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Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Sarah Addison Allen's debut novel, Garden Spells, is the perfect example of one of those books I would never have picked up were it not for the recommendation of another excellent blogger. In this case it came from my good friend Michelle over at See Michelle Read. One of her favorite reads, she suggested I would like it and was she ever right. I'd seen it around several times and all I knew was that it was a New York Times bestseller. I couldn't really work out what genre it was and I sort of mentally sorted it into the The Secret Life of Bees category and left it there. Not that I didn't enjoy The Secret Life of Bees. But I've never had the urge to reread it, you know? But Garden Spells shares only a rather charming Carolina setting (North as opposed to South) with Sue Monk Kidd's novel. Beyond that, it is entirely its own work.

Claire Waverly is a creature of habit. She gets up. She goes about her work, making deliveries, catering events. She gardens. She visits with her friend and distant relation Evanelle. She goes to bed. She gets up and does it all again. Living alone doesn't bother Claire because it's safe and uncomplicated. She can control every aspect of her carefully regimented life and she can avoid getting more involved in anyone else's life than she'd like. When every last person in her life left, Claire determined she would never let herself count on anyone too much. Content with her eccentric reputation as a solitary soul and a mysterious Waverly, she looks ahead to a future free of complication. That is until her new neighbor, an art professor at the local college, moves in and insists on getting to know her, even bringing back a boxful of apples from her tree, which had fallen on his side of the fence. It's all Claire can do to avoid his overtures and ensure that whatever he does, he doesn't eat one of those apples. The apple tree in the Waverly yard is local legend and, though she herself has no use for the recalcitrant tree, she takes her job as its caretaker rather seriously. Then her estranged sister Sydney shows up with her five-year-old daughter Bay in tow and Claire is once more forced to realign the shape of her days to accommodate two more people who clearly need her. Little does she know what kind of darkness is hounding her sister's trail.

I loved this book. I loved the heady descriptions of baking and gardening and the many unexpected intersections between the two art forms. I loved Claire and how hard it was for her to change, to reach out to anyone at all. I loved Sydney and her heartbreaking determination to take care of her daughter despite the ragged mess she'd made of her life. And I loved Tyler and Henry and Evanelle and Fred and every other beautiful, crazy inhabitant of Bascom, North Carolina. This is a very simple, very sweet story that simultaneously falls under the categories of magical realism, fairy tales, and contemporary fiction. I've not read much like it before and I finished it utterly enchanted and looking for more. I think one of the reasons I was so delighted with the story was it reminded me of my father's side of the family. The way they spoke, the way they interacted, the way family trumped everything else. So I spent the majority of the read in a happy, nostalgic daze. If you're looking for a perfectly charming read filled with sympathetic characters, sprinkled with a couple of endearing romances, and wrapped in a hint of magic and longing, then this is the book for you.

Comments

  1. I loved this book too! I can't even remember if I read it this year or last, lol..but it's stuck with me and I seem to always recommend it. I even have her newest novel here, The Sugar Queen, and can't wait to read it.

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  2. Good review. I read this one a long time ago, kind of forgot about it. It was an entertaining read.

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  3. Falling Off the Shelf, that's good to hear it's stuck with you. I wondered if it would with me, but I'm feeling a good vibe. Like I'll want to read it again. And I've already made a list of people to recommend it to. My mom is at the top of the list. :)

    Kath, thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it, too. I think I was in the perfect frame of mind for it. Guess I needed something gentle and lovely.

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  4. I read a review of this book a while ago (I think by Brie from Musings of a Bibliophile?) and have wanted to buy it ever since. I almost bought it at Target a month or so ago, but I already knew my library had it so I held back. I'm so glad to see you enjoyed it as well! :)

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  5. This looks really good! I'm adding it to my wishlist. Great review.

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  6. Great review! I really want to read this one - it seems to have been on my TBR list forever!

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  7. Christine, yes, I enjoyed Brie's review as well. I think you'd really enjoy this one.

