Summer reads: romance, discovery and reconciliation
In their new books three Seattle-area authors — Will North, Sarah Jio and Debbie Macomber — use local settings as backdrops for stories of the frustrations of love, the pleasures of bookstores and the support of friends.
Special to The Seattle Times
Three Washington state authors look to very different local settings for their latest novels: Vashon Island with its “summer people” gathering for an explosive Labor Day farewell; a fictitious Seattle bookstore with a trove of inspiring correspondence; and a cozy cadre of knitters and friends with ties to a Seattle yarn shop on the imaginary Blossom Street.
Vashon Island writer Will North’s “Seasons’ End”(Booktrope Editions, 234 pp., $16.95) may well launch a stream of visitors to Vashon Island, in quest of the steamy Labor Day milieu that is the centerpiece of his latest novel. Told from the perspective of an eternal observer (the island’s veterinarian, Colin Ryan), the book flashes back to Colin’s college years as he wistfully watches the charismatic but shallow Tyler Strong woo, then cheat on, the girl of Colin’s dreams, Martha “Pete” Petersen.
There’s a Gatsby-like tone to some of these scenes, and North’s novel also culminates in a violent finale steeped in too much drinking, too many affairs and a crucial breakdown among the wealthy and privileged.
“Seasons’ End,” which opens in the present with Colin’s early-morning discovery of an unconscious Pete lying in the middle of the Vashon Highway, is full of colorful and memorable characters. At times, the prose strains too hard in self-consciously literary directions (“It was like she’d been trapped for years in the flat, still, weed-entangled Sargasso Sea, turning in an endless gyre ever so slowly and going nowhere”), but on the whole, this is a highly entertaining novel — even though it takes 227 pages for Colin to wake up.
“Goodnight June,” by Sarah Jio (Plume Original, 320 pp., $14), represents one of the strongest efforts by this Seattle-based author of five previous novels. Set in the Emerald City, where a fictitious children’s bookstore (“Bluebird Books”) has been newly bequeathed to the tough New York bank-foreclosure expert June Andersen, Jio’s cleverly plotted book brings June back to her Seattle roots and her deep connection with her beloved late Aunt Ruby, the bookstore’s founder.
When June decides to leave her New York job and run the bookstore, she is horrified to learn that the store itself is in foreclosure with her former employers.
Her efforts to save the store are punctuated by June’s discovery (in the pages of the store’s books) of stashes of Ruby’s letters from and to real-life children’s author Margaret Wise Brown. Here, and elsewhere, Jio blends fact and fiction in writing that Brown’s popular “Goodnight Moon” owes its genesis to the fictional Bluebird Books. The Brown-Bluebird connection galvanizes a wave of support for the struggling bookstore, including a CNN interview.
Jio’s cast of characters includes a nearby attractive restaurateur, a long-estranged sister and their feckless mother, the unfriendly daughter of Ruby’s longtime lover, and a host of subsidiaries (including Bill Gates, who, we discover, spent “many happy hours of my childhood” in this fictional bookstore).
Portions of the plot stretch the long arm of coincidence to astonishing lengths, but the various twists are certainly entertaining.
Debbie Macomber’s “Blossom Street Brides” (Ballantine Books, 318 pp., $26) is already a popular hit with her legions of fans, who enjoy the cozy ambience of the supportive patrons of A Good Yarn (the fictitious Seattle yarn shop and mecca for good-hearted romantics). The 11th book in this beloved series by Macomber, a part-time Port Orchard resident, offers up familiar fare: love that triumphs over all obstacles, and a whole lot of knitting.
In “Blossom Street Brides,” we meet Lauren, whose patience with her elusive would-be fiancé, Todd, has worn even thinner than his excuses for postponing their engagement. Lauren doesn’t expect to lose her heart to a biker dude, but the kindly and good-hearted Rooster makes her think again.
Then there’s Bethanne, newly and happily married to her second husband, Max; they are struggling, however, with long separations because their careers are in different states.
Finally, the yarn-shop owner, Lydia, wrestles with a low profit margin and is mystified by an unidentified booster who keeps placing baskets of yarn in locations all over Seattle, with instructions to knit a scarf for charity and bring it to A Good Yarn. Complicating matters are unscrupulous exes and problematic children, but love always wins in the land of Macomber.