I only somewhat learned my lesson about serial reading from a single author. I said I wasn’t going to do that again, that I was going to break the cycle a bit by reading something else. I partially managed to keep to my word.
Sarah Addison Allen proved to be too tempting a mistress, however. Fortunately, I had read enough of another book, written in a radically different style, to reset my reading palate. Thus, I feel I can review “The Sugar Queen” with very few comparisons to Allen’s other work. I shall certainly give it the old college try.
I don’t often pay too much attention to a book’s cover unless it’s really unique. Women-centric, romantic books all seem to have rather similar cover art.
I was particularly impressed this time, however, by the script of the title. Let’s take another look at that:
I liked it enough that I took a peek in the back of the book to see if it would give me any hints.
If I’m understanding that correctly, we have Carol Russo to thank for that lovely visual representation of the book’s title.
Moving on to the story itself, I’ll start by saying that Ms. Allen has a lot of fun writing about food. I have a lot of fun reading about it. This is a good match.
One of the book’s two main protagonists has a truly above-average sweet tooth. When we are first introduced to Josey, she is thinking that she is glad for cooler weather, because it is easier to hide what she views as her weight problem. She quickly moves past that and begins to appreciate all the lovely things about winter, comparing them to sweet treats.The cold air makes her think of crisp cookies with white chocolate, and vanilla icing. Later, the author uses the word “licorice” to describe the color of her character’s hair.
This is how Josey sees the world — in terms of sweetness. Emotions evoke flavors, candies, confections. She is in love with food, but she has a guilty relationship with it. She feels she has to hide this about herself. She is ashamed of her desire for sweet things, and of so many other ways in which she sees herself as falling short of who and what she ought to be.
Much of this shame originated with and is cultivated by her mother, who has done everything she can to point out Josey’s flaws, even to the point of inventing ones that don’t exist.
Chloe is the other female character of note in the story. Her problem is not that she can’t get enough of something, as in Josey’s case. As much as Chloe tries to discourage and thwart them, books appear to her out of nowhere, mysteriously and suddenly. They follow her around, and always seem to be a title that applies to what she is currently experiencing in her life. It’s something she has dealt with since childhood, and has tried to keep a secret as an adult. In that way, her problem parallels Josey’s. They both have a problem that they’d like to stay hidden. Chloe has her unwanted, ever-multiplying books, and Josey has her stash of sugary snacks tucked away in a closet.
Now, this is partially a romance, so a good deal of the plot is focused on one woman longing for love, one pushing love away, one running from it, and another who has given up on it completely. It being a somewhat lighthearted book, the reader can safely assume that things will work out for at least one or two of the characters. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be very romantic. Beyond that, I won’t give anything away.
Ms. Allen’s writing is engaging and entertaining, subtly humorous, and even a little bit wise. It’s not difficult to get drawn in and forget about other things you should be doing, because you’d really rather just see what happens next.
The character development in this and in some of the author’s other works is not quite as deep as one might desire, with only one or two of the central characters, and sometimes a side character, invoking any real sympathy or interest. I find myself caring more about the actions and interactions of the main players, as well as the generally benign supernatural happenings around them, rather than having much investment in the people themselves.
Despite that, there are certain moments (in this and other books of Ms. Allen’s) in which a character metamorphoses into a better version of him- or herself. That change is satisfying, and gives that individual more appeal.
As “The Sugar Queen” wrapped up, some of the characters just needed their man for their story to be told to completion. Sometimes that’s satisfying in a typical chick-lit book. However, as is the case in the other Sarah Addison Allen stories I’ve read, here there is more depth.
There were other women who were able to solve their own problems and change their own lives, without requiring a romantic male figure to step in and take care of things. These ladies work their way through a conflict using their own wits, some experience and wisdom gained along the journey, and a little helpful girl-to-girl advice.
They often get their man as well, but that’s just frosting on the cake.