Saturday, November 29, 2008

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

In a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in an even smaller town, is an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit. In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it.…

The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures.

A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants—from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys—except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.

When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down—along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy—if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom—or with each other.

Enchanting and heartfelt, this captivating novel is sure to cast a spell with a style all its own….
When I started reading this book at about 10 o'clock at night a while ago, I didn't realise I had made a mistake, but I had. My mistake was not realising that I was going to struggle to put this book down, especially as I had to go to work the next day!

If I was to look for one word to describe this book it would have to be MAGICAL. I have seen this classified as magical realism and I would have to agree, but this isn't the magical realism that you see in books like Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, where the prose makes the novel inaccessible for some readers, but rather, a very easy to read novel, very accessible and enjoyable to readers. Now I loved One Hundred Years, but if I had to pick a book to give as a gift to someone and these were my two choices, it would definitely be this one.

There are no doubt flaws in this novel. The romantic side of the novel was telegraphed very early on - it was very obvious who was going to end up with whom from very early on in the story, but in a fairy tale like book like this one it is not really a problem. It also helps that the rest of the novel was so enjoyable that the obviousness wasn't as much as it would have been if the novel itself was hard work to read. That isn't to say that this was an all fluff kind of novel. It's not. The author touches on some quite heavy themes like domestic violence, abandonment, belonging.

One of the highlights of the novel for me was the description of the food that Claire cooked. She chose specific ingredients for their affects - do you want to know the truth about something, then add this herb. I also loved the character of Evanelle, whose gift was to give someone something before they knew that they needed it. What a great gift to have!

To summarise I would say good characters (including the apple tree that is very much a character in the book), beautiful imagery, fantastic food descriptions - a fun read. I can't wait to read The Sugar Queen!
Have you reviewed this book? If so, leave a comment and I will link to your review!
Other Blogger's Thoughts

Reading Matters

Lesley's Book Nook

A High and Hidden Place

Bookfoolery and Babble

A Garden Carried in the Pocket

Dreaming on the Job

Saving My Sanity

An Adventure in Reading


  1. I read this book before I had a blog but have considered reviewing it later...because I absolutely loved it. Have you read her newest, Sugar Queen? Not as wonderful but still very good.

  2. I haven't read it yet, but I am on the request list for it at the library so I hope to get to it soon!

  3. Oh, I am putting this book on my reading list, which is humongous, but I will get through it. It slightly reminds me of "Practical Magic". I forgot who wrote it, but the author's books have something about magic in all of them.

  4. Totally loved this book!! The apple tree was definitely my favorite character.

  5. Vickie, I have seen other people compare this book to Alice Hoffmans books! I am pretty sure she wrote Practical Magic.

    Annell, it definitely was a presence in the novel! Thanks for stopping by!

  6. I haven't read it yet, but it's on my shelf. Now I want to go pick it up and start reading it right now! But I can't... I'm in the middle of a book already :(

  7. I haven't read it yet either, but I really want to! It sounds like such a lovely book.

  8. Excellent review, had my eye on this book but, wasn't sure, you helped make up my mind!

  9. Wondeful review! I have heard other good stuff about this book and it is on Mt. TBR.

  10. I read this book this past summer. My biggest problem with it was it reminded me TOO much of Practical Magic. I felt like I'd read it before. Not that I didn't enjoy it, because I did. It just seemed so familiar.

  11. I made the same mistake! Everything was put on hold while I read through this charming book. Evanelle is certainly the most original character I have read about in a long time.

  12. Stephanie, I guess it really helps then that I haven't read any Alice Hoffman so I can't make that same comparison.

  13. I loved this book also. I also read The Sugar Queen and it was great too. Here's my link to Garden Spells:

  14. If you want to read more magical realism, I highly recommend Bless Me, Ultima (Rudolfo Anayo) and Like Water For Chocolate (Laura Esquivel). I'm sure there are others, but these two stand out in my mind right now.

    Thanks for the link to my review. :)

  15. Per this post I checked this book out at the library and I really enjoyed it. I'm sure that I will be reading more books by this author soon. Thank you for the great suggestion.

  16. I am glad that you enjoyed it Krissi! I too will be reading more from this author.

  17. I reviewed both Garden Spells and Sugar Queen. If possible, I enjoyed Sugar Queen more because although set in present day, it had a feel of a much older time when things were a bit more simple ... if such a time every existed. :) Check out my review of both of them at:

    Happy Reading!

  18. I have added your link Emily. I am really looking forward to reading The Sugar Queen.

  19. I just finished reading Sarah Allen's, "The Sugar Queen." I just had to tell you it was a wonderful story. I love the magic in Allen's books. One of the characters in the book actually attracted books. Whenever she was going through something in her life a book would just show up. It would follow her around until she understood what the book was trying to tell her. How awesome would that be to have books just show up when we needed them. Thank you for reviewing, "Garden Spells" it led me to "The Sugar Queen" which I loved.

  20. I just picked up The Sugar Queen from the library myself! I am looking forward to it even more now that I have seen your comments!

  21. If you are still adding other reviews of Garden Spells, here's mine:

    Your page also messed up Bookfool's link (with the others). Here's Nancy/Bookfool's link, if you want to fix it: