A keeper? Yes. No. Yesno. Arrgh.
At its best moments, Garden Spells is fluff. Undemanding, enjoyable, fluff. Top quality fluff, that I would keep if it didn’t have some unpleasantly soggy spots.
Mostly it’s a story of two sisters, Claire and Sydney Waverley, who had very different but very difficult childhoods, and how they reconcile, and how both find love, and how their friends and neighbors (mostly) find their own happy endings. And the one or two who don’t have happy endings by the last page at least have a happy ending lying in the grass waiting for them to pick it up, if they choose.
This story – and it’s a good four-fifths of the book – turns on the notion that the Waverley family has semimagical powers, and the apple tree in their yard has even more magic, and a mind of its own about using it. Really, the apple tree is an independent character, perhaps the most active character in the whole story, determined to manipulate the people it takes an interest in so that they’ll do what the tree considers best.
Silly, but fun. And if that were the whole book, I’d just relax into its silliness and enjoy it. Unfortunately, Allen added an extra subplot that made it hard for me to really enjoy the book.
Sydney’s family backstory gives her plenty of reasons to run away as soon as she finishes high school; we don’t really need the Mean Girls subplot of cruelty by the rich’n’popular crowd to motivate her. But even that would be okay if it were left as background. Alas, we spend way too much time hearing all about what a monster Emma, the girl who betrayed Sydney, grew up to be, even if she does have wealth and social importance. At the last minute Allen allows Emma to have a happy ending of sorts, but not until she’s been thoroughly frightened and embarrassed.
For the first quarter of the book, until we met Emma, I was having a good time. As it is, I finished the book; I enjoyed most of the book; but I have a feeling that it’s going to leave me with a case of mental indigestion.