I am a huge fan. There’s just no use starting out with any other introduction than that. A clever friend giftedOriginally reviewed here @ Dear Author
I am a huge fan. There’s just no use starting out with any other introduction than that. A clever friend gifted me a copy of Garden Spells several years ago, and it was love at first sight. I quickly devoured each of your successive books, and while I can never quite decide if The Peach Keeper is my favorite or if The Sugar Queen owns that spot, what I do know is I have loved each one of your beautiful stories. So it was with great pleasure I sat down with this latest blend of magical realism and southern comfort. As a child, I spent several formative years in Virginia. My mother’s sister and her family lived a few hours away in North Carolina, and every spring and summer we eagerly climbed in the car and drove south to spend a few weeks with them. These trips were magical to me, and these novels, with their humid nights, slow-roasting barbecue, and softly lilting drawl send me right back to night games with my cousins and catching fireflies in cupped hands.
Eby Pim never expected to marry the man she did. Coming as she does from a long line of women determined to marry money, Eby was always the sad exception to the rule. Less lovely, less ambitious than her mother, sister, grandmother, she was perhaps the most surprised of all when she and George fell in love. He was rich. But the money was new and meant very little to either of them except as an escape from their interfering families. And so Eby and George embarked on an indefinite honeymoon, spending months and months in Europe. Paris, mostly, where they acquired a troubled young woman by the name of Lisette. Lisette never speaks, preferring to write her thoughts and questions down on a notebook she keeps around her neck. When word of a death in the family cuts their time in Europe short, Eby and George return home to Georgia with Lisette in tow. And when the lure of their money proves too much for Eby’s family, they decide to wash their hands of it, getting rid of it all and buying a stretch of land known as Lost Lake, where they set up a small summer resort amid the swamps and cypress knees. Years later, Eby’s widowed niece Kate finds her way back to Lost Lake. She brings with her her free spirited 8-year-old daughter Devin and a fledgling determination to take up and make some sense of the scattered threads of her life.
Lost Lake is very pleasant. It is a very pleasant novel. And there’s the rub. Pleasantness abounds, along with a very nice level of quirk and charm. But it never crosses over into deeper waters, at least not for me. Most of Ms. Allen’s novels trade point of view chapters back and forth between a couple or three “main” protagonists. Sometimes I gravitate more toward one than the others, and sometimes I fall for them equally. Either way the overall balance generally works for me. But in Lost Lake, quite a few different characters share the limelight (what there is of it), and I was never allowed to spend enough time with any one of them to develop genuine feelings for them and their fate. I wanted to. The chapters from Eby’s past are heady and lovely. I followed her through the streets and over the bridges of Paris and would have happily spent the rest of the novel unraveling the threads of Lisette’s mysterious past. Likewise, I was just as willing to accompany Kate on her journey to revive herself and her faltering relationship with her young daughter.
Kate had been thirteen when her father died. No more weekend road trips. No more hours spent after school in her father’s video store, watching movie after movie. Her mother had gone a little crazy after that, like she’d pulled the in the event of an emergency switch that the women in her family told her to pull if her husband ever died, and this was what happened.
She wouldn’t come out of her room for months. Kate had lived on bagels, sandwich meat, and microwaved popcorn for most of eighth grade. She had hidden when well-meaning neighbors knocked on the door, after the first time she’d let them in and they’d worried why her mother wouldn’t see them.
There was still a place inside Kate that resented her mother’s grief when her father died. She still remembered what her mother had said to her on the day Kate and Matt went to the court house to get married. I hope you never lose him. It had felt like a portent. Kate hadn’t been as obvious about it as her mother, but, sure enough, she had still pulled that same switch. And she should have known that Devin had caught on. Children always know when their mothers are crazy—they just never admit it, not out loud, to anyone.
