First Frost

first frost

Any Sarah Addison Allen fans out there?

I heard Sarah speak at Quail Ridge Books in January 2014 while she was on her Lost Lake tour. The response when she announced that she would be publishing a sequel to Garden Spells was amazing. People clapped, gasped, cheered, and I think a few might have teared up a bit. I knew I was looking forward to reading this book too, but sequels are tricky. Sequels are especially tricky when they come eight years after the original book was written.

Garden Spells was a wonderful story with a very satisfying ending, so a sequel seems like the perfect opportunity to catch up with some great characters. But a sequel has to come at a price. To give us another story about the Waverly sisters, Sarah had to take them out of the snug, cozy places where she tucked them it at the end of Garden Spells and shake them up.

In First Frost, all the Waverly girls are back – Claire, Sydney, Bay, and Evanelle – and just as magical as ever. Claire has put her catering business on hold to start up Waverly’s Candies. In typical Claire fashion, she wants to do all the work herself, but as demand for her candies grows, she struggles to balance filling her orders and ensuring that her products deliver what they promise. Sydney loves her husband, daughter and sister more every day, but her desire to have another baby and to protect Bay from high school heart break are overshadowing all the goodness in her life. Bay has grown up a lot since we last saw her, and her Waverly magic is causing her a bit of a struggle. High school is full of teenagers trying to figure out who they are and where they belong. Bay’s gift is knowing exactly where things belong, but not everyone trusts her instincts.

It’s a time of uncertainty for the Waverly girls, and they anxiously await the first frost of the year, when the temperamental apple tree in Claire’s back yard will carpet the garden with its blossoms and remind them that it’s okay to let things go. As Claire could tell you, “First frost was always an unpredictable time, but this year it felt more… desperate than others.” With only a week to go before the frost arrives, a silver-eyed drifter checks in to the Bascom bed and breakfast. He has a way of charming those around him, but what he carries in his suitcase may just be enough to bring Claire’s entire world down around her.

I’ll admit, as much as I love Sarah’s books, this one took me a few chapters to get into. It’s because Sarah worked so hard in Garden Spells to give Claire, Sydney and Bay such hopeful, happy endings. When the book opens with Claire in the kitchen, frazzled and doubting herself, I wasn’t sure I liked where things were headed. But after a few chapters, I reminded myself to trust Sarah and let her tell me her story, and in the end, I loved it.

The best thing about Sarah’s particular brand of magical-realism is her ability to make you forget that the things she’s describing don’t actually happen in real life. There is no tree that throws apples through your bedroom window. You don’t actually have an eccentric aunt who pops over at after dinner to give you something simple, like a Band-Aid or a flashlight, which will turn out to be absolutely essential tomorrow. You can’t buy a lemon drop at the store that will both ease your sore throat and give you peace of mind. Sarah makes you believe these things are not only possible, but they are a fascinating blend of remarkable and commonplace.

This was another hit for me – I hope she’ll have another in 2016!

*I got an advance copy of this e-book from NetGalley.

Top Five Friday: Summer Reads

Wrapping up my week of excitement for Lauren Willig’s new release, That Summer, I thought I would devote today’s list to summer books! Some of these books are set in the summertime, and some of them just seem like great choices to take to the beach.

lost lake 1. Lost Lake, by Sarah Addison Allen. This is a great read about a young widow named Kate who takes her daughter Devin for a spontaneous and much-needed vacation to Lost Lake, GA. They meet a charming and eccentric cast of characters, most of whom have been spending their summers at Lost Lake for years. The cottages on the lake are owned by Kate’s aunt Eby, and when Kate realizes that Eby is planning to sell the place at the end of the season, she and the other vacationers know they’ve got a limited amount of time to change Eby’s mind.
 grown-up 2. A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, by Joshilyn Jackson. It may be best to let Joshilyn describe this book for you herself: “Every fifteen years, trouble comes after the Slocumb women. Now, as their youngest turns fifteen, a whole new kind of commotion is chasing all three generations. Mosey’s desperate to know who used their yard as a make-shift cemetery, and why. The oldest, forty-five year old Ginny, fights to protect Mosey from the truth, a fight that could cost Ginny the love of her life. Between them is Liza, silenced by a stroke, with the answers trapped inside her. To survive Liza’s secrets and Mosey’s insistent adventures, Ginny must learn to trust the love that braids the strands of their past—and stop at nothing to defend their future.” It’s a mystery and a coming-of-age story all wrapped into one. Also, the chapters written from Liza’s perspective were fascinating. This book feels summery because, thanks to the southern setting, there are lots of descriptions of hot days and sunshine.
 south of broad  3. South of Broad, by Pat Conroy. This was my first Pat Conroy novel, and I read it with my book club a few years ago. I keep meaning to go back to it. This is the story of Leopold Bloom King, the eclectic group of friends that he gathers in high school, and the ways that they continue to impact each other’s lives (for better or worse) twenty years after they graduate. Conroy’s publisher calls this book “a love letter to Charleston.” With all the references to the beach and Charleston life, this is a great summer book (although, perhaps not for you, Laney).
 forgotten garden  4. The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton. This is (another) one of my favorite time-slip books. In modern England, Cassandra’s beloved grandmother Nell has passed away. Cassandra feels like she’s lost everything that matters to her, but then she finds that Nell has left her a book of strange and dark fairytales by Eliza Makepeace, a Victorian authoress who wrote this one book and then vanished. Cassandra decides that her best hope of getting her life back on track is to take her book of fairytales and revisit Nell’s past to answer the questions she’s always had about her family. A great read for any time of the year, but any book that has a garden as such a central feature feels distinctly summery.
 hundred summers 5. A Hundred Summers, by Beatriz Williams. Lily Dane decides to spend the summer of 1938 with her family in the oceanfront community of Seaview, Rhode Island. What Lily wants is rest and relaxation, but what she gets is a blast from the past: Nick and Budgie Greenwald. Budgie and Lily were best friends when they were girls, and Nick and Lily were a serious couple for a long time – until Budgie decided that she wanted him, too. Lily, Nick and Budgie stumble through a summer of awkward interactions, with Budgie trying to act like the past doesn’t exist and Nick doing his best to avoid both of them. Lily tries to understand Budgie’s betrayal and the many secrets that she’s hiding, unaware that a powerful hurricane is about to make a sudden and devastating landfall right in the heart of their town. No explanation necessary for why this one makes the list!

