Desert Isle Keeper
It should be a truth universally acknowledged that no one writes more lyrical, magical books than Sarah Addison Allen. From the first page to the last her words weave a melody of hope, enchantment, family and love that leave you with a strong desire to join the characters in their story and stay forever. This latest novel, a sequel to Garden Spells, left me feeling both elated and saddened. Elated that I had been able to enter such delightful place for several hours, saddened that it came an end.
It’s a well-known fact in the town of Bascom, North Carolina that “each Waverley had something different about her.” As we learned in Garden Spells, for Claire Waverley that something different is in her cooking. If you got her to cater your child’s birthday party she would serve strawberry cupcakes and candied violets and the children would be well-behaved and take long afternoon naps. Anniversary guests who ate Claire’s aioli sauce with nasturtiums and tulip cups filled with orange salad would leave your anniversary party feeling both jealous and aroused. Recently, however, she has had to give up her catering to concentrate full time on her candy making business. Her delicious confections can cure sore throats, make you remember your first love or just make you euphoric. They had received a write up in Southern Living magazine, which had caused them to become a regional sensation. Claire now fed her own family from fast food restaurants as she struggled to meet the demand for her sweets.
Claire is not the only Waverley under pressure. Sydney, after hearing her darling Henry speak lovingly of being raised by his grandfather, has determined that Henry needs a namesake. A baby who will grow up and allow Henry to shape him into a man, much the way Henry’s grandfather shaped him. Her desire for this is a fierce thing but it seems the more she longs for it, the less of a reality it becomes.
Bay, Sydney’s young daughter, is experiencing the first real problem caused by her Waverley magic. Her gift is to know where people belong – and who they belong to. In her case, the magic has led her to Josh Matteson, the king of her class. The only problem is, Josh is completely uninterested in Bay. Well, that’s not the only problem. Josh is also the son of the man who cruelly used and tossed aside her mother during her teen years, which doesn’t exactly endear his family to any of the Waverleys. The feeling is reciprocated – the rich Mattesons want nothing to do with the town kooks, so it seems unlikely that the duo will ever be united.
And then of course there is the serious issue of first frost, a major event in the Waverley household. It is autumn, which is the only time the strange, enchanted apple tree in the Waverley’s backyard is dormant. The tree blooms all winter and produces small pink apples all spring and into summer. But the tree loses its leaves overnight as fall approaches and shakes its bare branches with misery until the first frost of the season brings it back to life. The Waverleys have a strange affinity with the tree’s growing season:
They always got restless before first frost, giving their hearts away too easily, wanting things they couldn’t have, getting distracted and clumsy and too easily influenced by the opinions of others. First frost meant letting go, so it was always reason to celebrate.
Adding to the first frost craziness is the mysterious stranger who seems to lurk around the Waverleys but whom they can never quite catch. Unbeknownst to the family, the article in Southern Living has attracted not just positive attention. Someone with a tie to Claire’s past has noticed the piece and come looking to share in her good fortune. He had once been known as the Great Banditi, although the bandit portion of his name fit far better than the great. Now as he stalks her through the dark autumn days, what mischief will he raise before first frost finally arrives and the tree’s magic is back at full power?
This is a whimsical, charming tale about what it means to be family and how we build communities with the people we love. The Waverleys are a close knit group but like many of us, fail to realize how special that is or how much they really need each other. As they each try to solve the issues troubling them on their own, they find themselves mired down by their difficulties. When they share their problems – through conversations, by asking for help, or by letting others take action on their behalf – they are able to rise above their challenges. When they open their hearts and allow new people into their circle, real magic begins to take place. It’s a delight to watch this happen because the author manages to capture that frustrating, delightful, quirky and awe inspiring feeling that it means to have loved ones and know you have people in your corner, even if they irritate the heck out of you while simultaneously saving you from yourself.
I mentioned at the start that I love this author’s lyrical writing and a large part of me wanted to quote the book like crazy to prove how enchanting just about every line she writes is. I won’t do that but I will tell you that the novel is utterly beautiful – every word is perfectly crafted and the plot is so sweet and intricate and yet somehow wholesome and soul satisfying at the same time. There is a satisfaction, a feeling of time very well spent, that I feel while reading a Sarah Addison Allen novel that I don’t often feel while reading a book. It’s more than just enjoyment, it’s a sense that you are a slightly better, brighter person for having indulged in this particular fantasy.
Clearly I loved the book and have no trouble recommending it. Read Garden Spells first if you haven’t already but definitely take the time out to spend a long afternoon with the Waverleys. You’ll feel better for it, I promise.