Goodness, it is lovely writing. Strong enough to see you through to the end even when you’re not as invested as you would have liked. In theory, I liked the idea of Kate and Eby (two women living under the same family curse) coming together in this place apart from the rest of the world and . . . figuring things out. In practice, its meaningfulness felt muffled. Neither story was given enough page time to really land. I didn’t dislike any of the wispy and enticing peripheral characters. In fact, I liked them all: brazen Bulahdeen, shameless Selma, diffident Jack, imperious Cricket, and the heartbreaking trio Wes, Luc, and Billy. I just didn’t love any of them. The painful part is that I could literally feel that potential love of mine ghosting out there on the horizon for the entire length of the book. I knew it was possible. It just never materialized. Instead I felt distracted and removed, not disgruntled per se, but just gently fond when I wanted to be infatuated, like I was reading an abridged version of the full story....more
These darling covers continue to delight me. I am such a sucker for a good silhouette, and the multicolored macarOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
These darling covers continue to delight me. I am such a sucker for a good silhouette, and the multicolored macarons on this one really do lend it just the right whimsical air. I could hardly wait for my copy of THE CHOCOLATE KISS to arrive once I'd finished The Chocolate Thief. It was just such a delightful surprise of a read, made that much sweeter by the knowledge that there were two more books in the series already out there just waiting for me. As feelings I get to experience in my life go, that is one of the ones I savor the most. This series does not follow the same characters, but branches out into side characters. We get glimpses of the previous ones, though, and of course the irresistible Paris setting remains. I had heard somewhat mixed opinions on this second volume. Some were not that enamored of the slight elements of magical realism, others found themselves absolutely charmed. I find when it comes to magical realism, readers really can go either way. For the most part, I tend to really enjoy it. As long as the author has an even, light hand and is careful to shore the fantastical elements up with a solid sense of place and realistic motivations and histories for her characters.
Magalie Chaudron has never belonged anywhere. Wrenched back and forth by her terminally transient parents, she grew up here and there, traveling back and forth from the lavender fields of Provence to the hills up upstate New York at the whim of a mother and father who both could not leave their homes and could not be long without the other. They prided themselves on their supremely adaptable, eminently self-reliant young daughter who could not only put up with the impermanence of their family but also brought joy to their lives. But when she came of age, Magalie took matters into her own hands. Moving to Paris, she made it through university and gratefully accepted the offer of her two maiden aunts to come and live above their salon de thé on the Île Saint-Louis in the middle of the Seine and work in their shop making her delicious chocolat chaud. And suddenly, in her little one-room apartment above La Maison des Sorcieres, Magalie finds home. And if she sends a few wishes for the people who drink her chocolate as she stirs and stirs the pot in her blue-tiled kitchen, well, who is she to say if they actually come true? And everything is stable. And there is no reason to believe she will be wrenched once more from this self-made home that fits her like a glove. Until Lyonnais arrives. Philippe Lyonnais, to be precise. With his world-famous pastries and his elegant shop, he invades her private island without a second thought for the struggling salon de thé down the street. Unwilling to give up her safety or her livelihood, Magalie confronts the lion in his own den, only to be rebuffed and brushed aside like the tiny speck of dust he clearly believes her to be. And so the battle begins.
Can I just start by saying I love how Philippe says Magalie's name? I don't usually "hear" the characters' voices when I'm reading a book. I may have some small sense of the tenor or cadence with which they speak, but that's generally as far as it goes. This book was different. Philippe was always saying her name. At just the right moments. And in just the right ways. And I could hear him. And I loved him for the way he named her and valued everything that fell under that name. In contrast, Magalie never calls him by name. Not out loud. Her inner thoughts are another thing, but her tightly controlled diction made his open admissions stand out. It was a small thing, perhaps. But it was quite simply a highlight of the book for me. And that is saying something, because I loved THE CHOCOLATE KISS. I wasn't sure I would initially, but I came to care for Magalie and Philippe in a very measured, natural way as I got to know them. One of my favorite things about Laura Florand's male protagonists is the way they own their emotions. They are not ashamed of them and they are not interested in squelching them. They may have a myriad of doubts about the emotions and affections of the people around them. But they allow those people their qualms and hangups, even as they are not afraid to embrace their own. It's admirable characterization and I applaud it. Here, one of my very favorite scenes between our two leads:
" . . . if you send another spoiled blonde my way, I'm going to feed her something that makes her fall in love with you, and see how you like it."
