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Garden Spells Hardcover – August 28, 2007
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When family friends become bitter enemies, the consequences are deadly. Learn More
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Top Customer Reviews
I am nearly jealous of those who have not read it yet. It is a vibrant experience to live between the pages even if they turn so quickly.
As a first time novelist, Allen bewitches with savory prose and keen insight, leaving this reader to want more. Think of the very best fairy tale you were ever told; now pick up "Garden Spells" and read one of the best magical stories for adults this reader has enjoyed in a long, long time.
This is the story of 2 sisters who each find a different way to cope with a mother who was wild and abandoned them when they were young. Clare creates a very careful, cautious life for herself. Sydney, the younger sister, lives wildly trying to copy a mother she never knew. For a long time they have no contact until circumstances force them together. In the setting of a magical garden, the sisters need to confront their past in order to move forward.
This is the kind of book I like to read on a day when the world seems dark and depressing. It was light, yet still thoughtful. Magic permeates the story. It's full of delightful quirky characters and a romance which could be formulaic if the writer were not so skilled.
That out of the way, let me say that once again, as noted in the title for my review for Ms Allen's second novel, I always want more. It is a personal inclination to see possibility in things, in people, in situations. Not only that, but also the mapping-out of how everything might be brought to a higher state of potential. And with this début from Ms Allen, it's so much clearer to me what her strengths...and her weaknesses...are.
She has a wonderful knack with the fantastical. Presenting it in such a way as to not have it be some circus event, but rather something to be accepted. To be wondered at, but not in a mawkish way. Here is a very, very creative person, who has managed to go back to this well twice (three times, if the blurbs about her next effort are accurate), and provides the willing reader with a lot to smile about. Being able to 'charm' with something, whether it be a song, a painting, a magic act, a film, or a novel, is a blessed gift. And to the extent to which Ms Allen has mined her talent, 'charm' is precisely what she does. (Again, *if* you're open to the notion, to the genre, to the mindset. If you're not- Well, why are you reading this review?!?) And clearly, her wry sense of humour is something to be pushed center-stage as often as it makes sense. And her good heart is always moving things forward.
But at this point in her career, the author has noticeable weaknesses of craft. Proving to me that though she's published a pair of efforts so far, she's still very much a 'writer-in-waiting'.
First and foremost, her dialogue. Some of it shines. Some of it is perfectly snappy. But there are just too many occasions when it is downright...well, execrable. Really, really, *really* bad. Yes, I know that the genre allows for a lot. But seriously; I found the bad stuff to be painful to read.
Tied into this...and the third aspect, to follow...is her deftness of touch regarding characterization. Or lack thereof. There is in this novel, as well as her second, a tendency towards being facile. Yea, I know; the genre tolerates this...again, it ain't literature...and yet I can't help but feel that she needs to dig deep and develop her chops. There was a lot more that she could have done with the characters. Either she wasn't capable of going deeper, or didn't try. The novel -and the reader- are the losers here.
Finally, there's the question of scope. There's an art to making something refined. Stripped-down. Elegantly charming in its brevity. Just as there's an art to creating the epic. The rich, the dense, the sumptuously-fabric'd. Great failures are possible when attempting either end of the gamut. Just as riding the middle can also result in mediocrity. 'Garden Spells' could have been either achingly spare at its <300 pages, or it could have been riveting at >450. As it stands, it is neither. There are many elements left unexplored. Some things were left dangling. Passages cried out for a fuller treatment...just as many demanded to have even less print used to express them. In the end, 'Garden Spells' is neither exquisitely reserved nor a richly woven. Again, our loss.
Having said all this, and keeping in mind my confession, I enjoyed 'Garden Spells'. It wasn't all that it could have been, but it contained sufficient trigger points (one of the lead characters, Claire, is so very much the literary embodiment of Heidi, 'the one that got away' for me) so as to create a constant tone for me, allowing me to be *moved* time and time again. Not enough to award it 5 stars...but then, I am a harsh critic.
My wish for Ms Allen is twofold: one, that she get the editorial input she deserves, and two, that she's able to plumb more of her talent before she has to leave this particular well and move on to other sources.