Author :  Joanne Harris

Publication (First Edition) :   February 1, 1999

Publisher (First Edition) :  Viking Adult

This Edition’s Publication Date :   November 7, 2000

Publisher :  Penguin

ISBN-10: 014100018X

ISBN-13: 978-0141000183

No. of pages :  320

The Story :

The story begins when Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk  arrives in the tiny village of Lansquenet.  She sets up a chocolate shop, a seeming godsend to the sleepy town where nothing ever really happens.  But, for its chaplain, Pere Reynaud, the shop  with its delectable florentines, chocolate brazils, and pralines  present an outright threat to his parish’s status quo— a community lifestyle of strict piety, conformity and self-denial.  It doesn’t help that its shop owner is a largely irreligious, attractive, inordinately charming woman with an uncanny ability to guess one’s  favorite chocolate confection.  Is she a witch?  No one knows, and Vianne isn’t even sure herself; but, her delightful, mouth-watering creations seem to weave their magic in the hearts of the villagers.

To Pere Reynaud, however, her chocolates present an evil indulgence that threaten to crack his  rigid inculcation of spartan pleasures in the name of the suffering Christ.  So the straw that breaks the camel’s back is Vianne’s planned chocolate Easter festival at the end of the Lenten Season which goads Reynaud to vow for her permanent removal from Lansquenet.

The Review :

This charming story is a sweet, amusing  jibe on how excessive devoutness beyond common sense can carry religion to the realm of the ridiculous.  Joanne Harris pokes at skewed morality with an engaging hand… and a delectable one at that.  So a caveat:  the mention of chocolate in all its luscious forms and the entrancing descriptions of  chocolate-making  arouse cravings; in this case, it would be good sense to have a box of these delicious devils by your side before settling down with this rather pleasing, light-hearted book.

Along with the well crafted plot,  Harris spins incredibly palpable characters to love in her rich yet simple prose.

On the Side :

The cinematic version of Chocolat had been shown in 2001 with Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp leading a great cast.  Although it deviates quite a stretch from the novel, the movie captures the feel of the original material pretty well.   Still it  is an inferior substitute.  The story is better told in Harris’ hand.

In A Nutshell :

A delectable book with luscious pages of magic realism, Chocolat is as irresistible as that one little bit of truffle.  Besides, as this book obviously points out— what is life without chocolate?

My Mark  :  Outstanding!  — A lovely keeper

Author : Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler’s Wife is an extraordinary romantic fantasy written from two viewpoints: Henry who is a forced time traveler and his wife Clare, a normal person who has to adjust her life around Henry’s strange one.

Henry is diagnosed with a rare gene disorder that yanks him uncontrollably backward or forward into various times in his life.  At one point, he meets his eight-year old self and has a conversation with him over a mug of Ovaltine.  He meets Clare when she is six, and he, thirty six.

My hat off to Audrey Niffeneger for fearlessly setting up this complicated time traveling stage to tell a poignant but highly original love story.  It is quite difficult to build a cohesive and seamless narrative that needs to take place in different times of each character’s life.  But Ms. Niffeneger does the job brilliantly, with good sequencing and references to date, time, and ages  so that the reader is not forced to wallow through what would otherwise have been a confusing mess in less skillful hands.

The Time Traveler’s Wife is not for everyone, though.  One either loves it or hates it.  Those who dislike it can find it annoyingly unrealistic, ridiculous, and maybe even boring.   I happen to fall under the I LOVE IT category.

Despite the book’s surrealism, this is by far one of the most romantic books I’ve ever read.  Observer’s review says, ” At its core, The Time Traveler’s Wife is an old fashioned love story….”  Indeed it is.  Central to the entire book is Henry and Clare’s enduring love.  This, and the unusual way the author chose to tell a love story is what, for me,  makes this book a keeper.

My favorite part : Henry’s letter to Clare.  An excerpt:

“….Clare, I want to tell you, again, I love you.  Our love has been the thread through the labyrinth, the net under the high-wire walker, the only real thing in this strange life of mine that I could never trust.  Tonight I feel that my love for you has more density in this world than I do, myself : as though it could linger on after me and surround you, keep you, hold you….”

It’s a wonderful letter.  There’s more in it, of course, but I wouldn’t want to give it all away.

If you’re in the mood for reading something different, pick up this book.  I can’t guarantee you’ll like it, but you’ll certainly not be getting a run-of-the-mill kind of story.

My Mark : Excellent