Magalie's arrogant expression flickered. Abruptly she seemed to notice the winter-evening dimness of the apartment and crossed to turn on the light by her bed. Her heels sounded wrong on the apartment floor, too aggressive for this space. He wondered if she usually took them off by the door. Had his presence required her to keep on her armor?
"I don't feed them anything to make them fall in love with you." She frowned deeply, seeming unsure where to put herself. Maybe usually she sat on the edge of her bed now, kicking off her shoes, curling up to examine her purchases . . . His blood surged long and slow and hot through his body at the image. "A poor, innocent princess? Why would I do something like that to her?"
"They don't look that innocent to me, but thank you for reminding me of moral considerations," he said politely. Really? She hadn't been sending those would-be seductresses his way? Something bitter was released in him, dissipating so fast, he had to struggle to keep his fighting form. "It's true, it would be quite reprehensible to make anyone fall in love with you."
Her eyes flashed. He almost laughed. This was fun. He felt aroused and infuriated and so alive, he held himself still only by his years of self-discipline. He knew how to pay precise, attentive care to the smallest of movements, how to wait as long as it took for something to be perfect.
She dropped her packages onto the bed, started to take off her jacket, and stopped herself. Oh, so she would usually shrug out of her jacket about now. And drop it carelessly across her bed or hang it up? No, hang it up. The room was so peacefully uncluttered. "If I wish anything on anyone, it's usually strength and courage and clear-seeing, which they never seem to have enough of. I have no idea why that would lead them to you." She looked as if she had bitten into something rotten in polite company and didn't know where to spit it out.
Strength and courage and clear-seeing. He felt himself draw a long, deep breath, like at the gym when he had just finished a punishing set of exercises well. Or at the Meilleur Ouvrier de France trials when the last, extravagant, impossible spin of sugar held. "Thank you," he said, "for the compliment." The extraordinary, beautiful compliment.
It was such a lovely moment, I'm honestly just as affected now, rereading it. It's hard to sum up the many reasons why I connect with these books, but I feel sure saying that in this case it was because I felt the arc of a relationship was so evenly and lovingly drawn. Because I liked them both so much. And because Magalie's journey particularly resonated. I grew up here and there, too. I know what it is like to not know how it is going to go each day in a new place. And I know how quickly the just-now familiar faces and spaces can be replaced with new ones, unfamiliar and uncertain in their newness. At the same time, folding is not an option. And as hard as she holds out, Magalie knows when something is important.
It was hard to trust in happiness, coming from another person, but . . . there was so much of it, around him.
There really was. I'm so glad I got to witness it....more
Honestly, it's like trying to articulate why you love your child reviewing some of these books. I don't know howOriginally reviewed here @ Angieville
Honestly, it's like trying to articulate why you love your child reviewing some of these books. I don't know how anyone can be expected to do them justice. But I am going to press on foolhardily, if only because this is one of the ones I never stop talking about, never stop thinking about. Originally published in 2004, HOW I LIVE NOW is Meg Rosoff's debut novel and winner of the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. I've loved many a Printz Award winner, but this one is truly the best of the best. I remember it came in the mail, on loan from a friend who somehow knew how much it would mean to me. I slid it out of the envelope and wondered at how slim it was and at the dark cover and the quiet English village. I started it that night and my eyes did not leave the page until it was finished. I'm pretty sure I slept with it clasped to my chest. Then I woke up and read it again in one long swallow, knowing I would have to send it back and afraid to let it out of my grasp for fear it would all turn out to be just a beautiful dream. I remember pressing it into my sister's hands, incoherent in my need to share it with someone else. And I remember deciding that very morning that if I ever had a daughter her name would be Piper. Piper, after a little girl with blond hair and a gift for happiness, shining like a light in so much darkness. It's been almost a decade, and yet those visceral emotions are as close to the surface now as they were then. And, of course, now I have a little girl named Piper, with blond hair and a gift for happiness, and . . . well, I did say it was like trying to articulate why you love your child, didn't I?
