The Book Charmer
The Book Charmer is a story about a quirky Southern borough filled with eccentric characters and bizarre happenstance which the locals label magic. Fans of droll small town stories will find a lot to love here.
Our tale begins in 2001, when Sarah Dove discovers books can talk. She isn’t completely surprised; after all, she still believes in Santa and the Easter Bunny and she loves books, so why wouldn’t they speak to her? Also, as the seventh daughter of the magical Dove family, she’s been expecting to discover a special talent since birth.
“Every chance their mom got, she proudly pointed out that when the Doves had seven daughters, as they did now, good things happened to their hometown of Dove Pond.”
Sarah’s not sure just how her gift will help the community but she knows that someday her magic will bless the people and city she loves.
While Sarah is busy discovering magic, Grace Wheeler is discovering the art of heartache. Being a foster kid hasn’t worked out very well for her. The “red frost” that drifts above her head means she never has good control of her temper and the end result is that she and her sister have been bounced from foster home to foster home. She’s given one last chance to let the system work and be placed in a family situation with her sibling before she’s sent to a group home. Fortunately, she winds up with Mama G, a lady who sees “the cold mist that followed her” and promises to help dispel it.
Fast forward eighteen years and Grace finds herself back in a difficult situation. After excelling at college and making an excellent living as a financial analyst, she’s had to quit her job to become a full time parent to her niece Daisy and part time care-giver to Mama G, who has Alzhemier’s. Moving to the small town of Dove Pond is a temporary solution to her long term problem. Once she has enough money saved, she intends to take everyone back to Charlotte with her and then get her life back on track.
Fate has other plans, though. The books at the library where she works assure Sarah that Grace is the answer to the dying town’s fiscal difficulties, which is all Sarah needs to spur her to make a friend of the new town clerk. With a bit of coaxing and cajoling Sarah is able to convince Grace to rescue their community. Which actually proves to be the salvation of Grace, for as she struggles to heal her family and preserve her new home town, she discovers the power of friendship, love and the magic that can only be found in a really good book.
The Book Charmer is primarily about Grace’s character growth and how she discovers the joy and charm of small town living. Initially, Grace is your classic fictional career woman – driven, focused, materialistic and somewhat clueless about the humans around her. She loves Mama G and Daisy but doesn’t really know how to talk or interact with them. The denizens of the town, especially Sarah and the other ladies of The Dove Pond Social Club, give her homespun advice, soothing (magical) teas, and emotional support, which – along with a copy of Little Women – slowly help her to realize that all she really wants is “a close family, friends, a simple but full life.” Once she realizes that, her pesky plans to go back to a high pressure job in the city fall by the wayside.
Another person who helps Grace understand her life goals will never be met anywhere but Dove Pond is Travis Parker. He lives next door to her, and initially this serves as a concern. He’s a motorcycle riding, gruff mechanic who looks like Khal Drogo and hardly seems the kind of man who would be a good neighbor for a heartbroken little girl and a confused elderly woman. Fortunately, appearances prove to be very deceiving here, since Travis had been the caretaker for his father, who suffered from dementia in his last years. Travis’ experience with mental illness proves to be a boon as he helps Mama G through several Alzehmeir’s fugues and his brusque demeanor actually seems to be a balm to Daisy’s wounded soul. Towards the very end of the novel, he and Grace begin dating, something which thrills their friends and family who have believed they’d be perfect for each other all along.
Daisy and Mama G are both pretty stock characters for this type of story. Daisy, whose mother left her to be raised by Mama G since infancy, is at first belligerent and angry. She misses her mom but doesn’t really understand why, since her mom was never around. The stress as a result of Mama G’s illness and not understanding exactly what it is cause her to lash out a bit at Grace. Grace had always been a visitor in her life, never before a caretaker, so her fear that Grace will also abandon her makes a lot of sense. As the story progresses, the Dove Pond community works its charm on Daisy and she is able to make friends, and accept that Grace is there to stay.
Mama G is, in her lucid moments, the wise old woman of the tale. She gives Grace sage advice and serves as a catalyst in her relationship with Travis. Mama G’s illness is depicted extremely well and watching her struggles with it are the most realistic and touching elements of the story.
Sarah, Grace’s best friend and an important inhabitant of Dove Pond, was the most difficult part of the story for me. Her magic seems to be more of a deux ex machina than a real ability, and the citizenry of her community are far too accepting of the Dove’s family special-ness to be anywhere near realistic. I’m a big fan of fantasy, urban fantasy and magical realism, but the magical elements of the tale detract from it rather than add to it. They just aren’t written with any acknowledgment of what life would be like for a person who actually possessed magical abilities. Additionally, Sarah’s interactions with Blake, the town sheriff and her future love interest, are infantile and I lost what little interest I had in her as a character after a particularly painful moment when he was asking her about his role in an important festival she was helping to chair and all she could do was swoon and imagine kissing him while he was trying to get the information he needed.
The Book Charmer is one of those books written for a very particular audience. For fans of small town stories and women’s fiction tales that concentrate on the heroine’s growth arc it will be a very enjoyable read.