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Today I am playing catch up on reviews. I just keep reading and the reviews keep needing to be written! I want to share some thoughts on Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen.
A friend of mine recommended this book to me about a month ago, giving the author and the story high praise. I was excited to check it out! It took a while for me to get to it and several chapters to get into the story. And I am still not sure exactly how I feel about the novel in general. The hard thing about having a book recommended to me is I often feel obligated to like it. Or at least I assume that I will like it. So perhaps that is why I am still surprised by my reaction to this novel.
- I have not read many novels in the magical realism genre–elements of magic inside a world that is otherwise just like ours. It was an interesting blend of fantasy and reality.
- I want to try many of the interesting recipes Claire makes with flowers and herbs and emotions.
I like GoodReads summary of the novel: “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 home 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. . . . Garden Spells reveals what happens when Sydney returns to Bascom with her young daughter, turning Claire’s routine existence upside down. . . . 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.”
Each of the characters in this novel are so unique and full of life. From routine based Claire to spontaneous Sydney to quirky Evanelle, they all have such distinct personalities. Some are easier to love and route for than others. Some are charming and most are flawed. Some are just plain vindictive. It is the characters that create a vibrant and living story. Even the apple tree, a character in and of itself, adds to (maybe even drives) the charm and the magic of the plot.
One of my favorite elements in the novel was the multiple points of view. As I have said before, this is one of my favorite literary tropes. I think it adds greater depth and complexity to novels. This one was no exception. I enjoyed the ways we get inside the heads of all the main characters and several of the minor ones. We get to understand more clearly why they act in certain ways and why they feel certain ways about each other. We see how they change and why they seek for reconciliation and redemption, why they seek to heal past relationships.
The magic in this novel surprised me and perplexed me at times. It is a different sort of magic than I usually read. Often, I read magic in stories that are full of fantastical creatures and storybook places. The worlds are not like this one. However, the magic in this novel is much more subtle. It is almost hidden within the larger plot. We see it only in glimpses until the climax of the story–in an apple, a revelation, a chance meeting. I enjoyed the muted magic in the story overall. But I also wanted more explanation of it. I wanted to know how it started and how it worked on a deeper level. I finished the novel with more questions about magic than answers.
There were several things that I strongly disliked about the novel and those seriously hindered my enjoyment of the novel. First, there was a surprising amount of intensity in the themes. I just didn’t expect scenes to include domestic violence, abuse, and intense emotional manipulation. I don’t enjoy reading about things like that. So I had a hard time. Additionally, there are a lot more overtly sexual references and scenes than I anticipated. Those made me uncomfortable, and I skipped over some chapters to try to avoid more. I don’t think these elements added much to the overall plot either.
The book seems to move towards the climax almost from the first page. But suddenly, everything is wrapped up and too easily resolved. I would have liked a bit less build up and more development in how the sisters and their friends were able to overcome some intense obstacles to find happiness and peace in life. I think more discussion of the magic would have helped here.
Overall, I’m not sure I can say I liked this book. There were parts that were clever and intriguing. But others seemed less focused and disconnected. It was not what I expected. Perhaps it’s just not my cup of tea, so to speak, but I must admit I’m pretty disappointed.