Needles and Pearls
By Gil McNeil
415 pages. Hyperion/Voice. $14.99
published May 11, 2010
In The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club, Gil McNeil introduced us to Jo Mackenzie. Having learned that her husband was cheating on her and was leaving her and their two sons, Jack and Archie, for his mistress was the first crushing blow of the night. The other? Having her husband die in a car accident within an hour after breaking the news and walking out on her. (We learn all of that on the back flap, so no need to throw rotten tomatoes at me for ruining the book.) What happens next is the heartwarming and surprisingly funny story that McNeil weaves for us throughout the rest of this alluring tale about a mother's love and the power of her relationship with her children. We meet back up with Jo, Jack, and Archie along with the other flavorful characters in Broadgate (a small seaside town in rural England) in Needles and Pearls.
McKnits, the yarn store that Jo has been given by her lovable and spunky grandmother, is starting to grow with the help of sweet local carpenter, Martin and the publicity given to it (and Jo) through a friendship started with top actress Grace Harrison, who has commissioned Jo to be her personal knit instructor. Jo and her boys are settling in well to their new community as they near their one year anniversary of moving there, when life sends them some unexpected surprises. In true McNeil fashion, these bumps in the road are quickly made into endearing episodes and plot twists that make her characters more real and layered. She takes the chance to explore some topics that are not traditionally found in the lighter side of literature; pregnancy, divorce, death, dysfunctional families. Yet she is able to come at the subject with the warmth and hindsight of someone who convinces the reader she knows what she's writing about.
Though this heartwarmer doesn't keep us at the edge of our seats and can sometimes be a bit hard to follow as to who is speaking (it is strongly dialogue driven without always noting who the speaker is), we can count on McNeil to make us laugh while wrapping up loose ends somewhat tidily. While the adults are the crux of the novel, McNeil writes children in a vividly accurate portrayal adding extra charm and humor to her work.
Though knitting is certainly a presence in these novels, it is mostly because these books are set partly in Jo's yarn shop. McNeil herself comes from a line of champion knitters, and is able to seamlessly interweave this passion into a much bigger story. Those looking for a novel about knitting might be disappointed when they find that these stories have about as much to do with the actual practice of knitting as the movie Beaches did with the beach. It's more of a catapult for story lines rather than the overall theme of the book.
Enjoy this book over a lazy weekend when you could use a good laugh and a bit of relaxation.
Rating: Three Stars
(please note the new rating system for reviews below)
Rating Guide for Coconut Library:
***** Classic : A timeless book to be read by all
**** Excellent: One of the best of its genre
*** Good: Enjoyable, particularly for fans of the genre
** Fair: Some problems, approach with caution
* Poor: Not worth your time
Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher. The review is my honest opinion and I was given no compensation to
write about this book.