Daisy has been packed off to England. At the insistence of her evil stepmother Davina, her distant-at-best father has agreed to send her to live with her cousins in the BACK OF BEYOND somewhere deep in the English countryside. And so against her express wishes, she finds herself stepping off the plane and into another world. It turns out that her cousins don't so much exist under anything so prosaic as adult supervision. Their mother, her Aunt Penn, is frequently off protesting The War, and so her four offspring (Osbert, Isaac, Edmond, and Piper) are pretty much left to their own odd devices. Odd being the key word as far as Daisy is concerned. Osbert is nominally in charge, but rarely can be bothered to take notice of his younger siblings. Isaac doesn't speak at all, except perhaps to the goats and dogs he tends, and even then they're not telling. Edmond (Isaac's twin) constantly puts Daisy on the wrong foot with his cigarette smoking and underage driving and ability to respond to things she's thought but not spoken. And Piper . . . well, Piper is lovely in every way and, as such, cannot possibly be real. But she is real. They all are. And before she realizes it, Daisy has become one of them. Somehow, with a war raging, and everything she's ever known thousands of miles away, Daisy finds a place to belong. It's not as though she really thought it might last. It's just that she never understood just how hard it would be to let go when the world creeps inside their Eden and rips it all to shreds.
There's no use trying to sugarcoat this one. It is absolutely brutal. From the stark lack of punctuation and intermittent use of capitals to the way Daisy embraces her eating disorder to the questionable shenanigans the five of them get up to with their utter lack of supervision. To say nothing of the war itself which hangs over the whole gorgeous thing just waiting for its moment to strike. And strike it does.
I was pretty far gone, but not so far gone that I thought anyone with half a toehold in reality would think what we were doing was a good idea.
Daisy's unflagging humor is what reeled me in on the very first page. Her humor saves her--it saves us--when things become unbearable. And that humor translates into barest survival when she comes to the end of her rope. I so admired Daisy. I adored Piper, loved Edmond and Isaac unreservedly, and was casually indifferent to Osbert. But my hat was off to Daisy for scraping together every bit of defiance she could in the face of certain annihilation. Her voice matures as her experience grows and Rosoff insinuates it so naturally that this evolution creates not even a ripple across the surface of the narrative.
I was dying, of course, but then we all are. Every day, in perfect increments, I was dying of loss. The only help for my condition, then as now, is that I refused to let go of what I loved. I wrote everything down, at first in choppy fragments; a sentence here, a few words there, it was the most I could handle at the time. Later I wrote more, my grief muffled but not eased by the passage of time.
When I go back over my writing now I can barely read it. The happiness is the worst. Some days I can't bring myself to remember. But I will not relinquish a single detail of the past. What remains of my life depends on what happened six years ago.
In my brain, in my limbs, in my dreams, it is still happening.
My word, how she grows. Her dogged persistence in the face of horrific obstacles left me a huddled mess of emotions, the chiefest of these being a fierce loyalty and determination to see her claim what was hers--what was left of it (or them). And to know that it would be enough, that she would hold all the jagged pieces together until they felt (or she made them) whole. Rosoff's writing matches the brutality of her story step for step, but it also manages to counter it with interludes of breathtaking beauty. These handful of scenes remain among the choicest of my reading life, and I pull them out whenever I need them, much as I imagine Daisy does. Still. And always....more
Confession: I sent my husband out last night to retrieve this book for me while I made dinner for the kids and tried to breathe deeply. This pregnancyConfession: I sent my husband out last night to retrieve this book for me while I made dinner for the kids and tried to breathe deeply. This pregnancy . . .it palls, you guys. The thing is, he was happy to do it and even (after some creative detective work) snagged the very last copy at our local bookstore! I was incredibly relieved. Because all I wanted to do last night, after dinner and talking to my two squirts, and reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with Will, was get comfortable on the couch and drift off into the wonderful world of Walls of Water, North Carolina. I'm telling you, there is nothing, but nothing like a brand new Sarah Addison Allen book when it comes to comfort reading. You just know you're gonna get the full southern treatment, that the prose will be lighter than air, and that magic will swirl through your veins like cream in one of Rachel's red-and-white striped coffee cups. These are the things you can count on, and THE PEACH KEEPER doesn't disappoint in the slightest.
