This book was like fresh flannel sheets on a cold morning. It was like a hot mug of cider on a crisp fall day. It was like a basket of sleepy kittensThis book was like fresh flannel sheets on a cold morning. It was like a hot mug of cider on a crisp fall day. It was like a basket of sleepy kittens dozing in the sun. In short - it was the kind of book I just wanted to snuggle up with.
I've read Sarah Addison Allen's books before, but not the first Waverley book (Garden Spells). This book works perfectly well as a stand-alone, although no one else should be as foolish as I about skipping over a Waverley story.
Allen's signature themes of family, love, quirky towns, and touches of magic are all encapsulated in First Frost. The Waverley family has always been known as magical and eccentric - Sydney gives haircuts that can change your day, her sister Claire cooks up delicious treats that influence your emotions, and Sydney's teenage daughter Bay knows exactly where everything belongs.
My favorite character by far (besides the temperamental, mulish apple tree in the Waverley mansion's backyard) was Bay. She was mature, centered, and thoughtful, and way more together than either her mother or her aunt (who are prone to worry themselves silly over things instead of asking for help). Bay is probably one of the most likeable, grounded teenage heroines I have come across and it is blessedly refreshing. While Claire and Sydney found their loves in the first book (or so I assume that's when it happened), Bay is dealing with first love. She knows that she fits with popular boy Josh, but he has steadfastly ignored her since she wrote him a note. Bay's unhappy and awkward about the situation, but she handles it amazingly gracefully for a teenager. Bay and Josh's relationship was cute, and I wish there was more written about it - maybe a sequel? Everything is wrapped up into a happily ever after (this is an SAA novel), but there's enough to hint that another Waverley novel could happen. Which I would absolutely adore. ...more
The first 30% of this book I was totally on board with.
The book opens in 1815, with Julia Percy, and her time-stopping dying grandfather. This openinThe first 30% of this book I was totally on board with.
The book opens in 1815, with Julia Percy, and her time-stopping dying grandfather. This opening was good - I sensed a lot of potential from the plot and the writing and I liked that it looked like it was going to be a historically probable novel (I mean, this is a book about time travelling, so I didn't think it was likely to be historically accurate, but it seemed like research and time was spent on getting a 19th century "feel").
And then it switched over to Nick Davenant, née Lord Nicholas, the Marquess of Falcott. He blinked forward in time from The Battle of Salmanca in 1812 to 2003. He finds himself part of the mysterious Guild, a secret organization by time travelers for time travelers. After an intense luxury assimilation training, every new Guild member receives 2 million pounds a year. Somehow, no one is suspicious of this shit. Like, seriously!?!? Does this not sound too good to be true?!? “Hello new time traveler! We’re giving you 2 million pounds a year and in return we want NOTHING from you!” Obviously something is up.
And part of the something that is up is that the Guild lies to its members, telling them that can only jump forward in time, never backward. After finally assimilating to the 21st century and enjoying his life of luxury, Nick is summoned by the Guild and told that not only can he go backward in time - he has to go back to 1815. Because there is a McGuffin somewhere in the past that the Guild hopes will divert a disastrous future. See, there is a future date - a date that is getting closer and closer all the time - that is the farthest future point into which time travelers can travel. And that future date is a violent, chaotic, possibly world-destroying time. It's the future no one wants to happen. So, like The Terminator, someone (here, Nick) must travel to the past to save the future.
Nick goes back to his own time period and resumes his old life, and recovers some of the arrogant dickery that he had during that period. He also re-establishes his flame for Julia Percy, who he met once and then obsessed about forever for no real reason (she's really, really pretty, guys).
At about this point, the novel switches from being a fun, awesome, interesting book about time travel to a romance novel by any other name. Because Nick spends some time trying to take down the Guild and find this McGuffin, but he mostly obsesses over JULIA PERCY. And Julia Percy, despite being a sheltered 19th century noblewoman (albeit one with an eccentric grandfather), acts likes a modern woman. Julia and Nick sleep together, and although Julia is a virgin and should know that this act has every possibility of destroying her future forever (this is the NINETEENTH CENTURY PEOPLE), feels very little quandary over having sex outside of marriage and of course has an amazing, soul-shaking first time. Because, right.
