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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Straight Uphill: A Tale of Love and Chocolate is a literary fiction novel written by Jess Wells. Gretchen was in a daze as she looked up at the small Italian village awaiting her, perched firmly on its hillside. The houses were gaily painted in aquamarines, bright daffodil-yellows and robust pinks. Gretchen had needed something to help her shake off the depression she had fallen into since her son Nate was killed in a school bus accident. While she never would have dreamed of wishing that catastrophic loss on any of the other parents in the small town in Michigan where she lived, having Nate be the only fatality marked them out in some bizarre way. Suddenly, there seemed to be a desire to erase all memory of Nate, to allow a healing process that left him out of the equation. She could understand the need for those traumatized children to heal, but her son was dead. Everything she understood about the world shifted unalterably on its axis with Nate’s death. Her marriage didn’t survive the loss; her husband sold his business and left. Escape from a world of loss, pity and isolation seemed the only answer.
Straight Uphill: A Tale of Love and Chocolate is a magical confection of a novel steeped in exotic liqueurs and bursting with sunlight, warmth and life. One can’t help but feel for the bereaved mom, who has lost everything and then wanders, in a feat of serendipity, into the one place in the world that would make her feel needed and offer her life once again. With Gretchen, we smile at the cheerful colors of those little houses, even as we wonder how she will manage to get all her luggage up that steep hill. And who couldn’t help but fall in love with the bright yellow room complete with deck overlooking a fountain festooned with birds? I was entranced as I followed Gretchen on her first foray into the streets and bore witness to her attempts to speak with the old lady in the bakery, Signora Bettina Liguria, whom the gods have sent to Gretchen to start her on her road to healing. Wells is a veritable Scheherazade who regales the reader with the magic of bread, Italian cuisine...and chocolate. As I read this remarkable and enchanting book, I could have sworn I could detect those aromas of cream, caramel, limoncello and chocolate.
As a history buff, I was thrilled beyond words to follow the family history of Signora Liguria, especially the World War II story of Caterina, Bettina’s grandmother, and the earlier story of the gallant Anya Conti, daughter of the spice trader, and Gemma Costa, the first in the line of the Mistresses of Chocolate. Straight Uphill is lush, lovely and enchanting, merging past and present with the tang and sweetness of chocolate, and proving that redemption and healing, and even love are there waiting where one least expects it. I had a marvelous time getting wrapped up in this spellbinding and beautifully written novel. Straight Uphill: A Tale of Love and Chocolate is most highly recommended.