The Sugar Queen

The Sugar Queen

4.3 725
by Sarah Addison Allen

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In this irresistible novel, Sarah Addison Allen, author of the New York Times bestselling debut, Garden Spells, tells the tale of a young woman whose family secrets—and secret passions—are about to change her life forever.

Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a

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In this irresistible novel, Sarah Addison Allen, author of the New York Times bestselling debut, Garden Spells, tells the tale of a young woman whose family secrets—and secret passions—are about to change her life forever.

Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…. Until she finds her closet harboring Della Lee Baker, a local waitress who is one part nemesis—and two parts fairy godmother. With Della Lee’s tough love, Josey’s narrow existence quickly expands. She even bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who is hounded by books that inexplicably appear when she needs them—and who has a close connection to Josey’s longtime crush. Soon Josey is living in a world where the color red has startling powers, and passion can make eggs fry in their cartons. And that’s just for starters.

Brimming with warmth, wit, and a sprinkling of magic, here is a spellbinding tale of friendship, love—and the enchanting possibilities of every new day.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Like the most decadently addictive bonbons, once started, Allen’s magically entrancing novel is impossible to put down."—Booklist, starred review

“Bewitching…. Such a pleasurable book.”—Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly

Ariadne Meyers's warm and whimsical performance invigorates a colorful cast of characters. Since most of them come from the same small North Carolina town, nearly all carry Southern accents, yet Meyers makes each voice uniqueand believable: the elderly yet forceful and intimidating tone of imperious Margaret; the initially soft, timid voice of Josey, which grows stronger and more confident as the book goes on; the sassy, brassy twang of feisty Della Lee; the lazy, sexy drawl of charming-but-dangerous Julian. The abridgement is seamless. Meyers' rich, nuanced performance adds an extra dimension and will keep listeners captivated from beginning to end. A Bantam hardcover (Reviews, May 5). (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Allen follows her New York Times bestselling debut, Garden Spells, with this story of love, redemption, and choosing happiness. Narrator Karen White (Luncheon of the Boating Party) gets the Southern idiosyncrasies and gentility down pat, and while she effectively creates unique male characters, she has a greater range of personality from which to choose with the quirky female protagonists. This work of magical realism will keep listeners hungry for more. [Also available from Random House Audio as a retail ed. abridged CD (ISBN 9780739368664)
—Jodi L. Israel

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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8.24(w) x 5.54(h) x 0.66(d)

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Chapter One

Everlasting Gobstoppers

When Josey woke up and saw the feathery frost on her windowpane, she smiled. Finally, it was cold enough to wear long coats and tights. It was cold enough for scarves and shirts worn in layers, like camouflage. It was cold enough for her lucky red cardigan, which she swore had a power of its own. She loved this time of year. Summer was tedious with the light dresses she pretended to be comfortable in while secretly sure she looked like a loaf of white bread wearing a belt. The cold was such a relief.

She went to the window. A fine sheen of sugary frost covered everything in sight, and white smoke rose from chimneys in the valley below the resort town. Excited, she opened the window, but the sash stuck midway and she had to pound it the rest of the way with the palm of her hand. It finally opened to a rush of sharp early November air that would have the town in a flurry of activity, anticipating the tourists the colder weather always brought to the high mountains of North Carolina.

She stuck her head out and took a deep breath. If she could eat the cold air, she would. She thought cold snaps were like cookies, like gingersnaps. In her mind they were made with white chocolate chunks and had a cool, brittle vanilla frosting. They melted like snow in her mouth, turning creamy and warm.

Just before she ducked her head back inside, she looked down and noticed something strange.

There was a ladder propped against the house, directly underneath her window.

She leaned back in quickly and closed her window. She paused, then she locked it.

She turned and walked to her closet, distracted now. She hadn't heard anything strange last night. The tree trimmers from yesterday must have left the ladder. Yes. That had to be it. They'd probably propped it against the house and then completely forgotten about it.

She opened her closet door and reached up to pull the string that turned on the light.

Then she screamed and backed away, stopping only when she hit her desk and her lamp crashed to the floor.

