Saturday, 20 March 2010

CBR 37: "The Sugar Queen" by Sarah Addison Allen

Publisher: Hodder
Page count: 352 pages
Date begun: March 19th, 2010
Date finished: March 20th, 2010

Everyone in Josie Cirillo's little North Carolina home town knows her. After all, Josie's father, Marco Cirillo is the man who turned the sleepy little town into a popular winter resort, securing his own and all of the residents' economies. Most also remember her as a willful, extremely badly behaved child, and everyone seems to have a story about something little Josie did. Now 27, Josie is determined to never give her mother a reason to be disappointed in her again. She works so hard to please her mother that she never does anything for herself, and barely leaves the house if it's not to drive her mother somewhere or run her errands.

Then one day she finds local waitress Della Lee Baker hidden in her bedroom closet. She tries to get her to leave, desperately worried that her mother or their maid Helena will find her, or even worse, her secret stash of sweets and romance novels. Josie loves food and eating, but her mother never lets her forget that she is plump, and will look cheap if she dresses in red or wears make-up. Della Lee blackmails Josie into making her stay, and soon has Josie's life changing for the better.

Chloe Finley has just found out that her boyfriend, Jake, whom she loves passionately, cheated on her three months earlier. She's kicked them out of his flat, where they live, and is wondering how she will ever get on with her life without him. All her life, books have magically appeared to Chloe as she needs them. Tucked away in a storage unit she has hundreds of boxes full of books and the furniture she inherited from her grandparents, who raised her. Now she's stuck in a flat her boyfriend owns, surrounded by his things, and whether she wants them or not, self-help books on forgiving and keeping your man keep turning up around her. She can hide them or throw them away, but they return nonetheless, trying to make her forgive and forget.

Josie comes into her sandwich shop three days in a row, buying sandwiches requested by Della Lee (that she never ends up eating, leaving Josie to enjoy them instead), and the two women soon become close friends. Jake happens to be best friends with Adam, the mailman Josie has loved secretly since he started delivering their mail three years earlier. He's never really noticed Josie, until Chloe brings her to his attention, and Josie keeps turning up to keep the heart-broken Chloe out of trouble.

The Sugar Queen is the second of Sarah Addison Allen's books that I have read (and reviewed here on this blog). She is definitely an author I'm going to keep an eye on. While both had darker undertones and delighted me more, this novel was thoroughly entertaining. I wish more than anything in the world ever that I could have the same magical gift as Chloe. I would never have to buy another book in my life. There is nothing as sinister as domestic abuse in The Sugar Queen, but Josie has not had an easy life, and silently suffers under her mother's constant control and disapproval. She yearns to escape the little town where everyone knows her, and only Della Lee, and then Chloe sees the true her.

There is magical realism and supernatural elements in this novel, as well as various romantic subplots. Chloe had passionate love, and is now afraid it has been destroyed because of Jake's betrayal. Josie has always hungered for her mother's love and approval, and has loved Adam in secret for years, only ever seeing him for a minute every day when he delivers the mail. Margaret, Josie's mother, was married to the richest man in town, but was denied true love of her own. Della Lee loved the wrong man, and tries to make sure Josie doesn't pick a bad apple like she did. It was a lovely book, and I will be buying Allen's next novel as soon as it's out in paperback.

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