Willa Jackson returned to the stifling confines of her hometown of Walls of Water, North Carolina eight years ago when her father died. Despite her eternally restless nature, Willa resolved to buckle down and be the docile daughter her father had always wanted, even though it was now too late. So she bought the local organic sporting goods store and settled into a life of safe monotony. She visits her elderly grandmother once a week in the nursing home, even though Georgie doesn't recognize her anymore. She does her laundry every Friday night without fail. And if she sometimes drives up to sit and look at the old Blue Ridge Madam mansion and wonder, well, that's her business. Paxton Osgood is determined to restore the Blue Ridge Madam to its former glory and put on the best gala the Women's Society Club has ever seen. But things start going wrong from the get go, and obsessively detail-oriented Paxton is afraid everything will fall apart at her feet. It's now when she needs this success most of all, especially as her stalwart friendship with former outcast Sebastian Rogers is bleeding into uncharted waters. Then Paxton's twin Colin returns home to help with the renovation and, when he runs across Willa, remembers all the reasons he left in the first place. Meanwhile, a strange presence is swirling its way through the town, stirring up old ghosts better left hidden. Against her better judgement, Willa is drawn into the disturbing events up on Jackson Hill and into the lives of the Osgood family once more.
I'll go ahead and say that I went in wondering whether THE PEACH KEEPER would fall more along the lines of Ms. Addison's first two novels (Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen) or her most recent third book The Girl Who Chased the Moon. I've read and loved all three, but there did seem to me to be a slight divide between the first two and the third. The characters felt more even, a bit stronger in the first two, the flow smoother and more balanced. The writing, as always, is of the highest quality across all of her books. For example, here is the opening passage of THE PEACH KEEPER, just to whet your appetite:
The day Paxton Osgood took the box of heavy-stock, foil-lined envelopes to the post office, the ones she’s had a professional calligrapher address, it began to rain so hard the air turned as white as bleached cotton. By nightfall, rivers had crested at flood stage and, for the first time since 1936, the mail couldn’t be delivered. When things began to dry out, when basements were pumped free of water and branches were cleared from yards and streets, the invitations were finally delivered, but to all the wrong houses. Neighbors laughed over fences, handing the misdelivered pieces of mail to their rightful owners with comments about the crazy weather and their careless postman. The next day, an unusual number of people showed up at the doctor’s office with infected paper cuts, because the envelopes had sealed, cement like, from the moisture. Later, the single-card invitations themselves seemed to hide and pop back up at random. Mrs. Jameson’s invitation disappeared for two days, then reappeared in a bird’s nest outside. Harper Rowley’s invitation was found in the church bell tower, Mr. Kingsley’s in his elderly mother’s garden shed.
If anyone had been paying attention to the signs, they would have realized that air turns white when things are about to change, that paper cuts mean there’s more to what’s written on the page than meets the eye, and that birds are always out to protect you from things you don’t see.
See what I mean? You can just count on her. I'm delighted to say that THE PEACH KEEPER is one of Sarah Addison Allen's best works to date. It fully lives up to the promise of each of her previous novels and instantly shot to my keeper shelf. I read it in one sitting last night, and it was an infinitely blissful experience spending time with Willa, Paxton, Colin, and Sebastian. The wonderful thing about this book is that I was equally enamored of and involved in the story lines of both main characters. I mentioned before that I tend to identify with one heroine over another in Allen's books and, since the point of view alternates back and forth between them, I occasionally wish I was back with the other before I actually am. This was happily not at all the case here. Willa and Paxton are so different in personality and background and yet I loved them both equally. And not only them, but their relationships with their family members and their respective young men. It was very interesting (and amusing) watching Willa struggle to come to grips with a possible relationship with Colin, who is Paxton's twin. Even more moving was Paxton's relationship with Sebastian--a troubled young man on the fringe of society, who caught her eye once in high school and has now grown into an incredibly complex and magnetic adult who, despite his respectable job and tailored suits, still exists just on the edges. Their interactions brought tears to my eyes multiple times. I ached for them. And the few scenes that all four share together are breathtaking and funny. THE PEACH KEEPER is at once haunting and charming, in that perfect blend of magic and realism that Sarah Addison Allen has worked into an art form. Highly recommended....more
After reading and loving both of Sarah Addison Allen's first two books I just went ahead and popped her on over to my auto-buy list and sat back to waAfter reading and loving both of Sarah Addison Allen's first two books I just went ahead and popped her on over to my auto-buy list and sat back to wait for THE GIRL WHO CHASED THE MOON. I was lucky enough to discover Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen only a few months ago and so it hasn't been that long a wait. But Garden Spells was perfectly delightful and The Sugar Queen was quite literally an example of the perfect book at the perfect time. I can't wait to re-read it again. So I found myself just about as anxious to find out what delights Ms. Allen had in store for us next as I would have been had I been forced to wait a year or more as is so often the case when I discover a debut author. I suppose that's just the way of things with the good ones. And, given how much I enjoy these reads, I wouldn't have it any other way.
