Book Review: Garden Spells

Garden Spells (Waverley Family #1)
Published By: Bantam
Publication Date: August 2007
Page Count: 304
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Audience: Adult - Magical Realism

I first picked up this novel in 2009 in my pre-Reading Lark reading.  I loved everything about it - the characters, the setting, the plot. As the holiday season swirls in the air, I find myself nostalgic for the Waverley family. The holidays always have a bit of magic to them for me and I love to imagine that anything is possible during that time of year. I decided to brush off my copy of Garden Spells and do a quick reread of my favorite parts while I had some extra time this week. I also felt like this one needed a review since I have already reviewed First Frost, the second book in this series. I'm a big fan of Sarah Addison Allen's work and can only hope there will be more of the Waverley women in our future.

Garden Spells focuses on the two Waverley sisters, Claire and Sydney. I find myself more drawn to Claire as she is an introvert who is passionate about her cooking. (I'm not a cook, but the introvert part is certainly an element of my chemical makeup.) Everything Claire cooks is like pure magic. She can make you feel peace, love, or happiness simply by putting a dish down in front of you. There is something mystical about the way she combines ingredients. As such, everyone in town clamors to have Claire cater their events. In fact, the town thinks Claire has a magic apple tree in her backyard. I love the magic and mystery that surround Claire. 

Sydney, Claire's younger sister, couldn't wait to leave their small North Carolina town behind the minute she graduated from high school. She left without so much as glance back, but things haven't been all sunshine and roses. Sydney finds herself in serious trouble and decides that she needs to return to Bascom, the small town of her youth. She packs up her young daughter, Bay, and heads back to Claire.

As the two sisters find a way to live together once more, they also discover secrets about one another and their family. I love the relationship that blossoms between Claire and Sydney. These two in many ways remind me of my sister and me.

Aside from the magical realism and memorable characters, I adore the setting of Bascom, North Carolina. Small town southern life is full of quirks and an eccentric cast of characters. Allen breathes these same traditions into Bascom. It's a town I love to spend time in. 

Allen is one of my favorite authors. I find myself reaching for her novels anytime I need a bit of magic to break up the tedium of reality. If you're looking for a magical realism read with a ton of southern flair, you must pick this one up. It'll have you hankering for one of Claire's creations and more time with the eccentric Waverleys.

One Last Gripe: I have no complaints.

Favorite Thing About This Book: The lore surrounding the Waverleys

First Sentence: Every smiley moon, without fail, Claire dreamed of her childhood.

Favorite Character: Claire

Least Favorite Character: Sydney's Ex

The women of the Waverley family -- whether they like it or not -- are heirs to an unusual legacy, one that grows in a fenced plot behind their Queen Anne home on Pendland Street in Bascom, North Carolina. There, an apple tree bearing fruit of magical properties looms over a garden filled with herbs and edible flowers that possess the power to affect in curious ways anyone who eats them. 

For nearly a decade, 34-year-old Claire Waverley, at peace with her family inheritance, has lived in the house alone, embracing the spirit of the grandmother who raised her, ruing her mother's unfortunate destiny and seemingly unconcerned about the fate of her rebellious sister, Sydney, who freed herself long ago from their small town's constraints. Using her grandmother's mystical culinary traditions, Claire has built a successful catering business -- and a carefully controlled, utterly predictable life -- upon the family's peculiar gift for making life-altering delicacies: lilac jelly to engender humility, for instance, or rose geranium wine to call up fond memories. Garden Spells reveals what happens when Sydney returns to Bascom with her young daughter, turning Claire's routine existence upside down. With Sydney's homecoming, the magic that the quiet caterer has measured into recipes to shape the thoughts and moods of others begins to influence Claire's own emotions in terrifying and delightful ways. 

As the sisters reconnect and learn to support one another, each finds romance where she least expects it, while Sydney's child, Bay, discovers both the safe home she has longed for and her own surprising gifts. With the help of their elderly cousin Evanelle, endowed with her own uncanny skills, the Waverley women redeem the past, embrace the present, and take a joyful leap into the future.