“All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” —Lucy Van Pelt, “Peanuts”
Books and food have always had an association. Good books can be described as juicy, meaty, a feast, and even delicious. So how much better are they when food is actually involved?
Getting ensconced in a warm kitchen, a cozy bakery, or a decadent chocolate shop somehow makes the story more real, more vivid, more welcoming. I can imagine myself there with a coffee and a pastry watching events unfold. And even when the book isn’t so great, there’s still something satisfying to savor. If you’re craving foodie fare, here are a few suggestions.
Better Than Chocolate by Susan Waggoner
Fat-free, calorie-free, carb-free chocolate that tastes, smells, and melts just as well as the real thing would be a dream come true for most people, but it’s like winning the lottery for Annie Wilkins. After her husband invents Better Than Chocolate (BTC), they get money, a mansion, and glamorous jobs promoting the product. Of course that’s when things start falling apart. Even though this is a fairly predictable morality tale, it’s so well-written you won’t notice (or at least you won’t mind). I don’t usually get anxious for things to work out for a character, but this one practically had me biting my nails. I’m not sure I’d eat BTC if it did exist (technically it’s not even food) but it’s fun to think of the possibility.
American Cookery by Laura Kalpakian
I couldn’t put this book down. Believe me, I tried. It follows the life of Eden Douglass starting with her childhood stuck between her shiftless parents and her loving, but narrow-minded, extended family. From there, her world expands along with the story, which is sometimes funny, sometimes infuriating, sometimes heartbreaking. Kalpakian is a fantastic storyteller, weaving disparate threads seamlessly. And food is a major player throughout. More than once I found myself anxious to try the dishes described or wishing I could actually join the characters in the kitchen or at the table. Luckily the book comes complete with recipes but they’re just a bonus; American Cookery would still be a winner without them.
Temporary Wife by Joan Kilby
Veronique is a chef in need of a visa; Burton is a TV producer trying to put together a cooking show. You can see where this is headed. The characters are likeable, the story is good and the HEA is satisfying. Best of all, there’s a fantastic farmhouse that I spent the entire book coveting. There’s even a recipe for Veronique’s mango salsa. That’s why Temporary Wife ended up with a permanent spot on my bookshelf.
Chocolat by Joanne Harris
This was my favorite book of the bunch; not only because it’s heavy on the magic, but the story actually hinges on chocolate. Traveller and natural witch Vianne and her daughter Anouk breeze into a stodgy French village and decide to stick around. The problems begin when Vianne opens a chocolate shop across from the local church and raises the ire of the grim priest and a few of the town’s more miserable inhabitants. But Vianne’s exuberance and persistence are hard to resist, especially for this reader. By the end I was planning my own French-style chocolate shop/café. My only complaint: no recipes.
The Chocoholic Mysteries by Joanna Carl
I’m still in the process of getting to know this series, and so far it’s a mixed review. On the plus side there’s chocolate (a whole shop even) and a character with a fun quirk (she has a speech impediment that has her saying the wrong words: Amadeus for amaretto, bitch for beach, that sort of thing and not as annoying as it sounds). In the minus column, the mysteries have so far been predictable and uninteresting. I don’t have a lot of hope, but I’ll stick with the Chocoholic Mysteries a little longer—if nothing else I can fantasize about the truffles and bonbons that are described throughout. Even when foodie novels suck they’re still delicious.
Aspasía Bissas is a writer, blogger, and chocolate fan with delusions of someday having a bakery-café. When she’s not lost in a variety of great books she’s busy tweeting (@bloodandpoppies) or posting on her blogs Domicile, Blood Lines, and Geek Grrrl.