Book review: ‘Lost Lake’ by Sarah Addison Allen

Lost LakeHearing Sarah Addison Allen has a new novel out is enough to send me running for the bookstore. I fell in love with her work in Garden Spells, then had my devotion solidified with The Sugar Queen and The Peach Keeper. Her blend of magic, love and family is often a delight, and I always look forward to losing myself in her work.

All this to say I went into Lost Lake with high expectations . . . and, sadly, they just weren’t met. Despite an intriguing-enough premise and some sweet (if shallow) characters, I never connected with the story or felt any allegiance to this unusual crew of vacationers and locals alike in Lost Lake, Georgia.

Our main cast is comprised of Kate and Devin, a mother-daughter duo grieving the unexpected loss of Kate’s husband. Wanting to escape from her cold mother-in-law and the constraints at home, Kate wakes up from a year of despondency with the idea of visiting her aunt Eby on the lake Eby has called home for decades.

Once a happening resort area, Lost Lake has fallen into disrepair — and become a victim of changing economic times. With Eby’s beloved husband gone, she no longer feels the passion she once did for the area . . . but can’t bear to leave it behind, either. With dreams of traveling the world again in her retirement, Eby has plans for Lost Lake — but so do other Georgia residents. And they may not go down without a fight.

Like all of Allen’s works, Lost Lake benefits from a sense of the surreal — but nothing in this novel floats quite like her other books. We feel for Kate and Devin as they navigate their sudden loss, but Kate always seemed detached and unyielding to me. I just didn’t bond with her.

But Eby? Eby was priceless. Still kicking rump in her would-be retirement years, I loved the genesis story of how she and George came to meet, marry and defy their families’ expectations by opening up Lost Lake. The stories from their honeymoon in Europe were the definite highlight of the novel for me, and I enjoyed the tale of how they met Lisette — a friend who has also makes her home at Lost Lake — through a mishap in Paris.

If the story had centered on those three, I would have been happier . . . or less annoyed, anyway. Honestly, most of Lost Lake was pretty forgettable for me. It lacked Allen’s trademark warmth, her zing and zip; it felt like a husk of a story instead of a full-blooded novel, and it suffered for that. It was entertaining enough when Kate and Devin finally connect with Eby, but I never bought into Kate’s romance or felt any desire to move forward.

I listened to Lost Lake on audio . . . and I think that’s the only reason I finished it. Though it pains me to pan an Allen novel, this one just lacked life. The story was more interesting when we delved into the past . . . but we had to keep returning to the present. A bummer how that works.


2.5 out of 5!

Pub: 2013 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Audio copy borrowed from my local library


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Book review: ‘The Peach Keeper’ by Sarah Addison Allen

Willa Jackson has finally settled down. Though known as a prankster in high school, the time came for Willa to let go of her constant need for an adrenaline rush, move back to her hometown and run a store in Walls of Water, North Carolina’s popular tourist area. Growing up in a place known for its nature and beautiful cataracts, Willa was eager to get away — but family, more than anything, pulled her home again.

In another part of town, Paxton Osgood has never left. Born into a wealthy family and destined to continue the Osgoods’ reputation for class, excellence and poise, Paxton never considered leaving the only home she’s ever known — especially when her twin brother, Colin, seemed so eager to go. Someone had to stay with her parents, entertaining and helping and supporting them. Someone had to foster their reputation for charity in the community. Somebody had to remain the backbone and brace of Walls of Water’s vibrant citizenship. And guess who that was?

Though cordial to one another, Willa and Paxton were never good friends — unlike their aging grandmothers, Georgie and Agatha. In the 1930s, the two women came together to form the Women’s Society Club of Walls of Water, an organization established to protect and support one another. Paxton has continued their traditions while Willa has shunned them, even ignoring Paxton’s recent invitation to celebrate the club’s anniversary with a giant party at the restored mansion the Jacksons once owned.

But Willa might not be able to ignore Paxton much longer . . . especially after a body is found buried beneath the peach tree that grows on the site of the Blue Ridge Madam. Who was he? And how did he get there?

And how will they find out the truth?

Sarah Addison Allen’s The Peach Keeper, a luscious slice of Southern fiction, was every bit as scrumptious and delightful as I’d expect from a woman who is quickly establishing herself as one of my “no fail” authors. Infused with a touch of magical realism so light and airy that it seems wholly believable, her latest novel is a treat from start to finish.

At the heart of The Peach Keeper are the ladies and friendships that sustain them, and I found myself relating most closely to Paxton. At 30, she lives in the guesthouse of her family home and sags beneath the weight of trying to please her parents, community and — in last place — herself. I felt her sense of familial obligation keenly, and the scenes in which she expresses her love for Sebastian, her best friend, were heart-wrenching. Sebastian was the perfect male lead: handsome; sincere; hardworking; endlessly supportive. If Paxton couldn’t have him, I thought, maybe I could.

