Monday, September 15, 2008

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen

reviewed by Amber Shockley

Following on the heels of her recent debut Garden Spells, we have Sarah Addison Allen's new novel The Sugar Queen. Allen uses her same recipe of strong-willed female characters, with a little sugar, a little spice, and a good dose of magical realism thrown in. The time, Allen moves into a slightly darker realm with what, despite its sticky sweet title, is ultimately realized to be a ghost story.

Josey is the wealthy, lonely daughter of an aged, controlling mother. She has no social life beyond her mother's hair appointments. Josey starts to spread her wings when a rough, worn woman named Della Lee shows up in her closet to teach her, ironically, a lesson about living. Along the way, a cast of supporting characters provide proper diversion from the main plot.

Allen seems to have found her niche with magical realism, which she blends into her stories effortlessly, elevating them above what could otherwise be classified as romance or possibly chick lit. Readers can expect another engaging experience with Allen's sophomore novel, yet I was somewhat disappointed to be served the same ingredients mushed up to bake a different story. Sometimes when an author finds a formula or gimmick, it works. It works again, and again, to critical and reader acclaim. I like to see a writer expand past what they have done and put something new on the menu.

In this case, Allen seems to have planted herself firmly in place. Granted, that place is not a bad place to be. I don't regret reading the novel; it was enjoyable. I guess this time I just wasn't as excited because there wasn't anything new to get excited about. -3 stars

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