~A Holiday Delights Introduction~
This year, we thought we would do something a bit different with each review that featured a ‘Holiday’ story. Accompanying the reviews will be extra snippets that may be something connected to the story itself or the snippet maybe something from our own family holiday traditions. We do hope you enjoy the extras and feel free to share some of your own holiday connections, too.Genres: Contemporary Romance, Holiday Romance
Published by Kensington on September 29. 2015
Tis the season for holiday reading and my mood for nostalgic family-oriented, food-filled, traditions of celebration-soaked stories. They can be saccharine sweet and I eat that stuff up. I wanted to read this one because this is a debut author and she writes about a Belgian American family of siblings who are all talented in their own ways and live their own lives, but are now being called home together for the first time in years.
Each sister shares the narration in turns. Magali or Gali begins the story. She is the middle sister, the homebody, family anchor and custodian of their Belgian heritage and family traditions. Gali is a happily married wife, mother, homemaker, former chef, and published writer of cookbooks for the hopeless cook. She dreams of one day writing a novel and proving her worth to her father who seems to only look at her with criticism. Gali receives word from her father that he wants her to make sure all her siblings come home for Christmas. Gali is nervous as to why he suddenly makes such a request when their family has been scattered for years and he’s never wanted to be around his children since even before their mother died. She reluctantly takes on this challenge of organizing the family homecoming even while her own life is in upheaval by her editor/agent retiring and a bit of temptation results from it that may destroy her own home. Getting her sisters home will take some doing and even finding her photo journalist brother will be nearly miraculous, but Gali refuses to disappoint a parent who seems always to be disappointed in her.
Jacqueline is the oldest sister. She moved back to Belgium to pursue her music and is an opera star now. She adores her Belgian family and her ex-pat friends and relies on her husband as her anchor as they try for the one thing that Jacqueline is compelled to have before she will ever go home. She desperately wants a baby and feels that will make even her critical father see her as accomplished, but after several miscarriages her dreams dim and she worries that her need will break up her own marriage.
Colette is the youngest sister living with her long-time boyfriend in San Diego. She knows none of her family approves of Wayne after the way he behaved before and she senses that they probably aren’t impressed with her contractual job teaching French at the university and her hobby of making clothes on the side. Her world is torn apart when Wayne leaves taking most of the things in their cottage and all of her savings with a cold note and no explanation other than it won’t work. The university cuts her job and she knows she cannot go crawling home for Christmas. But just when life is darkest, a handsome Italian and his ideas on life help her mend and maybe will help her find her way home.
Alright, this was a deeply emotional tale of three sisters and a brother who are raised by a stern man who never got over the death of his wife and created a feeling of inadequacy in all his children no matter how much they accomplish and they accomplish a lot. Each sibling perfected their gifts and have succeeded, but they can’t see it that way because they are so used to being told to do better. It was sad to see this.
It was also interesting to see that all the sisters are in relationships and each of these situations is different and, though long-time, are still growing. Gali is tempted to stray, Jacqueline is pushing her husband to the point of breaking over her need to have a baby, and Colette has allowed herself to stay with a guy who drifts through life and their relationship and then she meets a man who takes her seriously and wants to be with her so she has to choose. Then there is the brother, Art. He doesn’t narrate, but he is a strong presence. He deliberately stays out of contact and yet he wants to be accepted and part of the family, too. There is a bit of a reveal as to why Art is such a ghost and a big surprise romance for him.
The backdrop and setting of each siblings’ life is told in rich detail. I loved Gali’s life there in Pennsylvania where her home is a place I would love to visit. The book even includes recipes for some of the food she cooks, bakes, and eats at a favorite Belgian pub. Then there is Jacqueline’s home in Belgium making music and visiting friends and family that again, is described so well I wanted to be there. Colette’s cottage and her life in San Diego is lovely particularly when she is busy creating and designing clothes and being with her Russian friends even with the idiot Wayne trying to rip up her happiness with his selfishness. There is a lovely international flavor to the story and a diversity of situations, but the thread of friends and family holds it all together.
The holiday theme is very strong and actually begins with Halloween celebrations to Thanksgiving and then the countdown to Christmas. Most is American, but I loved that the author infused all the Belgian family and holiday traditions. It was a treat for all the senses.
All in all, this was a fantastic debut story. I would recommend it to those who enjoy women’s fiction, contemporary romance, or someone looking for an engaging holiday story.
My thanks to Kensington for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Christmas Chocolat focuses on the holiday traditions of a Belgian-American family and there is much there for me to highlight and offer up as a little extra for our readers.
Movie watched during the story- The Grinch Who Stole Christmas
Christmas Music was Jacqueline singing- Ava Maria
Christmas Morning Meal included a traditional Belgian bread, Cougnou, and hot chocolate
Chocolate, people! Particularly, Belgian Chocolate. Best in the world most would tell you. The Belgians like their hot chocolate and so does this gal. I thought I would share my favorite recipe for hot cocoa that I pulled off Pinterest a few years back when I wanted to make my own instead of using the powdered mix. It’s not that tough, but it does require vigilance to get it right (I may or may not have had an incident where I burned the chocolate by taking a phone call from my sister in law in the middle of the melting process). So, this was originally from The Hungry Housewife.
NUTELLA HOT CHOCOLATE 1 serving
1 cup milk
2- 1/2 Tbsp Nutella
1 Tbsp Cocoa (I use Ghiradelli 72% Dark bar, chopped, but the type of chocolate can vary to taste)
Tiny pinch of salt
Whipping Cream (For the holidays I splurge and buy heavy cream)
In a small sauce pan over medium heat, whisk all ingredients together until well blended and hot. Pour in a cup and top with homemade whipped cream and shaved chocolate.
Option- crunch up leftover candy canes and drop into the cocoa to melt while it is hot. This is what my family enjoys New Year’s morning while sitting around the fireplace watching the Pasadena Tournament of Roses’ Parade on TV.