Not much is better than chocolate.
That may be why I found this title of this book attractive when rummaging amongst the books in the "library" in the condominium I am ensconced in when in Chicago. It was certainly not that it is a Harlequin imprint, which I have to admit makes me grimace just a bit. The book, though, made me smile -- Better than Chocolate by Sheila Roberts (website here). And, I smiled not just because of the title or that the book was free or that I ate just a tiny bit of chocolate while reading it. I smiled because I enjoyed the read.
The book is set in Icicle Falls, Washington and focuses on a major business in the town, a family owned chocolate factory called Sweet Dreams Chocolate Company. Various family complications mean that the company is in trouble, and that the lead character Samantha, oldest daughter and new head of the company, is trying very very very (yes, at least three veries needed here) hard to ensure it does not go under. There are lives depending on it -- of employees most critically -- and the impact on the town is important as well. Like most mysteries of the genre, there are romantic complications for both Samantha and her newly widowed mother, like many small town mysteries bankers are ambiguous folks, and again like some of this genre, a town festival focused on the core food (chocolate!) is part of the fun, and allows for a whole raft of characters to be brought together by the author.
To be honest, I did not expect to like this as much as I did. It is not actually as stuck in the genre as some others I have read over the years, and is a richer mystery than some. The twists and turns, red herrings and food placements in the book raise this one up several notches in my mind. I may have been swayed, as well, by the epigraphs for various chapters that come from Samantha's mothers books -- of course fictional -- which include business advice. My favorite? "There is a difference between selling your ideas and selling yourself." (page 113).
And, you ask, what about the recipes? Yes, like many in this genre, there are recipes at the end of the book, associated with the theme and thus, in this case, chocolate. At least one of the recipes this time comes to Samantha in a dream, which is how her grandmother, who founded the company, came upon her own recipes. I admit that over the years I have come to find recipes in mystery books too frequently worthless as recipes -- simply a marketing tool -- and as a result I generally ignore them. This book did have one oddity I will never make but which lives in my imagination: white chocolate lavender fudge. This is either spectacular or frightening or both. I did want a chocolate recipe that was not a sweet -- like mole, for example -- but went unrewarded.
In sum? Worth a read? Yes!