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The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

I was wondering what happen to my Phantom of the Opera book review? There is no comment received. Not even one. I thought this is strange. I love this book! Is there anyone out there who think the same??! 🙂

It is funny that I read a lot more when I was ill than I was well. Remember I told you I was down with chicken pox last weekend? Well while the rest of the world was doing Dewey 24-hour readathon, I was doing sort of mine, finishing 2.5 books in a weekend. This is one of them.

What is it:

On the eve of her 9th birthday, Rose Edelstein 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 slice.

It tasted so bad that she avoids eating her mother’s cooking, choosing instead to have factory processed food, so that she wouldn’t taste her mother’s despair and desperation.

Rose’s gift means she has to confront the truth behind her family’s emotions – her mother’s sadness, her father’s detachment and her brother’s isolation from the world. But as Rose grows up, she learns that there are some secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.

Why I read it:

The blurb did it for me. Biting into a lemon chocolate cake and tasted mother’s emotion. What an interesting idea! that, on top of the fact that this book has been staring in my face in every  book store, in the train station and in the library.

What I thought:

I thought it was a lovely read, at the first part of the book. Besides dealing with her special gift, Rose is facing her own growing pain. She feels happy to walk alongside her brother Joseph and his friend George, whom Rose developed a crush on. Mom appears sad in parts of Rose’s growing up years but when mom became a little happy she acted a little strange as well. Dad is being dad. Distant and detached. Joseph is strange as well, he disappears without warning and reappears without warning too, like an apparition.

Every member of the family seems to go through some sort of inner turmoil. Mom is unhappy, Joseph is disappointed and despondent because he didn’t get admitted to ivy league universities. It was the turning point that Joseph’s behaviour became more and more strange.

The second part of the book is darker. It sort of “grow up” as Aimee is in her late teens and her brother seems to fall deeper and deeper into some form of depression or emotional trouble. We were never told why. Her brother seems to possess a different kind of gift but it was never explain explicitly what the gift was. I thought I was the only one, I thought I missed something, other reviews have disclosed the same sort of bewilderment. Something happen to Joseph, Joseph turns into a chair! What does that mean? This is so weird. (sorry I may have just spoil it for you but I can’t for the world figure out what happen to Joseph). Dad also has some kind of adverse reaction to visiting hospitals. Perhaps some kind of gift that he is able to sense if he is in the hospital but we were never told what it was.

Favourite line:

My favourite Doritos flavour

But the day was darkening outside, and as I finished that first bite, as that first impression faded, I felt a subtle shift inside, an unexpected reaction……None of it was a bad taste, so much, but there was a kind of lack of wholeness to the flavours that made it taste hollow, like the lemon and chocolate were just surrounding a hollowness. My mother’s able hands had made the cake, and her mind had known how to balance the ingredients, but she was not there, in it. – page 11

What is good about a Dorito, I said, in full voice, is that I’m not supposed to pay attention to it. As soon as I do, it tastes like every other ordinary chip. But if I stop paying attention, it becomes the most delicious thing in the world. – page 143

Not true I would say. I taste all of my Dorito slowly and savour every bite. It taste better when I pay attention to it!

Getting the final word in:

The book was an easy read. I like reading about the taste of food and family troubles. Besides that, I felt there were nothing substantial to the book. Like Aimee’s mother’s cake, it tasted “hollow”. I didn’t like the book that much. Not sure what the rave was all about, as readers of women magazines gave the book a raving review.


Paperback. Publisher: Windmills 2011; Length: 325 pages; Setting: LA. Source: Reading Battle Library copy. Finished reading on the 14th October 2012.

Other view: 

Ti@book chatterGood or bad. I enjoy reading books like this because they are weighty, without being dense and give you plenty to think about. Overall, a good read.

Limebird uk: This book is definitely for you if you enjoy a bit of magical realism and also the strong emotional language used. It could also be for you if you enjoy the rich descriptions of food in books, but if you’re a foodie you might not enjoy the fact that Rose resents food for the feelings she gets from them. I also quite liked Rose as a character and felt her quite relatable and won’t be forgetting her voice soon.

About the writer:

Aimee Bender (born June 28, 1969) is an American novelist and short story writer, known for her surreal plots and characters.

She has named Oscar Wilde, Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm and Anne Sexton as influences on her writing. A native of Los Angeles, Bender is a close friend of fellow UCI alumna Alice Sebold.

Her first book was The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, a collection of short stories, published in 1998. The book was chosen as a New York Times Notable Book of 1998 and spent seven weeks on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list. Her novel An Invisible Sign of My Own was published in 2000, and was named as a Los Angeles Times Pick of the Year.


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


22 thoughts on “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

  1. I associate lemon cake with sadness ever since Clint Eastwood orders lemon cake at the very end of “Million Dollar Baby”.

    Posted by Andreas Moser | October 19, 2012, 8:06 pm
  2. I read your Phantom review, well, a bit of it, but I don’t know the book, and I didn’t have time to linger on the review. 🙂

    Lemon Cake is a book I’m not sure about, I wanted to read it at first but read some other mixed reviews about it. Your 2.5 stars should warn me not to read it, and still…

    Posted by Leeswammes | October 19, 2012, 8:07 pm
    • Judith,
      I have a feeling you may like it more than I do. Give it a go, I would be interested to hear what you think? 🙂
      It’s a weird book. I am not sure I like it that much unfortunately.

