Saturday, January 17, 2009

Debbie Macomber/THE SHOP ON BLOSSOM STREET

I recently read, and surprised myself by how much I disliked, Kate Jacobs' FRIDAY NIGHT KNITTING CLUB. As a result, I was afraid to try Debbie Macomber's book, since the subject matter was similar. Once I started reading, though, I realized that while the subject matter is in fact nearly identical, Macomber's book is a solid read.

Lydia Hoffman, a two-time survivor of brain cancer, opens a knitting store as what she calls her affirmation of life. The store is in a formerly bad area of town which is gradually being 'gentrified'. She quickly has three students in her first knitting class: an uptight older woman whose husband is responsible for the rebuilding projects on Blossom Street, a young purple-haired angry woman who lives in one of the buildings that will be demolished during the rebuilding, and a third woman who is desperate to have a baby and down to her last medical procedure to make it happen.

Sticking to a relatively small cast of characters made all the difference for me. Lydia's story touched me from the beginning, and so did the anguish of the childless Carol. The older Jacqueline didn't grow on me as much, since most of her problems stemmed from being too stubborn to look past her own prejudices, but I found tough Alix to be a reasonable portrayal of a woman with serious issues in her past who didn't quite know how to move past them.

The book is a romance and so you expect all the women to find love. While I won't give away the ending, I will say that the outcomes for two of the women did surprise me, which I didn't expect.

I did feel that the book would have benefited from a thorough editing. Lydia's parts were written in first person, which generally is my favourite perspective, but at times she switched between past and present tense for no apparent reason and this jarred me from the story. I also found that whenever someone who'd been mentioned earlier reappeared, Macomber re-introduced them as if it were their first appearance. I don't mind a reminder (and am often grateful for one) but I can, for example, recognize a woman as Jacqueline's maid because she's vacuuming the house without needing a detailed explanation.

Overall, I did enjoy this. I liked being surprised by a book that I had expected to be straightforward, and I found myself caring about the characters and their issues.

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