TBR Challenge 2017: New-To-Me Authors
As per usual for me, I delved headfirst into this New-To-Me Author category and have read more than one book in more than one series by more than one new-to-me author this month. In fact, I ended up reading eight books in three series by three new-to-me authors in the past week for this challenge.
(This obsessive compulsive nature of mine may well be my undoing someday!)
One of the things I have always loved most about this time of the year, after the Winter holidays and before Spring bursts forth, is the arrival of seed catalogs and garden planning magazines. My mind always drifts to fresh turned earth and new growth, the promise of warm sunlight and green-scented breezes. So, it was easy for me to find a theme for this month’s reading binge.There is nothing like a garden to chase away the Winter doldrums.
Although I would categorize all three of these series as Romance, two of them are what I’d call Magical Realism (with the first of those edging toward Literary), and the third one is more straight forward Romance with a contemporary nod and wink toward classic fairy tales. Yet they all have an enchanted garden feel to them.
Garden Spells (Waverley Family #1) by Sarah Addison Allen
First Frost (Waverley Family #2) by Sarah Addison Allen
Ever since I read a sample chapter of Garden Spells months ago, I’ve been craving it. Sarah Addison Allen writes the kind of prose that soothes my senses and nourishes my soul. The only reason I didn’t devour it immediately upon discovery was because it is not a cheap book, even as a digital download. I had been trying to keep myself to a monthly book budget and simply could not justify spending $11.99 on one book when I could buy two or three less expensive books by authors I was already familiar with for that amount. This challenge gave me the perfect excuse to splurge and I am so glad I finally did.
Garden Spells is vaguely reminiscent of Practical Magic, but only in that it revolves around an old, established family of eccentric women who are rumored to have magical abilities. The rhythm and lyricism of the storytelling is beautiful and draws you in to this world of Bascom, North Carolina and into the heart of this town and this family, with their history and their heartache and their hopes for the future. It is told from multiple viewpoints, giving scope and perspective and a true sense of place to this enchanting world in which the tale unfolds. The town itself feels almost like a personality unto itself and the voice and tone and pace of the writing weaving throughout this story, like the ivy insinuating itself into the garden, draws you in.
I loved this book so much that I immediately read the sequel, First Frost, which I also loved, just so I could spend more time among these characters in this town and in that garden.
The Garden of Magic (The Language of Spells 0.5) by Sarah Painter
The Language of Spells (The Language of Spells #1) by Sarah Painter
The Secrets of Ghosts (The Language of Spells #2) by Sarah Painter
I liked this series well enough but, if I’m honest, it was a bit predictable in terms of plot and the characters, though likeable, lacked depth. Maybe it was because I read it too soon after reading the Waverley Family books. Maybe it was a bit like dining on home cooking after eating at a five-star restaurant. There is nothing wrong with these books or with Sarah Painter’s writing. They contain elements I love reading about: magical realism, hedgewitchery, herbal healing, tight-knit village life, family heritage and traditions.
As I said, I liked these books, especially The Garden of Magic, the prequel novella. I found the character of Iris Harper to be the strongest, most interesting character in the entire series. The Language of Spells was good, but I didn’t enjoy Gwen’s story as much as Iris’s. I had high hopes for The Secrets of Ghosts because I was hoping Katie’s story would be stronger than it turned out to be, but the majority of the story took place at the hotel where Katie worked rather than at the old Harper house and garden and I had to force myself to finish reading it because I figured it all out way ahead of the characters and wanted to shake some sense into them. I was disappointed in how naïve and clueless the character of Katie turned out to be, and that felt out of place to me as she had supposedly been studying her craft with her Aunt Gwen for seven years. It was a letdown because I actually liked Katie’s spunky attitude as a teenager in Gwen’s book.
Once Upon a Rose (La Vie en Roses #1) by Laura Florand
A Wish Upon Jasmine (La Vie en Roses #2) by Laura Florand
A Crown of Bitter Orange (La Vie en Roses #3) by Laura Florand
I first became aware of this series through recommendations by Amy Jo Cousins. When Amy Jo Cousins recommends a book, I immediately pay attention because that is how I have discovered a great many of my favorite authors. However, I did not read the first book in this series until after the third book was released and once again had my attention brought back around to these books.
I liked the first book, Once Upon a Rose, even though it was a tad sweet for my taste. Not enough conflict. The relationship between Matt and Layla seemed to come too easy. The stakes didn’t feel high enough. BUT… the setting was phenomenal. A valley of roses in the Grasse region in the South of France? A family heritage of perfume creation and production stretching back to the Renaissance? Strong, stubborn, independent elders who were WWII Resistance heroes? Five gorgeous, virile cousins – heirs to the Rosier perfume dynasty – in search of true love? Yes, please, to all of the above!
Although the sweetness and simplicity of the first book were not quite to my taste, the second and third books more than made up for it, with each book growing less saccharine and more sanguine, family secrets unfurling and wrapping stronger tendrils around my heart, like a flowering vine rooted in fertile soil and reaching for the sun. With the romance of the region, and the history of the valley and the medieval walled towns overlooking the Mediterranean coast as the backdrop to these stories of an enduring, tight-knit family of strong, passionate men and the women who capture their hearts, I am now desperately impatient for the next book to be released.
In the meantime, I’ll probably be working my way through Laura Florand’s backlist and treating myself to a Sarah Addison Allen book every now and then, as I can afford them.