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

From a serious book on ancient warrioresses to a quirky one on a dissatisfied wife with a magic potion…. I figured I needed a light, no-brainer for another sleepless night.  Plus, it is in my challenge lists from  Once Upon A Time IV and Spring Reading Thing 2010.

Author :  Jane Heller

Publication Date :  December 2, 2008

Publisher :  IUniverse

ISBN-10: 059553550X

ISBN-13: 978-0595535507

No. of pages :  336

The Story :

Have you been married for so long you can’t even remember why?  Meet Elizabeth Baskin, a successful high-end hotel rater and a neat freak who feels her husband had become a one-star rater with a paunch,  a bald spot, and heavens! a penchant for sprinkling crumbs on newly dust-busted counters.  She decides that the only way to save her marriage is to make him over and return him to that dashing, funny guy who rescued her from an overheated car on the freeway.

Taking  a tip from her sister, she bluffs her way as a Goldie Hawn referral into the exclusive clinic of Doctor Farkus, the new celebrity-favored “life enhancement” specialist known to have  purportedly amazing potions with secret ingredients from some exotic forest.   At her visit, she runs into Clover, a housewife with the same need:  an enhanced husband.  The two strike up a friendship and agree to keep in each other updated with the results.

After Elizabeth describes her spousal makeover need, Doctor Farkus prescribes his  potion with strict instructions on its dosage.  Elizabeth guiltily but determinedly pours the  potion into her Roger’s orange juice every morning and waits for that magic transformation.  But Elizabeth gets antsy after a few days of seeing no immediate changes and decides to up the ante by dumping the entire two packets into Roger’s morning juice.

By day’s end,  Elizabeth’s wish of a totally enhanced, romantic husband comes true.  But too good to be true?  Indeed, as her Mr. Wonderful soon turns much too marvelous for her to handle.   With Clover corroborating the fact that their super enhanced husbands are just too “hot” for them to keep up,  both friends decide that their old husbands were a much better deal.   So what to do but ask for an antidote?  Only Dr. Farkus is nowhere to be found!

So begins the chase for the antidote that drives these two Beverly Hills wives into all sorts of hilarious escapades in their desperate attempt to save their marriages.

The Review :

Intended to be a light read, The Secret Ingredient will treat you to some chuckles.  It’s really laid-back fiction, the sort you pick up on a lark when you’re tired of serious or “meaty” stuff.  This isn’t the kind of reading for you if you want a novel with more depth.  Rather, you must be in a light and easy mood to be entertained by something like this—where you don’t care how silly and  ridiculous the characters or the plot at times get to be.

With this book,  you just go with the flow to enjoy it.  After all, that’s  what you do when you settle for a fairy tale.

My Mark :    Good — Quirky but Charming!

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!

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

Geisha Of Gion” just whetted my appetite for more books on the geiko world. Luckily, I had this book to momentarily satisfy my craving.

Author:  Arthur Golden

First Published:  1997  (Hardcover)

Publisher:  Alfred A. Knopf Inc.


This Edition Published:  1999 ( Mass Paperback)

Publisher:  Vintage Books

No. Pages:  502

The Story :

In the poor village of Yoroida, a little girl with startling blue-gray eyes, is plucked from her parents and sold to an okiya, a geisha house, in Gion.  Chiyo’s eyes are a rarity in Japan, so her potential as a stunning geisha earns the greedy regard of Mother, the okiya’s proprietress and the spiteful jealousy of the house’s star geisha, Hatsumomo.  Together, they bear down on Chiyo’s confusion and homesickness which drive her to escape the okiya’s oppressive life.  Her attempt, however, fails with a fall from a roof  and a broken arm.  For this she becomes a disappointment and a bad investment and so doomed by the okiya to be an abused, overworked maid instead.

Chiyo pours out her misery one day, as life seems to stretch out bleakly before her.  A kind, well-dressed stranger, in the company of a geisha, spies her and gives her comfort with his handkerchief and a coin for a snowcone.  This innocent encounter marks a turning point in Chiyo’s life.  His kindness sparks a childish crush so that Chiyo begins to perceive a clear goal for life —  becoming a geisha, this being the only possible way she sees for someone of her station to meet him again.

As luck would have it,  another of Gion’s star geishas, Mameha,  seems enthralled by Chiyo’s eyes so that she negotiates with Mother to bring Chiyo under her tutelage.  With Mameha’s lessons,  Chiyo transforms into Sayuri and becomes the most sought- after maiko (apprentice geisha) and inevitably comes into contact with the kind stranger known as the Chairman.  Sayuri, by now has fallen in love with him.  However, the Chairman’s business partner, Nobu, becomes attracted to her instead.

What follows is a beautiful story of suppressed passion and love that spans time and circumstance.

The Review :

Few books have thoroughly captivated me as much as “Memoirs of A Geisha“.  The first few chapters hint at serving one with a sumptuous literary feast of exquisite prose, mesmerizing details of the exotic and secretive “flower and willow” world, and an uncommon emotional depth, all of which seem to flow so effortlessly from Golden’s pen.

Golden’s writing has a very lyrical quality to it and the book is rife with creatively crafted descriptions and charming little asides from the main character’s point of view.  It is quite astonishing how Arthur Golden,  being a man, could write so intimately and convincingly about a young  girl’s psyche.

The novel is full of analogies, metaphors, and descriptive phraseologies; yet, strangely, it isn’t burdened by them.  On the contrary, words flow so naturally and combine so beautifully to paint a lovely, poignant story that has touched the hearts of readers everywhere; hence, its international bestseller status.

Aside from a romantic, sensitively written story, one experiences the obsequious, community-dependent, perfection-driven, and heavily nuanced geisha culture whose exotically mysterious nature provides the book with a wonderfully different romantic flavor.


As An Aside :

Indeed, geisha depiction here is quite different from what Mineko Iwasaki (Japan’s foremost geisha in the 70’s) wanted to  project in her memoirs, Geisha of Gion“.   After she was thanked by Golden as his major source, Mineko was believed to be the real-life basis of Golden’s character, Sayuri; hence, the reported falling out between these two authors.

Golden renders the geisha more  as a courtesan, whose sole purpose is to entertain men — entertainment, here,  meaning one catering to all:  from the highest  artistic forms  down to more baser  pleasures.  Mineko Iwasaki, on the other hand, insists that real geishas are artists, trained in artistic customary perfection from a very young age, to carry on the tradition in Japanese entertainment.

Perhaps, both are right.  I’m surmising that there must be social hierarchies in the geisha community, with the existence of high-class and low-class geishas.  Mineko Iwasaki was perhaps telling her story from her viewpoint atop the community’s pinnacle while Golden was trying to tell his from the viewpoint of those at the base.

However it is,  Japanese culture has never been more interesting after these two books, and I hope to lay my hands on more on the same subject.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Memoirs of A Geisha” is certainly a must-read not just for lovers of romance, but also for those who want a well written story that informs as well as pleasures the reader with its intelligence, sensitivity, and femininely graceful style.

Conclusion :

This is a book worth keeping on your shelf to be re-read as a treat,  years after you’ve done with it.  Its tale is as timeless as enduring love.

My Mark :  Excellent