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.
Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells is just as delightful as all of her other books. Bascom, North Carolina is freaking adorable and magical and sexy. I am ready for a roadtrip!
Originality: 6. I like the idea that plants and cooking are magical. My favorite part, however, is the sassy apple tree in the back yard. It has strong opinions and is something of a matchmaker. Try and tell me that is not original.
Absurdity: 1. But then again, I am a big fan of magical realism. If you like your books cut-and-dry contemporary, this might not be up your alley.
Level of Paranormal Romance: 7! Magic is involved. As are delicious baked goods. As are late-night garden makeout sessions. It all makes for some excellent, subtle romance.
Level of Harry Potterness: 6. Allen knows what she is doing with her particular brand of magical realism. So some points there, and also for the fact that the tone. I like the way Allen paints pictures with smells and colors (and the aforementioned baked goods). I find this creativity engaging.