Lately I’ve only made reading time for books for the column or books for the library. Among the most enjoyable of these “work” reads has been The Road Unsalted, whose author, Sonja Hakala, will be visiting the library in December to read from her new Carding novel.
Carding, Vermont is in many ways a northern version of Jan Karon‘s Mitford, North Carolina. It’s a small town in the mountains with a cast of interesting characters. Carding is home to a famous arts academy and a small but thriving ski area. Early in the book, one of the town’s prodigal daughters, Allie-O, as she has styled herself, slinks into town in impractical heels, shivers her way to her brother’s front door, and leaves her twelve year old daughter, Suzanne, with him. Ted is the postmaster, a man whose mother’s tragic death on the eve of his adulthood left him deeply scarred, and an inexperienced uncle. But in no time he realizes he wants to raise Suzanne where she belongs, among family and friends in Carding.
We learn about the town, the scheme on the part of Harry Brown to force Carding Academy to move (to spite his ex-wife Edie, the academy’s director), the philandering of Harry’s son Gideon, and much else via a blog called The Carding Chronicles which Edie’s grandson, Wil Bennett, aka Little Crow, starts as the novel opens. We also learn a bit about some of the characters from Edie’s dog Nearly. Even with such a busy fictional agenda, Hakala take time to make the sights, sounds, scents, and flavors of Carding come alive. I want to visit whatever bakery she based Carding’s on, as soon as possible!
This is a cozy novel minus the mystery — although there are puzzlements, and characters who must solve difficulties, there are no dead bodies. Hakala takes on a great deal in this series opener — she sets the stage by introducing a townful of characters, she addresses family drama in several Carding households, and she presents tension in the form of the pending town meeting, where the issue of whether the Academy will stay or go depends on a crucial vote. At times it felt overly ambitious, but on the whole, it’s an entertaining read peppered with wit, wisdom, and a great deal of affection for small town New England. It’s fun, but there would be plenty for a book club to discuss.
Also of note: this is a self-published novel, albeit by an author with plenty of experience writing for “traditional” publishing. I was, I admit, hesitant — I’ve had too many poor quality self-published work sent my way — but Hakala writes well, and she also had her work professionally edited. It shows. In fact, this novel is smoother than some “mainstream” books I’ve read recently. Which further muddles things for librarians and booksellers looking for a reliable way to determine what’s a good read.