Book Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.

The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.  
Release Date: June 1, 2010
Age Group: Adult
Publisher: Knopf
Source: Library

This was one of the weirdest books I have ever read.  And that is saying a lot.  I believe  that The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is considered magical realism.  I've never read magical realism before but thought that the premise sounded interesting.  And, so, when I saw a copy in my local library, I snatched it up, excited to try something new and different.  The excitement soon fizzled for me, due to a slow plot, heavy writing and an unbelievable twist at the end that just ruined the book for me.


I never do this but I have to tell you what ruined this book for me.  I can accept the fact that Rose has a special gift.  She can taste the emotions in food.  Okay.  I get it.  But, not only can she tell what kind of mood the person who prepared her food is in, she can also tell where the food is from (including how the animals were fed and treated and if the food is organic or not).  These are two very different things and I thought Bender should have focused on one or the other.

So, keeping that in mind, I thought that this book would focus on Rose's gift and be a nice, unique, fun read.  It was not.  Rose's family is so depressing, I felt depressed the entire time I was reading.  Until I got to the end of the book, then I got mad.  Rose's brother has been disappearing for hours or days at a time.  No one knows where he is going or what is happening.  Rose goes to his apartment to find him and he is stuck in his chair.  Do you know WHY he is stuck?  Because his legs have morphed into the chair legs.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Rose's brother TURNS INTO FURNITURE.  AT WILL.  I had to read the section several times because I could not believe what I was reading!!  His favorite piece of furniture to turn into is a chair belonging to a folding card table set.  The book ends with Joseph as the chair, and Rose keeps the chair, knowing that her brother is inside it.


The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake was not for me.  Others will disagree, and I urge you to try it for yourself.  As for me, I don't think I'm going to be going for much more "magical realism."


  1. I love Magical Realism so I have this one on my TBR. Thanks for the review and the warnings. I look forward to trying it and seeing if it works for me.

    Happy Sunday.

  2. This book has been in my wishlist for a long time.
    The idea of tasting emotions in food are kinda fun, but the origin of the food? Man, I'd rather not know.

  3. Too bad this didn't work for you. I've been wanting to read it but maybe I'll move it down the TBR

  4. I started this one earlier this year, but the slow plot dragged me down. I set it aside for now and hope to pick it up later. Sorry, it didn't work out for you. I hate when that happens!

  5. I read it in a day, I didn't find it slow, but interesting... except for the whole Jacob turning-into-a-chair thing. I didn't get that. She should've just stuck with Rose and her ability to taste people... or the Grandfather being able to smell people, that was ok. But turning into furniture? WTF??

  6. @Anon, yes it was the turning into furniture that killed the book for me. It was just too fantastical, too out there. The tasting of feelings and origin of the food was more than enough magic for me.


Word verification stinks--- but spammers are worse. Thank you for your patience!