Though neither woman is painted as “the bad guy” here, Paxton is the more uptight and high-strung of the two — but Willa, more of a free spirit, still struggles with maintaining her isolated life in the home she once shared with her father, now deceased. I felt for Willa, too, as she tried to reconcile the adventurous, rebellious young woman she was with the stable, boring person she’d become. Though Colin’s arrival back in town shakes all of that up, too . . .

And the mystery! Oh, that mystery. I was intrigued and invested from start to finish, wondering who had been discovered beneath the Madam’s peach tree. Though obviously linked to their grandmothers, the truth is revealed gradually — and each morsel is tantalizing. Allen’s pacing was exquisite, giving readers just enough to stay interested without spilling the whole truth. I was dying to know what happened.

Romance and love are palpable in this story, too, which are the fishhooks used to snare me in any novel. Of the two developing stories, Paxton’s was the most interesting to me — and I was on the edge of my seat with the suspense of knowing whether or not her feelings were reciprocated. She was so deserving of happiness.

A fabulous, unpredictable read from one of the masters of the magical realism genre, and one I would happily recommend to fans of contemporary or women’s fiction. Allen fans will delight in a cameo made by one of her Garden Spells characters, too.


4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0553807226 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by Amazon Vine in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘The Girl Who Chased The Moon’ by Sarah Addison Allen

Emily Benedict arrives in a small North Carolina town fresh on the grief train from her mother’s passing. Moving in with a grandfather she never knew — Vance Shelby, a real-life giant — becomes an unexpected adventure. Once her own mother’s home, Mullaby is full of interesting characters and tiny, inexplicable magical moments.

At the house next door, Julia Winterson has busied herself caring for a bustling restaurant business. After her father’s death years before, Julia returns to Mullaby — a place she fled decades ago — to take care of his business and debts before returning to Baltimore, where she’s steadfastly worked to build a new life. Julia gives herself two years to pay off her father’s debts, planning to sell his successful barbeque joint and run far away from a past that still haunts her. But Sawyer Anderson let her get away once — and he definitely isn’t planning on watching her flee again. Especially not if that means her delicious desserts — and their feelings — will disappear.

Sarah Addison Allen’s The Girl Who Chased The Moon, the third of her magical stand-alone novels, is a sweet if on-the-surface story of two women discovering details about the past as they struggle to move forward in the present. Once she arrives in Mullaby, Emily realizes the depth of the secrets her mother kept from her in life. And Julia has worked steadfastly to convince herself that she was never in love with Sawyer and that their shared history doesn’t matter, but it’s obvious to everyone — including the reader — that the well of her feelings runs deep.

While I read this novel quickly — it’s breezy — I have to admit that I expected more from the talented Ms. Allen. From the beginning, the more compelling narrative was Julia’s — and her memories, especially from high school, were buried beneath a less-interesting “mystery” surrounding the Coffeys, a well-to-do family with an unfortunate connection to the Shelbys. Of course, Emily doesn’t know anything about this when she meets Win Coffey, an attractive if broody young man who can’t seem to stay away from her — though he probably should.

Julia and Sawyer’s love story was, by far, the most fun and entertaining part of the novel. I loved their banter, though I ultimately found their back-story pretty thin. Most of what I “felt” while reading was just by interjecting my own emotions into the narrative, remembering first love and the pain of an eventual break-up. Without my own experiences, I feel like even the Sawyer-and-Julia moments would have fallen flat.

Though the book is short — less than 300 pages — I still found the pacing too slow. Secrets were revealed but very slowly, and I became intensely frustrated by Win’s cryptic responses to everything Emily asked . . . and the fact that we would wait many pages without any new tidbits of information. The evolution of their friendship felt a little contrived and unnatural to me, and I failed to see where their attraction stemmed from. I pictured Win as a Logan Huntzberger (for the “Gilmore Girls” fans) or a Chuck Bass (for my “Gossip Girls”), but Emily was just a wisp of a girl who never seemed to deal with the actual grief of losing her only parent. She seemed dull, confused and, honestly, uninteresting.

The town of Mullaby was interesting, but I never felt like I was actually there; the town was like a movie backdrop set up in the middle of the desert. I could see that I was supposed to be immersed in a scene, but my eye just kept wandering to the exposed periphery.

But as with her other novels, Allen’s strengths come in describing food. Like The Sugar Queen, one of my favorite books, the descriptions of desserts and sweets were intoxicating. Sawyer’s “sweet sense” was a really fun touch and added another magical element to the tale, which wasn’t nearly as focused on the inexplicable as her first two books.

