First Frost Library Binding – March 1, 2015
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The author is in full flower here, just like the Waverly's cranky apple tree. With the lushness of summer, the ripeness of fall, the coziness and crispness of winter, and the promise of spring, Allen's story is a Thanksgiving feast for all seasons, rich with flavor and sensation. It's rare to find a perfect book, where the promise and the practice match with no false notes. Is it the greatest novel ever? No. But it is a perfect example of magical realism: better than life, with just enough ballast to give you the vision to see how you might get some of that magic into your own. Better than life: life-affirming. Allen's gentle humor and flavorful prose are a recipe for delight.
Give yourself a wish-fulfilling pleasant few hours in a world where dreams come true, true love lasts, and happy ever after is real—after a few bumps and bruises, of course—and settle down with a pumpkin latte, a slice of fig-and-pepper bread (recipe included in the book) and First Frost.
The story takes place in the Waverley home in Bascom, North Carolina, where Claire, Sydney and Bay live, and its walled garden containing the apple tree. The author does a masterful job of evoking the magic underlying the normal-appearing Waverleys from the first page, adding just a whiff of something unusual and intriguing. The second sentence was a delight: “The neighborhood homeowners always knew when she ran by, because they suddenly felt the desire to organize their sock drawers… [they] need to set things in order”. The house has its own personality, keeping its rooms warmer than usual for Claire’s comfort, or refusing to open the front door when the person passing through is not acting in the best interests of the Waverleys. The cranky apple tree out back blooms out of season, tosses its small pink apples to Claire inviting her to play, morosely throws apples at Mariah’s bedroom window asking her to come visit the garden. It’s implied the tree throws apples at the feet of Karl to chase him away, but we don’t see the throwing, just the apples at his feet and his jaunty smile. The types of magic described are all tiny interventions in the real world, making them an integral and believable part of the story.
This magical world is beguiling through the first half of the book, but I found my interest waning as the story continued and the magic appeared to be less central to the plot resolution. Further, the character of the apple tree is so beautifully, lightly and magically woven, that it was a let-down when the first frost event of the title, in which the apple tree plays a central role, had so little impact on the characters. It seemed to just be the backdrop in front of which all the personal conflicts and difficulties between characters were resolved. I really enjoyed the gentle, whimsical, positive voice of the narrator. I also thoroughly enjoyed the deft inclusion of magic in the characters and settings. But this large cast of characters presented without clear focus, made the story slow to gain speed, and rickety to pull together at the end.
Blurb: This is the follow up novel to Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells; set ten years after the first book, it shows the lives of the Waverley family as they await the blooming of their magical apple tree at the first frost of autumn.
Bullying, Death, Food, Infidelity (mentioned)
Body Count: 0
First Frost, while technically a sequel to Garden Spells stands on its own merits. It’s an engaging, lighthearted read about the Waverley clan, their minor magical talents, but more about their strength as a family unit. The story is all about the brief and tumultuous week before the first frost, when the magical Waverley apple tree will bloom again. Young Bay is just on the cusp of adulthood, fifteen and sure of her ability as a Waverley. Sisters Claire and Sydney have their own minor troubles, but nothing they can’t weather together. I, as always, enjoyed the author’s definitive voice. Ms. Allen has a way with describing the ordinary magic and colorful lives of her characters that it seems quite possible to meet them on the street.
Was it engaging?
I know it’s weird, but the apple tree is my favorite character, followed closely by Waverley house.
Rating out of five: 4.0 out of 5
To Read or Not To Read (Again):
On the Bookshelf
The Technical Specs:
Series Name: Waverley Family
Book Number: 2 of 2
Technical Genre: Mother & Children Fiction, Magical Realism, Women’s Domestic Life Fiction
Theo Genre: Chick Lit, Magical Realism, Feminist Fiction, Witchy Fiction
Page count: 305 pages
POV: Limited 3rd
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Representation, Morality, and Sexism in Media Tests:
Bechdel–Wallace Test: PASS
Do two female characters talk about something other than a male character?
Deggan’s Rule Test: FAIL
Are there at least two non-white human characters in the main cast in a story not primarily focused on race?
DuVernay Test: PASS
Are there fully actualized characters of color?
Ellen Willis Test: PASS
Would two related characters still work to carry the story if their genders were reversed?
Hays Code: HALF PASS
Part One: outdated moral guidelines-Pass
Are there any outdated “moral content” rules gloriously kicked in the teeth by this story? Murder, happy queer characters, profanity, etc.
Part Two: queer representation -Half Pass
Are there queer characters that get a happy ending? Sort of.
Do the queer characters die? Nope
Part Three: age and agency:-Pass
Is there an illegal or otherwise distasteful age gap between characters, queer or otherwise? No
Mako Mori Test: PASS
Is there a female character that gets her own arc?
Mary Sue/Gary Stu Test: PASS
Is the main character completely flawless and persecuted by other characters needlessly?
Take a Mary Sue test here!
Sexy Lamp Test: PASS
Would the plot fall apart if the female character was replaced by a sexy looking lamp?
Post-It Note Caveat:
Would the character be able to be replaced by a Sexy Lamp with a sticky note on it for information conveyance?
