Sunday, March 9, 2008

Garden Spells

There are reading times that nothing will do except a full fledged romance novel. You know the kind--pulls at your heartstrings, gives you a hero and heroine that you root for to beat the odds, guarantees that signature HEA (Happily Ever After ending). Then there are reading times that call for a serious look at characters, their families and friends, and how they cope and resolve what life is handing HEA on the story's horizon. What bothers me is when the former is marketed as the latter, and that (IMHO) was the case with Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen.

From Publishers Weekly
Two gifted sisters draw on their talents to belatedly forge a bond and find their ways in life in Allen's easygoing debut novel. Thirty-four-year-old Claire Waverley manifests her talent in cooking; using edible flowers, Claire creates dishes that "affect the eater in curious ways." But not all Waverley women embrace their gifts; some, including Claire's mother, escape the family's eccentric reputation by running away. She abandoned Claire and her sister when they were young. Consequently, Claire has remained close to home, unwilling to open up to new people or experiences. Claire's younger sister, Sydney, however, followed in their mother's footsteps 10 years ago and left for New York, and after a string of abusive, roustabout boyfriends, returns to Bascom, N.C., with her five-year-old daughter, Bay. As Sydney reacquaints herself with old friends and rivals, she discovers her own Waverley magic. Claire, in turn, begins to open up to her sister and in the process learns how to welcome other possibilities.

Garden Spells was a Barnes & Noble Recommends selection touted as "unputdownable." While the story was interesting and the characters somewhat captivating, I certainly had no problem setting it aside for other reading fare. My recollection of the Garden Spells display, prominent on the first table when entering my local B&N, is that there was no mention of this being a romance nor does that dreaded category imprint appear on the dust cover spine. It all makes me wonder about who decides and how the decision is made to publish a $7.99 paperback with the genre clear to all comers on the spine vs. a $20 hardcover eagerly shelved with Fiction/General Literature. Was Garden Spells intended to be a lite version of Alice Hoffman's The Probable Future? Was Garden Spells intended to ride the wave of the Three Sisters Island trilogy (Dance Upon the Air, Heaven and Earth, & Face the Fire) of Nora Roberts?

Despite my ambivalence about the marketing of Garden Spells, I did enjoy the story and found the characters charming. I'll also pick up her next book,
The Sugar Queen, due out in May--if for nothing more than to see how Addison Allen handles the color red (a favorite Hoffman allusion).

2.5/5 (General Fiction scale)
3.5/5 (Romance scale)
Bantam (September 2007)
Hard Cover; 286 pages

Dedication: For my mam. I love you.

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