I mean, if Julia is so sure of Nick's love for her, and they are of the same class so there’s no reason they couldn’t get married, why doesn't she angle to just marry Nick, like most nineteenth century women would? Or at least get an engagement before getting into physical relations with him? I think Nick has some weird hangup about his time traveling or whatever for romantic complication purposes, so he refuses to propose to Julia. But Julia seems to have no thoughts as to marriage and its importance - even though that was the sole aim of women of her class and time.
This book was about 100 pages too long and the plot became more simplistic and less interesting as it went along (and Julia and Nick are no great love story, just a case of lust-at-first-sight). But I'm still interested in where the story is going overall and am in for the second book. ...more
Sarah Addison Allen’s books are always quiet little tales of magic, love, and healing filled with quirky characters in beautiful, small communities. ASarah Addison Allen’s books are always quiet little tales of magic, love, and healing filled with quirky characters in beautiful, small communities. Although it is a bit formulaic/repetitive – you know what you’re getting out of a Sarah Addison Allen book before you go in – I still found it soothing and charming. It was a much-needed break from heavier literature.
Newly widowed Kate is trying to recover from the grief of her husband’s death. Her eccentric eight-year-old daughter Devin has been cared for by her strict mother-in-law while Kate has been in a fog of grief. When Kate finally comes back to herself, she takes Devin to her Aunt Eby’s place at Lost Lake Cottages in remote Georgia – Kate has only been there once, but it was one of the best summers of her life.
Aunt Eby also lost her beloved husband. Luckily, she’s surrounded by a cast of kind but odd characters at Lost Lake. There’s Lisette, a Frenchwoman who Eby and her husband rescued on their honeymoon. A tragedy in Lisette’s past has made her decide to be mute. There's also Selma and Bulahdeen, two elderly ladies who have an odd couple friendship – complete opposite personalities who frequently clash, but who spend every summer together.
When Kate arrives, she reconnects with Wes, a summer crush who has been carrying a flame for her for years. He owns a pizza parlor/repair place, and he is haunted by the tragic death of his brother in a fire.
The relationships are really the plot here, but SAA adds some additional tension with an evil developer who wants to buy Lost Lake Cottages. Will Eby sell? Will all the prospective couples get together? Will everyone heal from their grief? If you don't know the answers to those questions already, then you haven't read an SAA novel before.
SAA's novels are women's fiction with a kiss of magical realism. Lost Lake is fairly light on the magical aspect, but it does have Selma's charms that attract men and Devin's friendship with a suspiciously helpful alligator (only in an SAA book is a child making friends with a creature with ridiculously sharp teeth an event that ends with everyone's heart warmed, not with a bloody, mangled mess). ...more
You, sir, are no Rebecca. This is like some cheap mass-market paperback knock-off.
There were two stories, both equally boring. Benedicte was the formYou, sir, are no Rebecca. This is like some cheap mass-market paperback knock-off.
There were two stories, both equally boring. Benedicte was the former owner, who has a psychopath younger brother. The other one is Eve, who is whisked off to this farmhouse in France by her secretive lover, Dom, whose ex-wife remains mostly a mystery (is she alive? is she dead? did he kill her?). Plus, in the current day there is a host of missing girls in the area, which is supposed to make you suspicious of Dom but guess what? (view spoiler)[He had nothing to do with anything and some of the girls weren’t even really missing (they were just run aways or failed to communicate properly). So annoying. (hide spoiler)] It wasn’t properly exciting and the characters were as shallow as plates.["br"]>["br"]>...more
This was a quick, mostly enjoyable read up until Victoria Jones - angry former foster child with abandonment issues turned prodigy florist - makes a pThis was a quick, mostly enjoyable read up until Victoria Jones - angry former foster child with abandonment issues turned prodigy florist - makes a pretty unforgivable decision (view spoiler)[to run away from everything and everybody to have her baby in secret, without even telling the father (hide spoiler)]. Then I stopped caring about anyone and wanted the book to be over as quickly as possible.
Victoria grew up in a series of foster and group homes straight out of a Lifetime movie. Everyone is casually to intentionally cruel, and no one is even passingly nice. Even her social worker, Meredith, becomes callous and harsh as Victoria becomes unplaceable. This despite the fact that Victoria was a healthy white infant given up for adoption at birth – as in, the one category of adoptable kids that there is never enough of. There are childless parents out there who would give BOTH their hands for a healthy white baby. Why Victoria was unable to be adopted when she was a baby is never explained.
