Devourer of books with a preference for fiction. Quite good at competitive reading. Happily hoards books of all kinds. Gets stabby going too long without reading.
Disclaimer! St. Martin's Press gave me an ARC of this through NetGalley in return for a fair and honest review.
Ten years have passed since the events of Garden Spells. Claire Waverly has put her catering business on hold and branched out with boiled candy. The lemon verbena can soothe any throat or heartache, the rose candies can make you recall lost love and the lavender makes you calm and happy. After a feature article in a high-profile magazine made demand for her candy explode, Claire has had to hire in external help, as well as purchasing ready-made essences as the production needs far more than she can make from her own garden. While she used to love cooking and baking for her family, now she serves them take out, and she barely has time for her husband and daughter. Always uncertain about how deserving she was of the Waverley legacy, she keeps searching for answers in her grandmother's old journals and trying to figure out how she's going to manage her future.
Her sister Sidney is happily married and running her own salon, wildly popular, because a haircut from Sidney Waverley is not only extremely flattering, but seems to bring luck and success. Yet Sidney is longing for a baby, a son for her husband Henry, who can help him run the farm, like he used to help his now dead grandfather. She puts up with the extreme unreliability of the newly hired receptionist Violet because with Violet in the salon, she more often than not tends to bring her toddler, Charlie, and if Sidney can't have a child of her own, at least she can spoil this scatter-brained young woman's when she has opportunity.
Sidney's daughter Bey, now in high school, has always known exactly where things belong. She could go into a completely new house and help put away dishes or bed linens, which tends to scare people as often as it impresses them. She knows, with every fibre of her being, that she belongs right there in Bascom, North Carolina, in the Waverley house, and that Josh Matteson, youngest son of her mother's high school sweetheart belongs with her. She foolishly wrote him a note to this effect some months ago, which has made her the laughing stock of her school, but she knows that if she patiently waits, he will realise the truth soon enough. While she waits, she helps her aunt Claire make sweets and hopes her mother will stop nagging her about the identity of the boy she likes.
It's October, and the Waverley women, as well as their men, are awaiting the first frost of the season, when the peculiar apple tree in the back garden will blossom. The weeks before this event always leads to some kind of craziness, and this year there is a mysterious stranger in town, with ties to Claire and Sidney's mother and stories to tell that could change all their lives forever.
I re-read Garden Spells for the first time in four years before I read this book, to remind myself of the story of the Waverley sisters. I don't doubt that you could read First Frost without having read the former, but as it's probably my favourite of all of Sarah Addison Allen's excellent and magical books, I'm not entirely sure why you'd want to. This book will be so much more satisfying if you have the back story of the characters, and it's a lovely book. So if you haven't already, go read it first. This book can wait until you're done.
I must admit, I was a bit worried when I heard this was a sequel. The first book ended on such a hopeful and happy note, and sequels rarely involve only sunshine and puppies for the characters. The blurb suggested that all was not right with the Waverley women who I'd come to love, and I was deeply concerned that this book was going to mess things up badly. Of course, I shouldn't have been. While both sisters are less than happy at the start of First Frost, and there are events in the book that could spell further misery and disaster, the strong relationship that has formed between the two women, not to mention the support of their families and friends is powerful enough that no external threat can faze them for long. Sarah Addison Allen, for all that she tackles dark themes in her books on occasion, is ultimately about the happy ending, and I'm sorry if you feel that I'm spoiling when I say by the end of this book I had a goofy grin on my face.
As well as showing us what has happened with the Waverley sisters and their families in the ten years since the last book, First Frost also sheds further light on their grandmother Mary and their unfortunate mother Lorelei. This book will be a very satisfying read for anyone who has enjoyed Sarah Addison Allen's previous books. She's a writer whose characters I want to be friends with and she writes places I wish were real, so I could visit or even live in them.