Emily Benedict is seventeen and motherless the day she moves in with her Grandpa Vance in the out of the way town of Mullaby, North Carolina. Having never been to the town where her mother grew up, Emily hopes to get to know her unusually tall grandfather and find out more about her extremely private mom. Her first night there, Emily meets her next door neighbor Julia Winterson, when she knocks on her door bearing a welcome cake and a warm smile to go with it. Julia is a native of Mullaby who hasn't been home in a long time and is now living a determinedly temporary existence there just long enough to sell her dead father's diner for a tidy profit and get the hell out of Dodge. She never loved it there and the memories are bad enough to have her faithfully marking off the days on her calendar. Chief among those memories is Sawyer Alexander. The golden boy of Mullaby. The soccer playing, scholarship getting, beautiful boy who seemed to understand and even like her for the briefest of moments in high school and then forgot all about her. Unfortunately, try as she might (and for various reasons), Julia was never able to quite forget about him. Now he haunts her bakery and upstairs apartment trying to reforge that old connection just as she evades his attempts in a desperate bid to leave the past where it belongs. But as Julia befriends Emily, they both discover truths that make their lives difficult in so many messy ways.
As with her two previous novels, THE GIRL WHO CHASED THE MOON features a sleepy Southern town, a couple of young women in need of healing and a whole lapful of magic, loss, and longing. The narrative shifts back and forth between Emily and Julia's experiences and I have to say I wish it had spent more time with Julia. I've realized that with Allen's novels I tend to identify more with one of the two protagonists and in the past they have both been the characters with the most page time as well. But in this case I just didn't connect very well with Emily and her adventures with the infamous Coffey family, so her sections were a bit harder to get through. Not that the lovely writing is ever anything like a chore, but I kept speeding my way through those portions to get back to Julia and Sawyer and their wonderfully aching history. Because it was simply a delight to read and I found myself fingers crossed, full of hope for them. A favorite passage:
As Julia took two towels out of her bag and spread them out on the sand, Emily shaded her eyes from the glare of sun and looked around. "Were you meeting Sawyer here?"
"No. Why?" Julia asked as she shimmied out of her white shorts, revealing the bottom half of her red bikini. She left her gauzy long-sleeved shirt on over her red bikini top, though.
"Because he's coming this way."
Julia immediately turned to see him walking down the beach toward them. Sawyer stood out too much to blend in anywhere, but the closest he came was here, with the sun and the sand. He was golden. A sun king.
"He's nice," Emily said wistfully. "The moment I saw him, I knew he'd have an accent like that. I don't know why."
"Some men you know are Southern before they ever say a word," Julia said as she and Emily watched Sawyer's progress, helpless, almost as if they couldn't look away. "They remind you of something good--picnics or carrying sparklers around at night. Southern men will hold doors open for you, they'll hold you after you yell at them, and they'll hold on to their pride no matter what. Be careful what they tell you, though. They have a way of making you believe anything, because they say it that way."
"What way?" Emily asked as she turned to her, intrigued.
"I hope you never find out," she said.
"You've been spoken to that way?"
"Yes, she said softly, just as Sawyer stopped at their towels.
