Paxton Osgood and Willa Jackson used to go to high school together. Paxton was the prom queen, the head cheerleader, the princess; Willa was overlooked by everyone and got her thrills as the school's mysterious practical joker, not revealing her identity until close to graduation. Colin, Paxton's twin, your typical high school jock, was the one who got the credit for all of Willa's pranks, and admired her immensely for it, using her as his inspiration to break free of his parents' expectations and leave the little town of Wells of Water, North Carolina. Paxton stayed, slightly smothered by her mother's plans for her, running the wealthy family's many charitable endeavours and dreaming of moving into a house of her own. Willa's rebellious youth got her into heavy debt in college, and she returned to Wells of Water upon the death of her father, determined that she get her life back on track and live a quiet life of routine and hard work.
The lives of Willa and the Osgood siblings have barely touched since high school, but when the Osgood family buy the Blue Ridge Madam, a huge mansion once owned by the Jackson family before they became empoverished in the 1930s, and Paxton and Colin start restoring it, several ghosts from the past come to the surface, and truths that have been long buried will out.
Once the secrets start unraveling, Paxton and Willa have no choice but to try to figure out the truth, and Paxton's fierce, old grandmother may be able to help them. Best friends with Willa's grandmother around the time that the Jackson family lost all their money and was forced to abandon the Madam, she can tell them things that Willa's grandmother, a stroke victim, can't. In their quest to figure out the past, Paxton and Willa grow closer as well, and discover that despite their different upbringings, they may have more in common than they previously realized.
The Peach Keeper is Addison Allen's fourth novel, and as always, it's a delight to read. As in her other books, there is romance, and characters finding their happily ever afters in the end, but the driving force in this book is friendship - lifelong friendships, supporting each other and keeping each other's secrets. Paxton may have been popular in high school, but feels desperately alone, only really close to the former "freak" and outcast Sebastian, now returned to town as a snappily dressed dentist. Willa keeps to herself most of the time, despite the efforts of her younger shop assistants to make her socialize. When Colin returns to town to landscape the gardens around the Blue Ridge Madam, she resists his advances at first, but can't resist in the end.
By now, Sarah Addison Allen is an automatic buy for me, as I have yet to be even a little disappointed by one of her books. This one was possibly my favourite since her debut, Garden Spells. I will be eagerly awaiting her next novel, and hope she continues to write as magically and entertainingly as she does now.