Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Two reviews this week; I’m on a roll. And, I will be on a roll for quite a while, seeing as I’ve finished quite a few books on vacation. I’ve read 5. That’s right, 5 books so far. I’m hoping to get at least 1 more finished, but, seeing as I get back on Saturday, I don’t think I will get any more than 1 more finished.

Anyway, that’s not what this blog post is about. This blog post is about a book I finished just before leaving for my vacation.

Garden Spells is about the Waverley women. Claire and Sydney Waverley’s mother ran away from home when she was a meager 18 years old. She refused to be a Waverley. She didn’t want to be tied down by the strangeness of the family in their small town. But, after getting pregnant with her second child, she returns to the Waverley house, only to run away again and leave her two daughters to be raised by their Grandmother. Sydney never quite fit in, like her mother, and also rejected her Waverley gifts, unlike her older sister Claire who fully embraced and loved them. Sydney found solace in adventure, while Clair found solace in routine.

The two women lead separate lives, up until Sydney has a daughter of her own. Bay is 7 years old when Sydney flees with her in the middle of the night to get away from her abusive boyfriend. Sydney has nowhere else to go, so she drives across the country from Washington to home, Bascom, North Carolina. She quickly accepts the life she gave up so many years ago, and even has the opportunity for a healthy relationship, as well as a consolation with her sister. But, will Sydney be able to avoid the boyfriend she fled from forever?

This book is filled with magic, romance, and tension, but, even given all that, I still had a hard time rating this novel. I actually won a copy of the second companion book in this series from Goodreads Firstreads, but was a bit let down by that one, considering all the hype that was surrounding it. I enjoyed this one more, but the plot was a little back and forth for me to give it a solid rating. I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads but actually feel it would fall somewhere between 3.5 and 4 stars.

First, I’m going to say something important. Trigger Warning: This book has a few explicit rape scenes and also domestic abuse scenes. If this is going to be an issue for you, I recommend you do not read this book.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I guess I’ll (finally) get on with my review. First off is the writing. I found Allen’s writing style to be completely satisfactory. I didn’t think it was anything spectacular, but found it to be above general/generic romance writing. It had more depth to it, but was still easy and quick to read. I have no complaints about Allen’s writing style and thought that it fit the story very well.

Next, the plot. The plot was a little all over the place for me. There was a bit too much going on for me to handle. Allen tries to tell too many stories in one book. She is telling Sydney’s story, Claire’s story, their Mother’s story, their Grandmother’s story, Bay’s (Sydney’s daughter) story, Evenelle’s (their aunt (great aunt?)) story, Tyler’s story, Emma Clark’s story…the list even goes on. There is just a bit too much squeezed into this tiny book. It would have been kind of cool to do a few individual books and then tie all the characters together in a final wrap-up book. But, because the plot doesn’t go exceptionally deep, this isn’t too hard to keep straight. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the plot, just that it was a little messier than it could have been.

Since I’m already talking about the characters, I did really enjoy them in this story. There weren’t really any characters I overly disliked, not including the one’s you’re not supposed to like. I thought they all had a decent amount of depth, especially given that Allen tries to fit so much into her short little book. There were no characters I felt were shallow, lacking depth, or overly stereotyped/lazily written. I only wish there had been fewer of them. But, everything worked out in the end, so I guess it’s all fine and dandy for me.

The final thing I want to talk about is the two stories that don’t really mesh together well. Claire and Sydney are discovering what actual love can feel like for the first time. Claire, having been a recluse her whole life, and Sydney, having been with an abusive boyfriend for the last 7 years, have not had much experience with relationships, so they’re both a little scared at first. I thought it was great that they had both come across good men that fit each woman well. But, here’s the part I sort of have the problem with, I really liked the romance aspect in Bascom, but I didn’t really like the whole David (Sydney’s abusive boyfriend) element. I felt uncomfortable a lot while reading parts that included him.

I understand that domestic violence is a hard and uncomfortable topic to talk about, but I don’t think it really fit into the plot of this story well. Every time David came up, it was sort of a ball out of left field, leaving me wondering what I should do with it. I wish Allen had come up with a different backstory for Syndey, one that fit with the story a bit better. There had to have been a few better options to get Sydney back to Bascom without the heavy, awkward, uncomfortable abusive boyfriend trope. In my humble opinion, it just wasn’t a good fit.

Given all this, I still found this book to be an enjoyable, quick read. This is, ultimately, a romance novel (and don’t worry, there are some juicy bits in it if that’s what you’re looking for), but it’s a story that goes a bit deeper than that. With a family history of women with strange talents, an apple tree that shows you the future, and a bit of magic in Bascom, you can’t go too wrong with this story if you’re looking for something light, fluffy, and (overall) fun. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a fluffy read, a quick read, or a (mostly) romance-based read. It’s a fun story, and will definitely take you for a ride.

Well, that’s it for me this week. I’m out. Have a fantastic weekend everyone! I’ll be back on Sunday with the Sunday Review in case you missed anything.

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