And that's why I love Sarah Addison Allen books. Because, like Sawyer's smile and Julia's cakes, they make me feel wistful and warm, sated and full of good things. This book was just as well written as her books always are, but I think it suffered a bit from uneven pacing and the unfortunate placement of the more compelling storyline in the background. That said, I was captivated with Julia's story. She was an incredibly sympathetic character and I wanted to sit on the banks of Piney Woods Lake with her, eating apple stack cake, talking about Southern men, and worrying about nothing at all....more
My lovely book-gifting mother gave me a nice, healthy stack of books for Christmas and among them was THE SUGAR QUEEN. I read and loved Sarah AddisonMy lovely book-gifting mother gave me a nice, healthy stack of books for Christmas and among them was THE SUGAR QUEEN. I read and loved Sarah Addison Allen's first novel, Garden Spells, last year on the recommendation of my good friend Michelle. Incidentally, I actually gave my mom Garden Spells for Christmas so there was some fun karmic reciprocity goin' on there. Garden Spells was the perfect autumn read and I finished it itching to get my hands on Allen's second book, which, as it turns out, is the perfect winter read. I love it when my book and the season serendipitously mesh. Set in a small ski resort town in North Carolina with magical snowflakes falling and the smell of peppermint in the air, I had no interest in resisting its spell. I just sat back and let THE SUGAR QUEEN carry me away for a couple of wintry nights.
Josey Cirrini loves candy. And I mean Josey LOVES candy. Sweets, snacks, baked goods of any kind. She keeps them in a stash in her closet and retreats there whenever she's feeling particularly anxious or down. Which is pretty much every day, several times a day. You see Josey lives alone with her aging, patrician mother in their aging, empty mansion. And every day her mother reminds her how plain she is, how she should never wear anything but black or white but for-the-love-of-all-that-is-holy no RED, and how she was such a trying child and should spend the rest of her life making it up to her poor, beautiful, widowed mother. Gah. The only bright spot in her day is the moment when their mailman Adam walks up to her door to deliver the mail. Then there's Chloe. Lovely, orphaned, loves to read, lost in love Chloe. She runs a small fast food stand in the local city courthouse lobby, lives with her lawyer boyfriend Jake, and dreams of owning her own home one day after having had to sell the only home she'd ever known when her grandparents passed away. Neither of these girls sees her life changing anytime soon. But on one fateful day a local tramp shows up in Josey's closet and Chloe discovers her boyfriend cheated on her but won't tell her with whom. And, just like that, everything changes.
Like its predecessor, THE SUGAR QUEEN is one part magical realism, one part fairy tale, and one part contemporary fiction. And like before, I fell immediately under its spell. I don't know if I was just in the mood for something pretty and sweet and romantic in the dead of winter, or if there's something about Allen's kind, honest characters that speaks to me, but I absolutely loved this book. Possibly even more than Garden Spells, I think, because I liked Josey so much. With her unselfconscious awesomeness, her straightforward goodness, she was vulnerable but never beaten. The slow, pleasantly-deceit-free way she and Adam negotiated their relationship was delightful to me. And Josey and Chloe's friendship, in particular, was extremely well done. I love how helping and being needed by Chloe makes Josey brave. How Chloe recognized Josey for what she was and took her in even when she was the one who was slowly but surely drowning. In a Sarah Addison Allen book, you can always count on a little organic magic and my favorite instance of this in THE SUGAR QUEEN was undoubtedly the way books literally popped up around Chloe whenever she needed them. For example:
She could remember very clearly the first time it happened to her. Being an only child raised by her great-grandparents on a farm miles from town, she was bored a lot. When she ran out of books to read, it only got worse. She was walking by the creek along the wood line at the end of the property one day when she was twelve, feeling mopey and frustrated, when she saw a book propped up against a willow tree.
She walked over and picked it up. It was so new the spine creaked and popped when she opened it. It was a book on card tricks, full of fun things she could do with the deck of cards her great-grandmother kept in a drawer in the kitchen for her weekly canasta game.
She called out, asking if anyone was there. No one answered. She didn't see any harm in looking through the book, so she sat under the tree by the creek and read as much as she could before it got dark. She wanted to take it with her when her great-grandmother called her home, but she knew she couldn't. The owner of the book would surely want it back. So she reluctantly left it by the tree and ran home, trying to commit to memory everything she'd read.
