Avalon is "a small, simple river town in northern Illinois," but the people there are not so simple. Darien Gee (whose husband, Darrin, has relatives in Chico) returns, after her last novel, "Friendship Bread," with a new Avalon story. "The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society: A Novel" ($26 in hardcover from Ballantine; also available in Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook e-book formats) intertwines the lives of a number of young women, each in search of love, each surprised at how it finally arrives.
This unlikely group is brought together by old Bettie Shelton ("the town fussbudget") "with her mobile scrapbooking business." She pokes her nose into everyone's business. Those she doesn't know she invites to the next meeting. Take thirty-eight-year-old Isabel Kidd. Childless, her dentist husband Bill left her for his assistant, Ava, and they had a child together. Bill died soon after in an accident and Isabel is still trying to put the pieces together. She wants to sell her house and get away.
But Bettie gets to her first. Come to the meeting! What meeting? "'Scrapbooking.' Bettie straightens up to her full height, 4'11". 'I'm president and founder of the Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society, in case you didn't know.'"
Scrapbooking has taken hold in Avalon. (The author provides scrapbooking tips at the end of the novel as well as a series of recipes, including Connie's Mountain Dew Apple Dumplings; there are more resources at dariengee.com). For Bettie, "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."
The novel itself is a scrapbook. There's Connie, an outsider who finds belongingness working at Madeline's Tea Salon--now charged with goat-napping. And Yvonne, a plumber who looks like a model, who ends up dating her enemy. Reed and Frances, attempting to adopt a medically-challenged little girl from China. And Ava, who wants desperately to meet Isabel.
There are surprising twists, but Gee ties everything together with a rich texture of memories and the promise that when love seems all but lost--it may not be.