posted at Saturday, April 15th, 2017 at 8:00 AM | Adult, Mini Reviews, Reread Reviews, Reviews
Series: Waverley Family #1
Published by Bantam on April 29, 2008
Genres: Magical Realism, Romance
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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....
I originally read Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen’s debut, back in what must have been 2007 or 2008, since I don’t think I was a senior in college at the time. I adored it, and I fell in love with romantic magical realism. I’ve read several other Allen novels since, and I’ve enjoyed them all to varying degrees. I wanted to revisit Garden Spells, which had been my favorite of them, and read the sequel that came out in 2015. Garden Spells has all the charm, magic, and passion that I remembered.
The opening chapters are a bit clunky and dark, and I had forgotten that Claire’s love interest is a smoker with long hair (ew but he’s working on quitting and he gets a haircut). Allen’s debut owes a lot to Practical Magic, and there’s a pretty clear delineation between the two plots and the two heroines, though Practical Magic skews a bit darker and Garden Spells more to the romantic.
Garden Spells follows half-sisters Claire and Sydney. The older, Claire, reacted to their unusual childhood and abandonment by their mother by becoming insular, contained, and afraid of love, because everyone just leaves in the end. Sydney follows in her mother’s footsteps, escaping her strange, wonderful, magical hometown of Bascom, SC to travel the country. Along the way, she engages in unhealthy relationships with powerful men, drifting and changing her name when they get too scary, until the most powerful and scary of them all gets her pregnant. She stays for her daughter’s sake, but at the opening of Garden Spells stages her escape from this abusive man back to Bascom. This very clearly parallels with Practical Magic, as does the fact that the villain is Sydney’s abusive ex.
However, though clearly drawing heavily from popular Practical Magic, there’s a lot that’s Garden Spells‘ own magic. Bascom bursts with a natural magic that follows family lines. Waverleys have a history of special gifts, certainly, and are the most magical family, but they’re not the only magic in the town. Claire’s cooking, made with plants from her garden, causes emotional responses in the people who eat her food, making her a highly in demand caterer. Sydney’s daughter Bay knows where things and people belong. Delightful old lady and cousin Evanelle gets the feeling that certain people need certain things and she simply has to give them to them. She doesn’t know why they’ll need the things, but they always do. I adore the way these bits of magic function, and the family connections between the Waverleys. I have a special place in my heart for elderly Evanelle, who is sassy as hell, hilarious, enjoys admiring young men who run around the track, and open-minded, if not necessarily PC in how she expresses things, because hey she’s old.
There really is a magic to the writing, a passion inherent in it. The ships use tropes that generally really wouldn’t work for me, but Allen made me ship both couples like burning both on my initial read and this reread. Claire and Tyler instalove, and also the magical apple tree basically revealed they were meant to be, so it’s the worst kind but I’m totally all about it; maybe because of the hotness of the sex idk. Sydney and Henry are friends turned lovers much later, and they’re sweet in a way that often doesn’t do much for me, but somehow Allen’s ships really just work for me.
The book would benefit from a bit less focus on Emma’s jealousy of Sydney, Emma’s husband’s first love. The climax with the villain has a lot of build up but is, admittedly, anticlimactic. I appreciate that Emma isn’t a straight up mean girl villain. She’s insecure and she will probably never like Sydney, but it’s nice that she does fight her scheming mom and she does call to warn the Waverleys. She’s not a villain. And I do sort of like the anticlimactic showdown, because it’s funny and silly and light-hearted and unexpected, but narratively it’s not the strongest.
I can definitely see more flaws now than I did roughly a decade ago, but I also do not care: I still love this book.
Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:
First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
Series: Waverley Family #2
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 10, 2015
Genres: Magical Realism, Romance
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From the New York Times bestselling author of Garden Spells comes a story of the Waverley family, in a novel as sparkling as the first dusting of frost on new-fallen leaves..
It's October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly. As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree... and all the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store.
Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies. Though her handcrafted confections — rose to recall lost love, lavender to promote happiness and lemon verbena to soothe throats and minds — are singularly effective, the business of selling them is costing her the everyday joys of her family, and her belief in her own precious gifts.
Sydney Waverley, too, is losing her balance. With each passing day she longs more for a baby — a namesake for her wonderful Henry. Yet the longer she tries, the more her desire becomes an unquenchable thirst, stealing the pleasure out of the life she already has.
Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to.. if only he could see it, too. But how can he, when he is so far outside her grasp that he appears to her as little more than a puff of smoke?
When a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family, each of them must make choices they have never confronted before. And through it all, the Waverley sisters must search for a way to hold their family together through their troublesome season of change, waiting for that extraordinary event that is First Frost.
Lose yourself in Sarah Addison Allen's enchanting world and fall for her charmed characters in this captivating story that proves that a happily-ever-after is never the real ending to a story. It’s where the real story begins.
Late in the game sequels tend to scare me these days, unless they’re by Meg Cabot. After people like Ann Brashares and Helen Fielding decided that killing off ships in horrible ways was a good idea, I became hesitant to risk it. I was so afraid that Allen would do something like that in First Frost, but there are only warm waters ahead, I promise.
So yes, first and most important, Claire and Tyler and Sydney and Henry are still happy together. First Frost isn’t about their relationships at all really, so they get to be the stable foundation. Bless you, Sarah Addison Allen!
Claire’s working through her frustration with her success and questions of her own identity as a Waverley. In the intervening decade, Claire accidentally (sort of) started an incredibly popular candy company, creating candies that are delicious and have healthful or emotional benefits. A visitor to the town did a write up in a popular publication, and she’s spending almost literally all of her waking time making candies to keep up with demand as best she can. I love that her plot line is about how success and money aren’t always the right choice.
I also love Claire’s struggles with her own identity, though the fact that these are exacerbated by random, half-assed carnie villain I did not love. Allen’s forte is the opposite of villainy. As with Garden Spells, he’s very easily chased off, and he takes up a distressing amount of the novel to be so unimportant. Like Garden Spells too, I do sort of love how anticlimactic and easy his defeat is, but narratively not the best. Also, I love that, though Claire is a Waverley through and through, Fred has become an honorary Waverley and seems to be taking over Evanelle’s power. Found family feelings!
Obviously, my favorite part of First Frost is Bay’s plot line. Bay knows where things and people belong, and she knows that the most popular boy in school, son of her mother’s ex-boyfriend, belongs with her in some way. She wrote him a letter about it and became a laughingstock. No surprise that they eventually get closer, and it’s totally adorable, though it feels a bit more middle grade and lacks the steamy deliciousness of the romances in Garden Spells. I’d have liked to see this ship sail a bit more decidedly and a have a bit more passion. It also could have been fun to see his family and her family try to deal with it.
I’m very glad that I read First Frost, and I’ll probably acquire a copy for rereading. I didn’t find it quite as cohesive and feelsy as Garden Spells, but it’s most excellent.
Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy: