Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reading Beth Hoffman

It is great fun to find fantastic debut novelists. It’s something that every bookseller gets to enjoy, and do quite frequently, but I have to admit to a bit of nerves when it comes to sophomore efforts. There’s nothing worse than falling in love with a debut author, only to have those feelings thrown in your face with the production of a lackluster second novel. It happens more often than not, and as a reader it is always a bit crushing. So, it was with some trepidation that I picked up Beth Hoffman’s new book Looking for Me. I absolutely loved her debut Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and was a little afraid that I would be disappointed by this second novel. Well, let me tell you how foolish those worries were.

Looking for Me is a fantastic second novel. It possesses the same charm as its predecessor, drawing readers in with its southern warmth and anecdotal tone, while also maintaining the remarkable insight and depth that I believe readers will begin to associate with Hoffman’s writing. Beth Hoffman has that rare quality as an author to present a seemingly light and easy read, only to have a fully-fledged novel that is not only engrossing, but also intelligent, and brilliantly written. Her use of language is beyond simple charm, her sentences flow like warm honey to be savored and reread, and her characters are fully functioning, living and breathing people—ones you wish with all your heart you could get to know.

Told in first-person, and bouncing back and forth through time, Looking for Me tells the story of Teddi Overman, a talented furniture restorer and owner of an antique shop in South Carolina. Born on a farm in Kentucky, readers are introduced to the Overman family; Teddi, a girl who’s love from antique furniture leads her on a road of self-discovery, Teddi’s silent and wonderful father Henry, her perpetually disappointed mother Franny, and her brother Josh whose affinity with nature, in particular rare birds of prey, provides readers with a heartbreaking mystery. As Teddi’s life unfurls, bouncing between her present and memories of her childhood, I was delighted to only be captivated be her life, but to also be engrossed by her love of antiques—learning more about restoration and estate shopping in a way that was both entertaining and emotional, than I ever could have thought. These instances are so well-written in fact, that I, who have never had an interest in these things, found myself wanting to look up terms on Google and pop out to the next big estate sale in my neighborhood. To get non-crafty me interested in furniture restoration is a fete in itself! Hoffman also manages to effectively and lastingly tug on the proverbial heartstring as she addresses Teddi’s strained relationship with her mother, and her brother’s mysterious disappearance, in a way that manages to forgo the mawkish sentiment or cheesiness that so often finds its way into novels.

This is a deceptively complex story that is beyond readable, it’s enchanting, lovable  beautiful, and full of depths that one would not expect from a novel that might appear lighter in content than some. Looking for Me is one of those books you pick-up and literally do not put down, not because of suspense or turmoil, but because it is so well-written, and the characters so believable and rich, that it mesmerizes with the first paragraph. Beth Hoffman is just that good and I will never again feel trepidation that her next novel won’t be good enough—she’s secured my fandom for life.

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