Susan Bishop Crispell returns to the blog today with her latest magical, food-forward story. Chosen because I’d loved her title, The Secret Ingredient of Wishes, the otherworldliness and heart of this story will captivate and enchant. Please read on for my review of
Dreaming in Chocolate
Set in a small North Carolina town, the story focuses on a chocolate café, The Chocolate Cottage, the magic it conjures with the help of an ancient apothecary cabinet and the bucket list of an eight year old girl. Penelope and her mother Sabina have mixed and dispensed the magical chocolate as well as other ‘normal’ confections for years: providing clarity, courage, hope and showing true love to their customers, and culminating in a Winter Solstice festival where their “Kismet” hot cocoa is available, a boost to fate and self-determination. But last year’s festival didn’t change Penelope’s fate – Ella is still ill and indications are that she’ll be gone soon. Uncertain about the ‘magic’, angry at the fates and scared about just how she’ll survive without Ella; having been the focus of her life and happiness since she was born. Penelope is sure the magic has either tricked her or let her down, again, just as it had when she was a teenager in love with a man who left.
Adding to her worries, her mother Sabina is using the magical chocolates to retreat into a time when she was happy: before Penelope’s father died, and the cabinet keeps giving her recipes and ingredients for magical confections that she doesn’t want. Perhaps if the ‘one who got away’ hadn’t returned to town to help out his brother, and his niece wasn’t Ella’s newest (and most special) friend, she’d be able to survive the alternating hits of laughter and terror that come when she thinks of Ella. While Noah ran off years ago in search of “more”, he’s never forgotten Penelope, and he’s wanting to explore what may be there – once he can prove to her that he’s changed. But he may never get the chance.
Add in the moments from Ella’s bucket list and the mixed emotions of joy in Ella’s excitement when another check is added to the realization that only a few more items exist, the story has a poignancy that grabs you by the throat, not entirely ever letting go. When Ella’s sights (and list) turn to Noah with the help of a new “pendant’ that the apothecary table granted her, and her determination to throw her mother and Noah together at every opportunity, Penelope’s skepticism about the magic and the table’s ability to provide what is needed at the right time is waning, the upcoming festival, her sharing a heretofore untold truth about the state of Ella’s health with the town, and the meddling of two eight year olds and some specially crafted cocoa bring the story to a close in ways unexpected and wholly welcome.
As with her first story I read, The Secret Ingredient of Wishes, Crispell puts the magic and the changes brought by the hope of its recipients at the forefront: using the questions and doubts as a counterpoint: allowing the wonder and the ‘what if’ to capture the reader’s imagination. Easy to lose yourself in with the sense of family, community and emotions, it’s a book to hide away with while the winter rages outside.
Title: Dreaming in Chocolate
Author: Susan Bishop Crispell
Genre: Contemporary Woman's Fiction, Food / Recipes, Magic
Published by: St. Martin's Griffin
Published on: 6 February, 2018
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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A story of love, hot chocolate, and one little girl's wish for her mother that will make your heart swell.
At twenty-seven, Penelope Dalton is quickly ticking off items on a bucket list. Only the list isn’t hers. After her eight year-old daughter Ella is given just six months to live thanks to an inoperable brain tumor, Penelope is determined to fill Ella’s remaining days with as many new experiences as she can.
With an endless supply of magical gifts and recipes from the hot chocolate café Penelope runs alongside her mother in a small town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, she is able to give her daughter almost everything she wants. The one sticking point is Ella’s latest addition to her list: get a dad. And not just any dad. Ella has her sights set on Noah Gregory, her biological father and the only person Penelope knows to have proved her true love hot chocolate wrong.
Now Noah’s back in town for a few months—and as charming as ever—and the part of her that dreamed he was her fate in the first place wonders if she made the right decision to keep the truth of their daughter from him. The other, more practical part, is determined to keep him from breaking Ella’s heart too.
But as Ella’s health declines, Penelope must give in to her fate or face a future of regrets.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.