"Oh for God's sake," the woman sitting on the floor of her closet said, "don't have a cow."

"Josey?" She heard her mother's voice in the hall, then the thud of her cane as she came closer.

"Please don't tell her I'm here," the woman in the closet said, with a strange sort of desperation. Despite the cold outside, she was wearing a cropped white shirt and tight dark blue jeans that sat low, revealing a tattoo of a broken heart on her hip. Her hair was bleached white-blond with about an inch of silver-sprinkled dark roots showing. Her mascara had run and there were black streaks on her cheeks. She looked drip-dried, like she'd been walking in the rain, though there hadn't been rain for days. She smelled like cigarette smoke and river water.

Josey turned her head as her bedroom door began to open. Then, in a small act that changed everything, Josey reached over and pushed the closet door closed as her mother entered the room.

"Josey? What was that noise? Are you all right?" Margaret asked. She'd been a beautiful woman in her day, delicate and trim, blue-eyed and fair-haired. There was a certain power beautiful mothers held over their less beautiful daughters. Even at seventy-four, with a limp from a hip replacement, Margaret could still enter a room and fill it like perfume. Josey could never do that. The closest she ever came was the attention she used to receive when she pitched legendary fits in public when she was young. But that was making people look at her for all the wrong reasons.

"My lamp," Josey said. "It attacked me out of nowhere."

"Oh, well," Margaret said distantly, "leave it for the maid to clean. Hurry up and get dressed. My doctor's appointment is at nine."

"Yes, Mother."

Margaret closed the bedroom door. Josey waited until the clump of her cane faded away before she rushed to the closet door and opened it again.

Most locals knew who Della Lee was. She waitressed at a greasy spoon called Eat and Run, which was tucked far enough outside the town limits that the ski-crowd tourists didn't see it. She haunted bars at night. She was probably in her late thirties, maybe ten years older than Josey, and she was rough and flashy and did whatever she wanted—no reasonable explanation required.

"Della Lee Baker, what are you doing in my closet?"

"You shouldn't leave your window unlocked. Who knows who could get in?" Della Lee said, single-handedly debunking the long-held belief that if you dotted your windowsills and door thresholds with peppermint oil, no unwanted visitors would ever appear. For years Josey's mother had instructed every maid in their employ to anoint the house's casings with peppermint to keep the undesirables away. Their house now smelled like the winter holidays all year round.

Josey took a step back and pointed. "Get out."

"I can't."

"You most certainly can."

"I need a place to hide."

"I see. And of course this was the first place you thought of."

"Who would look for me here?"

Rough women had rough ways. Was Della Lee trying to tell her that she was in danger? "Okay, I'll bite. Who's looking for you, Della Lee?"

"Maybe no one. Maybe they haven't discovered I'm missing yet." Then, to Josey's surprise, Della Lee reached over to the false wall at the back of the narrow closet and slid it open. "And speaking of discoveries, look what I found."

Revealed now was the large secret space behind the closet. There were stacks of paperback romances, magazines and catalogs on the floor, but most of the secret closet was occupied by shelves piled with food—packaged snacks, rows of sweets, towers of colas.

Josey's entire body suddenly burned with panic. She was supposed to be happy. And most of the time she supposed she was, in an awkward, sleepy kind of way. She'd never be the beauty her mother was, or have the personality of her late father. She was pale and plain and just this side of plump, and she accepted that. But food was a comfort. It filled in the hollow spaces. And it felt good to hide it, because then she could enjoy it alone without worrying about what others thought, or about letting her mother down.

"I need to figure some things out first," Della Lee said, sliding the door back in place, her point made. She was letting Josey know that she knew her secret. Don't reveal mine and I won't reveal yours. "Then I'll be moving up north."

"You can't stay here. I'll give you some money. You can stay in a motel." Josey started to turn, to get her wallet, to get Della Lee away from her food. But then she stopped. "Wait. You're leaving Bald Slope?"

"Like you don't dream of leaving this stupid town," Della Lee said, leaning back on her hands.

