Friday, October 28, 2011

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

September Pick

SIBA Award Winner for Fiction 2008

I love this book!

In fact, a really, really love this book – and my desire to recommend it to as many people as possible was a big motivator for starting this blog.

Sorry, I just had to throw that out there . . . now on to the review . . .

In Bascom, North Carolina, every family has a ‘trait’: the Hopkins men always marry older women, the Kelly women are fantastic at sex and the Waverleys are ‘strange’, each bearing a magical gift. The Waverley house has a magical garden that fruits and flowers throughout the year and a cantankerous apple tree with a mind of its own. The apples cause people to see the most significant event of their life, which could be good or bad, so the Waverleys always collect and bury them. However, sometimes the tree gets frustrated and starts throwing them at people.

Claire is comfortable with her Waverley gift, which is the ability to take things from the garden and use them to affect the people who eat her food. Her baked goods and catering company are very successful. Her younger sister, Sydney, has run away from her thug of a boyfriend with their 5 year old daughter, Bay. Fearing for their lives, she has run home, to the sleepy Southern town that she left years earlier to escape her family name. She has yet to embrace her gift, to make people look beautiful, but Bay has been using hers for years. She knows where things should go, and has been trying to keep her father happy so that he won’t get angry. The only other Waverley is Evanelle, a cousin who is 79, but looks 120, and has a real appreciation for the male backside. Her gift is to know what people will need in the future, although she has no idea why she should take someone a mango slicer, for example: the locals tolerate her as a harmless eccentric. We follow the Waverley women as they deal with Sydney’s arrival and the aftermath.

I am always a little cautious when approaching a highly recommended book, film, etc. as there is always the fear that it will not live up to expectations. That could not be further from the truth for Garden Spells. The writing is amazingly evocative and the characters are beautifully drawn with such brevity that a single sentence can say as much as several pages. For example, Bay is named after her father’s restaurant, a fact that gives us a shortcut to understanding his character. The developing romances are emotional and you are genuinely moved by the reality of the relationships. Strangely, for a story involving magic, it is so true to life that you feel very close to the characters, laughing and loving with them. Nothing seems strained or out of place, characters make decisions that seem sensible and there is little to break the spell that draws you to keep turning the pages. Indeed, most of us finished the book in one sitting because we couldn’t stand to put it down. The plot moves along at a nice pace, with plenty of dialogue and time to smell the roses, but no sections that seem drawn out or unnecessary. Great writing, setting, plot, characters, dialogue make this the perfect read. However I do have a complaint . . . I wanted more: I wanted to stay with these people and watch them as they lived out their lives. I wanted to trot beside Evanelle rating the backsides of the new Freshmen; to follow Bay through school; to find out if Fred got what he wanted . . .

In short: I LOVE this book – go and read it!

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Gerbil’s Jockstrap???

One of the big problems of starting this blog was choosing a suitable name.

A straightforward approach would lead to something very descriptive, but wildly unimaginative, such as “My Book Review Blog” . . . yawn . . . Not only was this a boring name, but also I guessed that it had been snapped up years ago, so the search for a more unique name began.

At first I tried to capture the profound influence that books can have upon our feelings and thoughts. I looked to the great thinkers of the past, searching for quotes about reading, books or literature. These were mostly too long, although I did like “Medicine for the Soul” the inscription over the entrance to the library of ancient Thebes. However, I decided that this was too obscure and serious: it didn’t have the right tone. The name had to be personal, and linked to the book group, whilst being funny and memorable. It needed to be recognizable to my fellow group members, but also inviting to other people.

After much head scratching I thought that “The Good, The Bad and The Trashy” reflected the range of our books quite nicely, but I wasn’t really happy with it, so I asked my hubby for some input. His brainstorming produced some (ahem) interesting suggestions. “The Gerbil’s Jockstrap” was his favorite, though I pointed out that Jockstrap is a British term (it is a sportsman’s cup/support thingy). He then swapped to “The Bat’s Nadgers” . . . I’ll leave you to guess what nadgers are . . .  and after a few more animals had their nether regions explored, I decided that he didn’t really understand what I was aiming for.

I wanted a name that summed up what happens at the meetings, but also conveyed the warm, cozy feeling of friendship and acceptance that I get from the group. Group meetings are easy-going and fuelled by our mutual love of books, rather than a tense and earnest debate of the finer points of literary technique. It is more like a coffee group than that . . . so that is where the name came from. We drink coffee, nibble cookies (or other delicious baked goods) and have a good time chatting about books.

And the chili peppers? They are how Jan and Sarah warn us about the “spice” level of the titles, so that people who don’t want to read that sort of thing won’t be offended or shocked: after all, we want everyone to enjoy a good read.

And so “Coffee, Cookies and Chili Peppers” was born. I hope it was worth all the brain strain.


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