The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender
ages: adult
First sentence: “It happened for the first time on a Tuesday afternoon, a warm spring door in the flatlands near Hollywood, a light breeze moving east from the ocean and stirring the black-eyed pansy petals newly planted in our flower boxes.”
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Review copy sent to me by the publisher.

I was sitting on the computer, idly watching my Twitter feed when I noticed that Heather at Capricious Reader mentioned that she picked up this book. A prime opportunity for a buddy read… and so I proposed it. Thankfully, she was game to go along!

The basic story is about Rose who, at nine years old, discovers that she can “read” people’s feelings through the food she eats. It’s only the feelings of the people who pick or prepare the food, but it’s an incredibly unsettling experience. The book follows her journey as she figures out what the feelings mean, how to understand them, and how to deal with the fall out from what she knows. In addition, the book explores the dynamics within Rose’s family, with her hovering, yet disconnected mother; her distant father; and her very odd older brother.

Melissa: I wanted to read this book for two reasons: the cover looks sooo yummy, and I was looking for something similar to Sarah Addison Allen’s books, and readers on Twitter — don’t remember who — suggested Aimee Bender. How about you?

Heather: Pretty much the same reason. That cover is hard to resist! I also thought the premise sounded interesting. What did you think of Rose and her special ability?

Melissa: I thought it was an interesting idea, to be able to sense the places ingredients are from, to be able to sense the feelings of the cook. But nine seemed a little… young to handle it. I guess that was part of the story, though: Rose’s inability to handle her skill. There were moments in the book when I thought Bender captured the essence of Rose’s gift perfectly… the angst, the discovery, the learning. But, there were times when I wanted to smack the characters upside the head? What did you think?

Heather: About the same! I thought it was a very interesting idea. Nine did seem young, especially having to face such adult feelings coming from her mother, but like you said, I think that was part of the story. I also wondered what I would do, or anyone really, could do that and how they would react to it. I thought the fact that Rose, for the most part, kept it a secret was spot on. I don’t think I would want anyone to know that! Yet, at the same time, I was thinking if I could do that, I would want to help everyone FEEL BETTER and that could potentially make you go nuts. And I totally wanted to smack her father upside the head! And her brother too! What did you think of what happened to him?

Melissa: How much do I manage to answer that without giving too much away?!? Actually, I thought the subplot with the brother was the weakest part of the book. I kept wanting more Rose, more exploration of the food, more exploration of how Rose handles the food and less with her brother. Okay, he’s weird. And I got that he was doing weird stuff, but… it just wasn’t interesting? I think it would have been a different book had maybe Bender glanced at Rose’s childhood, but spent more time with Rose after she developed into her own; I wanted to know more about the cafe owners. Though, on the other hand, perhaps Bender was looking at the family dynamic as a whole?

Heather: I kept thinking he seems so autistic and no one seemed to want to help him. I mean, did anyone try to figure out what was wrong with him? In fact, it seemed he was encouraged to escape. He was definitely different and I agree, it felt kind of week. Almost like Bender wouldn’t even figure out what to do with him!

I think she was looking more at the family dynamic. It seemed Rose was the most normal, even with her “skills.” I thought their whole interaction was pretty interesting. They were always so together (eating meals together, watching TV together, etc), to not seem to know anything about each other. Well, except for Rose, of course. What did you think of their dynamic?

Be sure to head over to Heather’s for the rest of the conversation.

6 thoughts on “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

  1. I was instantly attracted to the cover, title and premise of this book when I first heard about it from Bookmarks Magazine.

    I LOVE the format of this review. I feel as though I am a part of a book club – an experience that I long for but have yet to take part.

    I am most anxious to read the rest of the conversation 🙂


  2. I've been looking forward to this book for awhile and reading your discussion was a lot of fun!

    I'm going to HAVE to go this one now. Thanks for sharing!


  3. The book was so sloooow. I'm not a fan. The audiobook version is terrible and a great example of why an author should not read her own book. Yikes!
    At least The Idea was intriguing and the detail superb. Still… the pacing was awful.


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