Straight Uphill: A Tale of Love and Chocolate
In a hilltop Italian village, five generations of women confectioners work the improbable magic of love and chocolate. Can a brokenhearted American tourist fight the ghosts of her past to find a new life? Can a courageous mother save the village in the midst of war; and a renegade daughter redefine familial love? Could unlikely couples find each other despite their differences? If an abandoned widow navigates a shifting sense of purpose, will the legacy of chocolatiers take a new turn?
"In Straight Uphill, Jess Wells has written an enchanting historical novel about human love in various forms: romantic, familial, cross-cultural, and inter-generational. The tale is also infused with love for history, Italy, baking bread, and the making of exquisite chocolates! Set in a small Italian village, the story begins with a grief-stricken journey of a 35-year-old American, Gretchen, to Italy for a "change of scenery." Unexpectedly, she finds a fascinating occupation and a friendship of sorts with an elderly Italian woman. In a series of unfolding, interrelated stories that span centuries, the author's heroines cope with war, tragedy, deep personal loss, and scandal. Occasionally they triumph – but, pleasingly to the reader, the author's carefully etched and lovable characters do not always end up where they, and readers, expect. These women take risks to achieve their aims, run against the grain, and defy those prone to narrow-mindedness and gossip. This book is a gem. It is delightful proof that a literary novel can be a deeply satisfying page-turner!" -- Mark Wiederanders, author of Stevenson's Treasure.
"On the first page of Straight Uphill, a sad American woman climbs a steep road towards a hilltop Italian village. She is the catalyst for interaction among the people who run a restaurant and a chocolatier, whose jobs have been integral to the community over centuries, right down to the present. Like her, we become involved in generations of chocolate-making women, past and present, as they struggle with the times into which they have been born. The smell of food and the rapturous tastes of chocolate wind through their lives all the way to the denouement. In Jess Wells' novel, historical origins and the process of making chocolates are much more than background, atmosphere and setting; they inform the whole novel, because as Faulkner said, "The past is never dead. It's not even past."
You might say that I am a natural audience for Jess Wells' fifth novel. I once lived in the heart of Toronto's Italian neighbourhood, I've made three happy trips to Italy, I cannot be left alone with an open box of chocolates, and I am fond of watching The Great British Bake Off. I'm also an amateur cook and I've been a history buff since I learned to read.
However, what kept me turning pages was the way Wells captures love and longing, death and grief, hope and fortitude in writing that is lucid, clear and immediate. I am in awe of how much is going on in this short novel, and how vividly it is presented." – Seymour Hamilton, author of The Astreya Trilogy
Charming series of vignettes about the lives, loves and losses of the inhabitants of a picturesque Italian village and their visitors over the course of several centuries. Wells deftly and skillfully combines their stories with enough mouthwatering descriptions of traditional chocolate-making, baking and meal preparation to make you sigh for a trip to Italy. Straight Uphill makes for a delightful read.
- Catherine Lundoff, author of Silver Moon
"Complex characters, vividly drawn. Surprising twists and turns. A touching journey into the nature of grief and the astonishing capacity to heal the human heart."
Karen X. Tulchinsky, author of The Five Books of Moses Lapinsky
"The arrival of a grief-stricken American sparks a series of unlikely alliances in a remote Italian village known only for its chocolates. Sweetly sensuous, the story spins across centuries as only Jess Wells can do, weaving historic fiction into a contemporary tapestry of tale of loss, love, second-chances and chocolate." - Nisa Donnelly, author of The Bar Stories
"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!" – Deborah Lloyd for Readers' Favorite
"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 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." – Robin Goodfellow for Readers' Favorite
"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." – Cheryl E. Rodriguez for Readers' Favorite
"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." – Emily-Jane Hills Orford 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." – Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite