Bella Renfrew loves chocolate. She also loves her husband, Tom, her children, Oliver & Madeleine & her job as a features writer on a major daily newspaper. But, chocolate occupies Bella’s thoughts most of the time. Her handbag is crammed with emergency supplies, her desk drawer has more chocolate wrappers than pens. Chocolate is a comforter, a consoler & a refuge from all the issues Bella is avoiding in her life. Returning to work after Oliver’s birth had been tough. Bella loves her career but journalism is a cutthroat world & she yearns to be at home with her baby. Her best friends Louise & Pete are glad to see her but the boss from Hell, Denise, is not so welcoming. Denise sends Bella on ridiculous, time-wasting assignments with no thought for the routines of children & nannies, obviously hoping that Bella will give up her career & become a full-time mother.
When Bella falls pregnant a second time, Denise is incredulous & very disapproving. On her return from her second maternity leave, Bella finds that her desk has been taken over by Denise’s daughter, Gemma, & her own workspace is crammed in next to the photocopier. Determined to regain her spot in the office pecking order, Bella scores an interview with Jane Champion, the new Home Secretary. Champion has some pretty conservative moral views about single mothers & when Bella makes an embarrassing discovery about the Home Secretary’s past & gets a quote that will push everything else off the front page, she is triumphant. Denise is grudgingly complementary & Bella’s career prospects are looking up. Unfortunately the scoop unravels due to an unfortunate chocolate incident & the Home Office denies everything. Bella is sacked & suddenly she becomes the story. Forced to hide out while her former colleagues stake out her home, she has to reassess her future.
Tom Renfrew is a political journalist & has been offered the position of Europe Correspondent, based in Brussels. Less than enthusiastic about the move at first, once Bella realises that Belgium is the home of chocolate & that she has no hope of getting another job in London, her mood rapidly changes. Tom is amazed by her backflip but accepts the inevitable & the family move to Belgium. Bella & the children love Brussels. Making friends among the ex-pat community, Bella also explores everything Brussels has to offer the chocolate lover. Discovering a chocolatier, Clara’s Chocolat Chaud, run by a grumpy woman who nevertheless makes the most divine chocolates, opens a new path for Bella. Unfortunately she also realizes that her marriage is heading for trouble.
Tom is ten years older than Bella &, although he’s charming & handsome, he could also flirt for England. Bella has never doubted his love for her but, as her confidence drops & her waist expands, she starts to wonder whether Tom’s flirting has moved to another level. Suddenly he’s never home, dashing from one meeting & conference to another & conveniently forgetting to mention his gorgeously slim, blonde assistant, Vanessa. Bella has also met Fabrice (in the queue of a local bakery where she buys almond croissants every morning, naturally) & her romantic daydreams about him cause her to question her marriage. It takes another crisis to reveal exactly what Bella & Tom want.
Hot Chocolate is a lovely, warm, funny book. I don’t believe anyone could eat as much chocolate as Bella & live to tell the tale but I admit to a few chocolate cravings while reading. Chocolate isn’t the only food mentioned in the book though. There are many other scenes of delicious cooking & foodie delights. Bella is a warm character, loving her life as a mother but starting to have some doubts about the worth of her work as a journalist. Moving to Brussels is the beginning of a new life for Bella in more ways than one. I loved reading about Brussels too, a city I know very little about. The only other novel I can think of that I’ve read that was set in Brussels was Charlotte Brontё’s Villette.
Discovering this book was another little bit of serendipity. When I reviewed John Barlow’s thriller, Hope Road, I had a look at his blog & he’d just reviewed Hot Chocolate. I thought it sounded like a lovely read but was disappointed to find that it was only available for the Kindle & wasn’t a physical book at all. I then discovered Alice’s blog, Dulwich Divorcee, emailed her & asked if she could send me a copy for review. She wasn’t able to send me an ePub copy but I read it in Word. If you do have a Kindle, you can download Hot Chocolate at Amazon.