The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris

Set 17 years after Chocolat (reviewed here), The Strawberry Thief is the fourth book in the series; Vianne and her youngest daughter, Rosette, are still living above their chocolaterie in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes (while her oldest daughter, Anouk, lives in Paris with her boyfriend) and the local florist, Narcisse, causes a stir in the village when he dies and leaves part of his estate to Rosette. Lansquenet is still the same town full of gossip, secrets and simmering resentments, but there’s a new witch in town who threatens Vianne by bringing the winds of change with her and challenging her to face her fears.

The narrative switches between Vianne, Rosette, the priest Francis Renaud and Narcisse who leaves his final confession to Reynaud – though it changes hands a few times through the story. I love returning to these characters to see how they’ve grown and changed, both Vianne and her former nemesis Reynaud, have been humbled by their experiences over the years, and have forged a friendship with one another.

I especially appreciated Vianne’s perspective on motherhood, and that bittersweet mix of emotions between her fierce desire to protect her daughters and the sweet sorrow of watching them grow up and outgrow their need for their parents. Yet as Vianne realises that her fear of commitment is rooted in her fear of loss, her daughters teach her that change can be liberating, and that the past can’t be changed, nor the future controlled but the only time that really matters is now.

I’ve enjoyed all of these stories, finding them all so absorbing, easy to read, full of humour and wisdom, and as comforting as a cup of rich, spiced hot chocolate, yet they’re not without tension or conflict. The Strawberry Thief is a story of secrets and confessions, guilt and forgiveness, parents and children, friends and lovers, fear, loss, love and change. Have a lovely week. X

Peaches for Monsieur le Curé by Joanne Harris

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I enjoyed The Lollipop Shoes (reviewed here) so much that I dove straight back into the third installment of the Chocolat series. Peaches for Monsieur le Curé is set eight years after Chocolat (reviewed here) when Vianne recieves a letter from a deceased friend in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, she decides to return to the village with her daughters. Vianne finds Lansquenet has changed dramatically in the intervening years with an influx of Muslim immigrants, and the atmosphere in the village is tense as the French villagers clash with the newcomers.

Like Chocolat, the narrative switches between Vianne and her old adversary, the village priest, Francis Reynaud, who finds himself under suspicion from both his own congregation and the Muslim community when a school for Muslim girls burns down.

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Unlike Chocolat and The Lollipop Shoes, which had a certain timelessness, I suspect Peaches for Monsieur le Curé will be easier to place in time as it reflects the real-world political tensions and suspicions between Muslim immigrants and the native French. Lansquenet is as rife with secrets and discord as ever, yet there is reason and tolerance, as well as prejudice and hypocrisy on both sides of the conflict.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find Peaches for Monsieur le Curé quite as charming or captivating as its predecessors but I did enjoy returning to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and it had enough suspense and mystery to keep me guessing until the end. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

 

The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris

I read and thoroughly enjoyed Chocolat (reviewed here) a few years ago, but didn’t get around to reading the sequels until now when I was in the mood for some escapism and decided to return to the delicious world of Vianne Rocher.

The story switches between three different narrators, Vianne (now going by the name of Yanne Charbonneau), her eldest daughter Anouk and a mysterious identity thief, calling herself Zozie, who wears the titular lollipop shoes.

Vianne and her daughters, eleven year old Anouk and four year old Rosette live in Paris, where Vianne runs a chocolaterie. Cautious and fearful, Vianne is a shadow of her former self, she and her daughters live like fugitives trying hard to fit in and trying to avoid drawing any attention to themselves, with the chocolaterie barely breaking even until Zozie arrives.

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While Chocolat took place between Lent and Easter, The Lollipop Shoes is set between Halloween and Christmas about four years later. The almost diary-style way the series is written adds suspense as the story counts down day by day to the inevitable, thrilling conclusion.

I love the supernatural elements of the story, the references to the wind that seems to push and pull Vianne from place to place, the tarot and charms, and the little spells (or cantrips) the witches cast.

Every bit as enjoyable as Chocolat, The Lollipop Shoes is an enchanting and sinister tale of secrets, temptation and revenge, mothers and daughters, friends and bullies, witchcraft and, of course, chocolate. Have a lovely week. X

Review of ‘Chocolat’ by Joanne Harris

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Chocolat had been sitting unread on my bookshelves for more years than I can count, but last weekend on a whim I settled down to read it while nibbling pieces of chocolate Easter eggs, which seemed wholly appropriate as the story takes places between Shrove Tuesday and Easter Sunday.

Chocolat follows Vianne Rocher and her daughter who sweep in on the winds of a carnival bringing flavour and colour to the drab and parochial French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes.

The novel is written in the first person, but switches between Vianne and Francis Reynaud, the village priest who takes umbrage when Vianne opens a Chocolaterie on the first day of Lent. The pace of Chocolat is meandering, yet the antagonism between Vianne and Reynaud builds suspense and drives the story on to its inevitable conclusion.

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The village of Lansquenet itself is rife with secrets, gossip and simmering tensions but Vianne finds friends among the other village outcasts and rebels, their kindness and camaraderie in stark contrast with Reynaud and his cronies’ hypocrisy and meddling.

Chocolat is a story that doesn’t reveal its secrets too quickly and kept me wondering right up to the end. I really enjoyed the supernatural elements of the story, there is magic in Chocolat, yet it is always understated and never becomes too fantastical.

The descriptions of Vianne’s chocolate creations are unsurprisingly mouth-watering and Chocolat was a delightful story that left me hungry for more. Have a lovely week.