Posted in Books

Reasons to DNF

I DNF (book blogger for “did not finish”) books all the time.

Last month, I DNFed 9 books.

Just this week, I DNFed 2.

I’m able to do this thanks to a high school English teacher who said, “Life is too short to read books you don’t like.”

She was right.

Continue reading “Reasons to DNF”

Posted in Books

Book Betrayal: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Believe it or not, I love this book.

Perhaps “love” is a strong word for the conflicting emotions I feel. I went in expecting a different story, but rereads have shown the prose gets stronger with age. I appreciate what Bender does with her character’s emotions, even if the symbolism goes over my head.

So no, this book never betrayed me.

It betrayed my friend Laura.

That spring, nine of us traveled to Chehalis for a college mission trip. For our free day, we walked on the beach, bought ice cream, and hit up a book store. While Laura giggled at the serious titles, I stumbled onto this book:

Image result for particular sadness of lemon cake

A couple of things:

  • I love anything with a birthday motif. I’ve bought MANY books because of promised birthday adventures. I’m just now noticing the similarities:

    Maybe I’ve been collecting these books as a way to relive this reading experience? So far I’ve failed; I haven’t liked a single one of the above books.

  • I get a sense of the story’s sadness from the cover, perhaps because of the creepy, looming shadow I just noticed. But the alternate cover?

    Supersad 1
    Something tells me this edition sold very well in France.

GIRL! IT’S JUST CAKE! CHILL!

But anyway.

Sadness? Cake? Magic? I didn’t care how much the book cost; I wanted it.

I showed this book to everyone in my group. Reactions ranged from “Huh,” to “THAT’S SO WEIRD.” (Conservative Christians have a low tolerance for whimsy.)

I passed the book to Laura.

To my surprise, she laughed. “That sounds HILARIOUS.”

I GET that I’m not the most accurate judge of books, but nothing about this book screamed “laugh riot.” “Um, I don’t think-”

“Let me know how it is!”

We were stuck together for the next week, so I agreed.

We went back to our lodgings. While everyone else made dinner, I locked myself in my room to read. I was too young for Aimee Bender’s brand of deep melancholy, but I found the story “enjoyable” and “interesting.”

The next day, Laura asked for an update each time we passed in the hall on the way to our respective projects. “How’s the book? Hysterical?”

I struggled to temper her expectations without shutting her down; more often than not, I smiled and said, “It’s great!”

“Can’t wait to read it!” Laura would call over her shoulder.

I finished the book sometime that night. I lay in my bed for as long as I was allowed, absorbing the Great Sadness of the World.

I handed Laura the book the next morning over breakfast. “It was good,” I said, still carrying the Great Sadness of the World. “I liked it.”

When friends say this to me, I assume a “but” is coming.

Laura wasn’t nearly as cynical as I am. “Great! I can’t wait! It looks SOOOOO funny!”

At this point, I’d started to have some dark thoughts.

I’d spent five days with these people sharing meals and bathrooms and tools, listening to the same 20-song playlist for the whole of our 8-hour workday, hauling firewood to avoid another tense afternoon in the linen closet.

I only had an hour or so to myself each night where I tried to squeeze in some quality reading time before my body shut down; even then I could heard my team members laughing and making fart noises in the hallway.

So when Laura insisted yet again that a book with “sadness” in the title would be a jolly good time, I did worse than snap: I refused to warn her.

“HAHA, YEP, ENJOY!” I said, sprinting off to scarf down another Costco muffin.

I watched Laura over the next couple of days for signs that she was carrying the Great Sadness of the World. While we repainted some walls, I asked, “So…how’s the book?”

Laura’s personality was 90% positive adjectives. It was hard to get recommendations from her that weren’t “AWESOME” or “FANTASTIC” or “AMAZING.” Everything, from K-Pop to J. J. Abrams, astonished her. “It’s…interesting.”

I saw the betrayal on her face. I should have felt guilty. I didn’t. I still don’t.

She handed the book back to me without a word a day later.

“Is that the cake book?” a teammate called. “It looked SO WEIRD!”

Laura said nothing. I enjoyed a brief pocket of silence, my “weird” book shielding me from my teammates’ conversation.

