Sarah Addison Allen
Don't you just love this cover? This apple tree pictured plays a interesting part in the story. The woman pictured here seeems to be one of the sisters in the story. I would love to see the older sister pictured here - she's described as a dark haired woman of a size - not exactly plump but strong, sturdy and beautiful. The apple tree is quite a character in it's own right, a tree that's been in the family for generations.
This is only the second book by Sarah Addison Allen that I've read (the first being The Sugar Queen). When I read the title, I kept thinking that I had read it before, long ago, but after reading the first chapter, I realized that I haven't read it yet - there's some other book with a similar title that reminds me of Allen's style of writing but I cannot remember the name and it's driving me batty (admittedly not a long drive-just ask any of my kids) . I think the author's name had a York in it somewhere... Whatever. Can't remember and don't seem to have it anywhere. Coming back to Garden Spells - what a magical read. No really - it's magical. Like the characters in The Sugar Queen, there are families in the small town that are know for certain qualities, families that have been around for generations, and quite a few quirks.
Claire and Sidney are sisters. Claire spent her first six or so years wandering the country with her mother, never feeling quite secure or quite knowing if there was going to be enough food or warm clothes even though it seemed her mother always provided, usually at the last minute. However, when her younger sister was born, suddenly her mother decides to take her daughters home to Bascom - the small town that the Waverlys have lived in since forever. Claire felt odd about this - felt that it wasn't important enough for her mom to make a secure home for Claire but that her mother aparently felt Sidney deserved a stable home, causing some resentment towards Sidney. So Claire spent quite a few years being very mean to her younger sister and at the same time making herself very useful to her grand mother. Of course, the girls' mother does a disappearing act after trying to make a go at playing mom....
The girls grow up and go their separate ways, Claire remaining home in the old house that generations of Waverly's lived in, and Claire leaving town as soon as she could to lead a wild life.
However - as the story opens, Claire has settled into a staid role in the town - (the Waverly's have always had a bit of a reputation, due to the almost magical ways or talents that many exhibited), staying single and Sidney has ended up in a horrible relationship complicated wtih a young daughter. This book is about Sidney, Claire, Aunt Evanelle, and the apple tree and how their lives connect and disconnect with each others lives, their relationship with the town and perceptions.
Sidney escapes her marriage, running back to Bascom and the Waverly home after promising herself that she would never return. But she'll do anything to keep her daughter safe - even make an attempt to stay in her hometown and live with her sister, though the two of them have never had a great relationship. But her return is complicated. The wife of her former highschool sweetheart feels threatened by Sidney's return even though becoming involved with any man is the last thing on Sidney's mind.
At the same time Claire finds her life becoming complicated with not only her sister and her new niece, but a man that has moved in next door who seems determined to become attached to Claire. She has a few plans to keep him uninterested in her - Claire has a way with herbs and plants. She knows the right combinations of ingredients to make love potions or wines, or foods that affect moods, behavior and actions of others. The Waverly's have always had a few talents in the family.
Sidney has a way with hair, Claire knows plants and herbs and their Aunt Evanelle is compelled to give gifts tha come in handy to people. She's really compelled - for instance, before Sidney came home, she had this urge to bring sheets and poptarts to Claire. Turns out poptarts are Sidney's daughter's favorite. Even the house and the tree have special talents. The house seems to react to Claire's moods. The tree tends to stretch limbs and throw apples at people, trying to get them to eat the fruit. The Waverly's rarely ever ate the fruit, and the townspeople frequently tried to sneak into the yard to get the apples. The apples were said to give one a glimpse of the biggest event coming in their life. Problem was, this is not always a good thing, to know ahead of time what your biggest event is going to be.
So Claire is fighting a growing attraction to her neighbor, trying to forge a new relationship to her sister and niece. Sidney is trying to get begin a new life and is finding it complicated by the jealousy of her ex-boyfriend's wife and even Evanelle - 79 years old - is finding strange complications her her life.
I think one of my favorite things in the book was the apple tree. That tree is quite a stubborn character. Allen's writing is terrific, and the characters - main characters and all the side characters - were interesting and richly described. Garden Spells is an enjoyable read, with just the right amount of magic twists. There are similarities to The Sugar Queen - a sinister male, families with entrenched roles, magic and superstition, loyalties,betrayals, complicated family relationships and forgiveness - but the writing is superb and the characters so fun to read that I wouldn't mind reading more of this type of novel. The ending is very satisfying with even the apple tree getting its way. The sisters find out that all their perceptions of their past isn't at all what they believed, and they find out a way to appreciate each other.
I am looking forward to reading other books by Sarah Addison Allen, such as
The Peach Keeper - "Welcome to the Walls of Water, North Carolina, where the secrets are thicker than the fog from the town's famous waterfalls, and the stuff of superstition is just as real as you want it to be." *blurb from website - doesn't that sound interesting? or how about...
The Girl Who Chased the Moon - "Emily Benedict is about to find out if wallpaper can change pattern on its own, if a cake can bring back a lost love, and if there really is a ghost dancing in her back yard." *blurb from website - how can you resist? I really want to read this one.
So far, these are the only two books left for me to read from Allen's writings. Sigh. Her writing style reminds me of Alice Hoffman's novels in the best way possible.