Saturday, September 08, 2007

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Released Aug. 28, 2007
Published by Bantam Books (a division of Random House)
290 intoxicating pages

First things first: Huge, smoochy thanks to Random House for publishing this magical book.

Second: I have to admit that I was so completely swept up in the story of Claire Waverley, her unusual family and their magical tree that I completely neglected to mark a single quote. But, I knew I was going to love Garden Spells from the first paragraph. So, I'll just quote the first paragraph. Please bear in mind that my copy is an advanced reader and the final copy could conceivably be different. But, I can't imagine why anyone would mess with it, so here you go:

Every smiley moon, without fail, Claire dreamed of her childhood. She always tried to stay awake those nights when the stars winked and the moon was just a cresting sliver smiling provocatively down at the world, the way pretty women on vintage billboards used to smile as they sold cigarettes and limeade. On those nights in the summer, Claire would garden by the light of the solar-powered footpath lamps, weeding and trimming the night bloomers - the moon vine and the angel's trumpet, the night jasmine and the flowering tobacco. These weren't a part of the Waverley legacy of edible flowers, but sleepless as she often was, Claire had added flowers to the garden to give her something to do at night when she was so wound up that frustration singed the edge of her nightgown and she set tiny fires with her fingertips.

I reread that paragraph twice when I first opened the book, I liked it so much. Garden Spells is the story of Claire Waverley. Alone in her large family home in Bascom, North Carolina, Claire runs a successful catering business. She uses herbs and flowers in her unusual recipes, each of which have specific purposes. Violets, for example, are supposed to induce calm, bring on happiness and ensure a good night's sleep.

Claire is a solitary woman and believes herself to be, for the most part, content. Then, her sister returns from a lengthy absence and a new neighbor baffles her with his affection, forcing her life into new directions.

I'm not going to say a great deal about this book because I don't want to ruin it, so I'll make just a few general comments:

1. I thought the story was totally captivating, but a few times I skidded to a halt because of a twisty sentence. In other words, sometimes the author's grammar left something to be desired. Hopefully, those problems have been fixed in the final copy.

2. Because I enjoyed the book so much, I wanted everyone else to love it and went rushing off to read other reviews. A few folks complained that the storyline was far too close to that of Practical Magic, but that seemed to be the only major complaint (apart from one or two who thought the writing was not spectacular). I haven't yet read Practical Magic, but I would have to agree that there's a similar quirkiness to that of the characters in the lone Alice Hoffman book I've read, Turtle Moon. Quirkiness is good; in a book with a Southern setting, it seems particularly fitting to me.

3. Even though I loved the first paragraph of Garden Spells, I admit to thinking that it wasn't as well-written as I'd hoped. And, yet, I loved the characters and their story so much that it didn't matter. There are times that the desire to savor lyrical language can take a backseat to the joy of escaping into a magical setting. That was the case - at least for me - with Garden Spells. I particularly loved the magical apple tree (which has quite a personality all its own) and its role in the denouement of the book. If I felt there was anything at all to complain about, it might be the fact that most of the characters' flaws are very mild. But, I just don't feel like complaining. I liked the book too much.

4. I enjoyed Garden Spells enough that I'll be bouncing in my little computer chair when the author finishes a second book.

Need I say more?

Apologies for my absence, this weekend. We were busy watching this nifty bunch of kids swim in the local meet hosted by my son's school:

And, then, I suppose the heat exacerbated the migraine I was already fighting, late in the week. Yesterday, I was immobilized by pain. Today, I'm relieved to have yesterday over with. I'll try to catch up on my blog-hopping, tomorrow.

Currently reading: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank - hope to finish that one by tomorrow

Totally unexpected bonus inside a box with the ravioli-maker attachment hubby ordered:
The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland, and
A History of Costume by Carl Kohler

Seriously! Someone actually used books as padding for a ravioli-maker attachment box. Can you believe it? The husband's reaction was priceless (and unrepeatable).

Hope everyone had a terrific weekend!


