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

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I had to leave off my current book, Last Of The Amazons, which needs a bit more concentration, in favor of a lighter read for a whole night’s vigilance in the I.C.U.    As I have volunteered for night duty in attendance to my ailing father, I figured an easy but interesting YA book would be just the thing to keep me wholly alert ’til the morn. 

Among my choices for the Once Upon A Time IV and Spring Reading Thing 2010 challenge lists, Hush, Hush just fit the bill.

Author :  Becca Fitzpatrick

Publication Date :  October 13, 2009  (Hardcover)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing

ISBN-10: 1416989412

ISBN-13: 978-1416989417

No. of Pages :  400

The Story :

When God made man and Earth, some angels have looked on these creations with a consummate desire for dominion. A league of angels conspired to tempt Eve to eat of the Tree of Life, so God stripped them of their wings and cast them to Earth.  These fallen ones were denied  human perception of  the world  with all  its sensual clarity.   To experience the world through vivid sensations the way humans do — this what a fallen angel covets.

After the fall, a race emerged known as the Nephilim, immortals born of a union of angel and mortal. Only through the possession of the Nephilim can a fallen one experience the world as humans can.

For a Biology project, Nora is partnered with cocky, mysterious, and uncooperative Patch. She must get to know him enough to complete her project or risk failing the subject. While she knows almost next to nothing about him, he, disconcertingly, knows so much about her.

Forced to get to know him, she discovers dark and dangerous layers. For Patch is no ordinary boy. In fact, he isn’t even human. However, Nora can’t seem to shake off her dangerous attraction. Suddenly, her normal life doesn’t seem so normal after all. Someone is dangerously after her.  Who and why, Nora must find out to save herself.

The Review:

I can understand the allure this book has. The stunning cover hints of an irresistibly dark but sexy fantasy, which may not disappoint for some. This is primarily a romance with the supernatural as a very attractive component. As a deviation from the ubiquitous dark creatures like vampires, this time it is fallen angels, character concepts not often used and therefore a novelty for many young readers.

The protagonists are in their teens so this must contribute to the book’s categorization as young adult literature. But in my book,  the qualification for YA stops here.   As I have reiterated before, books in the YA category may have very adult concepts and jargon inappropriate for the preteeners and possibly, for those in their early teens. This book exemplifies this. Although there are no explicit sexual scenes, a lot of sexual innuendo exists. Moreover, there are hints of what some people may even consider as sexual harassment in the dialogues. The relationship between Nora and Patch may also be viewed as abusive at most or disrespectful at the least.

Although there is always something irresistible about the “bad boy” which ups those delicious romantic shivers in any romance, this particular characterization simply isn’t what one would want kids to admire in a romantic lead. To make it even more objectionable as YA,  the disrespectful ways of Patch toward Nora and Nora’s increasing attraction in spite of (or because of ?) it, feelings which I suspect may border more on lust than love, aren’t what I would rate as good fodder for teen and pre-teen minds.

However, despite my adult reservations, I feel this book is one of those  which young girls would gravitate to (the cover is simply irresistible).  The premise of fallen angels  and the dark romance are certain come-ons.   Writing is mundane, the characters not imbued with much depth; but these aren’t objectionable in a book designed to be  a 400-page breezy read.  They just makes reading effortless and fast.

Regardless of my misgivings on its classification, I  enjoyed Hush, Hush. I’m not saying it is a real page-turner but true to its bestseller status, it did keep me up and awake.  It was interesting enough in spite of its flaws.  Perhaps to like it, just suspend disbelief and go with the flow.

If you are a teen, chances are big that you will love it as it is.  As an adult in your thirties or beyond,  you probably will tend to be more judgmental of this book.

I won’t be surprised if this book morphs into a movie.  It just has that mass appeal to it.

As An Aside :

Becca Fitzpatrick is coming out with the sequel, Crescendo, this year.   For Hush Hush fans,  something to keep you on tenterhooks.  smiley

My Mark :  Good  —  Entertaining!

Sometimes, I just can’t decide what to read next.  How to make that choice?  With a time-honored answer to indecision:  Eeny, meeny, miny, moe!

The Book of Joe is what moe came up with:

Author :  Jonathan Tropper

First Edition’s Publication Date :  2004

First Edition’s Publisher :  Bantam Dell

This Edition’s Publication Date : January 25, 2005

This Edition’s Publisher :  Delta

ISBN-10: 0385338104

ISBN-13: 978-0385338103

No. of pages :  368

The Story :

How else to purge one’s self of the painful past but to write about it?  This is exactly what Joe Goffman did when he left Bush Falls seventeen years ago with the thought of never going back.  He wrote a highly successful semi-biography which trashed everyone he knew.  Although names were changed and the book was  released as fiction,  Bush Falls residents  recognized themselves and didn’t take too well to this immortalized insult. Enmity toward Joe soared along with the success of his book and peaked when it was adapted to a movie with Leonardo di Caprio as its lead.

Now a best-selling author whose success rides on his former community’s humiliation,  Joe has no choice but to return to Bush Falls  when he was told of  his  comatose and dying father.   The town gives him a “welcome home” with a public milkshake pouring incident by an angry resident, a yard littered with his books thrown out by the local book club,  and a bar brawl with an irate psychotic former athlete who didn’t take too kindly to Joe’s inferences about his dubious sexuality.  Just to name a few “welcoming” incidents  for Joe.

Amid all that, Joe discovers his family and former friends again, and realizes that he does need home and home is Bush Falls.  So after years of  denying a past of  perceived betrayal, bitterness, and emotional battering, Joe must face all these and resolve issues with others and within himself if he is to survive his homecoming.

The Review :

My eeny meeny choice proved to be a nice surprise.  I enjoyed every minute of this wonderful novel.  I laughed,  I cried  and laughed again.  With such humor and well placed cynical wit,  it’s easy to smile even while shedding a tear or two on some sentiment.

It’s funny, sad, cynical, very “now”, and quite optimistic.  It’s about family and relationships, love in tethers, and just plain life.   The Book of Joe is about looking beyond people’s faults and seeing why they are so and at the same time, looking into one’s self and discovering how your own flaws affect reactions in others.

The book, with its boyish colloquial writing, has a contemporary feel to it that renders the characters real and easy to relate to.  Although there is nothing profound nor anything really original about the novel, there is a heart-warming glow about this book  that somehow touches you at some point and and makes you glad you’ve come across this story.

As my first book by Jonathan Tropper,  The Book of Joe makes me eager to try the author’s other novels.  He  has an easy going style loaded with great one-liners and witticisms that keeps you entertained until the end.

This is the type of book, though, that just cries out for a cinematic adaptation.  My hunch proved right when my surfing came up with one in the works with Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, and Brad Grey as producers.  As to when this movie will be released, I have no clue.  But I hope I will fall in love with it as I have with the book.

Mark  :  Outstanding


As an additional book for the Fall Into Reading Challenge 2009, Second Nature was a good choice for its brevity and its unusual romance.

Author :  Alice Hoffman

First Publication Date :  February 1994

Publisher of First Edition :  G.P.  Putnam’s Sons

This Edition’s Publication Date :  April 1995  (mass paperback)

This Edition’s Publisher :  Berkley

ISBN 0-425-14681-2

No. of pages : 290

The Story :

An injured wildman is discovered by a pair of trappers and sent to a hospital for treatment and rehabilitation.  Having lived most of his life with wolves, Stephen, the “Wolfman”,  is considered unmanageable and his failure to assimilate himself in  human society signs his lifelong commitment to a mental hospital.  Before his transfer, Stephen risks asking help from Robin.  She helps him escape and teaches him to adapt socially.  Stephen learns to do so, little by little and in the process,  falls in love with her.   Meanwhile, animals around the neighborhood are being mysteriously murdered, their throats slit.   Soon, it is a little girl.  The neighborhood is terrified and they want their monster…

The Review :

If you pick up an Alice Hoffman novel, expect to always have a contemporary story steeped in a bit of fantasy or magic told in her lovely prose.  Second Nature tackles the human foible of judgement borne from fear and grief  and the  wonderful  inherent human propensity to love.

Hoffman’s writing style is graceful where her thoughts  segues seamlessly from one point to another.  She can move from pleasant to sinister without missing a beat.  The change is so subtle,  smooth and flawless; this is what I really appreciate in Hoffman’s style.

The Wolfman character is dealt with quite well, with Hoffman sketching a believable portrait of his emotions and his thoughts while the character tries to fit in a world he does not understand.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Some readers stay away from fantasy because one is required to “live in another world” while at it.  Hoffman, though, combines a sprinkling of fantasy in a vat of reality to come up with a sub-genre called “magic realism”.  Stories are contemporary with realistic characters and settings but the reader is still required to accept the magic or fantasy as a reality to be able to enjoy the genre well.

Hoffman revels in this genre.  With this book,  she seems to show a wonderful understanding of human nature,  its strengths and failures.

Unfortunately, there are some flaws in this novel, some absurdly unbelievable.  To cite an instance, Robin was able to take the Wolfman from the hospital without a furor being raised later over his whereabouts.  While gaffes like these would surely irritate some readers,  others, like me, may choose to ignore them and just go with the flow.   In doing so, you will  discover a novel with a lot of heart.

My Mark :  Quite Good!

This should be the last book in my list for the Fall Into Reading Challenge 2009.  I’ve finished the challenge but it’s a whole month earlier than the deadline, December 20.  So, I’ve decided to stretch my list.  See my additions here.

Author :  Anya Seton

Date of First Publication  :  1965

First Publisher :  Hodder and Stoughton

This Edition’s Publication Date :  May 1, 2006

This Edition’s Publisher :  Chicago Review Press

ISBN-10: 1556526008

ISBN-13: 978-1556526008

No. of pages :  448

The Story :

A young noble, Rumon, makes his way to England in his quest for Avalon when he is thrown into Merewyn’s way and through a deathbed promise  is forced to take responsibility for her.   Merewyn has been brought up to believe she is a descendant of the legendary King Arthur; but Rumon knows the truth of her barbaric and pagan bloodline.

In the course of their lives in England, Merewyn falls in love with him; but Rumon is oblivious as he gives his heart and soul to the beautiful Queen Alfrida.  After  his ill-fated affair with her, he slowly comes to love Merewyn as well.  But his love, just as hers before,  is thwarted by events.  And thus spins the saga of their love through their lives.

The Review :

There is something about old books and the way they are written that imbues them with  a charm all their own.  Avalon is such a book, first published in 1965.  I picked this up because the author, Anya Seton, was one I had admired after reading Katherine.

Both books showcase Seton’s style of romance which pits love against circumstance.  Her romance is more realistic and mature,  less involved with the fluff that makes for fairy tale finishes.  Love has to navigate through uncontrollable events life throws in the way.  Endings are poignant but not the totally happily-ever-after kind that rarely happens, if ever, in real life.   The feeling is satifsying, though,  in the sense that we get a better grip on how versatile and enduring true love can be.   In this particular novel, love for more than one person is possible although it exists in  different shades and gradations, dependent on character and chance.

Many readers  will enjoy the vivid backdrop of this story.  The 10th century comes alive with Seton’s characterization of real historical figures like Queen Alfrida, King Ethelred the Unready, Saint Dunstan, and with her accounts of how life was in a European era that saw Viking invasions and explorations.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Although not as good as “Katherine“, which was an outstanding read, “Avalon” is also a beautiful story in itself; but, it isn’t for every romance reader.  A mature reader would appreciate the emotions and the way the story unfolds rather than judge the characters’ likability quotient, as a younger reader would.  This is not a syrupy, shivery love story; but one that carries more depth as it plays out in the harsh circumstances of medieval life.

