I know you shouldn't judge books by their covers, but when this one came thudding through the door, courtesy of the publisher, I practically salivated over this soon-to-be published paperback, not so much because I was dying to read the story, but because the artwork was so delicious. The image shown here (see left) doesn't do the real hold-it-in-your-hands cover justice, because it doesn't quite convey the gorgeous embossing that glitters like fairy dust on the dress and curlicues. So you'll just have to take my word for it. It's a magical cover, and if they give prizes to book cover designers, this designer should not only get the top accolade, they should get a lifetime achievement award. Seriously.
But does the cover match the contents, I hear you say. Well, the story is certainly magical -- think English author Joanne Harris transported to North Carolina -- but Garden Spells isn't going to win any top literary awards. This is comfort reading: enjoyable, fluffy and fun. In fact, I read this book in two longish sittings while the rain pounded against the window one miserably wet Saturday and it was perfect fodder for an entertaining weekend read.
The story revolves around two sisters, the relatively strait-laced Claire Waverley and her younger wayward sister Sydney, from Bascom, North Carolina.
Claire lives alone in a beautiful Queen Ann style house that has been in the family for generations. The house has a garden with magical qualities, including an apple tree that bears fruit all year round. In fact, if you eat an apple from the tree the greatest event of your life will be revealed.
Claire uses ingredients from the garden in the delicacies she cooks as part of her profitable catering business. These ingredients affect the eater in curious ways -- want to be able to keep secrets, then eat Claire's biscuits made with lilac jelly; want to make sure you are understood, then eat turkey salad made with zucchini blossoms; want to recall good memories, then drink rose geranium wine.
Unfortunately, Claire's culinary talents have marked her out as a being a little strange, and unless she's doing business with someone, most of the locals keep their distance.
But Claire is not the only Waverley who has a reputation for being odd. Her Aunt Evanelle has the ability to predict people's needs and will present them with odd objects -- a brooch, a mango slicer, two dimes -- that will come in especially useful at a later date.
Sydney, very much aware of her family's reputation, fled Bascom ten years ago. But now, with an abusive boyfriend on her tail, she returns to the family home -- the only place she has ever felt truly safe -- with her six-year-old daughter Bay in tow.
But if Sydney's reappearance upsets Claire's equilibrium, the arrival of a handsome man moving in next door is set to turn her carefully tended life completely upside down...
Garden Spells, a kind of chick-lit meets culinary novel meets 21st century fairytale, is an enchanting read, if a little on the silly side. It's slightly predictable and the romantic elements are cliched, but this is balanced by a tightly written plot and such glorious descriptions of food you can't help but feel hungry as you turn each page. If you like magic realism, you'll love this; if you like your novels grounded in reality, you won't. But either way this is a fun read -- and the cover is a knock-out!