      Posted by JoV | October 19, 2012, 8:11 pm
  3. The chair thing. They all hid from their talents. They didn’t know how to use them to any advantage. She could taste emotions but what did she ever do with the knowledge? Nothing. As a kid I understood, but when she grew up she still didn’t have a grasp of what she was.

    Her brother was odder. He just sort of disappeared when things got rough. He wasn’t very good with his talent and often could not change himself back. Hence the long absence.

    Posted by Ti | October 19, 2012, 8:39 pm
    • Ti,
      I think Joseph could be invisible when he wants to. You are right to say they didn’t know what they can do with their gifts. It was sad that Aimee grew up to be a dishwasher. Not that there is any shame in the profession but it felt as if she has given up living her life to the fullest.

      Posted by JoV | October 19, 2012, 8:55 pm
  4. I have seen so many glowing reviews for this book, but there was something about the descriptions that made me think it wasn’t for me. Yuor review has confirming this – thanks for the warning!

    Posted by farmlanebooks | October 20, 2012, 10:01 am
  5. I quite enjoyed this book and liked the elements of magical realism, all though the thing that happens to the brother is a bit farfetched. Still I gave the book 4 stars. But I love foodie books and magical realism so a mix of the two tends to score high with me anyway.

    Posted by Uniflame | October 20, 2012, 11:38 am
  6. I have this one on my shelf, but I haven’t yet had a chance to read it. Like you, I’m intrigued by the concept of the book – food as an indication of emotions.

    Posted by Athira | October 20, 2012, 3:00 pm
  7. One of the few books this year I did not finish, I just didn’t look forward to picking this book up when it came time to relax and read and I hate that feeling, so I quickly started another book in fear that I’d lost that lovin’ feeling for books. Just didn’t enjoy hanging out with this crew and abandoned halfway through, might have been because i had high expectations, a friend recommended it and on the strength of that I even bought it as a gift for my stepmother for Christmas.

    Posted by Claire 'Word by Word' | October 20, 2012, 5:10 pm
    • Claire,
      I’m sorry you didn’t like it Claire. I hate it when my expectations are set up high and only to get disappointed. I think chick lit and stuff that women magazines recommended just wouldn’t work for me. 😦 Nevertheless, I hope your stepmother like it though.

      Posted by JoV | October 20, 2012, 7:11 pm
  8. I think I’ll have to return to your Phantom of the Opera review after I’ve read it 🙂 Promise! As for The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake… I’ve actually checked it out twice from my library and returned it unread. Not sure why… it just didn’t appeal to me much.

    Posted by Chinoiseries | October 21, 2012, 1:08 pm
  9. This book reminded me a bit of Like Water for Chocolate, I suppose because of the magical realism. Yet tasting someone’s emotion from what they’ve made, or touched, or given doesn’t seem that bizarre to me when I think about it. I’m so ultra sensitive to others’ emotions that whe combined with my own I can hardly bear it sometimes.

    Posted by Bellezza | October 21, 2012, 7:51 pm
    • Bellezza,
      Today I was wondering the same Bellezza. I thought if I am oblivion to people’s feeling around me, I would have bulldozed my way through a lot of decisions and be a bit more bold in life. Unfortunately because I feel it too much, I’m affected by it.
      Added to this if you are great in cooking, you will taste emotions in the food. As a general rule, a dish cook with love tastes thousand times better! 🙂

      Posted by JoV | October 22, 2012, 7:28 pm
  10. I read this lkast year after I saw on wiki she had be compared to Italo Calvino ,Now that might be the problem I didn’t really like it but rahter than review it I thought I read it again at a later date ,maybe I want something more in line with Calvino’s works and world .But she is a writer I want to try again ,all the best stu

    Posted by winstonsdad | October 23, 2012, 12:43 pm
    • Stu,
      I haven’t read Calvino yet but I think comparing Aimee with the likes of the great Calvino may seems undeserving maybe because I didn’t see any greatness in her work. I think Aimee Bender’s work may appeal to some readers, unfortunately it doesn’t work for me.

      Posted by JoV | October 23, 2012, 6:58 pm
  11. Awww, only 2 1/2 stars! I’m reading the book right now and liking it so far but I must say, it’s a really strange one, even for me, and I like strange. I didn’t get that part about the chair either… This book is so sad, it reminds me of The Virgin Suicides by Eugenides. It took me a while to recover from that one.

    Posted by Delia (Postcards from Asia) | November 27, 2012, 3:46 pm
    • Delia,
      It’s just too bizarre for me. I have read many bizarre books and I thought Murakami’s bizarre’s story I can take but not this particular sadness of a lemon cake which seems like a rather quiet and underwhelming read. I know I am suppose to like subtle book but for some reason this one doesn’t work for me. I must read Virgin Suicides soon! I have a copy at home. 🙂

      Posted by JoV | November 28, 2012, 11:13 pm

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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