Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Title: Garden Spells
Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Genre: Fiction, magical realism
Publisher: Bantam, 2007
Source: Library

The families that live in Bascom, North Carolina, tend to have certain defining traits. The Hopkins men marry older women, the Clark women have certain scandalous talents, and the Waverleys are all equipped with magical gifts. Claire Waverley has always embraced her Waverley powers, devoting her life to a beautiful garden and a catering business where the different herbs she uses has certain predictable effects on her customers. Her sister Sydney, on the other hand, ran away from Bascom at a young age and has shunned every reminder of her past. However, when Sydney unexpectedly shows up on Claire's doorstep, both sisters will undergo a transformation that will cause them to change and grow, as well as find love.

First of all, I have to give a shout-out to the delightful magical realism elements in this story. I love elements of fantasy and enchantment, and Allen did not disappoint. I will say that I would consider this magical-realism-lite, in the sense that the tone of this book was lighter and more sugary than other magical realism I have experienced. It had a fairy-tale feel despite the modern setting. I especially loved the relationship the women had with the apple tree, the way it threw apples at people and showed them wonders or nightmares. It was neither good nor bad, simply a piece of their lives that they had to live with.

I also enjoyed the characters, in particular Evanelle. She was the perfect modern equivalent of a fairy godmother, carrying around random gifts for the people she felt prompted to give them to and stocking up on matches and other supplies for when the need called. I was always interested to see to what purpose her gifts would be placed in the stories - it was never quite what I expected. I also liked Claire and the way she was completely unassuming and herself. She was eccentric, set in her ways, solitary, and anal, but she was also completely confident and happy in her lifestyle. She did need a little stirring up, but even the first blooms of love had to reach her in her own time. Her understated personality was endearing and compelling. I also enjoyed Sydney, and in particular the way Claire sacrificed little pieces of her previously solid and uncompromising lifestyle to help Sydney and make her happy. Their relationship was uncertain at best, and it was beautiful to watch the relationship improve and unfold.

The writing left something to be desired for me. I have been struggling to put my finger on the issue I found with it since finishing the book about a week ago and am still not entirely sure how to collect my thoughts, but I'll make an attempt. The tone sounded slightly immature, a the sentences simple and matter-of-fact. The story itself was wonderful, but the style was frequently distracting for me. The sentences were plain and blatant instead of clever and artistic. I am a sucker for a well-crafted sentence and the writing was not up to the level of the story.

However, despite my complaints with the writing style, the book was overall an enjoyable experience, and I plan to read at least one more of Allen's books. To me, this book was the consistency of a root-beer float - foamy, frothy and bubbly, but with a sweet core that had some real substance. This is a great book for a hot summer's day with a glass of iced tea and a popsicle. Come here if you want a little romance and a little magic, but not if you are looking for a stunning display of language.

3 stars

Warnings for the sensitive reader: Some F-bombs, descriptions of abuse, and a few PG-13 love scenes.


  1. Oh I had a friend rec this book to me so I will have to pick up a copy one of these days. Kinda a bummer it wasn't a fantastic read but glad to hear you enjoyed it!

  2. I have loved everything I've read by Sarah Addison Allen. Garden Spells is probably my least favorite, but I still enjoyed it immensely. Have you read her new one,The Peach Keeper? Fantastic!
    2 Kids and Tired Books

  3. I loved this story, but something bothered me with the writing, too, and I couldn't figure it out what, but you've put it perfectly. Great review!

  4. I read this a couple years ago and I loved it. I am a huge fan of Sarah Addison Allen and I feel like her books only get better. Her writing is simple but I think it suits the stories that she tells.

  5. This is my favorite Sarah Addison Allen book! Her books are perfect fluff - they're so light and sweet and magical. Not the best literature of course, but I love it still :-)

    I highly recommend The Sugar Queen if you decide to give her another shot. It had a twist that I totally wasn't expecting, and left me a little more impressed with SAA.

  6. @Molli - Most people I know really loved it, so you might have a better experience than I did!

    @Holly - Good to know it keeps getting better! I have heard so many people raving about her so I am hoping I like another book better. This is the first one I have read but I am planning on trying a few more of her books.

    @Pepca - I'm glad to hear you were also bothered by the writing style (well, not glad that you were bothered, but glad that I'm not the only one that feels that way!) Everyone I know loves the writer so much and I was wondering if I was the only one that wasn't quite happy with the story.

    @Jennifer - I didn't love the writing but I do think I will read more of her books. Her stories are definitely amazing!

    @Sarah - They are definitely good beach reads. I am going on a cruise this winter and I think I am going to have to get another of her books for that. And I actually read a sample of The Sugar Queen at the end of this book and added it to my TBR - it sounded really good.


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