Sarah Addison Allen's debut novel, Garden Spells, is an enchanting, magical book. Anyone who is an Alice Hoffman fan should scoop up this book. Garden Spells is special in the way that Hoffman's Seventh Heaven was special. It brings to life characters and a community, mixes in a little magic, and tears you apart when you have to leave.
The first six years of Claire Waverley's life were terrible. She lived with her mother, who went from man to man, stole to keep them dressed and fed, and slept in cars. When her sister, Sydney, was born, they returned to their grandmother's house in Bascom, North Carolina. Claire saw it as a refuge, and clung to home. Sydney, like her mother, fled from the family history, and hit the road at eighteen.
At thirty-four, Claire owns Waverley's Catering, making dishes from the magical plants that grow in the legendary Waverley garden. For Waverleys have "gifts." Claire's is plants, and it's closely tied to the garden. To give a taste of that, there's a beautiful paragraph on pages 10 and 11. "Business was doing well, because all the locals knew that dishes made from the flowers that grew around the apple tree in the Waverley garden could affect the eater in curious ways. The biscuits with lilac jelly, the lavender tea cookies, and the tea cakes made with nasturtium mayonnaise the Ladies Aid ordered for their meetings once a month gave them the ability to keep secrets....The nutty flavor of the dip made from hyacinth bulbs made you feel moody and think of the past, and the salads made with chicory and mint had you believing that something good was about to happen, whether it was true or not."
Sydney fled from Bascom, lived her mother's life, stealing and moving on, until she returned home with her daughter, Bay. Sydney didn't understand Claire, or her link to the family home. Sydney didn't want to be "different," the way the Waverleys were. But Claire and home were a refuge that Sidney needed for Bay.
Two sisters, with a great deal to learn about life and each other, have a great deal of untapped capacity for love. Neither woman knows love when it arrives on their doorstep. Bay, whose gift is to know where things belong, understands the peace that comes with love and home. This is a story of people learning to open up to love, just as the Waverley flowers open up and bloom.
Allen herself has a gift for characters. Claire, Sydney and Bay are interesting characters, with a great deal of depth. Evanelle, the family cousin adds a touch of humor, but also serves as a god-like character. Evanelle has a gift of anticipation. She gives gifts before people know they need them. Each character created by Allen has been skillfully drawn to bring them to life, the Waverleys, their loved ones, and their enemies.
Sydney Addison Allen uses words for a magical effect. Her phrasing and descriptions add to the enchantment of the book. The descriptions of men in love giving off sparks or lighting fires is captivating.
Local legends are important in this story, as one professor remarks. The Hopkins men marry older women. The Clark women have a talent for sex. Then there is the Waverly magic, shared by Claire, Sydney and Bay. Just as in a Hoffman book, magic is a part of life, accepted and not explained.
Garden Spells combines love, longing, anticipation, and fear, mixes it with magic, humor and legend, for a recipe for enchantment. Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells is a beautiful book that casts its own spell over the reader.
I have been a library manager/administrator for over 30 years, in Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and, now, Indiana. Winner of the 2011 Arizona Library Association Outstanding Library Service Award. I am a contributing Book Reviewer for Library Journal, Mystery Readers Journal, ReadertoReader.com and VibrantNation.com. Winner of the 2009 and 2010 Spinetingler Awards for Best Reviewer. First Fan Guest of Honor for Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Write Now! Conference.
It's an honor to be asked to review books, and I'm grateful to all the publishers, publicists, and authors who send me books. Thank you. Reviews will appear on my blog if I've had a chance to read, and finish, the book. If I do not finish a book, I won't review it, and I will not respond to emails asking when, or if, I'll be reviewing a book.
My reviews are only my opinion, and do not reflect the views of the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library.
I will not review self-published books, and, at the present time, do not accept books in e-book format.
1, 2, 3 ... By the Sea: A Counting Book
Book: 1, 2, 3 ... By the Sea: A Counting Book Author: Dianne Moritz Illustrator: Hazel Mitchell Pages: 36 Age Range: 3-6 1, 2, 3 ... By the Sea is a nice lit...
My Oct. 19, 2009 blog provides full disclosure that I only receive review copies of books, with no other compensation. All review copies are marked as such. If there any any questions, please feel free to contact me.