"Don't be ridiculous. I'm a Cirrini."

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't those travel magazines in your secret closet?"

Josey bristled. She pointed again. "Get out."

"It looks like I got here just in time. This is not the closet of a happy woman, Josey."

"At least I'm not hiding in it."

"I bet you do sometimes."

"Get out."


"That's it. I'm calling the police."

Della Lee laughed. She actually sat there and laughed at Josey. Her front teeth were a little crooked, but it looked good on her, offbeat and sassy. She was the kind of woman who could get away with anything because she had no boundaries. "And what will you say? There's a woman in your closet, come get her out? They might find your stash."

Josey thought about calling Della Lee's bluff. It would serve her right. It might even be worth everyone knowing about the food in her closet. But then her heart began to beat harder. Who was she kidding? It was embarrassing enough being such a sorry excuse for a Southern belle. Her weight, her unfortunate hair, her secret dreams of leaving her mother who needed her, of leaving and never looking back. Respectable daughters took care of their mothers. Respectable daughters did not hide enormous amounts of candy in their closets.

"So you stay, you don't tell anyone, is that it?"

"Sure," Della Lee said easily.

"That's blackmail."

"Add it to my list of sins."

"I don't think there's room left on that list," Josey said as she took a dress from its hanger. Then she closed the closet door on Della Lee.

She went to the bathroom down the hall to dress and to pull her very curly, licorice-black hair back into a low ponytail. When she walked back to her bedroom, she stared at her closet door for a moment. It looked completely innocuous. The door and its casing were painted an antique white set against the pale blue of the room. The corner blocks at the top of the casing were hand-carved in a circular bull's-eye pattern. The doorknob was white porcelain, shaped like a mushroom cap.

She took a deep breath and walked to it. Maybe she'd imagined the whole thing.

She opened the door.

"You should wear makeup," Della Lee said.

Josey reached up and grabbed her lucky red cardigan off the high shelf, then closed the door. She put the sweater on and closed her eyes. Go away, go away, go away.

She opened the door again.

"No, really. Mascara. Lip gloss. Something."

Josey sighed. The sweater was probably just rusty. It had been sitting there all summer, after all. Della Lee wouldn't be there when she got home. Good things happened when she wore this sweater. She'd had the best haircut she'd ever had while wearing it. When she'd slept in it once, it snowed for three days straight.

And she'd been wearing it the day she first met Adam.

She closed the door, paused with her hand on the knob, then opened it one last time.

"Eyeliner?" Della Lee said.

Josey turned and walked away.

The Cirrinis' new maid spoke very little English.

She was hired earlier in the year to help Margaret bathe after her hip replacement. But Helena could never quite grasp what was required of her. She would sit on the lowered toilet lid, her eyes averted, anxiously wringing her hands while Margaret sat in the tub and played charades to get her to understand soap. So Josey ended up doing it.

She was hired to do the grocery shopping. But the first day she was sent off to the market with a grocery list, she spent two hours crying on the front porch, her tears falling into the flower pots where mysterious South American tropical flowers later sprouted without explanation. So Josey ended up doing that too.

Basically, Helena's duties now were light housekeeping, preparing meals and learning English by gossiping with Margaret. Her bedroom was on the first floor, and she anxiously popped her head out of her door every time Josey happened to venture downstairs after bedtime.

When Josey and Margaret arrived home from Margaret's doctor's appointment, Josey heard the vacuum cleaner humming upstairs. That was a good sign. If Helena was still doing housework, that meant she hadn't found Della Lee in the closet.

Josey helped her mother into her favorite chair in the sitting room, then she went upstairs, where Helena was vacuuming the runner in the hallway.

Josey approached Helena and tapped her on the shoulder to get her attention. She got her attention, all right. Helena screamed and ran down the hall without even turning around to see who it was. The vacuum cleaner, still on, fell to the floor and started eating the fringe of the runner.

"Helena, wait!" Josey called, running after her. She caught up with her before she reached the corner at the end of the hall that led to the narrow kitchen staircase. "It's okay! It's just me!"

