You all know I will judge a book by its cover – I will judge the hell out of it. I spend a lot of time with the books I read. I will admire it on the bookshelf at the library, I will run my fingers over it when I’m deciding which book in my pile to read next, I will have a moment of silence closing the book after each reading session. Having an unappealing cover makes it less fun for everyone all around. There are also so many books out there that the cover needs to catch my eye, unless it has such superb content that I don’t care what the cover looks like.
From the cover:
“For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: If they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens—a boy neither Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, nor her family know anything about.
“The Nomeolvides grandmothers treat him like a lost son. The Nomeolvides mothers hope he’s a sign that their vanished loves might reappear. Estrella’s cousins worry his presence is a warning that none of them yet understands. But however much the boy is an enigma to them, he’s even more of a mystery to himself; all he knows about who he is or where he came from is the first three letters of his name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.”
This book is marketed as magical realism. (It’s also YA fiction, which I swore never to read again, but I got sucked in by a pretty cover.) I have limited experience with magical realism. Limited to two authors, in fact. The first is the classic Como Agua Para Chocolate/Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel. I loved it, and spent a lot of time trying to bake despair into my cakes (this is a story for another time). The second is Sarah Addison Allen; at the time of discovery, I read all the books she’d published to date (Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, The Peach Keeper).
I did not get Wild Beauty. There was too much magic and not enough realism. But at the same time, there wasn’t enough magic for the book to be considered fantasy. So it’s in this awkward middle ground, lacking identity, not knowing what it wants to be.
Timing was inconsistent. The introduction was one chapter long. One chapter to explain the entire back story, 100 years of women living on a land they cannot leave. One chapter to set up the entire series of events to follow. CHAPTER ONE WAS ELEVEN PAGES LONG. How can you possibly set a good foundation in eleven pages?!
Chapter 2 immediately jumps into the boy appearing. The next 27 chapters of 233 pages were spent explaining about lost loves and whatnot. The mystery about why the people the Nomeolvides women love disappear and where they went is solved in the next five chapters, and the story is concluded in the final five chapters. So you wade through 2/3 of the book, waiting for something to happen.
The reveal of the mystery came out of the blue. Most novels drop hints along the way, to make the reveal more believable. Not this book. This story tells you nothing about what caused this curse, not until you are sick and tired of reading and only keep reading because the cover is pretty and you don’t want to give up. Then it dumps everything on you. It doesn’t ease you into it. The ball comes out of left field and knocks you in the head at 89 MPH, giving you a mild concussion. You can’t tell if it’s the concussion or if it’s the book, but nothing makes sense. The solving of the mystery and the conclusion felt like a partial deus ex machina. It’s time to wrap it up, so please have this completely unrelated story that is supposed to explain everything. So, do you like it?
NO. I do not.
I really can’t say, “Don’t read Wild Beauty,” because I am not its target audience, and so my opinion doesn’t carry weight. To a jaded adult, this book is most definitely not a “stunning exploration” of anything. But if you want a nice coffee table book, so long as your guests won’t actually pick the book up and read it/judge you on your reading material, this is definitely a beautiful piece of décor. Though, this is what happens when you judge a book by its cover, right?
Get your copy here:
That said, I didn’t hate the book; it’s just not for me. And even though my experience in magical realist fiction is almost nonexistent, I would highly recommend Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells. I think it has the perfect amount of magic, to make it believable and just a touch whimsical, while still being rooted in reality. I currently have First Frost, the sequel to Garden Spells, in my to-read queue. Also, I have really fond memories of The Peach Keeper, which was the first Sarah Addison Allen book I read, and which prompted me to read the rest of her books.
Which books have you judged by their covers? What happened?