First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sarah Addison Allen's book, Garden Spells, is one of my all-time favorite novels, so when I had an opportunity to win a free Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) of First Frost from Bookbrowse in exchange for my honest review, I jumped at the chance. First Frost picks up the story of the Waverley women of Bascom, North Carolina, ten years after the end of Garden Spells. Bay is now fifteen, her mother is happily married to Henry, and her Aunt Claire is happily married to Tyler. Claire and Tyler live in the Waverley house with their nine-year-old daughter Mariah, while Sydney, Henry, and Bay live in Henry's farmhouse. Evanelle isn't moving as quickly as she used to, but she still feels the urge to give people unusual objects they'll soon need, and her best friend and housemate, Fred, has begun to do the same.
The tension in First Frost, thankfully, isn't due to stress in the marriages--I absolutely hate when sequels ruin love stories just to provide plot points. Rather, each of the Waverley women is struggling with a different issue in her personal life: Claire has been doing virtually nothing but making special candies for the past year and feels trapped and exhausted by it, Sydney desperately wants another baby but hasn't been able to conceive, Evanelle is facing fading health and a friend who cannot bear the thought of losing her, and Bay, well, Bay knows where things belong and is tormented when others can't see it, in this case a boy she knows she's meant to be with who barely knew she existed until she wrote him a note that gained her some unwanted notoriety. A mysterious stranger asking the townspeople questions about the Waverleys in general and Claire in particular just adds to the anxiety and tension. They all know things will get better, as they always do, after the first frost of the year when the apple tree in the backyard blooms. The trick is to hang on until then.
I loved being able to revisit the enchanting world of Bascom. The story is delightful--perfect for a cozy fall or winter evening. I didn't want to put it down.
What I did want, however, is for the mysterious stranger subplot to have been better developed. I felt like it started to go in an interesting, magical direction and then sort of fizzled out by the end. Otherwise, though, I loved spending time with these characters and this story.
For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, setting secondary. It's a lovely story about family supporting and nurturing each other. There is no sex (well, mention of it as Sydney focuses on conception but not any real sex scenes), violence, or swearing that I can recall.
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