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!


  1. Great review, Sue! As you know, I loved this book as well!! :o) There wasn't a word or character I would change. And, it actually took me a few weeks to get into another book because this one was so wonderful!

  2. I am a sucker for books set in my home state and thanks for the chance to win it during Armchair BEA! Sounds great!


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