Review – The Sugar Queen

About two or so years ago I picked up Garden Spells and was completely entranced by Sarah Addison Allen’s writing. While I’m not a huge fan of magical realism, I’m good with a small, semi-believable bit and I think that’s what she does so well. I also introduced a co-worker to her books, and thanks to that same co-worker, I got to read The Sugar Queen which was the last of Allen’s books I needed to finish.

Josey Cirrini is the daughter of the man who made the small North Carolina town where she lives what it is today thanks to his Bald Slop Ski Resort. Josey lives a boring life caring for her mother’s every whim and constantly being put down even when she does things right. When Della Lee Baker, a woman from town, shows up one morning in her house, her life changes forever and Josey, for the first time in her life, is starting to experience life, friendship, love, and happiness.

Poor Josey spends her days trying to make up for being an awful child but her mother keeps putting her down as if she were the same rude, ill-mannered child of ten. Della Lee, someone Josey knew about from town but never really met, helps her see that life has much more to offer than a closet full of candy and cookies. With a little help from Della Lee, Josey meets Chloe Finley and for the first time in her life, has an actual friend. It’s a happy and sad moment because up till this point, Josey did nothing but cater to her mother’s needs and comfort herself with snacks she keeps hidden in her closet. The whole world begins to open up and she realizes how much she’s missed. She wants to travel, see the world, and experience new things. Really, the woman needs an adventure.

I feel I should say something about the ending here because it did bother me slightly. While I don’t mind a vague ending, as long as the main story is somewhat wrapped up, this one felt rushed and one story line ignored all together. Everything doesn’t need to be wrapped up nice and neat for me but I prefer to feel like I’m not being pushed through a door and told not to worry about any of the things I’m seeing on the way. I kind of felt that way about the ending of The Sugar Queen. I did enjoy the book but it did feel rushed to the point where I was wondering why she was keeping one particular storyline hidden.

Now that I’ve read all of Allen’s books, I have to say Garden Spells is still my favorite. The Sugar Queen is a happy story, short and sweet, with moments of reality to ground it. I was looking for this type of read when this book just happened to come my way. It was a perfect little read for me — comforting, funny with a bit of a happy ending. Sometime I need that in my reading.

Thanks to my co-worker who graciously loaned me this book. I hope you enjoy it.

The Sugar Queen

By Sarah Addison Allen

Bantam Books

ISBN: 9780553384840

3.75 stars

Review – The Girl Who Chased the Moon

The Girl Who Chased the Moon

By Sarah Addison Allen

Bantam

ISBN: 978-0-553-38559-5

4.25 stars

Sarah Addison Allen is an author I knew about but never read.  That changed earlier this year when I finally picked up Garden Spells.  Can I tell you how much I loved it?  I really did.  Then came The Peach Keeper which was just as wonderful, and thanks to a strange confluence of events, The Girl Who Chased the Moon landed in my lap.  As with her previous books, I devoured this one completely entranced to the last page.

Emily Benedict regrets her choice to move in with the grandfather she never knew the moment she arrives at his house.  Her mother’s recent death leaves her somewhat homeless and she’s in need of a parent but Mullaby, North Carolina is turning out to be a more difficult adjustment than she imaged.  Her grandfather, Vance Shelby, borders on being a giant, the wallpaper in her room changes with her mood, and strange lights appear night after night behind the house making her wonder what’s really out there.  Vance tells her to leave them be but it only increases her curiosity.  The town is full of secrets including why her mother is detested by the people in this small town.  She eventually finds out her mother, Dulcie, was ostracized for the way she treated a former boyfriend and some of that same dislike pours over to her but it still doesn’t answer all her questions.

Her neighbor, Julia Winterson, was never a friend of Dulcie’s but she befriends Emily treating her almost as a daughter.  But Julia has no plans to stay in Mullaby.  In town only to pay off her father’s debts after his death, she plans only on staying for two years.  It’s when she gets involved with a man she fell for in high school that her plans change and her own secrets come tumbling out.

I never thought I was a fan of magical realism and truthfully on most occasions I’m not, but there’s something about the way Addison Allen integrates it into the story that it works for me.  Everything about the town has a one off feeling which sets the stage so you know some odd things are going to happen.  Although I will admit one thing here did make me sort fall out of the story a minute and it’s the explanation of the Mullaby lights (you have to read it, I won’t explain more because I don’t want to give too much away) but I quickly got over it and moved right along.

Doing my best not to revert to gushing over this book, I’ll say this — if you’re looking for a book to sink into, try one of Sarah Addison Allen’s.  The stories are soft with a few hard edges to keep you in reality but not nearly enough to make you want to stop reading.  I recommend this one.

Review – Garden Spells

Garden Spells

By Sarah Addison Allen

A Bantam Book

eISBN: 9780553904123

5 stars

Sarah Addison Allen is a new to me author but I don’t foresee that being the case for very long.  Her style is lyrical, almost poetic, and her characters are amazing creatures of habit that make you love their ways.

Claire Waverly enjoys her quiet life in her family’s old Victorian house in North Carolina, she loves even more the garden out back which produces flowers and herbs and when incorporated into family recipes, can bring about certain feelings in people.  A caterer in town, she’s happy to live her quiet life but when her long lost sister Sydney shows up with her five year old daughter, Bay, her life is thrown into a new orbit.  She’s no longer the sole keeper of the house, her sister is keeping some secret she won’t share, and Bay shows budding family traits of the Waverly women — magical powers of a sort with flowers and an ability to know where everything and everyone belongs.  Sydney keeps fighting her Waverly roots but soon starts to realize that she’s going to need to embrace who she is.

I don’t want to gush all over this book but I’m going to.  Claire and Sydney are sisters who don’t act like it but there is a love between them and when it grows it’s almost as lovely as the garden.  Next door, a new neighbor, Tyler, brings love to Claire and she’s a woman whose life is sorely in need of human contact, even if he is a little bit too pushy for my taste.  Sydney is a woman hurting from an abusive relationship and she doesn’t want to share anything for fear that she and her daughter might be found.  It’s a story of family, love, strength, and learning to embrace life and who you are.  It doesn’t feel odd even for all of its magical elements.  Addison Allen infuses just enough to make it work but she doesn’t make it overbearing or the focus of the story.  It all works.  Magical realism can sometimes over compensate for other story elements but here is all feels right; just life with a little extra.

This is one I highly recommend.  If Sarah Addison Allen is a new to you author, read this one.