Last weekend, I read Sarah Addison Allen's newest book, The Girl Who Chased the Moon. I got caught up in the eccentric Southern charm of the setting, just like I did in her previous books Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen. Her descriptions make me want to pack up my belongings and move to a small Southern town full in the hope that I will land in one just like the ones she describes in her books. The kind of towns where most everyone knows each other (and each other’s business, like it or not) and where quirkiness is charming rather than disturbing; the kind of towns with a little magic in the air and a lot of secrets under the surface. My hometown church holds an annual retreat each year that draws around 200 people together for a long weekend, which I have attended with my family since the age of 4... I used to wish that we could all live together like that all the time. (Now that I'm a bit older, I realize that part of why it's so special is because we don't all live together like that all the time. It may be a church retreat, but we still have our bouts of drama and secrets.) Allen's towns make me feel just as comfortable as those weekend retreats do.
Allen's books are chick lit but I wouldn't call them fluff. Her female protagonists try to find ways to cope with some very unfortunate life circumstances (death of someone close, abusive relationships) and to allow themselves to trust in other people. The women in these books may have problems, but they ultimately find strength inside to keep their lives moving in a good direction which keeps the tone uplifting.
There is also a bit of magic that weaves its way through her stories--nothing "thunder and lightning bolts" style, more gentle things: the appropriately titled self-help books that literally appear for Chloe Finley like unsolicited advice from an overbearing relative in The Sugar Queen, Claire Waverley's homeopathic cooking and an apple tree that reveals influential life events in Garden Spells, and Sawyer's "sweet sense" in The Girl Who Chased the Moon.
I typically recommend these books to women and older teens who are looking for something light and pleasant. They are not literary giants in the book world, but Allen's books set scenes and create characters that make you reluctant to close the book when the story ends.