Fans of contemporary or Southern fiction who appreciate tiny magical touches might enjoy Allen’s tale of family, love and redemption. Being a mighty fan of Allen’s from her Garden Spells days, I expected more from her latest novel, but readers new to her work shouldn’t hesitate to pick up some of her sweet stories. The Girl Who Chased The Moon didn’t earn a spot on my coveted favorites shelf, but it was still an enjoyable way to spend a weekend. And wow, I loved looking at that gorgeous cover!


3 out of 5!

ISBN: 0553807218 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Copy borrowed from my local library

Festival Of The… What?

After finishing Sarah Addison Allen’s The Sugar Queen last week and reading Garden Spells last year, I’ve been very eager to see what the master of magical realism has in store next! I use BookMooch to manage my general “wishlist,” keeping track of all the fantastic novels I can’t wait to read (someday), so I innocently entered her little name in the database to see what else I could find.

Turns out Ms. Allen does have another novel up her sleeve — due out in March 2010. The title, you ask? Well . . .

allen_screencap

That’s right — Festival Of The Naked Lady!

Okay, no — before you panic, this is merely the old, working title that was first released in pre-publication news, according to Allen’s official website. Amazon.com has a listing for the new novel up, and it’s most definitely called The Girl Who Chased The Moon. But for some reason, I can’t help but stare, slack-jawed, at the database return. And honestly, it makes me giggle a bit.

girl_who_chasedHere’s Amazon’s product description of the — ahemreal new novel:

In her latest enchanting novel, New York Times bestelling author Sarah Addison Allen invites you to a quirky little Southern town with more magic than a full Carolina moon. Here two very different women discover how to find their place in the world…no matter how out of place they feel.

Emily Benedict came to Mullaby, North Carolina, hoping to solve at least some of the riddles surrounding her mother’s life. For instance, why did Dulcie Shelby leave her hometown so suddenly? Why did she vow never to return? But the moment Emily enters the house where her mother grew up and meets the grandfather she never knew—a reclusive, real-life gentle giant—she realizes that mysteries aren’t solved in Mullaby, they’re a way of life.

Here are rooms where the wallpaper changes to suit your mood. Unexplained lights skip across the yard at midnight. And a neighbor bakes hope in the form of cakes.

Everyone in Mullaby adores Julia Winterson’s cakes. She offers them to satisfy the town’s sweet tooth and in the hope of bringing back the love she fears she’s lost forever. In Julia, Emily may have found a link to her mother’s past. But why is everyone trying to discourage Emily’s growing relationship with the handsome and mysterious son of Mullaby’s most prominent family? Emily came to Mullaby to get answers, but all she’s found so far are more questions.

Sounds awesome, right?

I’m pretty sure Festival Of The Naked Lady would be quite a different tale!

Book review: ‘The Sugar Queen’ by Sarah Addison Allen

sugar_queenSarah Addison Allen’s The Sugar Queen is one seriously delightful, magical story — and I gobbled it up in two sittings! I probably would have devoured it whole if, you know, real life hadn’t gotten in the way (it always seems to do that!).

Josey Cirrini has been dealing with her mother’s firm disapproval for as long as she can remember — and now, at 27, she’s finally realizing that we can’t try to atone for past mistakes forever, and there certainly comes a time to move forward. She probably wouldn’t have reached this conclusion if Della Lee Baker, a local waitress and ne’er-do-well, hadn’t taken her closet hostage, moving in with a stack of her own worries and a demand to stay for as long as she needs to. After Della Lee discovers Josey’s secret stash of candy (oh, delicious candy!) and paperbacks, the two are bonded through their secrets — and the threat of blackmail.

At Della Lee’s (often tough) encouragement, Josey slowly begins to widen the tiny world in which she’s been sequestered in Bald Slope, North Carolina as the only daughter of local developer and hero Marco Cirrini. She meets Chloe, the owner of a local cafe, and the two strike up an immediate friendship which strengthens as Josey realizes Chloe’s connection to mailman Adam, whom Josey has longed for since the moment she first saw him.

Filled with mystery, suspense, romance and plenty of surprises, I absolutely loved The Sugar Queen. The dynamics between Josey and her mother were intense but realistic, and I adored troubled Della Lee, whose heart was always in the right place. I really related to Chloe and Jake’s relationship — the pull of first love, the intensity of finding someone so special to you. The effort it takes to forgive them for their mistakes… which turns out to take no effort at all. Addison Allen’s descriptions of their relationship really struck a chord with me.

And though magic is a recurring theme through the novel, it never seems strange or unrealistic — it feels right, an awesome and whimsical touch in a very fantastic story. Was it a tad predictable at times? Perhaps — but that bothered me little. I knew the journey getting there would be worth it, and there still plenty of unexpected moments to keep me flipping the pages fast.

