship Bread" when I read it last year.  I felt the same about "...Avalon Ladies..."   When I was in college, my art professor told us that we could either make art, or we could paint pictures that people would say, "I love that!  It will look great in my living room over my sofa!"  And, the later would sell more; but, they wouldn't really be art.  This is the problem I have with both books.  I see the great potential of a gifted writer such as Darien Gee, but the product is pasteurized to fit into everyone's living room.  It's a very good book, but it's disappointing on a certain level of excellence.  I'm not sure I can express it better.

The characters in this novel are, of course, very familiar in essence.  There's nothing particularly outstanding about them or twisted...just ordinary folks with the same kinds of problems most small town people encounter with the odd twist here and there.  When I was reading the book, it felt I was reading caricatures of cardboard figures (double paper dolls?), and while they were pretty and interesting to a degree, they left me feeling  hollow.  Saccrine sweet...

The storyline follows the characters' interacting with a scrap booking maven, Bettie, who begins to crumble with her own issues, while she has been the ever resourceful and creative inspiration for them all via her scrap booking mentality.  The towns people are interconnected and their personal stories are interwoven as they interact around Bettie.

The voice and tone of the book reminded me of Jan Karon's books about the mountain community in NC with the unstoppable and lovable Episcopal priest. (Try:  "At Home In Mitford")  Wonderful, irascible characters with local wisdom, but not for everyone, universally.  I loved the Mitford stories, by the way.

That's the way this book strikes me.  It will have a huge following because "Friendship Bread" readers will love it, if they loved that book.  It will have a huge reading group appeal.  It's for women's reading...  It's rather light reading, to me. 

I liked the book, but I wasn't blown away by it.  It's folksy wisdom, down home, people caring for other people, love in the face of diversity.  It's middle America.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  Just like there's nothing wrong with a pretty picture over your sofa in the living room...of flowers and butterflies.

3 stars             Deborah/TheBookishDame



Aw, it's too bad the story wasn't as good as the characters - they sound delightful.

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