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241 of 255 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beautiful, spare, and poetic
This is one of those rare books that makes me realize how grateful I am that I enjoy reading and am given the gift of being able to slip into someone else's story and experience what they do through the written word.

As other reviewers have noted: this is the story of a young woman who discovers that she can taste other people's deepest emotions and secrets...
Published on May 25, 2010 by Chel Micheline

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116 of 128 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars INTERTWINING STRANDS THAT UNRAVEL AT THE END
THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE begins as a fairy tale like adventure about a nine year old little girl named Rose who possesses an unusual "talent". It goes on to explore the well traveled terrain of family dynamics while giving it a magical twist. We are invited to join Rose and her family; a foursome of seriously depressed people, examine their individual coping...
Published on June 11, 2010 by Red Rock Bookworm


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241 of 255 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beautiful, spare, and poetic, May 25, 2010
This review is from: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel (Hardcover)
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This is one of those rare books that makes me realize how grateful I am that I enjoy reading and am given the gift of being able to slip into someone else's story and experience what they do through the written word.

As other reviewers have noted: this is the story of a young woman who discovers that she can taste other people's deepest emotions and secrets through the food that they prepare. It changes her perspective on the world and while there is no "revolution of action" for her (meaning she doesn't harness the power to make a global impact or anything quite as grand) her perceptions and reactions are honest and breathtaking.

I'm not a huge fan of "magic realism" books because I find they tend to tilt towards overblown fairy-tale instead of moments of enchantment which enrich the story, but "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake" is a perfect balance. Even the strange story of Rose's brother adds to the story, although there was a chapter I had to read several times to wrap my brain around.

While I do recommend this book, it's NOT for people who find untraditional narrative unappealing. For instance, there is not a *single* quotation mark in the entire book. There is little deliniation between throught and spoken word/conversation. At first, I thought "I can't read this..." but within a page or two, I fell right into Rose's perspective and the book just flowed.

I really loved reading this book. While there were sad moments, I never once felt like chucking the book across the room, which I get the urge to do when other books get overwhelmingly depressing (usually for the sake of packing an emotional punch). "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake" kept me enchanted and locked in its story until the last page. And then I insisted my husband read it, which I rarely do.

Great book.
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116 of 128 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars INTERTWINING STRANDS THAT UNRAVEL AT THE END, June 11, 2010
This review is from: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel (Hardcover)
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THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE begins as a fairy tale like adventure about a nine year old little girl named Rose who possesses an unusual "talent". It goes on to explore the well traveled terrain of family dynamics while giving it a magical twist. We are invited to join Rose and her family; a foursome of seriously depressed people, examine their individual coping mechanisms, discover the importance of friendship and acceptance, and come away enlightening by the author's in-depth character insights. I came away from the experience bewildered.

While the author has a definite way with words and her descriptions conjure up magnificent images the ending of the story literally fell apart for me with the resolution of the story of Rose's brother Joseph. I could never really discern between the fact and fantasy part of Joseph's life. I realize that he, like the rest of the family, was suffering from depression but that was only the tip of his particular iceberg. Was he psychotic, autistic, or are we to believe that he really possessed extraordinary powers. I am so confused.

For me this book started out a five star event but dwindled to a three by the time I read the final page. Perhaps I missed a piece of the big picture that would have provided the clarification I am seeking. If so, let me know.
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54 of 63 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another magical story from Aimee Bender (4+ stars), May 6, 2010
This review is from: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel (Hardcover)
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If I had been asked to rate this novel on the basis of the first fifty pages, I might have given it 3 stars; however, Bender is so expert at building emotions through her fairy-tale magic realism that, after I read the final words, I sighed with pleasure at a story well-told. Narrator Rose is burdened with a terrible "gift." She can taste the emotions of the cook in every bite she eats, whether that cook is her depressed mother or a rushed restaurant chef or the person who grew the herbs. When Rose tastes the bitterness and betrayals in her parents' marriage, she finds herself on her knees in gratitude for the school vending machine and its array of impersonally processed junk food. Her brother Joseph has a problem as well; he wants nothing more than to be left alone, to be divorced from the dysfunctional family, to disappear from the restrictions of his life. The two understand each other only as siblings can, even though they refuse to accept, at least at first, the peculiarities of the other. It takes George, Joseph's brilliant friend, to release both of them, albeit in different ways.

