Treadmill Books: Sarah Addison Allen
These books are a bit hard to review because they aren’t a series. There is one sequel (First Frost, which continues the saga of the Waverlys from Garden Spells) but the other books are standalones. Still, I’m going to give it the old college try.
The first Sarah Addison Allen book I read was The Girl Who Chased the Moon, which was actually her third novel, because of a review in Lesa’s blog. I’m not much of a romance reader but I was intrigued by the North Carolina setting and the plot about a teenage girl who ends up at the home of a grandfather she never knew. Emily’s mother left Mullaby under mysterious circumstances long before Emily was born, but Emily is confused by the conflicting stories she hears: the woman they describe bears no resemblance to her save-the-earth, generous, courageous mother. What happened? And what’s with the mysterious lights that sometimes flicker around the town at night?
The sweetly magical world Allen created where frogs appear out of nowhere, wallpaper changes patterns, and a person can have a sixth sense about cake delighted me. Her magics are not about casting spells per se—not a “bubble bubble toil and trouble” around—but a sort of slightly off kilter everyday magic that just happens. It’s magic that has been around so long that no one thinks it’s odd or unusual.
I was so enchanted by the book that I had to read her others, starting with her first novel, Garden Spells. Certain themes emerged quickly. Prodigal returns and people with odd gifts are another staple of Allen’s books: a hairdresser who can give anyone the perfect haircut for whatever is needed, a new job or a new romantic interest; a cook who can create concoctions to infuse a party with a particular atmosphere—generosity, perhaps, or perhaps a dose of humility; or Evanelle, who feels compelled to give odd items to people because she knows they will need that item. My personal favorite, of course, would have to be Chloe, who has books appear to her on a topic she needs (or, rather, that the books feel she needs.) There are too many good characters to choose from, although I have to say that the rather mischievous apple tree who tries to entice people to sample its apples is one I think of frequently, along with the aforementioned Evanelle. Since I’ve just read Sugar Queen, I may have to add Della Mae, who moves into a young woman’s closet without permission.
Food is another strong component of the books. A character may love store-bought candies or there may be a deep discussion of the merits of different types of barbecue, leading to some lovely sensory descriptions. That’s part of what makes these books not good treadmill choices: drooling over food does not make for a good treadmill experience. These are books best read curled up in a comfy chair, preferably with pastries close at hand. Although come to think of it, Evanelle does like to walk around the track, the better to check out young men’s backsides…. But no, these are books for relaxing not for trudging.
If this all sounds too cute and whimsical for you, then you’re probably right. A friend said that The Girl Who Chased the Moon was “the dumbest book she’d ever read.” Ouch. And yet I noticed she read all the rest of Allen’s books and even put some on reserve so there must have been something she liked. On the other hand, if you like a little fantasy with romance, food, and a satisfying ending, then Sarah Addison Allen may be just the writer for you.
Novels by Sarah Addison Allen
The Girl Who Chased the Moon
The Peach Keeper
First Frost (sequel to Garden Spells)