I haven’t heard from Laura in years.

Posted in Books

Book Betrayal: The Cake Therapist by Judith Fertig

After writing about so many disappointing books, it seems a bit dramatic to cite one as the Worst Betrayal of All.

Good thing I minored in drama. (Only metaphorically. Just go with it.)

Which book destroyed my reading freedom like a terrorist?

WELCOME, FOLKS, TO JUDITH FERTIG’S THE CAKE THERAPIST!!

The Cake Therapist by Judith Fertig

If you want me to like you, buy me books.

If you want me to love you, let me buy my own.

Graduating from college netted me cash and gift cards from various relatives, including my brother’s-in-laws. Because they don’t know me well, they sent me a nice note and a Barnes and Noble gift card.

I couldn’t wait to spend it.

With celebratory spirit I entered Maplewood Mall’s giant Barnes and Noble, skirting away from my aunt’s beloved used section to ogle the New Releases.

There I saw the perfect book.

Image result for the cake therapist
Oh. My. Word.

An imaginary salesman popped up next to me as I drooled over the cover: “This book has EVERYTHING: rainbow cakes, magical realism, plot for DAYS…just LOOK at that cover!”

My aunt came over to squint at the price tag. “You could get FOUR used books for this price,” she muttered.

I ignored her and bought the book anyway.

I should have listened.

I’d purchased a similar book three years earlier called The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (and I have a great story about how that book betrayed someone else…but now is not the time.) In it, the protagonist learns she can taste others’ emotions in the food they make, something she discovers after her dissatisfied mother bakes her a  birthday cake. I read that book expecting it to lean into the magical realism and found a very different story waiting for me. Though the story’s magical elements play less of a role than I expected, they still serve a purpose in exploring the emotions of the protagonist and her outlook on the people in her life.

Long story short: the flavor ability functions as an exploratory tool rather than a gimmick.

Here’s how The Cake Therapist betrayed me:

Judith Fertig used an interesting premise to sell a boring 1940’s mystery.

This gif is perfect

Much like the character I described above, protagonist Neely can taste feelings in food. More interestingly, she can pinpoint the particular flavor someone needs to either incite or quell a specific emotion. I thought that sounded PRETTY NEAT, like this decade’s Chocolat. Right? RIGHT, JUDITH?

A look at the cover reveals specific uses for different flavors: cinnamon for remembrance, orange for wake-up calls, and plum for…pep, I guess?

Surprise! Those are the only three flavors discussed in the book!

I’d pictured Neely acting as a therapist in secret; she’d listen to her friends blab about their problems and make them a “pick-me-up” that, through unique flavor combinations and witchery, would tap into their emotions and make them feel better.

I was excited to see what flavors Fertig assigned to different personalities. DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW FASCINATING THAT PROSPECT IS TO ME, JUDITH? YOU ESSENTIALLY UNLOCKED A NEW SORTING HAT. IMAGINE THE POSSIBILITIES: VANILLA LOVERS LACK DISCIPLINE, RED VELVET EATERS NEED AFFECTION, AND SO ON AND SO FORTH.

Neely pulls the “therapist” act maybe twice, though I can’t remember in what context. She spends most of her time trying to remember a flavor she just can’t recall.

But enough of that noise; there’s a mystery afoot!

The novel kept jumping back in time to the 1940s to take a not-so-interesting look at a poor Jewish family living in Neely’s hometown. I knew the flashbacks had to have some importance, but I couldn’t figure out what this gritty historical tale was doing in a chipper magic cake novel.

At the very end, Fertig tried to tie the two stories together by having Neely solve a decades-old mystery with her magic powers. I felt gypped. Where was the cake therapy? Where were the flavor assignments? If anything, the “cake therapist” portions felt like padding for a poor man’s Brooklyn.

All along, Neely’s magical reputation was a gimmick. Fertig showed no actual interest in the idea beyond using it as a framing device for her actual plot.

How DARE you, Judith.

Oh, and the flavor Neely was trying so hard to remember? Cinnamon.

Girl, how could you not remember cinnamon!? What is wrong with you!?

cute shrug.gif

Somebody solve THAT mystery.