  1. LOL, how wonderfully bizarre re: the books padding the ravioli maker.

    The book sounds wonderrrrrful. And any comparison to Alice Hoffman has my ears at full perk.

  2. Andi,

    I know!!! So much better than packing worms (but weird - if only because books are so heavy).

    It was wonderful!!! I loved Garden Spells. And, yeah, Alice Hoffman - I've got to give her another go. Turtle Moon was ridiculously fun.

  3. That book sounds really cool! I love anything with a little magical touch to it ;) I'll have to check that one out. That first paragraph alone is enough to draw anyone in!

    Sorry to hear about your migraines :( Have they been bad lately? I was doing so good on this Topamax and now all of a sudden I've had this horrible cluster of 7 or 8 in the last 2 the doctor upped my dosage.

    I wish people would start packing things I ordered with books! That's too cool...but a bit odd :/ And a ravioli maker! Your husband must be inspired after the Italy trip, huh?

  4. Garden Spells does sound like a good book! I've added it to my wishlist. I've only read one Alice Hoffman book so far, but I enjoyed it so much that I'm sure she'll become one of my favorite atuhors. I really need to read more by her. I say that about a lot of authors, I suppose, but there's a lot of good ones out there.

    I am sorry you had a miserable migraine yesterday. I do hope you are feeling better.

  5. Chris,

    I really enjoyed the magical aspects of Garden Spells. It does seem like something you'd like.

    The migraines have been typical, I guess, although this weekend's was really fierce - the kind where you have to shut yourself in a dark room with an ice pack and if anyone says anything or touches the bed you have to run for the toilet. Ugh. There's not much I can do on the weekend - can't get a shot, so I just have to try to keep something down, if possible. I'm pretty sure I made it worse by going out in the heat, but I was asked to be the "official" photographer for the team, so I couldn't just sit in the shade. :)

    Isn't that so funny about the books with the ravioli thingie? I love it! Weird, but fun. :)

  6. Wendy,

    Which Hoffman book have you read? I loved Turtle Moon. And, I felt the same way - if I'd just take the time to read more, I have a feeling she'll become a favorite author.

    I'm much better, today, thanks. I hope you love Garden Spells as much as I did, when you get a copy!

  7. I loved it, too! Very charming and lovely. And an apple tree as a character - how much fun is that? :)

  8. LOL about the books used as padding! Glad you're feeling better today. I've got a nasty headache today and can't concentrate. I think I need to go lie down.. :(

  9. Tiny,

    I'm glad you agree! I adored that crazy apple tree and found thought the other characters were a fun mix.


    Sorry you have a nasty headache, now!! Mine is gone, at least for now. so I'm happy. Of course, I did oversleep and the kiddo got to school at 8:30. Oops. Apparently, staying up all night with a headache messes up your sleep/wake schedule. :) Feel better!!

  10. OOOOH, I want to read GARDEN SPELLS now!!!!

  11. LOL! I guess I made it sound okay, then, Amy. :)

  12. Oh...this book sounds wonderful!! And what a beautiful cover! I'm a sucker for a nice cover! Will definitely be on the lookout for this one!

  13. Stephanie,

    Isn't it gorgeous? I just love the cover of Garden Spells. It's suitable for framing. And, the story is a good one, too. :)

  14. Too funny about the books used for packing material! Personally, I use scrunched up plastic bags from the grocery store.

    Glad to hear such high praise for Garden Spells. I haven't read Practical Magic yet (although it is in my stack for one of my challenges), so maybe I'll try to sneak this one in first so I'm not disappointed with the similarities. I really should give it a read, since it's the book B&N is pushing this month.

    Glad you're feeling better. I've been battling headaches on and off all week.

  15. Well now I'm intrigued by it after reading that first paragraph! I'll have to add it to my "must-read" list. So sorry you suffer from migraines. I do too. Miserable! (sigh)

  16. Les,

    I use newspaper, plastic bags or bubble wrap - whatever is at hand. Maybe they just couldn't find anything, but it's definitely strange!

    Be patient with Garden Spells. Claire is a little iffy, at first, but she grows on you and the apple tree, alone, is worth the time in my humble opinion. And you have to be willing to set language aside and pour yourself into setting. I think it's a great book, though, and I'm glad B & N is promoting it.

