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The Sparrow Sisters: A Novel Paperback – September 1, 2015
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From the Publisher
Ellen Herrick talks with novelist Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
Miranda Beverly-Whittemore (MBW): The Sparrow Sisters is set in a small, enchanting, Cape Cod-like town seemingly devoid of time and the outside world. How has living in New England influenced your writing in that way?
Ellen Herrick (EH): Small towns in New England often have this trapped-in-amber feel with their old houses, crooked streets and little town greens. That is what I tried to capture in The Sparrow Sisters. Oddly, I began The Sparrow Sisters in deepest winter while living in London. I was homesick for New England and proper summer and the sea. Writing the story of the sisters and their town was really a little dose of home and made the wait for summer feel shorter. Now that I live in Cambridge and spend summers on Cape Cod, I'm a little homesick for London! Still, I continue to write about Granite Point and how the seasons change and change the town. And now I can just look out the window to really see it!
MBW: The three Sparrow sisters—Sorrel, Nettie, and Patience—share such a beautiful life, even if they are relatively isolated from the regular goings-on of the town of Granite Point. How did you first conceive of these three women? Do you see yourself in any of them?
EH: And how! I would love to live in a rambling old house with a magical back garden. And, I find the company of women so nourishing so I'm sure I'd have a great time with the Sisters. Patience, however, might need a good talking-to!
MBW: If you could cast the roles of Sorrel, Nettie, and Patience in the movie version of The Sparrow Sisters, who would you choose and why?
EH: No author doesn't cast the movie version of a book in their head, even if we don't admit it. I am a fan of strong, funny, creative women, so I think Sorrell might be played by Lake Bell, Nettie by Alexis Bledel (from Gilmore Girls), and Patience by Keira Knightley.
MBW: The sisters run a nursery, and your writing about the plants they raise is vibrant and inspiring; the scents seem to waft off the page. Are you a gardener? How did you come to write so vividly about the sisters' botanicals and their (sometimes) mystical properties?
EH: I am a gardener, self-taught and always learning. My research for The Sparrow Sisters included many hours in a wonderful garden in London, The Chelsea Physic Garden, which is the oldest botanical and medicinal garden in Europe. Just strolling through this walled garden in a misty rain is a transporting education in the magic of plants and flowers. I can still call up those faraway scents and combine them with the unruly, fragrant gardens just outside my screen door.
MBW: As a sister myself, the interactions between Sorrel, Nettie, and Patience seemed true to life. What is it about that special sister bond that draws readers in?
EH: Reading about ready-made "teams" is appealing, I think, to many of us. Every social and emotional dynamic you can think of will come up amongst sisters. And, no matter how grumpy we sisters get with each other, there is no doubt that we are each others' safety net in a lot of ways. I have an expression about the person you feel absolutely right coming to when you are in trouble. I call her my "two o’clock in the morning girl." I think sisters are there in the clutch, and in the middle of the night!
MBW: You previously worked in publishing and have clearly read many books! Who are some of the authors who inspired this work?
EH: This is easy (not like naming your favorite authors, which is just cruel): Alice Hoffman, John Irving, Sarah Addison Allen, Richard Russo, Marisa de los Santos, J. K. Rowling. Each of these writers creates magic in their own, very distinct way. Each uses language in wonderfully imaginative ways and each takes you to places that feel as real as what you already know and as unexpected as a surprise gift.
MBW: And finally, this is your first novel. What made you decide to write this story and how did you create the Sparrow Sisters?
EH: I wrote The Sparrow Sisters because my daughter dared me. Really, the family was heading off on a holiday without me (believe me, it was a holiday for me, too)! and she asked me what in the world I was going to do without them all. I laughed but she pressed me and asked what I would do if I knew I couldn't fail (or get caught, ha!). I said I'd write a novel and she, who was only 13 at the time, said she would read it when she got back the following week. Well, I did, in fact, sit right down at my kitchen counter in London and start writing and I started the story with "Once there were four Sparrows Sisters." As soon as I did that I knew I had a bit of a fairy tale on my hands. So, what better place than an enchanted seaside town to set it? Having three sisters felt like a magical number (three wishes) and as soon as I had the name Sparrow I felt as if the girls should all be named from nature. I am a keen gardener so it wasn't hard to come up with interesting plants and flowers for the girls and even easier to imagine the Sparrow Sisters Nursery. I love to pretend so I simply pretended that I was a Sparrow Sister and told the story.
“If you’re looking for a read ala Elin Hilderbrand with a touch of magic, look no further than The Sparrow Sisters, Ellen Herrick’s wicked and romantic debut.” (New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Sarah Jio)
“A haunting, magical, modern-day fairytale. A feast for the senses.” (Sarah Addison Allen, NYT bestselling author of FIRST FROST)
“A delightfully intriguing debut, gracefully paced and skillfully crafted. Ellen Herrick’s attention to sensory detail is magical and moving. Evocative to the last page.” (Susan Meissner, author of Secrets of a Charmed Life)
From the Back Cover
The Sparrow Sisters are as tightly woven into the New England seaside town of Granite Point as the wild sweet peas that climb the stone walls along the harbor. Sorrel, Nettie, and Patience are as colorful as the beach plums on the dunes and as mysterious as the fog that rolls into town at dusk.
When a new doctor settles into Granite Point, he brings with him a mystery so compelling that town healer Patience is drawn to love him even as she struggles to mend him. But when Patience Sparrow's herbs and tinctures are believed to be implicated in a local tragedy, Granite Point is consumed by a long-buried fear—and its three-hundred-year-old history resurfaces as a modern-day witch hunt threatens. The plants and flowers, fruit trees, and high hedges begin to wither and die, and the entire town begins to fail; fishermen return to the harbor empty-handed, and blight descends on the old elms that line the lanes.
It seems as if Patience and her town are lost until the women of Granite Point band together to save the Sparrows. As they gather, drawing strength from each other, will they be able to turn the tide and return life to Granite Point?
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Top Customer Reviews
I fell in love with the menagerie of characters contained in this book. This is definitely a favorite of mine now, and I will patiently wait for Sorrel's story.
The writing was basic -- way too many sentences began with "It was" -- and jarring summations, phrased almost old-worldly perhaps to mimic the style of Hawthorne or classic New England writers, fell flat and felt awkward. Time after time, the complete lack of craft took me out of the story.
Throughout, the author tells the reader painfully obvious things like "Here was another woman, and the most unexpected, to take Patience's side." Certainly readers could figure that out on their own. So many scenes could have been so much better if Herrick's editor told her to show rather than tell. I know that phrase is used so much, it's almost cliche, but it's very true in this case. I wanted to see the storms brewing or the mob tearing apart what the Sparrow sisters held dear. And the head hopping! My God, we knew every inner thought of every character.
I did finish it, but barely, so I guess the author created a character (Patience Sparrow) well enough for me to care what happened to her. Too bad her editor didn't care enough about Herrick's novel in the same way.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I would recommend The Sparrow Sisters.