Helena stopped and turned. "Oldsey?" she said dubiously, like she'd expected someone else.

"Yes. It's me. I didn't mean to scare you. Are you okay?"

Helena put her hand to her heart, breathing heavily. She nodded and hurried back to the vacuum cleaner. She unplugged it, then knelt to pull the runner's fringe from where it had wrapped around the vacuum's beater bar.

Josey followed, saying, "Helena, did you, um, clean up the broken lamp in my bedroom?"

"I clean." She stood and crossed herself, then she kissed the crucifix on her necklace. "Oldsey's room strange today."

"Strange? Did you see anything . . . unusual?"

"See, no. Feel. Cold in Oldsey's room," she said.

Josey sighed in relief. "Oh, I opened my window earlier, that's all." She smiled. "Don't worry about vacuuming up here. Mother is downstairs in the sitting room."

"Oldgret downstairs?"

"Yes. Margaret is downstairs."

That would keep them both occupied and away from Josey's room for a while. Margaret liked to watch Helena clean. And Helena, as far as she was able, liked to spread the latest gossip from the east side of town, which included the Catholic community center, a place Margaret found simply fascinating in a what-can-the-Baptists-do-that's-better kind of way.

As Helena started wrapping the cord around the vacuum, Josey went to her bedroom. For breakfast she'd eaten what her mother always wanted, a modest bowl of rolled oats and blackberries. Her stomach growled as she stared at her closet. Her food was there. All her lovely food.

The secret closet was the closet in the adjoining room. That bedroom had a huge armoire in it, a ridiculously heavy old Cirrini heirloom. It took up most of one wall and hid that closet. She'd found the door between the two closets by accident, when she would sit in her closet and eat candy she hid in her pockets when she was young. Back then she used to hide from her mother in the secret space just to worry her, but now she stocked it with magazines, paperback romances and sweets. Lots and lots of sweets. Moonpies and pecan rolls, Chick-O-Sticks and Cow Tales, Caramel Creams and Squirrel Nut Zippers, Red Hots and Bit-O-Honey, boxes upon boxes of Little Debbie snack cakes. The space had a comforting smell to it, like Halloween, like sugar and chocolate and crisp plastic wrappers.

Josey took off her coat and put it and her purse on the chaise, then went to the closet. She pulled her lucky cardigan tightly around her, made a wish, then opened the door.

"Did I just hear your maid call you and your mother Oldsey and Oldgret?" Della Lee asked, laughing.

Of course Della Lee found that funny. Some people liked to call Josey and her mother the Cirrini Sisters. Margaret had Josey late in life. Josey was only twenty-seven, so they were essentially calling her an old woman, but they were comparing her to Margaret, who was once the belle of Bald Slope, the woman married to the late, great Marco Cirrini. There were worse things to be called. Margaret didn't like the nickname and discouraged it whenever possible. Margaret was small, fair and ethereal. Josey looked like a thick dark blob next to her. Sisters? Margaret would say. We look nothing alike.

