I'm glad I waited a while to read it after seeing the movie that's loosely based on the book - though the images from the movie kept floating around and messing with my expectations, most of the book is set in a house that didn't even exist in the movie, and much of the rest could be either let go of or sort of reconciled with the images that came from the book. And, ultimately, I found that Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman actually provided fine images of their characters (at least if I used a blond Nicole).
I can only imagine what my reaction to the book would have been had I not seen the movie, but since I did see the movie, I most dramatically noticed differences. Here, the daughters of Sally are allowed to grow up at least as far as late teenage-hood and have loves and troubles of their own within the arc of the story. There are three pairs of sisters (Sally and Giselle, Sally's daughters, and the Aunts) who combine in different ways to handle their own and each other's loves and other troubles (and not perfectly, and not without hurting each other sometimes in the process, by which you understand that the author knows something about human nature), and all the women have hearts and histories that are relevant. There are more men, there is more sex and sexuality and also more actual growing up, and at the same time as all this, more magic and surreality than in the movie.
There is absolutely no scene where they have to pull in nervous neighbors from all over town in order to achieve some magic number of witches and drive the malignant spirit out of the younger sister with brooms and all that. There is no wish involving stars and eyes of two different colors to create the perfect romantic match. There is one childhood wish that is mentioned in detail, and it is this:
They both wished for the same thing when they were sitting on the roof of the aunts' house on those hot, lonely nights. Sometime in the future, when they were all grown up, they wanted to look up at the stars and not be afraid. This is the night they had wished for. This is that future, right now.
There is a lot of neat imagery, rising organic from the pages and leading you to believe that the aura of love really might have a bright color and a citrus scent that imbues the whole neighborhood with hope, and to remember that yes, love is sometimes a feeling very near that of having a heart attack.
There's bits of conventional wisdom...
Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep Rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can.
Trite though it can sometimes be, this is a good book, and I recommend picking it up sometime. I was lucky enough to get a copy for 50 cents at a yard sale; I wish you all similarly fine luck, and look forward to hearing what you think of it.