Set in a small North Carolina town, the story focuses on a chocolate café, The Chocolate Cottage, the magic it conjures with the help of an ancient apothecary cabinet and the bucket list of an eight year old girl. Penelope and her mother Sabina have mixed and dispensed the magical chocolate as well as other ‘normal’ confections for years: providing clarity, courage, hope and showing true love to their customers, and culminating in a Winter Solstice festival where their “Kismet” hot cocoa is available, a boost to fate and self-determination. But last year’s festival didn’t change Penelope’s fate – Ella is still ill and indications are that she’ll be gone soon. Uncertain about the ‘magic’, angry at the fates and scared about just how she’ll survive without Ella; having been the focus of her life and happiness since she was born. Penelope is sure the magic has either tricked her or let her down, again, just as it had when she was a teenager in love with a man who left. Adding to her worries, her mother Sabina is using the magical chocolates to retreat into a time when she was happy: before Penelope’s father died, and the cabinet keeps giving her recipes and ingredients for magical confections that she doesn’t want. Perhaps if the ‘one who got away’ hadn’t returned to town to help out his brother, and his niece wasn’t Ella’s newest (and most special) friend, she’d be able to survive the alternating hits of laughter and terror that come when she thinks of Ella. While Noah ran off years ago in search of “more”, he’s never forgotten Penelope, and he’s wanting to explore what may be there – once he can prove to her that he’s changed. But he may never get the chance. Add in the moments from Ella’s bucket list and the mixed emotions of joy in Ella’s excitement when another check is added to the realization that only a few more items exist, the story has a poignancy that grabs you by the throat, not entirely ever letting go. When Ella’s sights (and list) turn to Noah with the help of a new “pendant’ that the apothecary table granted her, and her determination to throw her mother and Noah together at every opportunity, Penelope’s skepticism about the magic and the table’s ability to provide what is needed at the right time is waning, the upcoming festival, her sharing a heretofore untold truth about the state of Ella’s health with the town, and the meddling of two eight year olds and some specially crafted cocoa bring the story to a close in ways unexpected and wholly welcome. As with her first story I read, The Secret Ingredient of Wishes, Crispell puts the magic and the changes brought by the hope of its recipients at the forefront: using the questions and doubts as a counterpoint: allowing the wonder and the ‘what if’ to capture the reader’s imagination. Easy to lose yourself in with the sense of family, community and emotions, it’s a book to hide away with while the winter rages outside. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
I want a magic apothecary table! When I picked this book up, I wasn't sure what to expect. But I loved every minute of it. The writing has an almost dreamy quality that matches the tone of the book. The characters tug at your heartstrings from the beginning. It was so good, I kept wanting to slow down and really savor it so it wouldn't end, just like a steaming mug of rich hot chocolate. Dreaming in Chocolate was a delight from start to finish. Can't wait to read Crispell's other books. ***I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.***