Monday, January 5, 2015

ARC Mini-Reviews: First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen and Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby

Title: First Frost (Waverley Family, #2) 

Author: Sarah Addison Allen 

Rating: 3 Stars

Release Date: January 20th, 2015

Anyone who has read Garden Spells can confirm that the novel hardly needs a sequel. It's a magical, beautiful stand-alone novel and Allen's debut holds a special place in my heart. First Frost, on the other hand, does not. It takes place a decade after Garden Spells ended and though the re-visit to the Waverley household is familiar--warm, comforting, loving--it feels strangely unnecessary. I didn't have to know of Claire's new candy-making business, Sydney's desire for a son, or Bay's feeling that she belongs with Hunter John's son. While I loved being back in Waverley House and the distinct feeling of Allen's writing is a sensation that wraps around you and holds you tight, like a blanket, First Frost is possibly the most disappointed I have been by her work. If it were not that these were beloved characters I knew before--and intimately, loved these characters--I wouldn't even have given First Frost three stars.

The issue with Allen's latest is the fact that the conflict at hand is flimsy. I appreciate the post-marriage struggles Sydney and Claire face. Their demons from Garden Spells aren't as pronounced but that doesn't mean they have disappeared. Thus, I rather enjoyed being back in their minds, witnessing them come to terms with the change in their lives that time inevitably introduces. Most of all, I loved Bay's narrative and the teenage issues she found herself face-to-face with. Yet, the coming together of these plot lines didn't work quite as seamlessly as it worked in Garden Spells. The shift from Teenage to Adult perspectives wasn't perfection. The strange side plot line with an odd old man entering town, poking around and asking about the Waverley's, ended too abruptly and anticlimactically to satisfy. Ultimately, First Frost lacked the strength of Garden Spells. Claire and Sydney were a unit and in being so, the union of their sisterhood from Garden Spells is a far more compelling story than their joint unity in First Frost.

Allen's latest isn't bad, not in the least. It is beautifully written and, as always, her prose is impeccable and characterizations are point-on. In my eyes, though, there wasn't enough of a story to be told, here. I didn't feel moved by these characters or their struggles as I was in Garden Spells. I wasn't charmed or enchanted or rendered speechless by the magic in the air. First Frost is a novel that fans of Allen are bound to read--and I don't fault them. It's a few hours well spent in the company of an author and characters I adore. Just don't go in expecting the caliber of Allen's debut.

Title: Things We Know by Heart

Author: Jessi Kirby

Rating: 3 Stars

Release Date: April 21st, 2015

Things We Know by Heart is laughably predictable. Unlike Kirby's Golden, which delivered on being more than just a road trip novel, Things We Know by Heart does not. From what its synopsis says, it is easy to deduce that Quinn, who has lost her boyfriend to a horrible accident, tracks down the patient who received his heart, Colton, and falls in love. Naturally, the romance is well-developed and sweet, making Quinn believe that there is more to Colton than simply sharing a heart with her deceased boyfriend. Quinn comes away from their love story knowing that sharing a heart does not mean sharing a personality and as she falls for Colton, an entity separate from her former boyfriend, Trent, there is only a calm sense of relief to be found.

Yet, Kirby creates a novel about grief that is strangely lacking. Quinn chases after Colton well over a year after Trent's death and, as a result, her grief isn't fresh or raw. It's a different kind of grief, which I appreciated, but her interactions for Colton do little to assuage her grief except replace it with love. Quinn has a supportive family, a strong relationship with her older sister, and she discusses--in great length--her relationship with Colton before labeling it as love. Nevertheless, for me, the overwhelming message felt as if to overcome grief, one must simply find true love. Things We Know by Heart beautifully writes Quinn and Colton's romance and, moreover, Colton's thoughts as a heart recipient, though never explored from his perspective, are realistic, meaningful, and in-depth. I learned so much more about organ donations and the pain felt from both sides of the equation--how it's not just happily ever after once the organ is transplanted successfully--from this novel. Regardless, though, I felt as if Kirby could have used this innovative, fresh idea and done more with it than make it a love story. I wanted more of Quinn's emotional journey as explored through her grief. I wanted more of Colton's anger and confrontation after realizing the truth Quinn hid from him as she never reveals that she is the girlfriend of the guy whose heart now beats in Colton's chest. Instead, this romance plays out in a predictable manner, complete with the "break-up" towards the end that eventually culminates in a relationship.

