What's the magic ingredient in author Sarah Addison Allen's books? The enchanted spell that made her debut novel, Garden Spells, a runaway New York Times best seller, and prompted rave reviews from fans, fellow writers and critics alike? Luanne Rice calls Sarah Addison Allen's books "tender and enchanting;" Booklist calls them "spellbindingly charming." Author Sarah Addison Allen herself thinks the secret is in the "Southern-fried magical realism." From Garden Spells to The Sugar Queen to The Girl Who Chased the Moon, Sarah Addison's books are a unique blend of romance and magical realism that sweeps readers into a spell and keeps them dazzled. Then again, perhaps the Asheville, North Carolina, author was bewitched herself: Garden Spells, her debut novel, originally began as a "simple story about two sisters," she notes on her website. "But then the apple tree started throwing apples, and the story took on a life of its own." In The Sugar Queen, passion can make eggs fry in their cartons; in The Girl Who Chased the Moon (also a New York Times best seller), a hummingbird cake can bring back a lost love. Whatever spell author Sarah Addison Allen has cast, it's working. Critics and fans are finding, as Booklist found, that Sarah Addison's books are simply irresistible: "Like the most decadently addictive bonbons, once started, Allen's magically entrancing novel is impossible to put down."
The Peach Keeper
The day Paxton Osgood took the box of heavy-stock, foil-lined envelopes to the post office, the ones she'd had a professional calligrapher address, it began to rain so hard the air turned as white as bleached cotton. By nightfall, rivers had crested at flood stage and, for the first time since 1936, the mail couldn't be delivered. When things began to dry out, when basements were pumped free of water and branches were cleared from yards and streets, the invitations were finally delivered, but to all the wrong houses. Neighbors laughed over fences, handing the misdelivered pieces of mail to their rightful owners with comments about the crazy weather and their careless postman. The next day, an unusual number of people showed up at the doctor's office with infected paper cuts, because the envelopes had sealed, cementlike, from the moisture. Later, the single-card invitations themselves seemed to hide and pop back up at random. Mrs. Jameson's invitation disappeared for two days, then reappeared in a bird's nest outside. Harper Rowley's invitation was found in the church bell tower, Mr. Kingsley's in his elderly mother's garden shed.
If anyone had been paying attention to the signs, they would have realized that air turns white when things are about to change, that paper cuts mean there's more to what's written on the page than meets the eye, and that birds are always out to protect you from things you don't see.
But no one was paying attention. Least of all Willa Jackson.
The envelope sat untouched on the back counter of Willa's store for over a week. She picked it up curiously when it had been delivered with the other mail, but then she'd dropped it like it had burned her as soon as she'd recognized what it was. Even now, when she walked by it, she would throw a suspicious glance its way.
"Open it already," Rachel finally said with exasperation that morning. Willa turned to Rachel Edney, who was standing behind the coffee bar across the store. She had short dark hair and, in her capris and sport tank, looked like she was ready to go climb a large rock. No matter how many times Willa told her she didn't actually have to dress in the clothes the store sold-Willa herself rarely deviated from jeans and boots-Rachel was convinced she had to represent.
"I'm not going. No need to open it," Willa said, deciding to take on the mundane task of folding the new stock of organic T-shirts, hoping it would help her ignore the strange feeling that came over her every time she thought of that invitation, like a balloon of expectation expanding in the center of her body.
It took a moment for Emily to realize the car had come to a stop. She looked up from her charm bracelet, which she’d been worrying in slow circles around her wrist, and stared out the window. The two giant oaks in the front yard looked like flustered ladies caught mid-curtsy, their starched green leaf-dresses swaying in the wind.
“This is it?” she asked the taxi driver.
“Six Shelby Road. Mullaby. This is it.”
Emily hesitated, then paid him and got out. The air outside was tomato-sweet and hickory-smoked, all at once delicious and strange. It automatically made her touch her tongue to her lips. It was dusk, but the streetlights weren’t on yet. She was taken aback by how quiet everything was. It suddenly made her head feel light. No street sounds. No kids playing. No music or television. There was this sensation of otherworldliness, like she’d traveled some impossible distance.
She looked around the neighborhood while the taxi driver took her two overstuffed duffel bags out of the trunk. The street consisted of large old homes, most of which were showpieces in true old-movie Southern fashion with their elaborate trim work and painted porches.
The driver set her bags on the sidewalk beside her, nodded, then got behind the wheel and drove off.
Emily watched him disappear. She tucked back some hair that had fallen out of her short ponytail, then grabbed the handles of the duffel bags. She dragged them behind her as she followed the walkway from the sidewalk, through the yard and under the canopy of fat trees. It grew dark and cold under the trees, so she picked up her pace. But when she emerged from under the canopy on the other side, she stopped short at the sight before her.
The house looked nothing like the rest of the houses in the neighborhood.
It had probably been an opulent white at one time, but now it was gray, and its Gothic Revival pointed-arch windows were dusty and opaque. It was outrageously flaunting its age, spitting paint chips and old roofing shingles into the yard. There was a large wraparound porch on the first floor, the roof of which served as a balcony for the second floor, and years of crumbling oak leaves were covering both. If not for the single clear path formed by use up the center of the steps, it would have looked like no one lived there.
This was where her mother grew up?
She could feel her arms trembling, which she told herself was from the weight of the bags. She walked up the steps to the porch, dragging the duffel bags and a good many leaves with her. She set the bags down and walked to the door, then knocked once.
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