The only time that Victoria had the hope of a real family is when she was placed with Elizabeth, a vineyard owner who was practically raised by her sister and was a terror as a child. Elizabeth is patient and kind to Victoria, and Victoria starts to finally feel like she belongs somewhere. But Elizabeth has unresolved issues with her sister (view spoiler)[(her sister stole her love interest, got pregnant by him, then raised the child by herself – Elizabeth cut her sister out of her life until Victoria came along) (hide spoiler)]. This leads to an inexplicable decision by Elizabeth that leads Victoria to feel once again abandoned – and to strike out in the worst way possible. (view spoiler)[Elizabeth becomes depressed for a day, and refuses to attend the adoption court date. Victoria, blaming Elizabeth’s sister for making Elizabeth so sad, frames the sister for setting fire to Elizabeth’s vineyards. She then accuses Elizabeth of child abuse and gets taken away. (hide spoiler)] In the end, Elizabeth gives Victoria nothing but her love for the meaning of flowers and a firmer belief that she can’t trust anyone.
When Victoria turns 18, she’s tossed out into the streets. She ends up getting a job with a friendly florist, Renata. Pretty soon, Victoria is wowing customers with her flower arrangements – when Victoria gives someone a bouquet of meaningful flowers, those meanings come true. It is unclear why. Possibly through the power of suggestion, possibly through magical realism. Business booms, Victoria is financially secure doing a job she loves. And she now has a sorta-boyfriend – Grant, a flower seller who instantly connects with her. Grant, it turns out, is Elizabeth’s sister’s son. Small world! And despite the fact that he met Victoria only very briefly when she was 10 and she is a snarly, angry mess now, he falls deeply and completely in love with her. They share a love of the meaning of flowers, and Grant feels guilty for what he thinks his mom did (but what was really Victoria’s fault). Is that really what a relationship should be based on?
I never get stories where the girl is awful, mean, and selfish to a guy and he is selfless, kind, considerate, and always willing to forgive the girl for anything. That is just not healthy. I know people in those relationships, and I await the day they break up and find better suited partners.
During her childhood, with the exception of Elizabeth, there is not a single person who is good to Victoria. And then suddenly she turns 18 and everyone is just beside themselves ready to forgive and help Victoria. Renata gives Victoria a job, pays her more than she should, and helps find her housing. And yet when Victoria gets scared and runs away from everyone, she sets up a rival florist business and Renata doesn’t even mind. Victoria, in fact, left Renata without an employee (and I think stole some cash? I don’t remember for sure) and even took some of Renata’s original customers, and Renata doesn’t blink an eye. Grant is nothing but patient and kind to Victoria, and she runs away (view spoiler)[and doesn’t tell him she’s pregnant(hide spoiler)]. And he forgives her instantly as soon as she comes back. Elizabeth messed up a little, but for the most part was the only real parent to Victoria. Victoria accuses her of child abuse and when Victoria comes back eight years later, Elizabeth has totally forgiven everything. What. The. Hell. Everyone is either a terrible person (social worker, former foster parents), or thinks Victoria can do no wrong (Renata, Elizabeth, Grant). It’s just so frustrating. At least allow the other characters SOME REAL FEELINGS OF FRUSTRATION AND BETRAYAL for what Victoria does to them, instead of just getting over everything without a problem.
The Victorian flower language plays a major role in this book, and although flowers often have multiple meanings (as Victoria learns to her horror, after thinking that each flower had a single meaning), it was fun and interesting to learn some of them. Next time I give someone a flower arrangement, I want to decipher what the flowers are saying.
This feels like a pretty classic book club book. Lots of melodrama (Single motherhood! Foster care! Abandonment issues! Homeless teen! Adoption!) and a quick-paced read switching between “present day” (Victoria at 18 on the streets) and flashbacks (Victoria at 10 with foster mother Elizabeth). The writing is efficient and descriptive if not particularly melodic or beautiful (if any book was going to have florid writing, you’d think it would be one where flowers are a major theme).
I enjoyed it for the most part, but Victoria made repeatedly unlikeable decisions (her rough childhood maybe makes it more understandable, if not more likeable) and I was frustrated about how the present day characters were unrealistic boosters of Victoria’s morale. This was Victoria’s story of finding a place to belong, and everyone else was expected to help her do it, whether it made sense or not.
Also, I just read Nia Vardalos’ Instant Mom about adopting a child from foster care. I recommend it for anyone interested in foster care. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more