Allen, Sarah Addison
Allen, Sarah Addison
Born in Asheville, NC. Education: B.A., 1994.
Home—Asheville, NC. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer. Worked as an antique appraiser's assistant.
BookSense pick, 2007, for Garden Spells.
(As Katie Gallagher) Tried and True (bound with Truly, Madly, Briefly, by Delores Fossen), Harlequin Duets (New York, NY), 2003.
Garden Spells, Bantam (New York, NY), 2007.
The Sugar Queen, Bantam (New York, NY), 2008.
Contributor of short stories to anthologies.
Garden Spells was adapted as an audiobook, Brilliance Audio, 2007.
A native of North Carolina, author Sarah Addison Allen grew up in a family where food and creativity were appreciated. Her mother was a cook with a specialty in cornbread, while her father played the banjo. Literary aspirations were far down on her to-do list as a youngster. Instead, she wanted initially to be a garbage man. As she notes on her home page: "I would spend hours daydreaming about riding on the back of a garbage truck, jumping off at every house and dumping people's trash into it." She had a strong imagination as a child, as noted by a writer for eHarlequin.com, still bearing "a scar on her chin from saving the world." As an eight-year-old, she and her friends were playing with an inflatable globe, throwing it back and forth. No one could let the globe drop, for this would mean the destruction of the world. Allen took this seriously, at one point diving for the globe and striking her chin on a birdbath.
Allen attended five years of college, finally majoring in English literature after venturing into languages and journalism. On her home page, Allen explained her choice of majors: "I chose [literature] because I thought it was amazing that I could get a diploma just for reading fiction. It was like being able to major in eating chocolate." A number of years after graduation, Allen published her first novel, Tried and True, a romantic comedy, under the pen name Katie Gallagher. This debut publication appeared in an omnibus edition with Truly, Madly, Briefly, a novel by the more-established writer Delores Fossen. Allen's work features Savannah socialite Clementine Spencer, who has had enough of her privileged and narrow life. She leaves her controlling mother and future husband behind and takes to the road, finally running out of money in the little Kansas town of Tried and True. Intending to spend only a couple of weeks there, Clementine soon becomes involved in the activities of the town, meeting a group of women and also the handsome Sheriff Calum McCutcheon. Soon, however, this idyll is challenged by the arrival of the ardent, engaged boyfriend. Kathy Boswell, writing in the Best Reviews, had praise for the volume: "These two stories had me laughing till tears rolled down my face. I thoroughly enjoyed both of them and eagerly look forward to reading more from these two highly entertaining authors."
It took another four years for Allen to publish her first novel, Garden Spells, under her own name. Library Journal reviewer Rebecca Kelm termed this mainstream book a "captivating concoction … [with] strong fairytale elements." The novel focuses on the women of the Waverly clan, and is set in Allen's own region of North Carolina. Claire and Sydney are sisters; Claire is a caterer and Sydney a hairdresser. Sydney's young daughter, Bay, adds a note of magical realism to the tale, as does a cousin, Evanelle, and a very special apple tree and the flowers and herbs in the Waverly garden. Bay's special ability is understanding where things belong, while Evanelle is gifted with the ability of anticipation: she feels driven to make gifts of objects whose value is only later realized. The main story unfolds, however, around the two sisters. Claire has always known of the magic found in the herbs in the Waverly garden in back of the old mansion. She in fact has used them to build her successful catering business; however, they have done little to enable Claire to find happiness in love. Sydney, on the other hand, just like her mother before her, ran away from home and the small town as soon as she was able. Now, with child in tow and a violent and abusive boyfriend in her life, she returns to her origins. There she discovers her own bit of Waverly magic, while Claire finally begins to embrace her younger sister. Booklist reviewer Carol Haggas found this work "spell-bindingly charming," further noting that it would "bewitch fans of Alice Hoffman and Laura Esquivel." Similarly, a Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded, "the blending of horticultural folklore, the supernatural and a big dollop of Southern flavor should find favor with a wide swath of readers."
A contributor for Bookreporter.com, in an interview with Allen, noted the culinary gifts that each of the author's characters appears to have in her novel and wondered which of these skills Allen herself would most like to have. Allen responded: "I would love to be able to cook with instinct and abandon, like Claire. Unfortunately, cooking is such a tricky alchemy to me. I once thought lettuce and cabbage were interchangeable.… And I'm completely confounded by exactly how much is a pinch of salt. But it's always been a fantasy of mine to be able to create gorgeous, unusual dishes." In a similar vein, the same contributor asked Allen to characterize Garden Spells. To this, Allen remarked: "I've always called it Southern-fried magical realism. But, at its heart, it's a love story."
Allen's second mainstream novel, the 2008 The Sugar Queen, again involves several women, magic, and gustatory delights, this time in the form of a closet full of candy. Twenty-seven-year-old Josey Cirrini is the protagonist of this tale that is once again set in North Carolina. Lonely Josey consoles herself at night with candies secretly eaten in her closet and with romance novels. However, Josey's closet gets a little cramped one night after the discovery that the local waitress, Della Lee Baker, has taken up residence there and is determined to change Josey's quiet life. The third women in the trio of female characters, Chloe Finley, brings a knack for making fabulous sandwiches to the mix, as well as the fact that she is close to the man Josey has long been secretly in love with. Soon, Josey's life is changing in ways she never expected. On her home page, Allen described this novel: "It's about a secret closet full of candy, books that won't go away, and three women with more in common than they think. Lots of food, magic, love and Southern atmosphere."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, July 1, 2007, Carol Haggas, review of Garden Spells, p. 28.
Library Journal, July 1, 2007, Rebecca Kelm, review of Garden Spells, p. 72.
Publishers Weekly, June 18, 2007, review of Garden Spells, p. 36.
BelleBooks,http://www.bellebooks.com/ (February 29, 2008), Sarah Addison Allen.
BookLove,http://booklove.wordpress.com/ (October 11, 2007), review of Garden Spells.
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (September 7, 2007), interview with Sarah Addison Allen.
Cashiers Community Library Blog!,http://cashierslibrary.blogspot.com/ (September 28, 2007), review of Garden Spells.
eHarlequin.com,http://www.eharlequin.com/ (April 6, 2008), "Katie Gallagher."
Gotta Garden,http://gottagarden.blogspot.com/ (October 2, 2007), review of Garden Spells.
Memphis Reads,http://memphisreads.blogspot.com/ (November 1, 2007), review of Garden Spells.
Random House Web site,http://www.randomhouse.ca/ (February 29, 2008), "Sarah Addison Allen."
Sarah Addison Allen Home Page,http://www.sarahaddisonallen.com (February 29, 2008).
Supernatural Fairy Tales,http://dorlana.blogspot.com/ (February 8, 2008), review of Garden Spells.
TVMoviesBooks, OhMy!, http://tvmoviesbooksohmy.blogspot.com/ (September 13, 2007), review of Garden Spells.
Vidalia's Books,http://vidaliabooks.blogspot.com/ (November 18, 2007), review of Garden Spells.
YCReads,http://yclibrary.wordpress.com/2007 (November 8, 2007), review of Garden Spells.