Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Garden Spells - Sarah Addison Allen (audio)


For most of my adult life, I've always felt that food and it's flavors can solve a whole lot of life's turmoil. Even now, on a bad day, homemade macaroni and cheese can make everything all better. So when I read Carrie's review on Garden Spells, a book about a woman who uses her garden herbs in her catering business to achieve "special" results, I was THERE. I immediately reflected back on my love affair with the audio book The School of Essential Ingredients, one of the most charming novels I read last year. I wanted more of that foodie magic!

The Waverley women have reputations that precedes themselves in their small southern town. They all have unique "gifts", whether it be bestowing ordinary items to townsfolk that can be life-changing in the future, or styling hair that reinvents its recipient. Claire's gift is one of cooking delicious dishes with her edible flowers that can create feelings of love, enlightenment or any other emotion of her choosing. She is repressed and reclusive though, as a result of being abandoned by her mother and her sister in her earlier years. When a good-looking man moves into the neighborhood and is interested in her, and simultaneously her sister returns home with her daughter in attempt to escape a violent past, her quiet, protected world is turned upside down. The sisters attempt to heal their broken relationship, make peace with family skeletons, and maybe even find love, all with the help of a little bit of Waverley magic.

Well, it looks good on paper. And many bloggers have loved this book, so this may be a case of Cranky Sandy. But it didn't sit well with me for several reasons. I found myself almost agitated at the personality of Claire. Although I understand the woman had baggage, she was so inhibited and so uptight, I wanted to shake her. She turns her back on the only male attention she has had in years, she freaks out if her sister comes home late, and can't handle friendly gestures. Honestly, I couldn't figure out what the good-looking neighbor saw in her. I also found sub-plots in the story distracting. The gay man who was dumped by his lover, the snobby socialite that is threatened by Claire's sister and uses sex to get her way in life, the abusive ex that has murder on his mind. In a different novel, these plots would charm and entertain, but in this situation, they seemed stereotyped and stilted.

On the positive side, there is a touch of southern atmosphere in the book. That, combined with the slightly mystical qualities of the story, gives it a dreamy feel. And while the outcome of the story is predictable, it has a definitive happy ending. This could possibly be the reason for all of the positive reviews. In a lighter mood, this book may have charmed me.

This is also one situation where the audio book did not support the cause. The narrator had a very strange sound to her voice, almost forced and unnaturally melodic, reminding me of the princess narrators for the old Disney movies. Early in my listening, when I realized that I did not like the narrator, I tried very hard to separate that from the prose, but it all kind of left me cold.

I really wanted to like this book, but there was no way to salvage the experience once it started. I have heard so many wonderful things about Allen's other books, so I will no doubt give her another go!

2.5 out of 5 stars




22 comments:

Kaye said...

If you are willing to try another Allen, try The Sugar Queen. You might like the main character better.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Oh, I'm so sad! Because I totally agree with your first paragraph! How disappointing!

lakeviewer said...

Hi. I came from DS, curious about the title of your post. I tried to read The Shcool of Essential Ingredients and couldn't. It felt so trite and predictable and made for television movie material. Good reviews or not, you have to judge for yourself if the food or the book fits your standards.

Beth F said...

Ha!!! My suspicions were correct! Cranky BFR too, but I was attracted to this book for the exact same reasons you were. Then I started reading reviews and decided I'd be really disappointed. I am putting this aside permanently.

Serena said...

I wonder if the book would have worked better for you if you read it rather than listened to the odd narrator. I haven't read any books by this author, but the premise sounds lovely.

C.B. James said...

While I'm not going to go out an buy this book, I am going to go into the kitchen and make some macaroni and cheese.

What a deliciously good idea....;-)

Zibilee said...

I just got this one from paperback swap after reading great reviews on it. I am sorry to hear that it was not as good as expected and fear that from what you've mentioned, I might feel the same way. I am going to be bumping this one down several places in the pile and hoping that when I do get to it, it doesn't totally disappoint! Thanks so much for the honesty in this review.

Carrie K. said...

Oh, bummer - I'm sorry you didn't love it as much as I did!

The Bumbles said...

Haha! I love Cranky Sandy. I was actually thinking to myself as I started reading your review - "well, this is a slam dunk high star rating - bummer - I'm in the mood for Cranky Sandy" - and then there you went! Is it bad that I enjoy reading low star reviews every now and then just to mix things up? I'm sorry not all of your reads are good ones, but I'm glad you bother to share them regardless of the rating. Many don't.

diaryofaneccentric said...

You had me with all that talk about food and The School of Essential Ingredients (which I loved) and then... Well, I'm sorry this one was disappointing for you. :(

--Anna

Kathleen said...

Bummer about this one. I wouldn't have much patience with the main character based on your descriptions either!

Julie P. said...

I'm so sorry you didn't enjoy this one. I remember liking it, but not loving it!

caite said...

see, here is the problem. Homemade mac and cheese can make everything better. It is a proven fact.
Herbs? Not so much.

Lenore said...

Now I am aching for some homemade macaroni and cheese!

JoAnn said...

After your first paragraph (where agree with every word!), I'm disappointed, too.

heidenkind said...

Aw, Sandy! I really loved this book. I agree Claire is super-neurotic, but that didn't really bother me.

Jenners said...

This is the first negative thing I've heard about this author or this book. I wonder how much the narrator affected your experience.

Alice Teh said...

Hi Sandy, I haven't read this book but it's been in my TBR for the longest time (Well, which book of mine isn't. Haha!). I'm sorry this book was a lemon to you. I heard so many good things about it and am quite excited to read it for one of my reading challenges. I value your thoughts, though. Thanks for sharing!

Darlene said...

So sorry you didn't like this book Sandy. It was one of my favorites of hers. I wonder if it would have made a difference to read it instead- probably not.

Kathy (mommysreading) said...

I liked this book. All of her books are light and mystical, sort of like a present day fairy tale. I know that if you had read it you would have enjoyed it. I am a big fan of audio books, bus sometimes they can ruin the experience for me. I gave up on Bloodroot and Noah's Compass on audio because the voices drove me crazy.

I agree with the suggestion of Sugar Queen. That one sounds good.

Iliana said...

I liked this book ok but was a bit surprised at how underwhelmed I was by it. Considering how many people had raved about it I thought it was going to end up being an all time favorite or something. You listed some of the reasons why it didn't work well for me either. I'm a bit curious about her other books but am in no rush to get them.

bermudaonion said...

So sorry this didn't work for you. I wonder if the print version is better.