Bender is known for her fairy-tale-like stories, although her brand of magic realism is more minimalist than most, told with spare prose and no-nonsense characterizations. Although the language is poetic at times, it is never lush, and this stylistic choice makes extraordinary circumstances seem almost mundane. The real force, however, is how the emotions begin to well up in the magic until they mean something so powerful that they change how the reader perceives everything about it. Reading Bender is like eating a Tootsie Roll pop -- all sweet and sameness on the exterior until you reach the chewy middle and realize just how good the complete combination is.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake starts slow but builds to a wondrous conclusion about survival, love, and the ability to embrace one's gifts. For more Aimee Bender, try her inventive and startling story collection, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt: Stories

-- Debbie Lee Wesselmann
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars great concept - poor execution, November 30, 2010
By 
*stellina* (in a corner of a library somewhere, book in hand.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel (Hardcover)
The magical concepts in this story really could have made for an excellent novel. The idea of being able to taste the feelings of the person who prepared a meal was unique. However, the authors execution of this novel was so poor that I, myself, am tempted to rewrite the story the way it should have been written.

There is actually no story here. No sensible timeline (it actually reads - I was 10, 11, 12, 13, and now 14. Where did those 5 years go? And how does Rose pick up, 5 years later, exactly where she left off 5 years before?) Rose's ability to taste feelings is developed in a nonsensical way. First, she is able to taste her mother's sadness and then her mother's new love-fueled affair, and then she can taste in what states oranges are grown and if pigs are organic. How is that related to feeling? And what happened to tasting feelings? That central part of the story disappears halfway through the book.

At the end of the book, we learn that Rose inherited this trait from her Grandfather, and that her father "thinks" he might have a special ability in a hospital setting, but he refuses to enter a hospital to find out. This storyline is never developed and goes nowhere.

Then there is Joseph. Joseph's character has no personality, and no development. The boy disappears for years and no one is at all worried or concerned. Two years into his disapperance, the author finally mentions that the mother experienced "non stop worrying" for her missing son. Years later the father asks Rose if she "thinks he will come back?" Joseph's skill - which is loosely explained, is that he can turn into furniture. How is that related to Rose and the grandfather's skills? And why does he do it? And where does he go? At this point in the story, Rose also appears out of nowhere to develop some sort of sixth sense / mind reading power where she knows and understands everything about Joseph's ability. This is also not explained.

I really dont like leaving bad reviews and such low ratings but this book is all over the place. There is no character development, absolutely no discernible storyline and plot lines that just seem to be all over the place. It really is a shame because the author really could have done something with Rose's ability to taste feelings.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, August 8, 2010
By 
DP (Midlothain, Virginia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel (Hardcover)
I listened to this book on my MP3 player, having downloaded it from our public library. Perhaps my negative review stems from the monotone and plodding reading by the author. With that in mind I have to say that this was among the most boring and tedious books I've ever encountered. This is a book where threads of interest are not followed, and moments of passion, intrigue and just plain good story telling are lost and leave the reader saying..What? Huh? What just happened? I've read the other reviews, especially the positive ones, and feel like this is a case of the "emperor's new clothes". I found the simplicity of the book irritating, and a way for the author to avoid good and creative story telling and character development. I have to say that I was very glad when the book was finished. This is a book with no real substance,just an initially good idea which did not at all deliver, in my opinion.
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38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A poignant piece of magical realism, May 3, 2010
This review is from: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel (Hardcover)
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Several reviewers have done a fine job of describing the characters and plot of Aimee Bender's lovely new novel, "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake," and I see no reason to be redundant by reviewing the same material. However, I think a word is in order about the differing reaction among reviewers to this work.

Aimee Bender's magical realism, the use of the fantastical to explore the depths of the human heart, belongs to a particular tradition of writing. While to my mind Bender continues to be one of the finest practitioners of this tradition - a gift once again demonstrated by "Lemon Cake," through its tender humor and memorizing sparse prose - this is not a genre that appeals to every reader. Enjoying magical realism requires the ability to accept the unbelievable; where good science fiction should be built on a cogently described and internally consistent universe, magical realism asks that the reader simply agree to the author's premise and join them on the journey.

Consider for a moment the magic of Rose Edelstein, gifted and cursed with the ability to taste the emotional state of those that prepare her food. The how and the why of this are to a large extent superfluous. In the case of some magical realism this could be metaphor, though here it as much a vehicle, allowing Bender to explore the barriers which form the contours of life: between adults and children, between siblings, and between our internal and external lives. The emotional resonance of this novel lies in the fallout from Rose's power, rather than the power itself, as she finds herself peering into the inner lives of all those around her, trying with a child's mind to understand what she's shown. Bender paints her as a sympathetic, funny girl in various stages of her youth, beginning at age nine. As with some of Bender's other works, she demonstrates a particular gift for capturing the voice of adolescents and showing us the world through their eyes.

