Straight Uphill

A Tale of Love and Chocolate

Romance - Historical
151 Pages
Reviewed on 11/19/2019
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

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.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford

Chocolate and love go well together. But then who could resist loving chocolate? In a little village in Italy, a chocolatier, Signora Bettina Liguria, restores her family’s heritage, a love of fine chocolates. As she recreates the delectable treats of the past, she tells her story, a history of family chocolate making that dates back to the nineteenth century and survived the atrocities of World War II. One of the most interested listeners is an American tourist, a woman, Gretchen, who is trying to mend her broken heart and restore a soul that was shattered by the tragedy that took her young son’s life. Will chocolate help her? She stumbles into Bettina’s domain and ends up helping. By helping Bettina reclaim the family ancestral love for making chocolate, will Gretchen find her own path and perhaps as well a new love?

Jess Wells’ novel Straight Uphill: A Tale of Love and Chocolate combines two human passions and the compelling allure of chocolate to develop a plot that spans several generations. The author unravels the plot mostly in descriptive narrative with some dialogue sprinkled here and there. A lot of information is provided as the plot evolves in the present and melts, like chocolate, into the past, to the loves and losses and chocolatiers of Bettina’s ancestors. The story is intense and thorough, but a little dry. Dialogue is sparse. There is a language barrier between Gretchen and Bettina, but that is simplified with the modern wonders of technology and Gretchen’s instant translator on her smart phone. An interesting read.

Cheryl E. Rodriguez

Straight Uphill: A Tale of Love and Chocolate written by Jess Wells touches the heart and tempts the palate with love. Enduring a great loss, not able to see beyond her grief, Gretchen travels to a small remote village in Italy. Upon her arrival, burdened, weighed down, Gretchen looks at the uphill path leading to the village. With the aid of a small boy, Gretchen makes it up the hill. “The old village was quiet and solid, having borne witness and survived.” It was obvious Gretchen was not the first to arrive broken. A bizarre, unlikely event causes Gretchen to become immersed in the town’s history of chocolate-making. Her story mingles with the stories of several others, unraveling the mystery of chocolate and its sensuous effects on those who indulge in its alluring taste.

Jess Wells pens a story of love and loss in Straight Uphill: A Tale of Love and Chocolate. The narrative taps into one's senses with its Italian scenery and cuisine, especially the decadence of chocolate. It penetrates the heart with triumph and tragedy and tests the soul with history. The underlying theme of self-discovery flows from beginning to end. Finding a renewed purpose in life is demonstrated in each character as they face heartache, betrayal, life, and death. The conflict of a passion for life versus the lust for love runs its course in the past and the present. The stories of love in the quaint Italian village peak and descend, proving love and life are a struggle, and the best way to conquer them is to head “Straight Uphill.”

Deborah Lloyd

Unbearable grief over the death of her little boy gripped the heart and soul of Gretchen Simonson. At her sister’s insistence, Gretchen went away and soon found herself in a small Italian village where she became immersed in the lives of several villagers. In Straight Uphill: A Tale of Love and Chocolate, written by Jess Wells, the loss and rekindling of love – and chocolate-making – are beautifully interwoven themes. Gretchen assisted the feisty, elderly Bettina Liguria recover from the abandonment of her bread-baking son. Facing impoverishment, Bettina’s long-lost commitment to making chocolate delicacies was found again. The village’s trattoria also experienced upheaval, and the chef and his two adult children discovered their paths in life. The connections between present-day events in the village, and the intriguing history of how both defined the village for past centuries, are artfully described.

The cast of characters in this fictional work is interesting and complex. The development of each one’s motivations and actions attests to the skillful writing of the author. For example, the trattoria chef’s son, Paolo, learns to balance his desire to be independent in his work, along with his fear of being in charge of the restaurant’s continuing success. Author Jess Wells has written an insightful, delicious novel in Straight Uphill: A Tale of Love and Chocolate. The reader is engaged in the story from the first page to the last, while contemplating the sumptuous chocolates, delicious Italian meals, and budding love relationships. Along the way, there are some surprising twists and turns. A simply delightful book!

Robin Goodfellow

Straight Uphill: A Tale of Love and Chocolate by Jess Wells is a story about interweaving the romances of the past to create a home for the future. Gretchen is a divorced mother who had lost her son in an accident. Struggling to get away from it all, she decides to go to a small village in Italy where she meets an elderly baker named Bettina Liguria. After a series of odd encounters, Gretchen decides to help Bettina run her bakery while she finds someone else to help her. Soon, however, Gretchen realizes that there’s more to this tiny village than what meets the eye. Jess Wells carves a heartwarming tale of love and loss by bringing together beautiful story threads filled with family, hope, and chocolate.

I admit, I was skeptical when I first opened this book. In fact, I was almost expecting a fairytale to just pop out of nowhere. However, as I delved further into the story, I was more than happy to be proven wrong. There was Gretchen, who shared a similar pain to Bettina Liguria, who had lost her family as well. There were Paolo and his sister, who struggled with a mother that had simply run off with a man much older than she was. Then there were the past lovers themselves, who fought to get their family to where they were at. Wells masterfully wove time together to illustrate just how tender love can defeat time. It’s a concept that I had fallen in love with, and one that I refuse to let go of. From the interweaving between timeless romances, to the hope that new love would blossom, Wells definitely adds a magical atmosphere to her book. The book did carry some of the fairytale-like features that didn’t make it cliched, and it was something that I was grateful for. As such, I would recommend it to those who enjoyed The Mer Chronicles by Errin Stevens and I, Coriander by Sally Gardener.