Thursday, July 3, 2008

Review: The Sugar Queen

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
4 stars

Reasons for reading: I loved, loved Allen's Garden Spells; 2nd book for The Southern Challenge II

Book description: Twenty-seven-year-old Josey Cirrini... has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…. Until she finds it harboring none other than local waitress Della Lee Baker... Fleeing a life of bad luck and big mistakes, Della Lee has decided Josey’s clandestine closet is the safest place to crash. In return she’s going to change Josey’s life—because, clearly, it is not the closet of a happy woman. With Della Lee’s tough love, Josey is soon forgoing pecan rolls and caramels, tapping into her startlingly keen feminine instincts, and finding her narrow existence quickly expanding. Before long, Josey bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who makes the best sandwiches in town, is hounded by books that inexplicably appear whenever she needs them, and—most amazing of all—has a close connection to Josey’s longtime crush.
As little by little Josey dares to step outside herself, she discovers a world where the color red has astonishing power, passion can make eggs fry in their cartons, and romance can blossom at any time—even for her. It seems that Della Lee’s work is done, and it’s time for her to move on. But the truth about where she’s going, why she showed up in the first place—and what Chloe has to do with it all—is about to add one more unexpected chapter to Josey’s fast-changing life.

First line: "When Josey woke up and saw the feathery frost on her windowpane, she smiled."

My thoughts: I didn't find this one quite as charming as Garden Spells - I didn't think the magic element was quite as seamless in this one. But it was still great fun - each chapter is named after a type of candy, there are some very funny exchanges with the Cirrinis' supersitious, Englishly-challenged maid, and there's still definitely some magic - my favourite part by far were the books that literally follow Chloe around (Finding Forgiveness, which wants her to forgive her cheating boyfriend, gets completely battle-scarred as she tries to get rid of it and it has to team up with another self-help book). I'd love to have the problem!

There is also great pain in this book - Josey's mother has been suffering for years because she fell in love too late and she is unkind to and demands a lot of Josey because she reminds her so much of her husband, powerful Marco Cirrini who put Bald Slope on the map with his ski resort. For most of her life, Josey's only sources of happiness have been an unrequited crush on the mailman and her sugary treats. The townspeople think she must be happy because her father was "a great man" and they're rich, but they don't really know her and base most of their opinion of her on what a brat she was when she was a child. So it's wonderful to see her starting to break free of those constraints, with the help of Della Lee and to start to be her true self - which includes being a real friend to Chloe (Josey seems to have never really had any friends) and coming into her own, romantically. The ending is definitely satisfying.

I didn't get much of a Southern vibe from this one, mainly because it boggles my mind to associate the South with snow and skiing! I don't know much about North Carolina, but a quick Google reveals that there indeed ski areas there. So, I learned something from this book! It does definitely have a small-town feel you often have in Southern books, though, with everyone in Bald Slope knowing about the Cirrini family's history.

Definitely a worthwhile read and I hope Sarah Addison Allen (who, just as an aside, looks to be as cute as a bug's ear from her photo on the jacket, just like a character in one of her books) keeps on writin'!

(If you've reviewed The Sugar Queen, leave a link in the comments!)


Em said...

I really like her books and hope she writes some more. Like you, I loved the candy-themed chapter titles and didn't know there was skiing in North Carolina! :)

Stephanie said...

I have Garden Spells sitting right here looking at me!! I've heard such good things about this author!! I'm glad you enjoyed this one!

Julie said...

I agree with your review. I really enjoyed The Sugar Queen but Garden Spells weaved more magic.

Although I am looking forward to her 3rd book which will be out in 2009.

heather (errantdreams) said...

This sounds like such an intriguing book. Darn it, I've already added too many books to my wish list today! =/

tinylittlelibrarian said...

Em - It's always nice to learn new things, isn't it? :)

Stephanie - Enjoy Garden Spells, I surely did!

Julie - Thanks, I'm glad I wasn't the only one who thought there was a bit less magic. But I'll definitely be looking forward to her next one.

Heather - Hee, I know the feeling!

Debi said...

Hello! I just wanted to let you know that you won June's mini contest for the What's in a Name Challenge. If you could e-mail me
with your name and address, I'll send your prize out shortly. Thanks!


maggie moran said...

A chilly Southern Feel, huh?!? I've traveled in the north, as far as Alaska, and the coldest I've ever been was on a football field in Georgia (outside Atlanta) during a December playoff game. The wind was whippin' and it was in the 'teens, which isn't much but the wind chill was probably below zero. North Dakota, Minnesota, Canada, there are so many more places which are colder, but we do have a moments. ;D

Sorry, this wasn't as good as Garden Spells. I have it on hold and am wondering if I should botter?

tinylittlelibrarian said...

Debi - How exciting! Thanks!

Maggie - wow, that's really something! My husband's from Minnesota, so I've heard many cold tales, but I'm lucky to be from a warmer part of Canada. :)

I do think you should bother - the magical element isn't quite as good, maybe, but the characters are still good and the candy theme is fun. Plus, a woman who gets followed by books - what librarian could resist? :)