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.