I picked this up from the library after browsing some old CBR reviews for inspiration. The story circles around two women in Mullaby, North Carolina: 17-year-old Emily Benedict, who comes to Mullaby to live with her extremely tall grandfather after the death of her mother Dulcie, and her 34-year-old neighbor, Julia Winterson, who has returned to Mullaby to run her father’s BBQ joint for a few years after his death.
Emily quickly realizes that her mother’s legacy in Mullaby is actually pretty scandalous, and she tries to reconcile that with the woman she knew and her new place in this odd little town, while, of course, falling in love with the one person she shouldn’t fall in love with. Julia is just counting the days until she can return to her life in Baltimore, baking cakes and avoiding the town hottie with whom she obviously has a past, Sawyer. But soon her past resurfaces, and she has to make some Life Decisions.
Also, there’s some sugary, sparkly magic: wallpapers that change according to your mood, lights that appear in the woods, and visible incarnations of sweetness. It’s all very confectionery, and, indeed, this book is like a well-made dessert: some bites are a little too sweet, the whole plot is a little predictable, but it’s still pretty satisfying–if that’s what you’re in the mood for.
I enjoyed Allen’s descriptions, and, generally, her way with words. She has an easy way with metaphors and vivid language: easy to read, easy to imagine. I liked how she writes the friendship between Julia and Emily, acknowledging their age differences (Julia was a little more insightful, controlled, wizened; Emily was more spontaneous, frustrated, young) but making their fondness for each other genuine. That was lovely. And even though the magic was lighthearted and fuzzy, I liked how it served as a metaphor for the character’s emotions–Julia’s cake-baking in particular I thought was very endearing.
However, sometimes this read a little young–it surprised me to learn that Julia was 34, since so much of her angsty relationship with Mullaby was connected to her experiences in High School–I pictured her as maybe 24 at first. Her age makes sense in the context of the story–it works, in the end–but the whole thing seemed geared to a younger audience. I also thought the draaaaama around the Coffey Super Family Secret was a little silly–I wish there had been more exploration of why they were so ashamed, or the power of tradition in a Southern Family, or Something Bad that happened because of the Super Secret. I won’t give it away, but I will say that it was underwhelming. And finally, because I am in a nitpicky mood, the ending was definitely tied up in a ribbon and happily ever after-ed–again, great if you’re in the mood for that, but it did inspire the faintest eye roll from this reader.
Overall, this was an enjoyable read that made me want to pour a glass of sweet tea and watch the fireflies from my porch, and that’s a good thing for a book to do! I enjoyed it enough to put another Allen book on hold at the library, and I know a few people I will be recommending this to.