Chocolat by Joanne Harris


Vianne Rocher and her 6 year old daughter Anouk blow into a small French town on Carnival day. They open a chocolate shop, located across the way from the church, during the Lent season. As an outsider that beats to her own drum, many of the town’s citizens (including the local Priest) are against her and refuse to shop in her chocolaterie. 

I’ve watched the film adaptation plenty of times. It’s one of my favorites. Even though I haven’t watched it in a long while because it’s tainted by Johnny Depp. But I digress. I didn’t know the film was based on a book (shows how much I pay attention to what I watch) until I saw a post here in the blogosphere. Then I found a copy at the used bookstore and I had to read it. 

I went in with high expectations and I am not disappointed. I loved this book. It’s magical, and atmospheric. The writing is lush and really transports you to this tiny French hamlet. 

The story is told through two viewpoints: Vianne’s and Father Reynaud’s. We learn about Vianne’s history, how she and her mother were wanderers for most of her life. Moving through different cities in different countries. And we get more insight into her “magical” abilities. Through Reynaud, we see his unraveling. His obsession with getting rid of Vianne. How her presence in the town appalls him. We also see how and why he grew up to be the kind of person he is. It was all very interesting. 

My favorite parts have to be the food ones. Vianne has a knack for creating mouth-watering chocolates and cuisine. She knows everyone’s favorite chocolate and always has them ready for the customer. There’s a touch of whimsy around her. She and Anouk follow the wind, wherever it may take them. But she really wants to set down roots somewhere. 

There are broader themes in the book, primarily dealing with religion. The book basically begins with Lent and ends on Easter Sunday. That’s a whole religious time frame. But there are other themes as well. It’s a really fascinating book. Absolutely loved it. 

And apparently there are two more books! Why did I not know this before?!

Me right now

Anna and the French Kiss Series by Stephanie Perkins

I love cliché books. And I like to spend my summer reading these sappy, predictable love stories. Apparently this is a series. So I decided to read them all. Well, listen actually. I have the audiobooks for the three books. 

There will be spoilers, please read at your own risk.

Let’s begin.

(#1) Anna and the French Kiss

Anna is forced to spend her senior year of high school in a Paris boarding school. She resents her father for doing this but she eventually begins to consider the new city her home. It doesn’t hurt that she becomes close friends with the school’s sexiest guy, Étienne St. Clair. 

As mentioned above, I went with the audiobook. The narration was done by Kim Mai Guest. While I think her reading was great. The execution? Not so much. The story is told from Anna’s POV. So the reader gets to listen in on her thoughts. That’s where the narration problems occurred. There was no tonal differentiation between Anna’s speaking voice and her inner voice. I never had a clear grasp on whether Anna was saying something or only thinking it. Which made the listening confusing. Especially as Anna has a lot of conversations with her friends. I kept going “wait, did she say that out loud“? Like I said, confusing.

* SPOILERS*

The narration aside, I also had problems with Anna. And Étienne. Anna came off as whiny and self-absorbed. Étienne, while swoon worthy, has his own issues. His girlfriend, Ellie, is kind of a pain which is probably why the reader is supposed to look past the cheating aspect. But not this reader. Look, Étienne cheated on his girlfriend, for a whole year! With Anna. (Emotional cheating is still cheating ya’ll). And I’m supposed to root for that? Why, because Ellie is an ass? Um…no! No one deserves that shit. I’ll pass on this problematic  relationship, thank you.

* END OF SPOILERS *

I was happy to finish this book. To get away from these two characters. This is an instance where the problems outweighed my love of cheese. And there was plenty of that.

I am hesitant to continue with the series. But I already have the other two audiobooks. So what the hell. I guess I’ll give the next book a shot. My expectations are already low enough. It can’t get any worse right? (Ha! Famous last words…) 

(#2) Lola and the Boy Next Door

Lola is a 17-year old girl dating a 22-year old guy. She loves her boyfriend and everything seems to be going right in her life, until her next door neighbors return home. With the arrival of the Bell twins, Lola’s life begins to unravel as she is caught between her boyfriend Max and her first love, Cricket.

This audiobook was narrated by Shannon McManus. She did a wonderful job narrating. The problems I had with the first book were not present in this one. Thank goodness because I was already annoyed enough by this book.

Lola is way too much. I did not like her. I couldn’t. To me, she came off as selfish and dramatic. Her boyfriend is a manipulative ass. Cricket, well I liked him. He had some of the corniest dialogue in the novel. And Lindsey, Lola’s best friend, I adored because of her love for all things mystery.

* MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD *

There were a few more things things I liked about this book. One of those is how not a big deal is made out of Lola having two dads. It’s normal and I love it. Another thing I enjoyed is Anna and Étienne popping up. Yes, they annoyed the crap out of me in the first book. But I did enjoy getting glimpses into their lives in San Francisco. I like continuity in a series, and in that respect, these books have not disappointed me. So far.

* END OF SPOILERS *

One more audiobook to go and I am seriously dreading it. Sigh. 

(#3) Isla and the Happily Ever After

We first met Isla back in the first book when Anna unintentionally finds out that Isla has a crush on her friend Josh. Well, fast forward a few months and we get to this book.

Isla and Josh run into each other in New York during the summer. This brief encounter doesn’t lead to anything. They next see each other in the fall, where they are both now seniors at their boarding school in Paris. Josh is up to his old antics of ditching school and breaking numerous rules. But once he and Isla become a thing, things seem to be going great. That is until they both leave the country and take a secret trip to Barcelona and all hell breaks loose.

The narration for this audiobook was done by Grace Blewer. The reading was different this time around. There were no vocal changes for any of the characters. Which I did like because it felt more like I was reading the story aloud to myself. I would have loved to hear how she did Étienne’s accent though haha.

Okay this is my favorite of the series. Isla had her moments, but I could tolerate her. There is something sweet about her with Josh. I really liked these little horndogs together. 

I loved catching up with Anna, Étienne, Lola and Cricket. It was fun to see them all come together and hang out for a bit with Josh and Isla. A nice conclusion.

Final Thoughts 

Like I said, I love continuity. Especially when done right. This series did just that. It was all pretty fluid. And bringing the characters together in the end was fantastic. 

I really enjoyed the movie references dispersed throughout the series. And I of course enjoyed the settings. Paris, San Francisco, New York, Barcelona. I feel as if I just went on a trip around the world. Now that is pretty amazing. 

Overall the series was meh, okay. The stories were predictable and full of delicious cheese. The relationships move way too quickly for my taste but whatever. The characters’ actions were sometimes questionable. But I can see why people like these books. They’re simply not for me. Too problematic. And talk about all the first world problems. Sheesh.