Review: The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen is the magical follow up to 2007’s Garden Spells (reviewed HERE). It’s sweet but not sappy, nutty but not ‘chock full of nuts’. It’s like the perfect dessert.

Josey Cirrini, sheltered rich girl in a North Carolina resort town, lives alone with her overbearing mother and a housekeeper. At 27 she has no friends, no social life, and is busy doing her mother’s bidding in an effort to atone for the horrible way she behaved as a child. Everyone in town knows who she is because her late father built the ski resort that lifted the town out of poverty. She is secretly in love with the mailman and meets him on the porch each day but does nothing more than say hello. She’s living a small little life, driving her elderly mother to her various appointments and social events, and living for the moments alone when she can indulge her massive sweet tooth and gorge on mallomars or oatmeal pies from the secret stash in her closet.

Enter Della Lee, one of the eccentric townfolk who is a bit rough around the edges. She shows up one morning in Josey’s closet and won’t budge. Della Lee threatens to make Josey’s secret public, so Josey begrudgingly allows her to stay. Della Lee takes up residence in the closet and soon she is nudging Josey out into the world to make friends and have a life.

As in Garden Spells, magical things are happening all over town. One character, Chloe, Josey’s first real friend, has an interesting relationship with books. They appear out of nowhere and are the exact books she needs at the moment they appear. One rather persistent book, Finding Forgiveness, makes its first appearance on page 36 and continues to appear throughout the story.

“She accepted it from then on. Books liked her. Books wanted to look after her.

She slowly picked the book up from the apartment floor. It was titled Finding Forgiveness.

She stared at it a long time, a feeling bubbling inside her. It took a few moments for her to realize it was anger. Books were good for a story or to teach a card trick or two, but what were they really? Just paper and string and glue. They evoked emotions and that was why people felt a connection with them. But they had no emotions themselves. They didn’t know betrayal. They didn’t know hurt.

What in the hell did they know about forgiveness?”

The Sugar Queen is a bit predictable, but I can overlook that because it has something to say about relationships and forgiveness, and it says it in a rather beguiling way. Like the perfect dessert, the book has a satisfying ending. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys magical realism.

Sarah Addison Allen’s website can be found HERE. You can find discussion questions HERE.

I received The Sugar Queen through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program. I’ll be passing this one on to Softdrink at the newly named Fizzy Thoughts blog (formerly Blond Mementos) who originally turned me on to Garden Spells.

You can read Julie’s review from Girls Just Reading HERE.

Review: The Wishing Year by Noelle Oxenhandler

The Wishing Year by Noelle Oxenhandler is the non fictional account of an experiment in desire. Oxenhandler takes one year to explore the act of wishing- think birthday candles, genies in a bottle, a wishing well.  She focuses her desires on 3 very different  wishes- a house (after years of house rental), a man (after the end of a long marriage), and spiritual healing (after a painful separation from her spiritual community).  She decides to try “putting it out there” to see what happens. 

She doesn’t flee the country in pursuit of these things, a la Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love.   Instead she attempts, through the mysterious power of wishful thinking, to attract the things she desires into her life rather than actively seeking them out.  

In the introduction she defines what she means by “wish”- a desire that takes aim, or hope with a point- not unlike an arrow.  Her year of wishing begins on New Years Day, and her fairy godmother-like friend Carole is her mentor in this endeavor.  The book is laid out month by month, January to December. 

Does she really believe in getting what she wants through wishing?  From the beginning she has to perform “a willing suspension of disbelief” and asks herself, “If I acted as though this were true [that wishing can make things happen], would it bring about a positive change in my life?” 

A spiritual person, she is conflicted over what is ok to wish for- her Catholic upbringing and her study of Zen Buddhism as a young adult makes it difficult and somewhat guilt laden for her to ask for material things.  Through her research into the ancient human art of wishing, she soon tweaks her way of thinking and chooses to be open to the blessings of the universe.  When she wishes in the mode of the ancestors, she says, she adopts “an attitude that is both confident and humble.  I commit to doing everything within my human power to make something happen-while also recognizing that my human power is limited.”  Wishing, apparently, takes over when human knowledge and effort can carry you no further. 

Do wishes attract allies and abundance?  Or do wishes make us vulnerable to disappointment?  That is the experiment behind The Wishing Year, an experiment that surpassed Oxenhandler’s expectations.  I found it inspiring and would recommend it to anyone who has ever wished upon a star.  

I received this book through the early reviewers group at Library Thing.  It will be released on July 8, 2008.

Here is the author’s biography from Random House:  Noelle Oxenhandler is the author of two previous nonfiction books, A Grief Out of Season and The Eros of Parenthood. Her essays have appeared in many national and literary magazines, including The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Vogue, Tricycle, Parabola, Utne Reader, and O: The Oprah Magazine. She has taught in the graduate writing program at Sarah Lawrence College and is a member of the creative writing faculty at Sonoma State University in California. A practicing Buddhist for more than thirty years, Oxenhandler is the mother of a grown daughter and lives in Northern California.

Tuesday Thingers

Library Thing’s Early Reviewers group has started a Tuesday meme called “Tuesday Thingers”.  Is it just me, or does that sound mildly pornographic?  No?  It’s just me then.  Clearly I need to get my mind out of the gutter!  So.  What’s a thinger?  It is a weekly meme, I guess, in which a question will be asked each Tuesday (hosted by Marie of The Boston Bibliophile) and then answered individually on the blogs of other Thingers from the Early Reviewers group.  I am relatively new to Library Thing, but I really like it, and I just snagged my first early review book (it was an April bonus selection and it arrived today.  Very exciting!)  So, without further ado,  here is this week’s topic:

Discussion groups. Do you belong to any (besides Early Reviewers)? Approximately how many? Are there any in particular that you participate in more avidly? How often do you check?  

I only belong to 3 groups including Early Reviewers, and I’m not that active on any of them.  I used to be involved in several discussion groups but I cut my participation WAY back when I started blogging.  There are only so many hours in the day, and I felt that I wasn’t getting that much out of them.  Maybe I just haven’t found the right groups.  

What about you?  Do you belong to any online discussion groups?  You don’t have to be a Thinger to answer that. 

Sunday Salon: This and That

My, my, my, what a week! Books on the Brain had it’s best day ever stat-wise on Friday (it totally blew away the last best day ever!) When my numbers had reached their all-time high by 10am, I knew something was up. Turns out Matrimony author Joshua Henkin had been interviewed about his efforts to market his novel to book clubs by Shelf Awareness, an extremely popular site in the publishing world, and included a link to his guest post on my site (Thanks, Josh!!). Not only did I see a big bump in hits, I got flooded with offers of books for review by publishers and authors. How cool is that???  I actually had to turn down a few that were not the kind of books I normally read.  Me, turning down books!!  That just never happens!  But any book with the word “pussy” in the title isn’t one I’m going to feature at my little PG rated book blog.  And I’m not much into self help stuff or mysteries, so better to have someone who IS into that sort of thing review those books, right?

We’re having another heat wave here so it’s a good day to stay inside with a fan blowing on my sweaty skin and read. Oh, I’ll probably have to take the kids down to swim at the neighbors’ house for an hour, and we have a Girl Scout meeting this afternoon too, but then I’ll hurry back into the air conditioning and get back to my book.  Currently I’m reading Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan, the Barnes and Noble First Look book for June.  Just a couple weeks ago I read O’Nan’s Last Night at the Lobster in preparation for this book (loved it!), but I must say that was kind of pointless- the two books are nothing alike in style, tone, rhythm, subject, themes, etc.  If I didn’t know I would never have guessed they were by the same author.  Not that I’m not enjoying Songs for the Missing- I am- a lot.  It’s just completely different.

I’m not the type of reader who can have 4 different books going at once.  I. just. can’t.  I’m a monogamous reader with very few exceptions (I am soooo not a book slut!)  And, unlike Booking Mama, I can’t spend 4 hours a day reading.  So when I received Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe by Jennie Shortridge this week, I passed it to a friend in my book club who was all too happy to read it before me.  She said so far she really likes it, and I’m not at all surprised.  Jennie Shortridge was the first author our book club ever did an author chat with, when we discussed her novel Eating Heaven last year (an excellent choice for a book club, by the way!) She is so warm and fun and we had a great time with her.  I’m excited to read Love and Biology after my book club bud finishes it.

With my TBR pile teetering and listing to one side, and commitments to review books piling up, I decided to pass along a few other books to another member of my book club, who agreed to review them for Books on the Brain .  They include Freestyle by Linda Nieves-Powell, A Curious Earth by Gerard Woodward, and The Space Between Before and After by Jean Reynolds-Page.  I look forward to reading them when she’s done.

I’ve been getting slightly more sucked in to Library Thing’s Early Reviewers message boards. They have a Tuesday Thingers group that I may start participating in which, if I understand it correctly, is just an excuse to post book blather on Tuesdays and then go visit all the other Thingers and read their book blather.  At least I think that’s how it works.

What else?  Hmmm.  Well my daughter finished a big 5th grade project yesterday that’s due on Wednesday. For once I convinced her she didn’t have to wait until the VERY LAST MINUTE to get her homework done (shock!)  Her written report and display on “Richard Nixon: A Man of Many Firsts” turned out great and we she better get an A on it!  I’m kidding.  She did it all by herself, which is completely apparent.  I resisted my perfectionist tendencies to “fix” things that were glued on slightly crooked.  I bit my critical tongue when I saw that she wanted to use the picture of Nixon and Elvis as the largest picture and the centerpiece of her display.  It’s her work and she did a great job.  The kids’ school has their Open House on Thursday so there’s been a big push to do projects and artsy stuff in the last couple of weeks.  They do very few projects and very little art during the year (damn budget cuts!) and then BAM it hits us all at once.  It’s not my thing but I do my best to help my kids.  It’s just sad when you go to Open House and it’s obvious there’s no way in HELL the 10 year old with the beaming engineer dad made the to-scale model of the White House and the Pentagon out of sugar cubes and toothpicks, or the 9 year old whose mom is a scientist was able to make a working model of a geothermal power plant with real steam all by his wittle self.  Well, L.’s project is nowhere near professionally done, but it’s her work.  She’s proud of it and I hope her teacher will see the effort that was put into it.

So.. what are you reading today?  Leave a note and let me know!

Happy Sunday!

Catalog – Booking Through Thursday

Catalog December 13, 2007

Filed under: WordPress — –Deb @ 1:14 am
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Do you use any of the online book-cataloguing sites, like Library Thing or Shelfari? Why or why not? (Or . . . do you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking to?? (grin))

If not an online catalog, do you use any other method to catalog your book collection? Excel spreadsheets, index cards, a notebook, anything?

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I have no method.  I am catalog-free.  I don’t keep track of the books I’ve read or the books I own on spreadsheets, cards, or notebooks.   I guess I’m not very analytical that way.  Is that a bad thing??

I started listing my books on Shelfari but didn’t keep up with it.  I like the IDEA of cataloging my books, but the practice of it is too time consuming for me.  I’ve never looked at Library Thing (<–making a mental note to check that out next time I’m surfing the ‘net).

Initially, this blog was my feeble attempt at keeping track of what my book club has read, and my thoughts on those books, but it has morphed into something a little different.   I’m still using it for that purpose, but I also use it to make connections with other readers, to sort out my feelings, to document my days.  I’m enjoying this new (to me)  form of communication.

What about you?  Do you catalog your books?