It seems I’m once again behind the bandwagon and that Garden Spells was already all over the book blogosphere some time ago. I’m usually 1 year behind on all fashions, like those ladies in The Age of Innocence, who store the dresses they’ve just bought until they lose their avant-gardeness.

We all know that certain plants have powers, but Claire Waverley has the ability to enhance and control them through her cooking. These “gifts” run in the Waverley family: her sister Sydney has a way of bringing out the best in people through hair cutting, her niece just knows where everything belongs and her aunt has uncontrollable urges to give people presents that sooner or later prove useful.

When we first meet Sydney, she’s escaping from an abusive marriage and heading to the family home she left 10 years ago. There she’s welcomed by Claire, who took over the house and its garden after the death of their mother and grandmother.

Claire runs a local catering company from her own kitchen and specializes in cooking with flowers, which she grows herself. She’s the “safe” sister who craves routine and a sense of belonging. Sydney is the adventurous one, who denies her family’s gifts, but eventually comes to realize there’s no place like home. It’s impossible not to compare Garden Spells with Practical Magic. They both include a long line of women with gifts, meant-to-be relationships, enchanted gardens and secret family histories. But in the end, it was such a fun book to read that I didn’t mind at all. Actually, the book strongly reminded me of several others. For instance:

Like Water for Chocolate. Tita crying into the wedding cake and ruining the party vs. Claire, also through food, bringing feelings of guilt to the women who humiliated Sydney.

A Prayer for Owen Meany. Owen’s conviction that he’s “God’s instrument” because he knows he’ll do a great deed in the future. He doesn’t know what that deed will be, but has images of it happening which don’t make sense… until the end. In Garden Spells, Sydney’s daughter has a dream about the moment after which “everything will be all right”. She tries to artificially replicate it, with no success… until the end.

Anne of Green Gables. In Avonlea, each family is neatly categorized. For instance, according to Marilla, “Pyes they always were and Pyes they always will be, world without end, amen.” and “The Sloanes are all honest people”. This is not very different from the village where the Waverlys live: everyone knows that there’s magic in the Waverly’s blood, everyone also knows the Matteson women are great in bed and that the Hopkins men marry older women. These details were very smartly used in creating the book’s fairy-tale feel. And now that I think about it, in the village where my mother was born things are not much different either. There, your family name also brands you for life as rude/lucky/bright/cunning, etc.

This was the first book in a while that make me read into the wee hours. Actually, because it was a weekend and I was home-alone, I read it between 10PM and 5AM (a sleepless reader indeed!). It’s light and sweet, and the romantic parts weren’t too sugary. Also, it’s set in South Caroline, and you know I can’t resist Southern Lit (any 2011 Southern Lit Challenges out there?), especially when there’s a food component. When I think about the book now, I see pastel colors, flowery cupcakes and lovely Queen Anne houses or Cath Kidston meets Nigela Lawson meets Fannie Flagg. The ideal story after almost 3 weeks of The Spring of the Ram’s intricate plot.

It also made me want to cook, which is not a usually feeling (can you be a foody without liking to cook?). But all those descriptions of scented vapors, tastes and colors did the trick – know any good recipes using flowers?