    Headaches suck. I hope you keep yours away. I finally got rid of mine *after* the doctor called in some emergency keterolac. S'okay, I can use it in the future. :)


    I hope you love Garden Spells as much as I did! And, yeah, migraines are agony. I'm sorry you also have them.

  17. Sounds like a wonderful read! I love the cover!

  18. It's better than packing peanuts any day. :)

    I'm putting this book on my TBR list. For some reason, that thing's getting longer, not shorter.

  19. Heather,

    I loved it. The cover is smashing; and I thought it was nice that the woman even had a head on her shoulders!!!


    No kidding. I'll take books over peanuts. :)

    TBR lists never get smaller. It's an entropy thing, I think.

  20. What great padding!

    The books sounds good - it's that comparison to Alice Hoffman - I just love her books. They're definitely quirky and I do like some more than others.

    Sorry to hear about the migraine! I've been migraine free for....geez, maybe 3 weeks? It feels like a lifetime.

  21. Carrie,

    Definitely the kind of padding this bunch can appreciate. :)

    I've only read Turtle Moon, but I loved the quirkiness and want to read more. It wasn't till I saw that several people compared the book to Practical Magic that it occurred to me . . . hmmm, yes, both authors are similarly quirky. Now, I want to find a copy of Practical Magic.

    Three weeks migraine free is worth celebrating. I suggest coconut-frosted cake and books. So predictable.

  22. I think I'll skip the coconut frosting but thank you all the same.

    Practical Magic wasn't one of my favorites but still good. I liked Second Nature, Ice Queen and...well, most of them.

  23. Carrie,

    I'm just reflecting on the joy of my birthday frosting. It was most delicious. Plus, the kiddo hates coconut. Ask me if my choice was deliberate. Ahem.

    You must be an Alice Hoffman fan, then, if you've read so many!! I hope you do like Garden Spells. I guess we'll see. :)

  24. Books as padding? How bizarre!

    Glad the migraine is gone. The kids look great, btw. How'd your son's team do?

    Hey, it's cool up here in the Great White North. The high today was in the low 60's. It's 48 right now, at 11:30. C'mon on up for a visit.


  25. So glad that migraine is gone and that it didn't keep you from enjoying your son's swim meet.

    The title and book both sound wonderful - so enticing. A lightbulb when on when I read that paragraph. I could garden at night in the hot, hot summertime. Very enchanting idea!

    Lucky you! I love Susan Vreeland's work. Talk about lyrical. Hope you enjoy Artemesia. I sure did. And then if you want more, try Girl in Hyacinth Blue.

    Do you have a yummy ravioli recipe you're going to make right of the bat? Share, please. Maybe it will inspire me.

  26. CJ,

    I know. Can you beat that? I guess someone just wanted to get rid of some books. :)

    The swim kids are always a great bunch. They won this meet; not surprising, since they had the largest team. My kiddo (the tallest guy, on the far left) came home with 4 medals and one of the girls thinks he should have had 5. He doesn't care if someone messed up; he was just happy with what he got.

    We got a cool front, last night!!! Our high is supposed to be in the 80's. I'm so happy! Of course, that means heavy yard-work season is coming, but . . . I'm so happy! :)

  27. Booklogged,

    I was so lucky - I got rid of that migraine right before the swim meet and it didn't return till after. Perfect timing!

    Simon asked me if I've ever tried gardening at night, when I spoke to him (Van Booy - author I interviewed) and I said, "I'd get eaten alive". I guess it depends on where you live, but the mosquitoes are much worse in shade and dark, when it's hot and humid so night gardening wouldn't work, here. If you ever do that, please tell me if it works out for you!

    Oh, good, another cheer for Vreeland. I'm going to have to slot that one in, soon!

    Hubby kind of wings it, when it comes to ravioli, but I can tell you that the best he whipped up were the ravioli containing a ricotta and mushroom mixture.