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Sugar Queen 4.3 out of 5 based on 2 ratings. 725 reviews.
kimmier More than 1 year ago
At times funny and at others, touching, this book has between its covers something to please every reader - it is part drama, family saga, romance, thriller and certainly comedy -and it has certainly vaulted onto my top ten list of favorite books. In fact, after reading a borrowed copy (suggested to me by a friend), I rushed out and bought two other copies, as though I want it to be part of my permanent library, I also want to loan it out to others - it is that good! I absolutely fell in love with the characters in this story, and when I was forced to put it down, I found myself rushing back to it as soon as I could. The characters came alive, and I looked forward to reading it the way I would anticipate getting together with good friends for a great gossip session. It is charming, enchanting, entertaining - and is escapism at its very best. For anyone who hasn't read this book, but is about to - I am a little envious, as you are in for one of the greatest reading experiences ever!
DSaff More than 1 year ago
"The Sugar Queen" is a wonderful story about the lives of three women: Josey, Della Lee, and Chloe. As the book progresses, you learn how their lives intersect and how much they need each other. Love, fear, danger, heartache, and hope are woven into the story, keeping the reading interesting. Some of the questions you will find answers to are: Will Josey ever find her true self? What happened to Della Lee? Will Chloe listen to the books? How do Adam, Jake, Rawley, and Julian affect the story? I really enjoyed this book! The chapters are all named after candies which made it fun (although it had my sweet tooth going too!). The story is easy to read and the twists and turns kept me turning the pages. This is a great book for reading during a snowstorm, or while sitting by a stream on a summer day. Enjoy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sarah Addison Allen has such an excellent ability to blend magic realism with realism. Her characters are well etched, well developed, leaving you to exalt the underdogs and chide the villains. Be careful though as all of Ms. Allen's characters have potential for both. Her prose is lovely. And her setting in the NC ski town left me breathless from description.Josey Cirrini is the daughter of one of the founding families of Bald Slope, North Carolina, and at 27 her duties consist entirely of being her mother's chaffeur and errand runner. She also enjoys hiding in her closet with romance novels and candy she's purchased and snuck into the house. When she comes home one day to a mysterious woman in the closet, Josey is shocked, but that's just the beginning. Josey's life is about to be shaken up and reinvigorated. Della Lee forces her to get out and socialize including with the mailman she's had a crush on for years and encourages her to make a close girl friend to spend time with. All of a sudden, Josey is beginning to see that she wasn't really living at all.  Love Sarah Addison Allen's books - such a special quality to them. They contain just enough 'wonder' and possibility to make them stand apart from other novels.  
1louise1 More than 1 year ago
I fell in love with the characters. This is magical realism, town gossip, ghosts, the potion's of a neighborhood "witch doctor," a few strange books and a twist at the end that you won't see coming. Brilliant and enchanting!
KimiD32 More than 1 year ago
This book was a surprising read for me. I was looking around on the B&N website and liked the cover most of all and put it on my "wish list" for later. I found myself in the B&N bookstore and saw it on sale so I picked it up and never PUT IT DOWN until I was done! This author is superb! The development of the story, quick and stays that way. The characters were well written and I had an immidiate connection with the 3 women in this book. It was a great read and I cannot wait to read more from this author.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Affluent semi southern belle Josey Cirrini has one big problem. She is THE SUGAR QUEEN of the south unable to resist candy and cakes. Since her mom the great dictator demands she must stop eating sugar, twenty-seven year old Josey feels like a kid as she hides her stash in a secret compartment inside her closet. ---- Battered Eat and Run greasy spoon waitress Della Lee Baker takes refuge in Josey¿s hideaway. Worried about her uninvited guest, Josey tries to make the haven a bit more comfortable for her soaking wet unwanted guest who explains she took a dip in the nearby cold river. Meanwhile Josey relooks her lifestyle starting with her philandering father Marco, developer of Bald Slope Ski Resort, and her secret attraction for the mailman Adam Boswell while Della Lee becomes her streets wise fairy godmother helping Josey with her insecurities starting with the best grilled cheese sandwich in town and ending she hopes with Adam. --- This whimsical charming romantic fairy tale is an engaging tale as tough Della Lee harangues, bullies, and coaxes Josey to go out and get him in spite of her mom¿s objection to a working class son-in-law. The story line is driven by the relationship between Josey and Della Lee though the other key players are complete especially how they connect to and from the titled character. On top of all that is the mystery of Della Lee. Readers will appreciate this engaging tale and seek and want to read Sarah Addison Allen¿s magical previous novel (see GARDEN SPELLS). --- Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great book. I have read all of this authors novels and have enjoyed them all. Great characters. I love this authors imagination and will continue reading her novels. She is definitely one of my favorite authors.
