Practical Magic meets Hart of Dixie but set in North Carolina? Don’t mind if I do.
Karen Hawkins’s The Book Charmer (Gallery Books 2019) is a charmer of a candy read. It’s a sweet, slow burn set in a magical, lazy southern town in NC. The first of the Dove Pond series, The Book Charmer is seemingly about Sarah Dove, the town librarian. Sarah is a book charmer. Not only can she talk to books, but they talk back. The books tell her who needs to read them, and Sarah gets the books in the hands that need them most. She’s known since she was young that Dove Pond would need saving, and until Grace Wheeler showed up, she thought she’d be the one to do the saving. But when the serious woman from Charlotte moved in with her niece and Mama G, Sarah saw the signs; Grace, not her, was the one to save Dove Pond.
This is my biggest issue with the novel – it’s not about the book charmer, it’s about Grace finding her place. Sarah helps considerably, but the novel focuses on Grace and the slow burn of her falling in love with the town and her neighbors. Grace is struggling in Dove Pond. She’s been uprooted, moving to Dove Pond in the hopes that familiar surroundings will help her foster mom, Mama G, as the slow creep of Alzheimer’s sets in. She’s also struggling with taking the role of parent to her young niece. Grace is angry, frustrated, tired, terrified, and grieving. She wants nothing to do with Dove Pond, but it wants everything to do with her.
I loved watching Grace struggle before finally letting her guard down. Hawkins did a wonderful job of showing the internal battle as she fought against admitting she was drowning. The scenes with Mama G and the progression of her disease are heartbreakingly crafted. My favorite is one such scene where Grace realizes Mama G has forgotten how to knit and the ball of yarn is simply a string of knots. It’s a brief scene that propels the love story, but my gosh is it beautifully done.
The magical realism is perfect – whispers of the magical talents of the Dove sisters, hints of magical teas, talking books, and animal familiars. But I was promised a book about the book charmer, and that’s the book I wanted. I wanted Sarah and Blake, and Hawkins merely teased at that love story. I don’t know that I’ll read all the Dove Pond books, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for Sarah’s love story.
If you want something sweet and comforting, like throwing on sweatpants, ordering takeout and watching Gilmore Girls, read this book.