  28. What a lovely-sounding book! Another one for the wish list. *grin*

    I hope you stay migraine-free! I have a friend coming to visit in a couple of days who gets migraines. I do hope they won't kick in while she's here and keep us from doing some of the things she really wanted to do while visiting.

  29. That book is already on my list of to-buys and I think it will move to my list of must reads.

    I'd love to get something that uses books at stuffing and even padding. Were the books second-hand or brand new? Any good??

    If you can find any, try pumpkin with good feta for your raviolis. Had that once with a burnt butter sauce...delicious!

  30. Heather,

    Hope you like Garden Spells as much as I did.

    You just never know with migraines - that's one of the problems with those suckers. I can keep most of mine under control with medication (although they can make me so sluggish, there's no point to staying awake). I hope your friend stays migraine-free while visiting!


    I'd noticed Garden Spells advertised somewhere (but I don't know where) before I happened across the ARC and I have a feeling I would have tried to read it, eventually. That cover is a grabber!

    The books were used, but three were in excellent condition and they're the ones I'm hanging onto, although I might get rid of Predator by Patricia Cornwell. I don't really read books like hers, anymore.

    Ooooh, pumpkin sounds great!

  31. Stephanie3:18 PM

    That sounds like an interesting book. Love your header, by the way!

  32. Stephanie,

    I loved it, but you probably already knew that. ;)

    Thank you. I'm already twitchy - wanting to change my header. It's like an addiction, once you start to switch headers!

  33. I so want to read this book but it's on hold at work. I really loved early Alice Hoffman, especially Here on Earth (see if you see any similarities to classic literature in it) and Practical Magic - the book was wonderful, the movie so awful.

    The idea of books as packing seems very weird, but so amusingly suitable...

  34. Melanie,

    I think I might have a copy of Here on Earth. I'll have to dig. Maybe I should pass on the movie version of Practical Magic, when I get around to reading, then?

    Books as packing is a weird concept because they're so heavy. I looked, though, and they didn't try to sneak it in as a media mail parcel. I don't know if that's good or bad, since we paid postage for it!

  35. I saw Garden Spells at Barnes and Noble today and it was only 12 bucks! And it was compared to the writing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez who I just can't get out of my head, So I picked it up based on your recommendation and also picked up Marquez's 100 years of Solitude! I'll have a little magical week sometime in the near future with these two :)

  36. Chris,

    Cool! $12 is a bargain for a new book.

    I love Marquez - not sure I'd compare the two, but both have a magical touch. I hope you like Garden Spells as much as I did. :)

  37. I just finished this one, and I enjoyed it very much! I listened to the audio version, which was so well done that none of the writing seemed awkward to me - I wonder if things were changed from the prepub copy you had, or if hearing it read aloud changed things? Interesting!

  38. Darla,

    Hard to say. I will tell you, though, that while I didn't like the storyline of The Sugar Queen as much, I thought the author's writing matured with her second book.

  39. Interesting! I'm hoping to read that one some time this year - and there's a new one that's due to be published this spring, I think. By the way, I love the kitty at the bottom of your blog, looking up at the comments. Nice photo!

  40. Darla,

    Yep, there's another one due out in 2010, but last I heard the publishing date had been delayed. I really love this author, so I'm watching and waiting. :)

    Thanks, that kitty is a neighborhood cat named Slim. We also call him Vampire Kitty because he's really excitable and once bit me (just because he got so wound up when I was petting him) and drew blood. He's really a sweetie. He was watching a mockingbird on our fence, at the time I took that photo.

  41. Ha! My cat used to do that - he'd get so overcome with being petted that he'd chomp on a chin or nose or ear. Every now and then we'd hear a shriek from upstairs where he'd be cuddling with one of the kids, who had petted him a bit too much. I'm such a great mom that I always laughed. :-) Although I should point out in my own pathetic defense that he never drew blood!

  42. Darla,

    Slim only drew blood once, so we forgave him. :) I don't think it's unusual for a cat to get overstimulated and use a nip to tell you to stop. Both of our cats did that at some point (we're down to one blind old kitty) but they never bit hard - just nipped gently as a warning.


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