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The Peach Keeper    by Sarah Addison Allen order for
Peach Keeper
by Sarah Addison Allen
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2012 (2011)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Sarah Addison Allen, author of the enchanting Girl Who Chased the Moon, The Sugar Queen and Garden Spells, now brings fans another charming, magical tale in The Peach Keeper, set in Walls of Water, North Carolina (gateway to the Cataract National Forest in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, famed for its waterfalls).

Willa Jackson (now thirty and owner of Au Naturel Sporting Goods and Café) used to be the notorious Walls of Water High School Joker. The Jacksons were once 'the finest family in town.' They lost all their money when the logging ended. Her father and grandmother raised Willa. Her dad died after being hit by a car on the interstate, and her grandmother Georgie (who worked as a maid for the town's wealthy families after the Jacksons' downfall) is in a nursing home, suffering from dementia. Willa's great-great grandfather built the Blue Ridge Madam. Now it is being renovated by the Osgoods as a high end bed-and-breakfast inn.

Paxton Osgood's family is still a wealthy one, but she can't escape it. Her one attempt to leave home failed after her mother's strenuous objections, and she only moved as far as the pool house. Paxton's best friend is dentist Sebastian Rogers, a 'beautiful man' whom her twin brother Colin remembers from high school as the 'effeminate kid in the purple trench coat'. Though she's sure her friend is gay, Paxton struggles with her attraction to Sebastian. Paxton's almost blind grandmother Agatha, a 'dragon lady', is in the same nursing home as Georgie. Agatha feels guilt over 'the one time when Georgie had needed her the most and Agatha had turned her back on her'.

Paxton has been busy organizing a 75th anniversary gala celebration for the Women's Society Club at the venerable old mansion. She sends an invitation to Willa Jackson, who does her very best to ignore it. But Willa has long been fascinated by the Blue Ridge Madam and goes often to spy on progress of the renovation. She sees workers getting ready to take down a peach tree. Paxton's twin brother Colin (who was inspired by Willa's high school exploits and the spirit behind them) finds her there - and continues to seek her out at every opportunity, looking for signs of her high school self.

Then history is unearthed along with the Blue Ridge Madam peach tree - an old suitcase is found along with bones and a human skull, which turn out to be the remains of charismatic traveling salesman/con man Tucker Devlin. He had magic but used it for ill. How did he die, who killed him, and does his ghost still linger? After a series of events throw Willa and Paxton together, they are surprised to find themselves becoming close friends - just as their grandmothers were. And when they learn that the background to the founding of the Women's Society Club could not be further from its current modus operandi, Paxton takes a stand that makes Agatha proud.

I enjoyed The Peach Keeper very much. It has women's friendship at its core but also reflects how we often try to escape our younger selves but must reconcile with them, and also how easy it is to underestimate and fail to understand our elders. Sarah Addison Allen's multitude of fans will revel in this magical read.

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