As I said, this is not a novel for everyone, but its poignancy and depth, as well as the talent of its extraordinary author, are beyond dispute.
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46 of 55 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars No No No No!, February 3, 2011
This review is from: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel (Hardcover)
Oh my. Wow. This book is so bad. I love magical realism. What an awful waste of a great premise. The book totally went nowhere.

SPOILER:

I kept reading because I thought something would happen. The climax: she learns that her brother's disappearances throughout her teen years are because he turns into furniture. Forget the fact that she can read emotions of the maker of the food she eats. Forget the family dynamics. Forget all the other nothingness that happens. Read that last sentance again...her brother turns into furniture. Not figuratively, literally. And his choice of furniture? A chair. Seriously. He then disappears forever. Presumably because he turned into the chair. Forever. Why? We don't know. He doesn't do anything as a chair. He doesn't have any experiences to relay as a chair. He doesn't communicate to her as a chair. Nothing.

Do not waste your time on this. I can't believe it has gotten so many high reviews. I picked the book because of that and I want to balance the stars. No...no...no...do not waste your time.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Would have been better as a short story, August 13, 2010
This review is from: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel (Hardcover)
Great concept, poor choice for a novel. Main character Rose has a form of psychic synesthesia, in which she can taste the feelings of others through the food they've cooked. Her family is depressed and each member has a unique way of dealing with ennui. Very typical Bender characters, melancholy and lonely semi-geniuses. Very imaginative though I wouldn't necessarily call it magic realism. More like poetic realism. She often writes odd stories with a strong emotional side, and I've always been taken in by her strangeness. Her writing style is spare and deeply poetic, sometimes beautifully evocative.

BUT... the concept fails as a novel. It's a great, moving idea worthy of a short story or even a novella, but ends up feeling stretched and pulled achingly into a novel. Bender is a master of short stories (check out The Girl in the Flammable Skirt for some pure, good writing). But I feel like her novels try too hard to be novels, try too hard to be something bigger or more emotionally substantial than they need to be, when the original idea is solid enough already (definitely also felt this way with her first novel, An Invisible Sign of My Own). Tightened back up into a short story or novella, this could be brilliant and so sharp. As a novel, it's too stretched-out and weak, left me feeling draggy and tired by the end.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars brutal, September 15, 2010
This review is from: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel (Hardcover)
i had high hopes for this book...I saw it reviewed as a good summer read on the Today show one day and picked it up. I agree with another review's comments...no development whatsoever of plot, and you begin to dread the characters...it goes from one interesting trait of a little girl that could have turned into a superhero-like quality or somehow something positive and useful to the world...Something! but she flounders around with no spine and no personality for Years not knowing what to do with herself or how to defend herself...it's like any minute you're waiting for one of the characters to end it all...so depressing and so bizarre...i didn't even know what genre to classify it as...and the cover said it had funny moments...i trudged through it waiting for them but they never showed...and Good Grief, the brother in the story...like a human slug! awful, awful. don't waste your time. I don't know what the author's other books are like, but I definitely won't be checking out another to find out!
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Started out with promise, ended with a fizzle, August 5, 2010
By 
Kimberly (Inverness, FL) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel (Hardcover)
Several pages in, it's obvious the author is a gifted writer. Her way of telling a story pulls you right in, like any pleasant experience. It's been a long time since I've read a book that has made me say, "Wow, that was a great story." I thought "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake" was going to be one of those. The conclusion didn't need to be wrapped in a neat package for me to enjoy but as it turns out, it wasn't even a satisfying read. As the story progressed, it lost clarity. Although Joseph is obviously suffering a great deal, his "special skill" is not in line with those of his parent and sibling. The metaphor for his pain and (I'm guessing) desire to disappear doesn't make sense; it was actually silly. I kept hoping the puzzle would come together but it remained unfinished, as though a crucial piece was missing. The author was self-indulgent and thus shortchanged her readers. What could have been a great story was ruined by an either overthought out subplot or an underdeveloped one. Too bad! I wish I would have read the reviews before I purchased it; I feel like it was a waste of time.
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The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: A Novel by Aimee Bender (Hardcover - June 1, 2010)
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