I loved Addison Allen’s Garden Spells, and I have to say that I found this one just as entrancing — if not more so. She has a way of immediately drawing you into a story, surrounding you as though you’re caught in a silvery snowstorm. Highly recommended!


4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0553384848 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg

Book review: ‘Garden Spells’ by Sarah Addison Allen

Back in January, a friend of mine from work chose Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells as her “staff pick” of the month — and I immediately asked her what she loved about it. One of the greatest things about working at a bookstore (other than the grossly insignificant compensation, condescending customers and long hours, of course) is the opportunity to endlessly discuss my most favorite of all things — books! And Garden Spells came very highly recommended.

If you’d asked me a year ago if I’m much of a “fantasy” reader, I probably would have wrinkled my nose at you. In the past year, though, I’ve joined the legions of astute readers who have discovered the world of Harry Potter, Stephenie’s Meyer’s Twilight series and, now, Allen’s whimsical trees and edibles in Garden Spells. And this book is, for lack of a more precise word, very charming.

I dove headfirst into the storyline, which follows sisters Claire and Sydney Waverley as they struggle to reconnect after ten years apart. The Waverleys are infamous in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina for being “different” — and from their heritage in a long line of “different” Waverleys. Familial ties are very strong in Bascom and each member of the family is expected to carry on their traditions — be it helping the ill, giving “gifts” to this in need or, well, marrying an older spouse.

My description is wholly lacking, of course. This really the story of Sydney and Claire finding each other again — and learning to love and trust each other again. The girls were raised in Bascom by their maternal grandmother after their mother’s unexpected departure, leaving them to alternately embrace or defy their familial expectations. Claire embraces the “magic” that seems to center around the family — she and her grandmother’s abilities to create delicious meals laced with materials to affect the eater in the desired way.

Sydney, however, can’t wait to get out of town and forget being a “Waverley” — she despises all of the long glances her way and the expectations and ridicule. After the end of an unfortunate relationship as a teenager, Sydney leaves North Carolina and changes her name to follow the free-spirited path of their ill-fated mother — she roams the country, looking for someone to love. And somewhere to really belong.

And she does find someone — just not who she expected. She welcomes her daughter Bay into the world and, after a dangerous situation puts both she and her daughter at risk, Sydney comes “home” to Claire after a ten-year silence between them.

Claire has stayed on in the Waverley home in Bascom to open her own catering business, which becomes very successful. She’s content with her routines and the order of her daily life, taking solace and comfort in her one-ness — depending on no one. After her grandmother dies, she retreats even further into herself; she believes that everyone leaves her (and, given the past, this is pretty much true). Sealing herself off and becoming an island, Claire literally seems to forget how to care about anyone else.

The presence of Sydney and Bay shatters her peaceful island, of course. While initially apprehensive of their arrival out of the blue, Claire comes to embrace them both completely — and Sydney learns how to pick up the pieces of both her damaged self-worth and autonomy.

That’s just the synopsis, of course. And a long one at that!

What I really loved about this book was how clearly I felt the connection between all of the many-faceted characters of the novel — and they were all quite unforgettable. Claire and Sydney are beautiful, kind-hearted but ultimately quite flawed women, and I adored young Bay, who’s just beginning to learn what it means to be a Waverley. Spirited relative Evanelle — whose “gift” is to compulsively deliver items the recipient will need sometime in the future, kind of like a sign — was delightful and added quite a bit of light-heartedness to the plot.

No character in the book seemed to be thrown into the story — everyone had a purpose, and everyone had a place. The men who enter the Waverleys’ lives carry with them certain responsibilities and have certain gifts of their own, though not magical in nature. The Waverleys are all taught what it means to trust, to let go of the past, and to embrace one another for both their differences and their similarities.

I’m sure that’s pretty trite, but that’s probably because it’s true!

The “magical” element of Garden Spells was done so well, I hardly noticed it. The transitions between scenes were seamless, and the abilities of Claire and Sydney didn’t seem strange to me. Even the apple-tossing magical tree — a character all its own — didn’t strike me as odd.

I really enjoyed the novel, and found myself skimming ahead as I reached the final 50 pages — I was so desperate to know what was going to happen. The only downfall of the book, in my opinion, was the ending — as we waited and waited and waited for something in particular to happen (no spoilers here!), when it finally did, the whole messy scene was over and done with in a matter of pages. It felt wholly anticlimatic — as did another revelation involving the progression of Claire’s relationship in the final few pages. While I still loved the story, I felt like someone had popped my little balloon as I reached the conclusion.


4.25 out of 5!

ISBN: 0553590324 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg