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BOOK REVIEW: The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen


sq_us_paperbackJosey Cirrini’s life has been one of atonement and servitude; atonement for misdeeds as a child and servitude to her unhappy, domineering, widowed mother.  Mrs. Cirrini ensures that her daughter possesses no thoughts of independence; instructing her on what to wear (and what not to wear), when and how to do things.  However, Josey’s life is full of secrets.  She secretly has kept the red sweater her mother forbids her to wear, her closet is a stockpile of romance novels and candy, and she has a secret crush on her postman.

Everything changes when Della Lee Baker, a down-on-her luck, tough waitress, sets up camp in Josey’s closet and refuses to leave.  Slowly Della Lee encourages Josey to reevaluate her life and expand it beyond her mother’s limitations.  In the process Josey meets Chloe Finley, a young woman with a peculiar affinity for books and a close friendship with Josey’s postman.  As Josey’s life changes, her relationship with her mother fractures, revealing long buried secrets and unexpected possibilities for the future.

Sarah Addison Allen’s second novel The Sugar Queen is pure delight, a magical work that immediately captivates readers and should come with a warning label: “Do not begin this book just before bed.”  Readers who do may soon find themselves wondering “how could it possibly be 4 a.m.?”  Once you’re captured by The Sugar Queen, there is no chance of reading only a few chapters.

The characters in The Sugar Queen are strongly drawn and fairly sparkle with life.  In fact, the entire novel vibrates with constrained energy and vitality.  In Allen’s world, books appear when needed and will remain as not so subtle reminders of what needs to happen.  Passion causes water to boil and eggs to fry in their cartons.  And here, fairy godmothers can appear in the most unlikely guises.

Not much can be said about The Sugar Queen without revealing spoilers, suffice it to say that this is a book you’ll read in one sitting and like Chloe’s books, will follow you around until you understand its hidden meanings.

ISBN10: 0553384848
ISBN13: 9780553384840

Trade Paperback
294 pages
Publisher: Bantam
Publication Date: April 15, 2009
Author Website:

BOOK REVIEW: Church of the Dog by Kaya McLaren


Mara O’Shaunnessy, ever-so-slightly magical, is a free spirit who sees people’s auras, heals through touch and communicates with her grandmother nightly in her dreams. So when her mundane fiancée charges her $10.00 for a ride to the hospital, Mara breaks their engagement, packs up and moves to rural Oregon where she accepts a position teaching art. Soon after her arrival in town, Mara buys a hog at a livestock auction to save it from slaughter but now needs a place to live that takes pigs. Town residents direct her to Edith and Earl McRae who may be willing to offer both her and the hog lodging in exchange for work on their farm.

Edith and Earl have been married for fifty years but sadness still clings to them like a cloud. They lost their only child in a tragic car accident many years earlier and their grandson Daniel left the farm as early as possible to spend his days fishing in the arctic. The arrival of Mara on the farm precipitates many changes and as Earl faces an ending, Mara helps the family find joy in the here and now.

Church of the Dog, Kaya McLaren debut novel, is an intensely personal novel. Told alternately from the points of view of Mara, Edith, Earl, and Daniel, Church of the Dog feels as though you’re reading personal diaries and this viewpoint provides intriguing insights into each character’s thoughts, emotions and motivations. In some novels, varying narrators results in a confusing and disjointed read; however, McLaren has engendered her characters with strong, distinctive voices that lead her readers along her chosen path.

Readers will respond to McLaren’s novel in one of two ways: either becoming deeply invested in each of the characters and the spiritual questions McLaren raises; or by thinking it’s all too flaky and treacly, quickly giving up. Readers who connect with Church of the Dog will find a quiet, inspirational meditation on the nature of love and friendship.

Originally published in 2000 by a now defunct press, this edition of Church of the Dog was revised by author and reprinted by Penguin Books.

ISBN10: 0143113429
ISBN13: 9780143113423

Trade Paperback
225 Pages
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: June 2008
Author’s Website:


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