My Mark :  Very Good

I wanted a short, easy no-brainer.  I got everything I wanted in this :

Author : Annette Blair

Date of  Publication : December 2006

Publisher : Berkley Sensation  (Mass Paperback)

ISBN-10: 0786296577

ISBN-13: 978-0786296576

No of pages : 389

The Story :

Vickie, a witch in denial, inherits a wardrobe and opens it to find a beautifully carved carousel unicorn inside.  Desperate to pay her grandmother’s medical and funeral expenses, she advertises its sale on TV.  Rory, a descendant of the  once respectable Mackenzie clan now turned community pariah, sees  the woman of his dreams (I mean, literally) holding the answer to restore the good name of his family.

Long ago, his ancestor, a famous carver,  broke his engagement with a beautiful witch (Vickie’s grandmother) who people said, cast a curse upon the Scottish village.  Regretful all of his life, Rory’s grandfather, before he died,  sent his beloved witch his most splendid creation — a carousel unicorn, part of a merry-go-round that brought prosperity to the village;  but one that would never run again until the curse is lifted.

So, Rory goes to find this unicorn, with a mission to take it, bring it back, rebuild the carousel, and restore the community’s prosperity and his good name.  Only thing, he has to contend with the witch and choose between love and family honor.

The Review :

As I mentioned, I just wanted a short easy read, a no-brainer after “Exile. Well, a real no-brainer is what I got!  I know, I know…the synopsis sounds cheesy and serves me right for picking this out of a sale bin again just because the title was a parody of  “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe“.  I’m not above reading shallow, fun  lit and I thought this was a cute, little romance with some magic thrown into it.  NOT!

The characters were odd and totally without some self-respect, either.  I don’t know what Blair was trying to accomplish. For instance, I think she wanted everything for her main character, Vickie.  She wanted her sexy, yet dressed her in dowdy vintage clothes;  a bold sex siren yet a frightened virgin (technically speaking since she deflowered herself years ago with dildos all named Brock—*shudder, shudder*–but has never been with a man); bohemian, cluttered, and fun but essentially good for nothing — can’t do business, cook, clean, balance books, etc. to save her life!  So here comes the knight in shining armor, the ruggedly handsome Scot who can do everything!  Cook, clean, balance books, organize, repair anything, and make her and others’ blood  boil for want of this stud. Thankfully, he falls short of being perfect by his hermitic attitude.

With amateurish writing, a main character whose personality ridiculously morphs from one thing into another, and annoying minor characters in the mix, you just gotta be drunk to like this trash.

My Mark :  Poor — Laughable;  Don’t Bother

Everyone knows the story of Cinderella.  But Gregory Maguire takes us a step backward to see the story behind the story.  He deromanticizes the fairy tale and creates a realism behind it, adding a new dimension to a traditional story while staying true to the original framework.

This is my fourth read for Fall Into Reading 2009 challenge.  Four more to go.


Author :  Gregory Maguire

Date of First Publication :  October 6, 1999 (Hardcover)

Publisher :      William Morrow

ISBN-10: 0060392827

ISBN-13: 978-0060392826

Hardcover: 384 pages

The Story :

Margarethe and her two daughters, Iris (plain but clever) and Ruth (an ugly simpleton), flee England in the dead of night and sail for Holland.  Destitute and friendless, the family is forced to beg for their survival.  At last, a painter offers them board and lodging in exchange for housework and the permission for the plain daughter, Iris, to sit as a model for his canvas.  So for a while, the family is happily fed and secure.

A prosperous tulip merchant,  Cornelius van den Meer,  drops by at the painter’s studio one day and offers to buy the painting of Iris. However as a condition of sale,  Iris must accompany the painting to live in the great house and serve as a companion to Clara, the merchant’s extraordinarily beautiful but reclusive daughter. Margarethe sees this as an opportunity for greener pastures and loses no time insinuating herself and her other daughter in the deal.  Soon, she makes herself indispensable to the van den Meer household.