    WinterWrite, thanks! I thought it was. :)

    Kay, yeah, it took me a long time to get to this one. And, like I said, I can virtually guarantee I'd never have picked it up without Michelle's prompting. Thanks, Michelle!

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  8. I was seriously so happy to read your review Angie! I finished this one so in love with everything about Claire and the Waverlys - especially Evanelle. I wish she was in my family tree.

    Fabulous review - I'm anxious to see what you think of Garden Spells if you choose to read it.

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  9. I'm so jealous that you can recommend books to your mom! Mine doesn't read..she says it's a sure way to fall asleep, lol. She's actually told me its not healthy to read as much as I do...I think she's just bored by herself and wants me to come out of my room and hang out with her, lol. I wish my mom read. Thankfully I have gotten my oldest of my younger sisters to start reading. She's been bugging me for a few new books to read, lol.

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  10. You know, I know I enjoyed this book while I was reading it, but I don't remember it with special fondness. And really, the only reason I remember that I enjoyed reading it is because that's what my review says. (Linked in case you want to read it--it's very short.)

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  11. Michelle, Evanelle was so freaking cool. And I thought the relationship between her and Fred was hilarious.

    Falling Off the Shelf, you know, it's taken awhile to get her to come around. She's always been a huge reader, but we've never really been interested in the same kind of books. Then a year or two ago, I just handed her the perfect one and she's been crazy for anything else I've given her after that. Your mom's comments on reading crack me up! There are a lot of people out there who feel that way, I think. Poor souls. :) And well done you on watching out for your sister! What has she enjoyed the most?

    Jena, yep, sounds like you enjoyed it for what it was. Like I said, I think I was in the mood for something sweet and lovely, which is what it came across as to me. I found the plant and food descriptions fascinating and so that didn't bother me. I'm also a sucker for a story about sisters. Good sisters. It always makes me wish I had one growing up.

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  12. Well, it's taken me years to get my sister to read..she just turned 18 and I have only gotten her to read a few books this year. She's wanted to read more, but it's her senior year in high school and she's trying to keep up with that, plus her first part-time job. Not to mention she just got her permit, yikes. lol.

    She's been wanting to read more and more since I introduced her to one of Katie MacAlister's books under another name..I think it was Ghost of a Chance. She really enjoyed the paranormal aspect. From there she picked up Kelley Armstrong's, The Summoning and The Awakening.

    She hasn't really dabbled in the adult paranormals yet, but she has a few on her TBR pile that I have recommended to her. She's even spanning out to YA fiction not involving paranormal. I'm really psyched, there's finally someone I can talk to about book, lol.

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  13. Falling, you are fighting the good fight, my friend. :) Even with how busy she is it sounds like you're making headway. I'm still trying to get to the Armstrong books as I've heard really good things. And I know what you mean about finding someone you can talk to about what you read. It can be ridiculously hard to do in real life.

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  14. Anonymous1:08 PM

    I recently read Garden Spells and loved it too! I actually got it for Christmas last year and finally got around to reading it, but I was so happy I did. I just picked up her second book, The Sugar Queen, and I can't wait to start it. Unfortunately it's going to have to get in line behind 20 or so other titles...

    So many books, so little time!

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  15. fictionfanatic, I feel your pain. The stacks just get higher and higher, don't they? That said, I did check to see if my library has THE SUGAR QUEEN and it does so I'm thinking I'll be nipping over to check it out real soon.

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  16. Anonymous9:36 PM

    Great! I'll check back to see if you post a review. I'm brand new to the blogging world so I'm excited to read everyone's opinions on books they've read!

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  17. I have this book in my tbr pile. I remember someone raving about it as well. Thanks and looking forward to reading it!

    Keishon

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  18. fictionfanatic, definitely check back in. And welcome to the blogosphere! We're happy to have you. :)

    Keishon, my pleasure. It may always feel like a fall book to me now and I do think it's a nice choice when you're in between moods as I have been lately.

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  19. Thanks for this review - I got the audiobook based on your recommendation - I loved it!

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  20. Darla, I'm glad to hear that! It was sort of lovely, wasn't it?

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