(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Like many other New England beach towns, Granite Point, Massachusetts, exudes a quaint warmth that draws people to its shores. Tantalizing smells from Baker's Street Bakery waft through its quiet streets, mixing with the salty air in a most pleasing medley of scent. The village green beckons, its lush tranquility contrasting with the busy harbor, where sunburned fishermen unload vessels filled with snapping lobster and plump Atlantic cod. Granite Point's real treasure, however, can be found off Calumet Landing, where four acres of sandy soil produces such an array of botanical delights that the Sparrow Sisters Nursery can only be described as, well, magic. Where else can snow-laden roses open on New Year's Day, fruit ripened in summer stay fresh and sweet into December, morning glories bloom all day, and Italian fig trees produce fruit only weeks after being planted?
The Sparrow Family has lived in Granite Point for centuries; now, only three remain: Nettie, Sorrel, and Patience. The three women live together in Ivy House—the ancestral home built by their great-great (and more) grandmother for her sea captain husband—where they care for each other and their plants with a devotion that is almost ... supernatural. Locals look to Patience, with her potent natural remedies, to cure everything from cradle cap to arthritis. They know it doesn't do to spend too much time pondering how the Sparrows do what they do—it's enough to know that whatever the Sisters do do, it works.
Things sail along as they always have in Granite Point until an outsider arrives in town. Henry Carlyle, a young, handsome doctor from Massachusetts General (by way of the U.S. Army), has come to take over the old town doctor's practice. Haunted by what he saw in Iraq, the reserved newcomer hides secrets his new neighbors are eager to extract. A man of science, Henry dismisses the eccentric Sisters' unique hold on Granite Point until a run-in with Patience leaves him thoroughly bewitched. He finds himself falling hard for the enigmatic Sister even as he tries unsuccessfully to understand what makes her tick. When one of Patience's clients dies after consuming one of her cures, Henry becomes even more baffled. Who is this woman, really? And what has she done to him with her otherworldly enchantments? As a modern-day witch hunt ensues, Henry must decide what to think and where to stand on the issue of Patience Sparrow. With his heart overruling his head, the consequences of his choice may be dire indeed ...
Is there a more alluring novel setting than a small, colorful beach town where a hint of magic swirls in the briny air? Not for me. Which explains why I was immediately entranced by Granite Point, the seaside village at the heart of Ellen Herrick's debut novel, The Sparrow Sisters. The characters, from the offbeat Sisters to lovestruck Henry, to Ben, the brawny lobsterman, to lonely Matty, slipped right into my heart as well. The novel's slow-building plot made sure that by the time a death occurred, I cared about not just the deceased, but also about everyone in his/her world. Although the book offers a mystery and elements of magical realism as well as compelling discussions of contemporary conflicts like traditional vs. alternative medicine, none of that distracts from what The Sparrow Sisters really is—an intriguing, warm-hearted family drama. All of these things made the book a charming and delightful read, one that be-spelled me quite thoroughly.
(Readalikes: The publisher compares it to Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman and Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen; it's been a long time since I've read the former and I've never read the latter, so I'm not sure how apt are these comparisons. The Sparrow Sisters did remind me a little of The Truth About Love and Lightning by Susan McBride, though.)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for language (a half dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder invectives) and some sexual content