Straight Uphill: A Tale of Love and Chocolate

Written by Jess Wells
Review by G. J. Berger

Gretchen’s nice life is derailed by the bus accident death of her kindergarten son and divorce from her husband. She flees Loon, Michigan, to a town on a hill in Italy. There she helps in the bread bakery, savors food in the local restaurant, and attracts multiple suitors. The elderly owner of the bakery, Bettina, has troubles too. Her only son and main helper recently ran off with the wife of the restaurant proprietor. Bettina and Gretchen struggle to bake enough bread but soon change over to chocolates. In her young life Bettina had made wonderful chocolates from recipes passed down for hundreds of years. She has saved the molds and other chocolate-making equipment.

Now the story jumps back to 1943, then 1863, and even the 1500s. Special chocolates have been part of Bettina’s family and this village for centuries. The chocolates saved the villagers from both Fascists and Nazis and, long before that, helped the Duke of Savoy seduce beautiful women.

The story comes back to the present and two new women. The daughter of the jilted restaurant owner, Adelina, returns from Rome and her own romance gone bad. She waits on customers at the family restaurant and secretly helps Bettina produce wonderful chocolates. Then stunning blonde Kate from New Zealand arrives as part of the region’s butcher delivery service. Her specialty is lamb.

Overall, this potentially beguiling mixture of love and food across hundreds of years and many characters feels cramped in its less than 200 pages. The jumps across time and characters feel too abrupt and take the reader out of plot lines just beginning to get interesting. Several of the sub-plots, Kate’s story and the Fascist time among them, deserve fuller, richer treatments.