[Yup, quiet yet again, and I fear end of June is the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m trying to break the sad hiatus over here ]
I remember seeing positive reviews of Sarah Addison Allen’s books, but what kept me away was knowing that they had a bit of magical realism in them. This is my confession – high school has ruined magical realism for me. It made me hate magical realism. I have avoided it for a very long time since, but because the cruise library had a very small section, The Sugar Queen was the only book I was remotely interested in, so I picked it up on a whim. It was fortunate that limited choices led me to this one, because I ended up really liking it despite my prejudice.
The Premise: Josey Cirrini is trying to resign herself to a life of obedience to her mother Margaret. They are one of the richest families in Bald Slope, North Carolina, thanks to the late Marco Cirrini, who made his fortune in turning a nowhere town into a popular ski destination. Josey spends her days trying to make her mother happy, while secretly hoarding a cache of candy, romance novels and travel magazines in her closet. Then one night, Josey discovers local waitress Della Lee Baker hiding in her closet too, and Della refuses to leave without fixing up Josey’s life. Soon Josey finds herself befriending cafe owner Chloe Finley, who has problems of her own – she just kicked out her boyfriend Jake Yardley after discovering that he cheated on her. Slowly but surely Josey and Chloe’s lives intersect and change, causing a ripple effect on those around them.
Read an excerpt of Chapter 1 of The Sugar Queen here
My Thoughts: It’s hard to come up with a premise for this book that doesn’t sound like it has some very plot points that go off in seemingly non-related tangents. This story begins without any preamble and drops us into an odd situation – Josey finding Della Lee hiding in her closet. If you were to make any assumptions of where this is going you’d likely be wrong, but the unpredictability of the narrative is part of the charm of this novel, along with it’s infusion of odd magics.
Let’s start with Josey, because the story begins with her. Her life is regimented by her mother’s schedule and not much else. She’s constantly told what colors to wear (not red!), what to do and how much trouble she was as a child. It’s a dreary existence, despite it’s well-to-do trappings, and she could be a meek, pitiful daughter because of it, but Josey has resilience. She has her pocket of escapes and happiness – her candy and reads, her love of winter, and her secret crush on mailman Adam. Then Della Lee’s interference pushes Josey out of her rut. She tells Josey to wear a bit of makeup and that she does look good in red, that she should leave Bald Slope and see the places she dreams about, and she nags Josey to go to the courthouse to buy a grilled cheese sandwich. This leads Josey to cafe owner and excellent sandwich-maker, Chloe. It’s a hard time for Chloe too, because she just kicked out her boyfriend, but she’s still happy to befriend Josey. In fact, their friendship seems to come as easily as breathing, and it’s just the thing for both of them.
The narrative flows easily, albeit in a route that’s difficult to foretell. We spend some time with Chloe, discovering the back story of her current problems, and even spend some time with Margaret, Josey’s mother and discover what she’s hidden behind the aging beauty’s strict adherence to propriety. The women are the central characters here, but we also spend a few moments peeking into the minds of their respective paramours, Jake and Adam, both whom are caught by surprise from the women they took for granted.
“Why hadn’t he seen it before? Three years. Why hadn’ he known she was in love with him? “Are you sure you don’t want to keep this scarf?” he called after her.
“No, you don’t want to keep it? Or no, you’re not sure?”
She looked over her shoulder at him and smiled slightly. His breath caught.
He felt a strange stirring, something he hadn’t felt in a very long time. It felt a little like when a limb falls asleep but then slowly surely, there’s a tingling, an almost uncomfortable sensation… of waking up.
Throughout it all, wondrous things happen. Della Lee is part of this magic, like the way books suddenly appear when Chloe needs them, the way water boils when Jake and Chloe get close, the way Josey came feel that Adam is nearing her house. It’s a rather quirky and charming species of magical realism; not the kind I’m used to, which is a good thing, and this charm permeates the rest of the book.
Overall: I liked it, and maybe I’m a bit surprised I did but it charmed away my misgivings about reading a book with magic realism in it. I find it hard to describe – simple, yet clever, slice-of-life, yet magical, twisty, yet genuine. I found it landed on the feel-good side, so I think I’ll be returning to Sarah Addison Allen when I’m looking for a nice read that will leave me with a small smile on my face.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Angieville – positive
Stephanie’s Written Word – positive
Good Books and Good Wine – positive
Books and Other Thoughts – positive
Chachic’s Book Nook – positive
Extras @ Sarah Addison Allen’s website
I would love to read this book. Magic Realism in books always draws me in somehow
It does? I don’t know what it is, but my brain usually shuts off. Sorry, Gabriel García Márquez… Anyway, I felt that it was done in a cute way here, where magical quirkiness became aspects of character.
Oh, so it was GGM’s books that you were bludgeoned by in school. I was wondering.
I am glad you were forced to read this one – it sounds quite interesting. I’ve added it to my TBR list.
Yep. One of the authors. Though I think it is Beloved by Toni Morrison that affected me the most. I can recall very well just the emotions that book brought forth, and it just put me in a bad, bad place. I could never read that book again. I think it’s supposed to be painful and it does it’s job. I pretty much found it a horrible experience.
