Review: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Title: Garden Spells
Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Pages: 290
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: August 28, 2007
Publisher: Bantam
Source: Personal Copy

Anyone who has ever flown on an airplane can attest to the fact that reading without interruptions is next to impossible. While waiting to board, there are people rushing by, airline representatives practically screaming announcements, and CNN blaring its headline news. All that before you even get on a plane. Once inside, there's always a screaming infant, a child playing video games with the volume on high, or a loud talker sitting right behind you. These are the reasons why I like to choose easy, fluffy reads for my travels, and why I picked Garden Spells in particular for my NYC trip.

Bascom, NC is home to the Waverlys, a family who has been a part of the community for generations. Each family member posseses a different magical skill, and must protect the garden behind the family's giant Queen Anne home that contains an apple tree whose fruit, when eaten, reveals the most important event that will occur in that person's life. These magical elements have made the Waverlys outcasts among the other residents of Bascom.

Sisters Claire and Sydney Waverly were raised by their loving grandmother after being abandoned by their mother at an early age in her hometown. Despite having such a traumatic situation to bond them together, the sisters are anything but close, and after finishing her turbulent high school career, Sydney leaves town vowing never to return. Claire stayed in town and started her own successful catering company, using the edible flowers in her garden in her cooking, which affects the eater's emotions. After unfortunate life circumstances force Sydney back to her hometown, now with a young daughter named Bay, she must embrace her own talents, while she and Claire confront their past and try to repair their broken relationship. Add in aunt Evanelle, who at eighty years old is still fiesty and quick, and a new art professor at the local college, and get prepared for a light and humorous story.

From the very first chapter, Garden Spells had me captivated with a world of believable magic, a world that makes you want to believe in the possibilities. The supernatural elements are kept to a minimal, yet integral part of the story, and Allen doesn't rely on them completely or let them overtake the plot and devolve into paranormal territory. One thing that does bug me is how reminiscent the plot is to Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic, without the darker tone. Check out the Amazon descriptions to see what I mean. However, once invested in the characters, I wasn't constantly aware of the similarities. Allen's characters are charming and lovable, yet a little simplistic. I felt that the characters evolved, but only in the one dimension that was shown. While having multiple characters narrate chapters helped create a more rounded viewpoint, I felt it didn't allow the growth that sticking to one or two narrators could have provided. I wish Allen had focused more on Bay's thoughts and expanded her character, providing the interesting insight of a child. However, there is something very uplifting about watching flawed characters discover themselves, and I think that was one of the strengths of the novel.

Overall, I felt that Allen focused a lot on relationships. Every character in the book either started, ended, rekindled, or redefined a relationship with someone. If you want to try and get literary, then I guess the whole Tree of Knowledge/forbidden fruit could be a biblical/Genesis reference, but I don't feel like this book needs such a deep reading to be enjoyed. Garden Spells is low on complexity with a pretty predictable plot. While the writing wasn't stellar, I felt a genuine sense of warm and fuzzy feelings while reading, which provided a nice break from the heavier fiction I've been reading lately. Basically, it is overall fluff, but if you can accept the fact that this is pure escapism, then you'll be able to embrace the book and enjoy it so much more.

I'll finish this off by sharing my favorite quote from the book. Such a true statement.
When you're happy for yourself, it fills you. When you're happy for someone else, it pours over.
I think these two sentences help summarize what I took away from this book, and help describe that uplifting feeling I had while reading.

Rating: 3.5/5


  1. Even if it is fluff, I still think it's something I might like to add to the list for those times when I do need a break from the heavy reads. I really want you to just look at The Forgotten Garden to tell me if you think it's as bad as I'm thinking it is.

  2. I've also read it this year and felt very much like you did. Yes, it's fluff, but the good kind :)

    "I felt a genuine sense of warm and fuzzy feelings while reading" - exactly!

  3. I really adore Sarah Addison Allen's works...have you read her other books...they are all great although "The Peach Keeper" was a little too brief for felt rushed in some ways.

  4. Beth - I'll definitely take a look at The Forgotten Garden. If this is as fluffy as it sounds, I can see why it isn't holding up for 600+ pages.

    Alexandra - Yep, sometimes everyone just needs the good kind of fluff in their life!

    Stiletto - The only other one I've read is The Girl Who Chased the Moon (which I adored.) I just bought The Peach Keeper, and am really looking forward to it. Do you have a favorite book by her?

  5. I'm definitely with you on picking something light to read while traveling. It's too chaotic to pick something that you really have to think about.

    I haven't read this one but I read The Girl that Chased the Moon and I just got The Peach Keeper from the library (very excited to read that one). I may have to pick Garden Spells up now too!

  6. I hadn't heard of this author until I saw all the recent reviews of the Peach Keeper - and she sounds like just what I need. I like to start with the early books (loser :)) so thanks for this!

  7. I've never tried this author's work, but I have a couple of her books. This one sounds like a terrific beach read.

  8. I always choose light fluffy reads for travel too because I agree .. the mind wanders! This is one of those authors that keeps getting recommended to so maybe I should take her with me on my next trip.

  9. I love, love, LOVE Garden Spells! I just finished reading The Peach Keeper which is *awesome* but Garden Spells will always be my favorite! Glad you enjoyed it as well!

  10. I've heard so many great things about this author! I just read a review of her new book, The Peach Keeper, over at A Library of My Own. Thanks for the review, it sounds awesome!

  11. Meg - Yeah, my plane reads have to be stuff that I can constantly be interrupted and be able to pick back up without feeling like I missed something. I can't wait to hear your thoughts on The Peach Keeper!

    Lyndsey - Definitely not a loser. I read her last book The Girl Who Chased the Moon, without knowing she had earlier works. After loving it, I jumped back and started at the beginning. I like seeing an author's progression over their works, whether good or bad.

    bermudaonion - You should definitely give Allen a try. I think you would enjoy her lighter, magical tone.

    Amused - If you don't build up her work too much, and have unreachable expectations, I think you'll really like how she crafts a more whimsical tale.

    Coffee & a Book Chick - I can't wait to hear your thoughts on The Peach Keeper! I'm looking forward to reading The Sugar Queen and The Peach Keeper to see how she progresses as an author (and to be able to pick my favorite book of hers!)

    Brooke - Can't wait to hear your thoughts on The Peach Keeper as well! Hope you enjoy!

  12. I finished the Peach Keeper in two days! I absolutely loved it! Look for my review on Monday to honor the unofficial start of summer. :)


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