Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Sunday Salon - Reviews Out the Wahoo!

As promised, I have oodles of reviews for you today. Well, maybe not oodles for most people, but two is a whopping number given my lack of reading time lately.

First, I picked up Sarah Addison Allen's first novel, Garden Spells, at Osondu Booksellers when I visited Waynesville, NC on vacation a month or so ago. When I was packing readables for my conference trip to Illinois, I happened to think of it, and I realized it might make good plane reading. I'm a horrible plane reader--bad concentration skills when I'm feeling cramped. Anyway, I started Garden Spells the moment my plane took off from Raleigh en route to Detroit for a layover, and by about 4:00 that afternoon I was lounging on a very large bed at the Chateau Hotel and I was done as done could be. If it's rare that I read on a plane, it's even rarer that I finish a book all in one day. I didn't really know what to expect from Garden Spells, but given that Nancy enjoyed it, I felt like I was in good hands.

The book is about sisters Claire and Sydney Waverly. Their family is considered weird in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. The Waverly's see. They are not witches, just gifted. In the back yard of her big old Victorian home, Claire Waverly grows flowers with the power to affect the emotions of their eaters. She is a caterer and often crafts meals with the host's intentions in mind. Want your guests to focus on the good things in life? Fall in love? Just have Claire whip up some cupcakes topped with sugared violets or some ice cream with rose petals mixed in. Claire's sister Sydney hits the door running at the close of her adolescence and years later finds herself at the mercy of an abusive husband with a young daughter, Bay, to care for. Fates collide when Sydney returns to Bascom and the friends who once snubbed her, and Claire must learn to open up to people--her sister and the increasingly interested art professor next door.

This book reminded me very much of Alice Hoffman's writing in many ways. It's full of juicy, tactile details. I could almost taste, and could definitely imagine, all of the wonderful things Allen described. The smell and look of the garden, the roving eyes of the hot neighbor. You get the picture. In many ways the comparison to Hoffman extends past the style to the storyline as well, as Allen's plot reminded me very much of the movie version of Practical Magic. Not in the particular details, but in the feeling and flow of the story overall.

While it was pretty darn predictable, I really didn't care. I was totally immersed in Allen's world and the concerns of her characters. It certainly grabbed me by the nosehair and wouldn't let go until the final page. That's a high compliment! I'll be counting this one for Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge since the fantastical elements were so strong. It definitely goes further than magical realism, in my opinion.

I was surprised to find Ceridwen Dovey's first novel, Blood Kin, at my door last week, and I was really excited. I heard about this one on NPR's Books podcast a while back, and the premise grabbed me. It's the story of a coup told from the outgoing President's barber, chef, and portraitist. The respective workers detail their lives caring for the president and their experiences when they're caught and imprisoned along with him as the regime changes. In addition to the workers' points of view, we also get additional information from the women in their lives.

I guess you could classify this book as something of a fable given there are no names and few details. It's an imaginary country and an imaginary political system, and it's plenty troubling in spots. I guess my big disappointment here was not so much in the style or premise, but specifically in the ending. There should've been a big ta-dah! type moment--a twist--but I was pretty let down by it. It didn't surprise me or impact me much, and I can't figure out if that's a by-product of the nameless characters and a lingering sense of distance from them, or if I just didn't get into the book as much as I normally would because I was in the midst of traveling. It's definitely not a warm and fuzzy story like Garden Spells, so it was harder to get involved.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm at the end of the novel, I appreciate Dovey's writing, and I think it's a great first effort. I'm looking forward to whatever else she comes up with. She seems a really interesting person, so take a few minutes to explore her website (linked above) and read her bio. She's incredibly accomplished at a relatively young age (my age, she makes me feel like a slacker!).

Check for a fuller review in the July issue of Estella's Revenge.

In an unexpected twisted of reading fate, I picked up the first in Neil Gaiman's Sandman series last night. I need something shortish and quick since Galatea 2.2 is so cerebral, so it seemed like just the thing. I'm making a play to finish up Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge and I need to make some headway on Dewey's Graphic Novels Challenge, so this one fits the bill perfectly. And it's been on my shelves for a good five years now. So far, so good! I hope to finish it today or tomorrow at the latest.

I hope you all have a great Sunday full of books!


  1. Great post. I know what you mean about in flight if Garden Spells drew you in, that's a good thing! I need to add it to my TBR pile.

  2. Garden Spell sounds great and I know what you mean about needing the right book when you're flying. I will also add it to my very very long list, for future reading. Thanks.

  3. I'm a bad plane reader too. Actually unless I'm easily distracted anywhere. I'm glad you liked Gardem Spells. It's a good summer read.

  4. Good to see you back in Blogland. I'm glad you had good reading times on your trip; that can be so discombobulating. Garden Spells is on my STBR shelf - maybe next week I'll whip through it.

  5. For flying, I chose short stories or light books. I can't do heavy reading.

    Thanks for the great reviews!

    SS 1: Books read/received
    SS 2: Book Shopping

  6. I hope to read Garden Spells one of these days. I enjoy reading on the plane but have learned that an aisle seat is much more suitable for that than a window where I tend to want to look outside if it's daylight.

    I hope you have a great week, Andi.

  7. I really need to pick up Garden Spells. It sounds like something I'd really enjoy. And I keep seeing comparisons to Alice Hoffman...I haven't read (or watched) Practical Magical yet, but given my recent experience with The Ice Queen, the comparison makes me even more interested.

    I hope you enjoy Preludes & Nocturnes!

  8. Great review and great music, once again.
    Nice to see (from Eva's post) that you're an Angela Carter fan; she's my fav. Maybe one of us is actually adopted?

  9. I'm glad you enjoyed Garden Spells- it was a neat book. :-) Perfect for a plane flight- it totally took me away when I read it too.

  10. I've picked Garden Spells of the shelf more than a few times, never quite sure if I'd like it. Your review convinced me - especially if it's good plane reading. I'm always in need of that!

  11. How funny, I picked up Garden Spells when #4 and I were at Borders just this last Saturday. I read the blub on the back and the first thing I thought of was Practical Magic too. I read a few pages in and then skipped around and found it similar to Practical Magic and a film that I saw involving food and magical realism. I didn't buy the book but wondering if I should now.

  12. I've avoided Garden Spells for quite awhile because its premise reminded me so much of Practical Magic, but maybe the next time I'm in the mood for something light I'll pick it up. Thanks!

    Have you read the book The Third Witch by Rebecca Reisert? Kind of in a similar vein (wise woman healer type) but then with Macbeth added in to the mix. Very enjoyable!

  13. I've heard so many good things about Garden Spells on various blogs. I really have to pick it up!

  14. I really want to read both of these books. I admit what first attracted me to Garden Spells was the book cover. I see she has a new book out too!


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