I love Sarah Addison Allen’s books! They’re all so charming. Not sure though if there are other magic realism novels similar to her work, would love to discover them.
Yes, I like the quirky magical realism, not so much on the serious kind with serious and potentially disturbing undertones. Charming really is the word.
Everyone keeps using the word “charming” for her books and I can’t think of a more apt description. I really liked this book and I also liked Garden Spells. I want to read her third one too.
Yes, the hive mind has spoken, and “charming” is what we’ve decided these books are! It really is the only way to describe how the story kind of.. I don’t know, draws you in without you knowing, wins you over, sucks you in. It doesn’t even do it in an obvious way. It just begins and you think: “What, strange woman in some other woman’s closet? OK, I’m interested in finding out what happens next.” and before you know it, you’ve read half the book and you’re all happy about it.
Was it One Hundred Years of Solitude that started your dislike of magical realism? (I read the book this semester…. ugh is my first reaction to it. I mean, I can SEE the brilliance in it, I can, but I will never read that book again!)
The Sugar Queen sounds like a fun book that can pull you out of a dark mood. I wish I had bought this when I saw it on sale at Borders a few weeks ago. I regret not getting it now! Anyway, thanks for the review 🙂
Yes, in Spanish class was One Hundred Years of Solitude, in Spanish of course. And in English class it was Chronicle of a Death Foretold and Isabel Allende’s The House of Spirits, and Beloved by Toni Morrison. They all have very heavy, very, very depressing themes, and they all kind of.. linger in my brain in disturbing, scarring ways, and yes, I too can see the brilliance, but I can’t bring myself to read these kinds of books for fun. I am much too fragile.
what level was this spanish class? I’ve taken some upper levels in college and high school and I was never forced to read something like Marquez! (I had to read One Hundred Years for a non-western lit. course) But that’s impressive…even though you were scarred in the process 😦 I have read a little of Isabel Allende’s works and hers are intense too… but I think her stuff is much easier to follow than Marquez (he uses so many different elements and throws them together into this jumbly mass that is One Hundred Years… jeez, I can’t stop thinking about that book. Or that ending.)
Hah, no worries. I can’t bring myself to read those types of books because I don’t have the patience or sufficient knowledge of literature to understand them. I’d just be confused all the time…
Oh thank you for agreeing that this is beyond what poor cute young things in HS should be subjected to!! 🙂 Hah. I think it was.. uh, average leveled (?) Spanish class (there were only 3 kids in my Spanish classes – everyone else was taking French for some reason).
I always felt like these were books that my teachers thought were great but were beyond my personal limits at the time. So of course all it did was leave me with a possibly unrealistic aversion.
This was the first Sarah Addison-Allen book I read and remains my favorite after I’ve read her others. Actually, I haven’t read her fourth and most recent book, The Peach Keeper, but I have been on the holds list at my library since it was released, so hopefully my turn is coming up. Anyway, if you enjoyed this, you’d probably enjoy her other works as well. They all have the same charming, genuine quality … a little magical realism and a lot of tenderness and self discovery.
Great review. 😀
I like how you put it. 🙂 I’m glad I read this – definitely will be reading her other books.
i read my first book by this author this year & found it charming as well. i will read more of hers, but spaced out, haha. i don’t think i could read too much sweetness all in a row 🙂
and LOL @ high school ruining magical realism for you! high school textx were never very good for me ~ i used to read all the time late into the night but high school texts were always painful to get through. why do they do that? 🙂
loved the review 🙂
Yeah I like to change up what I’m reading too, or I just get into a reading rut.
Well it IS high school’s fault! 🙂 And I could read Shakespeare and Chekhov and Orwell with less pain. Something about those particular books with magical realism in them.
Oh, I think everyone can always use a another stand by feel good author, as well as something charming. 🙂 Thanks for the review. I’m glad the SAA brand of magic realism was refreshing and not strange. I’m even more excited to read Garden Spells, which I own but haven’t had a chance to get to yet. It seems like her novels have pleased all the readers and bloggers I trust so I can’t go wrong.
Yup, see all the comments saying “charming”?! 🙂 Looking forward to your review, whenever you do get around to trying SAA out.
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ive read all of Sarah Addison Allen’s books and her first is BY FARRRR her best. by far. if yu try her again, please please please Garden Spells. especially ive youve seen and liked the Sandra Bullock movie Practical Magic
Garden Spells is her first and best? OK, I must try! (I have seen and liked Practical Magic – except for the dancing, midnight margarita bits. Is it a law that movies with women MUST have a women-bonding-over-dancing -often-while-having-some-sleepover-and-alcohol in them? It boggles me).
After seeing the comment from Lusty Reader and then Janice’s reply in my email box this morning, I got confused and had to come back and see what I said and now here I am correcting myself!!!
The first SAA book I read was Garden Spells, which, like Lusty Reader, is my favorite novel of SAA. Sorry!! I get those two book covers confused and commented too carelessly. But I still recommend all of this author’s books. 😀
No worries. Thanks for coming back to clear that up because this actually makes things easier now! Garden Spells is the consensus as the one book I better read. 🙂
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