 

Happy Friday!

Lost Lake

lost lake

I have mixed feelings about finishing Lost Lake.  I loved the characters and the story.  And Sarah Addison Allen writes a southern setting that makes me believe I can feel the humidity and smell sunscreen and watermelon.  I’m sad to be done with it, because now I can’t expect a new book from her until at least 2015.

Lost Lake is a story about waking up and taking control of your life.  Kate Pheris, was thrown into a complete tailspin when her husband was killed in an accident on his way home from work.  When the book begins, Matt has been gone for a year, and Kate is suddenly realizing that she doesn’t recognize her life at all anymore.  She’s basically been sleep-walking for a year, dealing with her grief and letting other people (mainly her overbearing mother-in-law) make all her decisions for her.  But when she realizes what her passive attitude is costing her daughter, Devin, Kate decides it’s time to take her life back.  On a whim, she and Devin drive to Lost Lake to see her long-estranged aunt Eby and enjoy a few days of summer vacation in the only spot where Kate ever felt truly happy as a child.

While this is arguably Kate’s story, for me, the other characters in the book stole the show.  Aunt Eby’s story, sometimes told in flashbacks, was so beautiful that it made me want to go wander around Europe getting lost in cafés with Eby and her husband George.  The prologue alone almost had me in tears.  Selma and Buhladeen, two regular visitors to Lost Lake who have nothing in common on the surface, are a testament to how much we can grow to rely on people without ever realizing it.  Devin wears fairy wings with a Wonder Woman t-shirt and believes she can see alligators in the lake.  She is eccentric and bright and beautiful in that way that only little girls can be.

The most fascinating character to me was Lisette, a French woman who bonded so immediately and powerfully to Eby when they met in Paris that she followed Eby back home to Georgia when Eby’s European honeymoon was over.  Lisette cannot speak, and she refused to go to the school for the deaf her parents enrolled her in, so she writes notes on the little notepad she keeps around her neck.  Because of a terrible incident in her teenage years, Lisette understands the power that words can have, and she carefully destroys all of her notes after they’ve been read.

All these characters and their stories intersect at Lost Lake.  I suppose you could make the argument that not a whole lot happens in the book.  It’s just a small story about a few weeks in the lives of these characters, but to me, it still felt important.  It reminded me a bit of the feeling I get after I’ve read a Maeve Binchy novel.  I close the book feeling glad that I got to know a little bit about everybody in it, and wondering if they are all still milling around in there, laughing and eating and generally having an excellent time.

I think writing magical realism that feels authentic is an incredible talent, and Sarah has it.  She weaves magic throughout the story, rather than building the story on top of it, and she never tries to explain the mechanics of it.  The magic in the book is just there, no heavy-handed explanation necessary.  This way, it doesn’t feel jarring or cause you to lose your place because you have to stop reading to say, “Wait – what just happened?  How?”  I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s the impression that Sarah’s writing leaves on me.

I’m so glad Sarah is working on a sequel to Garden Spells.  It gives me something to look forward to.  I’m sure I’ll reread Lost Lake and her other books in the meantime.

Lost Lake Book Tour

ImageLast night, I drove out to Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh to see Sarah Addison Allen on the first stop of her book tour for Lost Lake.  I never know what to expect when I see an author in person, and I can get weirdly anxious waiting for the event to start.  What if I can’t reconcile the person standing in front of me with the book they have written that I love?  I had no cause for alarm with Sarah.   The minute she walked into the room, she radiated happiness.  She was visibly excited that it was time to share Lost Lake with her readers.

