Amy Kayden's story begins with the funeral of her formerly workaholic husband. Even though he was rarely at home and she was the one who basically held the family together, Amy feels set adrift by his passing, unsure of where to go from here. Supported by her four children and several other family members and great friends, Amy survives tragedy and celebrates her triumphs, even the small ones. With a spunky attitude, lots of humor and a penchant for disaster, Amy takes readers on a journey through a year of widowhood, as she tries to cope with loosing her mate of twenty-five years, find her niche in life, and maybe find love again too.
I recently had the opportunity to meet Abby Irish at a big author book-signing event at a local festival. She generously offered me a review copy of her debut novel, There's Always Chocolate! right there on the spot. We discussed the book which she characterized as romantic comedy. That certainly makes sense, because in some ways it reminded me of some comedy movies I've seen. After reading it though, I think that the book would be better served with a designation of chick-lit and that fans of the genre would probably enjoy it. My primary reasoning for this is that the main focus of the story is not on the romance but on a single female protagonist and her journey through the year following her husband's death with a close-knit group of family and friends by her side. Granted most chick-lit is about 20-30-something single women, and although Amy's exact age isn't given, I could surmise in context that she must be at least in her mid to late forties. However, there is an excellent definition of chick-lit on Wikipedia which informed me of a sub-genre known as widow lit, which in my opinion, fits There's Always Chocolate! perfectly. Now that my OCD self has the book categorized to my satisfaction, on with the review.;-)
Amy Kayden is the first person narrator of There's Always Chocolate!. As the book begins, she is newly widowed after a 25-year marriage. She is the mother of four children in their late teens to early twenties, and trying to figure out what to do with her life now that she's single again. Amy can be pretty quirky and a bit neurotic at times. She talks to herself (or her dogs) frequently, is afraid of the dark and thunderstorms, and calls 911 almost at the drop of a hat, but to rather amusing effect. She has a thing for red wine, pink roses, scented candles, and of course, chocolate. Amy's life in general can get a little chaotic, and she certainly has a penchant for getting herself into some sticky situations. The police, fire department and home security company all wound up at her house at one point or another, and they all seem to know her by name. Amy is quite clumsy and extremely cooking-challenged, which I could definitely relate to. My own lack of grace is a source of amusement for my husband, and although I've only tried to set the house on fire once while cooking (hey, it wasn't technically my fault ;-)), I do regularly burn dinner, much to his chagrin, mainly because I get easily distracted just like Amy. I could also relate to her trying to be a good mother to her kids even though they're grown and don't live with her anymore, her not really knowing what to do with her life after her husband's death, and deep down not really wanting to be alone. I think Amy embodies a lot of characteristics that are common in many women and therefore would resonate with a wide variety of female readers from different walks of life and with different personalities.
It seemed that there were three potential suitors for Amy, Joe, David, and Joel, who made me think of the Three Bears, except that I would call them "Too Grumpy," "Too Needy," and "Just Right." Amy "accidentally" had Joe arrested which understandably made him irritable. For some odd reason, Joe started to resemble the paperboy from Better Off Dead in my mind. I think this is because he kept popping up in the strangest places and subtly demanding satisfaction. The way he and Amy started trying to one-up each other every time they met, was perhaps a little mean-spirited but at the same time quite amusing. There was also David, a guy Amy had dated once in high school, who was now a widower, but he was rather wishy-washy about whether he was truly ready for a new relationship. Then there was Joel, an absolute prince among men. Heaven forbid that anything should happen to my dear husband for many, many years to come, but if it did, I'd love to have a Joel in my life. I adored the fact that he still knew Amy's favorite things after so many years, and the way he always called her M'lady was utterly charming. I'm a huge fan of reunion and friends-to-lovers romances, so having Joel and Amy be childhood friends was wonderful for me. At first, I wasn't sure if I would like the idea of Joel having been married twice before, but the author made me quickly forget about that, by turning him into one of the most romantic guys ever, who had never truly stopped loving Amy all those years. Also, she makes that all-important (for me) distinction between Joel and Amy as a couple and each of their past relationships with others.
There's Always Chocolate! is a good book that is written with lots of humor, sometimes slap-sticky and other times a bit snarky, that frequently had me smiling. The author slips back and forth between present and past tense, which is a style I've never really read before. I think I understand what she was doing though, because it was Amy's immediate thoughts that seemed to be in present tense, while her narrative of what was going on around her or her descriptions of the other people and events in her life that were in past tense. Still, it was a little distracting to read, and I couldn't help but wonder if it might have flowed better if everything had stayed in one tense, or if there had been some other differentiation between Amy's narration of the story and her more personal thoughts. The general sentence structure could have benefited from more richness in form and composition, as some of them were a little to brief and simplistic for my taste. There were also quite a few typos, as well as incorrect or missing words, that could have been avoided with better editing. There's Always Chocolate! is the first "chick-lit" book that I've read. I can't say that I've ever been drawn to the genre as a whole, probably because I prefer different character perspectives in my stories, and chick-lit has always seemed rather one-sided to me. I do try to maintain an open-mindedness though and enjoy stepping outside my comfort zone from time to time to try something new. There's Always Chocolate! may not have made me an instant fan of chick-lit but it was a pretty enjoyable read that I think true followers of the genre would really appreciate. In my opinion, Abby Irish is a promising new author, and I look forward to seeing what else she comes up with in the future.
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