In Bascom, North Carolina, a pleasant Southern town with secrets it likes to keep, local caterer Claire Waverley has led a peaceful, quiet life. That is about to change.
Claire wakes up one morning to find her sister Sydney on her doorstep with a five-year-old daughter named Bay. Where Sydney has been for the past 10 years is apparently Sydney’s business. She seems to need time to work up the courage to talk about it. Meanwhile, she and Bay need a place to stay. Claire welcomes them into her house. After all, it is the family home and Sydney is family.
For years, Claire has been making special recipes that perfectly fit the occasions she is hired to cater. She knows precisely which ingredients will work their magic on those who eat them. The townsfolk don’t seem to question the intriguing effect that Claire’s food has on them. Behind her old family home grows a garden, a blooming, healthy garden that flourishes year-round. An ancient apple tree reigns over the yard, and it has a way of getting what it wants. If it seeks attention, it throws apples and tempts you with its fruit. But beware. The apples may disagree with you.
Next-door neighbor Tyler, new man on the block, has set his sights on Claire, despite Sydney’s very obvious interest and Claire’s equally obvious avoidance. Claire wants nothing to do with him --- or, at least, that’s what she tells herself --- and does her best to discourage his advances. But Tyler is not easily discouraged. Sydney can see what’s going on and makes every effort to push Claire into his arms. Sydney’s number-one concern is Bay; she has vowed not to fail her daughter like her own mother failed her.
Bascom is not a large place, so it is inevitable that Sydney would run into her first love, a man who dropped her to marry a woman of “his class.” She is more amused than chagrined, despite the fact that she left because of their breakup. From Bascom, Sydney traveled around, flirting with men, making them fall in love with her and ultimately leaving them. Maybe she needed a certain type of payback. Or perhaps she feared eventual rejection. Whatever her reasons were then, now she has come home. And she is starting to like the constancy of Bascom.
While the sisters are busy falling in love --- or not, depending on who you talk to --- Evanelle, a shirttail relation, is busy using her “gift.” See, all of the Waverley women have a gift. Claire’s, Sydney’s and Bay’s gifts are unusual yet helpful. But Evanelle’s gift is essential to the happy outcome of many lives.
GARDEN SPELLS is a delightful story of relationships, family, romance and the many things that drive all of them, with a little enchantment thrown in for good measure. “When you’re happy for yourself, it fills you. When you’re happy for someone else, it pours over.” The women of Bascom, North Carolina, will make you very happy if you just let them.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 22, 2011