Escapist_Addict More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Allen's writing captures you and makes you fall into the story. She is inventive and fun to read. All in all this book was hard to put down.
APrincess4Ever More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book!! The chapters are named after different candies, which I loved. I also loved the characters and felt for the main character, as well as all of the characters! I didn't put this book down and with a, 2 1/2 month old (at the time), that's hard to do! I love the different twists and turns and everything becomes interrelated, almost like magic! Definitely buy this book, read it, and put it in your library to keep!!
Ilovemister More than 1 year ago
I have read every book by this author. This is the first one and it is the last one I read. I absolutely love this book and all of her others. I read this quickly as it was so absorbing that I had to read more and more until it was done. She writes in such a beautiful way that you get absorbed. She is possibly my favorite writer just behind Fannie Flagg. Bad part is, I won't have anything to read from either author until they produce another book. Highly recommended. She is so good.
Ashley_UNC More than 1 year ago
After reading Allen’s The Girl Who Chased the Moon, I was anxious to see how her other books would compare. I thought it was great! This is a story about Josey, Della Lee, and Chloe. Josey is the main character of this book, and she is a closet candy-lover in the most literal sense. Accustomed to feeling like a massive disappointment to her mother, she hides an enormous stash of sweets and romance novels in her closet. Her closet is her escape, but she dreams of leaving home to travel. Della Lee is a thirty-year-old bad girl, who is frequently found in the local court thanks to domestic violence issues and solicitation. Nothing could have surprised Josey more than to open her closet for a MoonPie, only to find Della Lee hiding there and refusing to leave. Chloe Finley has an interesting relationship with books; they FIND her. If she doesn’t pick them up and read them, the books become more persistent. They move from room to room in her house, and even follow her to work. Each of these girls has a little bit of magic about them, and they all have more in common than they know. This book was a quick and fun read. Allen names each chapter after a type of candy. I absolutely love Allen’s writing style. She is funny and warm, and you feel like you really know the characters. The NC setting was fantastic – she describes the growth of a little ski resort town near Asheville. Just like The Girl Who Chased the Moon, Allen has a lovely, descriptive way of making her characters come alive.
KateAlexis More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was wonderful. A sweet tale of finding yourself and the having courage to be yourself. READ IT!
kimba88 More than 1 year ago
Heartwarming,funny,sad and simply wonderful. Allen can spin a tale like no other. The characters come alive in her story with just a touch of magic. I didn't want it to end.
Buttersy More than 1 year ago
I adore all her books! She is a brilliant writer! Such an imagination this one! :)
chrisd2 More than 1 year ago
I really liked the first book I read by Sarah Addison Allen, "Garden Spells". I found it to be easy reading and entertaining. This book was just as good and I would love to read more by her.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story totally drew me in - the characters were delightful! Filled with warmth and compassion.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very heartwarming. Kept my attention the entire time. A book that will make you laugh, cry, and think all in one sitting. Definitely recommended.
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SleepDreamWrite More than 1 year ago
Yet another book I can add that has or involves books with food thrown in the mix, in its story and one I always wanted to read. I heard of the author's other books. Garden Spells to be exact. This, just, I was going to give this a 4 but no, I love this book. Throughout, I wanted to give Josey and Chloe a hug. I could kind of relate to Josey in a way. But I loved that she slowly moves forward, with help along the way. Oh and Adam. You get hug points for being adorable. Anyway, I was drawn to the story and love the cover. I also liked the chapter titles. Warning though, don't read this on an empty stomach. Right from the first chapter, I was hooked in and didn't want to stop reading. Then realized I was halfway into the book and took a little break, not wanting to finish the boo right away. Whenever I feel that way, I'm not as into the book as I was. But with Sugar Queen it was the opposite. You feel sorry for the other characters but as the story progresses, you find there's more to it. Near the end I'll admit I didn't expect but at the same time, thought back to it and was like oh, good job book. Basically what I'm saying is the book is pretty good. And looking forward to reading the author's other books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My friends told me buy book.. u will love this.. I told her "girl book". They said "so what? I seen guys reading differet books". I did take book.. I start read the book... I couldn't down the book. I still reading... that's awesome story.. and great characters... bigger wow.. u should read this.. u will love this! Not in my nook.. I got book from store few years ago..
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's a great book. I really love it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absoltutely wonderful read. Highly recimmend all her books!