As tragedy would have it,  Cornelius’ wife and Clara’s mother, dies in childbirth.  Gritty Margarethe sees the opportunity to secure her family’s future and finds a way to marry the merchant.  Meanwhile, Clara, depressed and insecure upon her mother’s death and the marriage of her father to Margarethe, consigns herself to the kitchen, covers herself with ash and acquires a new name, Cinderella.  She declares her beauty a burden and seeks solace in the anonymity of kitchen drudgery.

But, tragedy does strike twice.  The tulip trade is disrupted; so soon,  the merchant  finds himself on the brink of poverty.   Unwilling to face hunger and indignity again, Margarethe makes a last ditch effort.  She prepares herself and her daughters for the coming ball where she, in her determination, believes plain Iris would capture the Prince’s interest with her intelligence.  Beautiful Clara, to Margarethe’s delight, refuses to go and parade herself for the Prince. Margarethe knows that Clara’s beauty would surely awe the Prince and that her marriage to him, coupled with her disdain for her stepmother, would land her family back in the poorhouse.

But unbeknown to Margarethe, Iris convinces Clara to get out of her shell and attend the party of the decade.  She secures a gown and a veil for Clara to hide under.  Clara appears at the ball, radiantly mysterious and gets the Prince’s undivided attention.  The rest is history with the glass slipper, coach, the midnight run  and all.

The Review :

Between the stark delineations of the good and the bad in any fairy tale, Maguire steps in to create a gray world — is the bad really that bad or just misunderstood?

Much like history or any story for that matter, fairy tales are told from a point of view, this being mostly from the hero’s .    Gregory Maguire is known as an author who loves to turn a fairy tale inside out with a resounding concept : “Let’s hear it from the other side”.

As with “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West”, Maguire gives a voice to the villains, , telling the story from their perspective, and imbuing these much maligned characters with more humanity.  His intention is to relate how the forces of personality and circumstance that  influence  reactions and decisions,  coupled with the judgmental character of human nature, easily cast people  into roles of iniquity or seeming goodness.  Hence, there are always two sides to a coin;  and it is never two-dimensional.

In this vein, the author tackles duality in such concepts as beauty, love, compassion, greed — for instance, beauty as both blessing and curse, greed as both corruptible and necessary;  so that this is no mere fairy tale rehash but one with a purpose to provide some rumination on the abstracts of good and bad.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Confessions Of An Ugly Stepsister” holds almost true to the Cinderella plot outline, except for the setting, Holland, and an event toward the end. It is quite entertaining how Maguire weaves a realistic background to the simple framework of the fairy tale. Told through the perspective of Iris, one of Cinderella’s or Clara’s stepsisters, we get a grip on why the Cinderella story had been spun so.

Because of the author’s inclination toward establishing the events and characters on which Cinderella’s story evolved to be what it is, readers may find half of the book a bit slow paced.

Although Maguire’s framework is commendable and his writing intentions, successful; there are nevertheless, a vagueness in Maguire’s writing here that I wish were clearer. To cite a few:   Clara (Cinderella) is somewhat a vague character and the reader may not be able to get a good understanding on what makes her tick. We are given the impression of a recluse, someone afraid of life. However, she suddenly does an about face by being very bold with the Prince, a stranger, at the ball. Also, Clara’s experience as a child at the windmill is left to imagination. What was it really? This, and some others, may irritate a reader who appreciates straightforwardness and specifics; but for those can live with conjecture, this shouldn’t be much of a bother.

In A Nutshell :

Although, not as good as his other novel, “Wicked….” , “Confessions Of An Ugly Stepsister” is nevertheless, still a pleasurable read, a satisfying deconstruction and reinvention of Cinderella that would appeal to those who love stories thought “out of the box”.

My Mark  :  Very Good