After dinner, Chloe took the deck of cards out of the kitchen drawer and went to her bedroom to try some of the tricks. She tried for awhile, but she couldn't get them right without following the pictures in the book. She sighed and gathered the cards she'd spread out on the floor. She stood, and that's when she saw the book, the same book she'd left by the creek, on her nightstand.
For awhile after that, she thought her great-grandparents were surprising her with books. She'd find them on her bed, in her closet, in her favorite hideouts around the property. And they were always books she needed. Books on games or novels of adventure when she was bored. Books about growing up as she got older. But when her great-grandparents confronted her about all the books she had and where did she get the money to buy them, she realized they weren't the ones doing it.
The next day, under her pillow, she found a book on clever storage solutions. It was exactly what she needed, something to show her how to hide her books.
She accepted it from then on. Books liked her. Books wanted to look after her.
You can imagine the smile of contentment on my face after I read that passage. It was clear this book and I would get on well. And we did. I absolutely loved it. And you can bet I will be picking up Ms. Allen's upcoming third novel, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, the day it comes out....more
Sarah Addison Allen's debut novel, GARDEN SPELLS, is the perfect example of one of those books I would never have picked up were it not for the recommSarah Addison Allen's debut novel, GARDEN SPELLS, is the perfect example of one of those books I would never have picked up were it not for the recommendation of another excellent blogger. In this case it came from my good friend Michelle over at See Michelle Read. One of her favorite reads, she suggested I would like it and was she ever right. I'd seen it around several times and all I knew was that it was a New York Times bestseller. I couldn't really work out what genre it was and I sort of mentally sorted it into the The Secret Life of Bees category and left it there. Not that I didn't enjoy The Secret Life of Bees. But I've never had the urge to reread it, you know? But GARDEN SPELLS shares only a rather charming Carolina setting (North as opposed to South) with Sue Monk Kidd's novel. Beyond that, it is entirely its own work.
Claire Waverly is a creature of habit. She gets up. She goes about her work, making deliveries, catering events. She gardens. She visits with her friend and distant relation Evanelle. She goes to bed. She gets up and does it all again. Living alone doesn't bother Claire because it's safe and uncomplicated. She can control every aspect of her carefully regimented life and she can avoid getting more involved in anyone else's life than she'd like. When every last person in her life left, Claire determined she would never let herself count on anyone too much. Content with her eccentric reputation as a solitary soul and a mysterious Waverly, she looks ahead to a future free of complication. That is until her new neighbor, an art professor at the local college, moves in and insists on getting to know her, even bringing back a boxful of apples from her tree, which had fallen on his side of the fence. It's all Claire can do to avoid his overtures and ensure that whatever he does, he doesn't eat one of those apples. The apple tree in the Waverly yard is local legend and, though she herself has no use for the recalcitrant tree, she takes her job as its caretaker rather seriously. Then her estranged sister Sydney shows up with her five-year-old daughter Bay in tow and Claire is once more forced to realign the shape of her days to accommodate two more people who clearly need her. Little does she know what kind of darkness is hounding her sister's trail.
I loved this book. I loved the heady descriptions of baking and gardening and the many unexpected intersections between the two art forms. I loved Claire and how hard it was for her to change, to reach out to anyone at all. I loved Sydney and her heartbreaking determination to take care of her daughter despite the ragged mess she'd made of her life. And I loved Tyler and Henry and Evanelle and Fred and every other beautiful, crazy inhabitant of Bascom, North Carolina. This is a very simple, very sweet story that simultaneously falls under the categories of magical realism, fairy tales, and contemporary fiction. I've not read much like it before and I finished it utterly enchanted and looking for more. I think one of the reasons I was so delighted with the story was it reminded me of my father's side of the family. The way they spoke, the way they interacted, the way family trumped everything else. So I spent the majority of the read in a happy, nostalgic daze. If you're looking for a perfectly charming read filled with sympathetic characters, sprinkled with a couple of endearing romances, and wrapped in a hint of magic and longing, then this is the book for you....more