Tauriel Test: PASS
Is there at least one woman in the story who is competent in her chosen occupation and not immediately shown up by a newcomer male character?
If she has or develops a love interest during the story, either implied or explicitly stated, does she suddenly abandon her job and/or chosen path to support or pursue said love interest?
Topside Test: FAIL
Are there two or more trans characters in the story that know each other and do they talk about anything other than medical transition procedures?
I acknowledge that most common media lacks decent trans representation.
Vito Russo Test: PASS
Is there a character on the LGBTQIAP+ spectrum spectrum who is a character beyond their orientation and do they actually affect the plot and are something beyond a punchline?
What does that stand for? Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual/Biromantic/Bigender, Transgender, Queer/Genderqueer, Intersex, Asexual/Aromantic/Agender, Pansexual/Panromantic
Review format updated 25 February 2020
Top international reviews
Claire Waverley’s catering business has now changed and she makes candy, which is believed to have magical properties. Demand has grown so much that she can no longer use her own garden flowers and she unhappily supplements them with commercially bought flavours and essences.
Claire’s sister, Sydney, now owns the hair salon in town and uses her own magical Waverley gift to create hairstyles that leave her customers feeling special. Her daughter, Bay, is now fifteen; she sets things in order and has a great eye for knowing where everything belongs. However, she’s currently suffering from the teenage anxiety of first love.
A stranger comes to town; Russel Zahler, once the Great Banditi, is a down-on-his-luck magician and con artist. He begins to send unsettling ripples through the community. Before the first frost of the autumn, Waverley women become jittery, and this year it’s at its worst, no one can settle. What does the stranger want?
I enjoyed this book as much as the first and fans of Garden Spells should enjoy this sequel, with the magic apple tree and the mysterious skills of the Waverley clan. I’m glad Evanelle, the eighty nine year old relative, was still around with her own gift; she brings a lovely touch of eccentricity to the tale.
All of the Waverlys have a magical gift, and for the newest character in the book (she was a child in Garden Spells) Bay, (Sydneys daughter) hers is the magic of knowing where things and people belong. She knows her own place is in Bascom, in the Waverley house with the boy she knows she belongs to. However, knowing what belongs with what is different from reality and so, Bay who can't really open up to her mother turns more and more to her aunt Claire.
Claire, Sydney and Mariah their aunt all have problems of their own, Claire with venturing out of the baking she is amazing at and in to candy production, and the worry her daughter doesn't seem to have any gifts, Mariah with her age and coming to terms with the fact she may die soon, and for Sydney it is the desperate desire of having another baby.
I love the easiness with which this book is read and then reread. I love the description of the South - I've never been but it seems a magical place, and I love the characters.
This books picks up a few years late rand tells you what is happening in the Waverley sisters lives and those close to them.
I did enjoy this book however I didn't feel it was as good as Garden Spells. The story of the mysterious man didn't really fit with the story and turned out to be a bit pointless, I was expecting something big to happen with him and then it didn't.
There didn't seem to be as much magic and mystery in this novel as the first, however if you are a massive SAA fan like myself it is still worth reading and I did enjoy it but just not quite as much as the first.
Because this book builds on characters we're already familiar with from Garden Spells, and introduces some new ones, we get a wider picture of the community than we have done in previous books by Sarah Addison Allen. There is less of a focus on a protagonist and love interest, which I think works really well but some might miss the tension of this from previous books. This isn't chick lit, it's a magical glimpse at a slice of a community.
If you’re not familiar with this author, her books are so addictive and are perfect for anyone who has enjoyed reading Alice Hoffman, as well as subtle supernatural romance or magical realism. The only negative comment I have regarding this book is the UK edition of the cover - it’s poor, and in no way reflects the content of the book. I’d be embarrassed to be caught reading it. Take a look at the US cover and draw your opinions from that, it’s stylish and modern, appeals to what I understand to be the readership and evokes the atmosphere of the novel. It’s beyond me that someone chose to create a different cover, is it any wonder this author isn’t as big here as she rightfully should be?
I would have preferred a sequel to The Girl Who Chased The Moon, but I'll just keep my fingers crossed for that. Overall, this book was better than Garden Spells and signals a delicate extension in the direction of her writing. We can rely on Sarah Addison Allen to please her readership without churning out the same thing each time, so she's bound to stay atop the bestseller list for a long time. Watch out UK, this author is a big success in the states and it's about time the rest of us caught on!
The writing is so beautiful and magical that it makes you want to be a part of the Waverley family. You want to live in the town, await first frost, find your own magic and spend time in the garden with that magical Apple tree.
I don't know how else to rave about this book other than to say buy it, read it and love it. I raced through it in a few days and I was holding back, allowing myself small amounts so I could savour every page. I just didn't want it to end.
I hope we see the Waverley's return again someday. I adore the magical elements of Sarah's books. She manages to make you truly believe in magic.
All the characters in this book have back stories and enough mystery to have further stories written for them. Bay, Claire, Sydney and Mariah Waverley are characters that I'd love to see again.
If you like magic, cooking, hair dressing and ghosts then this book's for you.
Lovely book, I hope that Sarah continues to write regularly about this family.