Things We Know by Heart just felt too easy for a novel about life and death. Perhaps if this were written more like If I Stay with us getting to know Trent and Quinn before his death, this would have made a stronger impact. As it rests, however, it is a solid love story and a unique premise. Yet, if you've come looking for the type of depth and scope offered by the author of Golden, re-read Golden--there's little to be found here.


  1. Looks like these were both okay reads but nothing mind blowing.

    Glad you liked them both well enough. :)

  2. I have just discovered Sarah Addison Allen and I'm quickly trucking through her books. I've read The Girl Who Chased The Moon and Sugar Queen so far, both of which were excellent! I can't wait for all the rest, and it's so fun that everyone seems to have a different favorite. I want to read Garden Spells soon, and though I'm sad First Frost didn't quite meet your expectations, I'm glad it was still a pleasant read.

    I'm also sorry that Things We Know By Heart wasn't as good as you'd hoped. I can definitely see what you mean about it being exactly what you could have guessed (that was my guess about the story too), though you wanted MORE. This review just made me think that i need to read GOLDEN now. I do plan to read this one, but I will go in expecting more romance than profound thoughts.

  3. I enjoyed First Frost but was not as thrilled with it as I was Garden Spells like you. I still enjoyed myself and I was happy to revisit the Waverly house. I still want to read whatever she writes next. She is still my go to author for magical realism. :)

    As for the other book. I do think I'll pass. I don't see a book about life and death being that easy. Brilly reviews!

  4. That's exactly why I am vary of reading Things We Know by Heart. It just seems like a book where the grief will somehow vanish as a result of finding your one true love and that simply doesn't happen in real life. Finding love doesn't solve all your problems. :(

    I am also sad to hear First Frost didn't live up to Garden Spells and it isn't hard to see why. When a sequel seems unnecessary, rarely is it bound to turn into something that would live up to it's predecessor. *sighs*

    I hope your next reads will be better, Keertana! :)

    Lovely mini-reviews!

    Rashika @ The Social Potato

  5. I'm sorry that you weren't able to enjoy both books as much as you'd hoped Keertana, especially Things We Know By Heart, as I really had high hopes for that one :( But I highly trust your opinion as a reader, so appreciate your honest review. I still need to pick up a book by Allen, I've heard her writing is phenomenal, however I may give her other books a go first before picking up First Frost, lovely reviews always

  6. Sarah Addison Allen has been on my radar since I saw the cover of The Peach Keeper. She's written so much, that I hardly know where to start. I'm disappointed that her latest is unremarkable, though.

  7. Sorry to hear these stories weren't everything you were hoping for, Keertana. Sometimes it's best to just leave a story as is instead of revisiting and causing unnecessary and frustrating drama.

    I was intrigued by Kirbi's newest, but not enough to request and thereby be obligated to review it. I think I'll pass. Great reviews! :)

  8. I think I would like this one for the very reason it didn't work as well for you Keertana! I don't like in depth stories about grief and overcoming it, they're just to heavy for me, so the fact that this one is a bit easier in that aspect is a mark in the plus column for me. Sorry this one wasn't quite as impactful as you'd hoped!

  9. Sorry Things We Know by Heart wasn't as great as the author's previous novel. It does sound fairly predictable!


  10. I didn't know First Frost was a sequel to Garden Spells. It's been so long since I read that book I barely remember anything about it. So I'm not sure I should bother reading this one.

    I still haven't read Golden, but I love Jessi Kirby's writing. It's too bad this wasn't better though, I expect WOW factor with her. I guess we'll see one day when I can get to this one.

    Thanks for the honest reviews!

  11. I have yet to read Garden Spells, but I've heard such wonderful things! I'm sorry that the sequel (or companion) wasn't as good, even if the writing was. A flimsy conflict after such a spectacular first novel could have been nothing but a huge disappointment, and since I know how much you loved GS, I'm sorry this wasn't what you'd hoped. I think I'll read GS and leave it there, especially since you say that it functions perfectly without the sequel.


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