Sarah started out by explaining that this book tour is special to her because she didn’t have a chance to tour for her last book, The Peach Keeper.  A few weeks before The Peach Keeper’s release, Sarah was diagnosed with cancer.  In just a few weeks, Sarah learned that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, that the doctors had found nodules in her lungs, and that she would have to undergo treatment for stage four cancer – surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.  She compared this series of revelations to the feeling of being lost in the woods, in the dark, in the snow, and being chased.  But within a year, understandably the most frightening and dark year of her life, Sarah had her first set of clean scans.  She has been in remission for two years now, and in that time, she has gone through several drafts of Lost Lake.

Sarah said that she spent all of her treatment trying to get back to “life before cancer,” because that was a good and safe place for her.  But when her treatment was over, she realized that her life after cancer is actually better because she has made some changes that she would not have considered before.  Then she offered up some thoughts that seem to play a big role in Lost Lake“What would I say to that old Sarah – the Sarah before cancer?  What I would say to her, and what I would say to you is “What are you waiting for?  Life is too short.  Stop making excuses, because you KNOW what it takes to be happy…  Let go of those things you can’t control.  Tell the people you love that you love them.  Let go of the people who don’t love you – it’s okay.  Have more fun.  Ask for help when you need it.  Stop being afraid.  What are you waiting for?  Start now.’”

Sarah said that most people who learned she was writing a book after her treatment all wanted to know the same thing.  “Are you going to write about cancer?”  She considered it, but she found that she couldn’t.  “Cancer is too real and too awful, and I can’t make it good, and I can’t make it magical.  But after I finished writing Lost Lake, I sat back and I pondered, and I realized that, while I didn’t write about cancer, what I did write about was grief.  I wrote about characters who have gone through the worst thing they think they can possibly go through.  And they end up on the other side of it in an unfamiliar place, in an unfamiliar life, and yet it’s LIFE.  It’s life waiting for them to live it.” 

At this point, Sarah read aloud to us the prologue of Lost Lake.  I sat back, closed my eyes and listened, and I was captivated completely.  I’m in the middle of another book right now, but Sarah’s reading made me want to chuck that book out the window and start Lost Lake immediately.  We’ll see how much self-control I can scrape together.

After the reading, there was a quick Q&A, and then Sarah signed books.  I’d say around forty people stayed to have their books autographed, and Sarah took her time with each person.  My friend Beth and I were two of the last people in line, and when our turn came, I was struck by how gracious and modest Sarah was.  She seemed genuinely surprised (and a bit overwhelmed) that anyone would wait an hour and a half just to speak to her.  She had a packet of beautiful postcards for each person in the line, and she took the time to personalize her notes in our books and even draw little pictures.  It was a great experience, and I feel like I need to say a huge THANK YOU to Sarah and to the great staff at Quail Ridge Books.  Sarah is currently working on a sequel to her first novel, Garden Spells, hopefully to be published in 2015.  If it works out that way, I hope her book tour will bring her to QRB again!

Happy Release Day, Sarah Addison Allen!

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Today is release day for Sarah Addison Allen’s fifth novel Lost Lake.  If you’ve never read anything of Sarah’s before, I can’t recommend her highly enough.  She writes this really beautiful mix of magical realism and southern fiction.  Her third book, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, is one of my absolute favorites.

Here is what St. Martin’s Press says about Lost Lake:

From the author of New York Times bestseller Garden Spells comes a beautiful, haunting story of old loves and new, and the power of the connections that bind us forever…

The first time Eby Pim saw Lost Lake, it was on a picture postcard. Just an old photo and a few words on a small square of heavy stock, but when she saw it, she knew she was seeing her future.

That was half a life ago. Now Lost Lake is about to slip into Eby’s past. Her husband George is long passed. Most of her demanding extended family are gone. All that’s left is a once-charming collection of lakeside cabins succumbing to the Southern Georgia heat and damp, and an assortment of faithful misfits drawn back to Lost Lake year after year by their own unspoken dreams and desires.

It’s a lot, but not enough to keep Eby from relinquishing  Lost Lake to a developer with cash in hand, and calling this her final summer at the lake. Until one last chance at family knocks on her door.

Lost Lake is where Kate Pheris spent her last best summer at the age of twelve, before she learned of loneliness, and heartbreak, and loss. Now she’s all too familiar with those things, but she knows about hope too, thanks to her resilient daughter Devin, and her own willingness to start moving forward. Perhaps at Lost Lake her little girl can cling to her own childhood for just a little longer… and maybe Kate herself can rediscover something that slipped through her fingers so long ago.

One after another, people find their way to Lost Lake, looking for something that they weren’t sure they needed in the first place:  love, closure, a second chance, peace, a mystery solved, a heart mended.  Can they find what they need before it’s too late?

 At once atmospheric and enchanting, Lost Lake shows Sarah Addison Allen at her finest, illuminating the secret longings and the everyday magic that wait to be discovered in the unlikeliest of places.

If you’re undecided about trying Lost Lake, you can read the free short story she wrote as a prequel.  It’s called Waking Kate, and it’s available on Nook, Kindle, and other e-book formats.

If you live in North Carolina, Sarah is doing a book tour for the next few weeks, and you should try to see her!  I’ll be heading to Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh tomorrow night to hear her speak, and the list of her other tour dates is up on her website.