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The Madhatter's Guide to Chocolate was an impressive story. It really took me by surprise. The setting is the South and the characters at first seem not especially unusual, and that was somehow a comfort. It was enjoyable learning about Jake and Hattie's friendship, and all the other memorable characters in the small Florida town of Chattahoochee. I found myself spending hours just enjoying the story about how life holds so many twists and surprises and how a loving family can pull you through the toughest times.
The story is told by Hattie in the present tense, which is very well done. She has returned to her home town for her mother's funeral. But out of tragedy, good things happen, beginning with discovering Max the Madhatter's treasured gray notebook. Max was a resident of the asylum that occupied the small backward town. He was a colorful character that recorded what he saw about town daily in his notebook. I enjoyed how every chapter began with a quote from his diary, and they usually were very poignant or a delicious chocolate recipe. I confess, at times I found myself craving chocolate treats! Each recipe or anecdote was a foreshadowing of the chapter, and I like this in a book. It was part of the reason why I had trouble putting it down.
It was a toss-up as to whom was my favorite character, though. I really liked the character of Jake, Hattie's childhood friend who opens a chocolate/florist/massage parlor shop with Hattie. He is endearing as a friend can be that is not a boyfriend, but a true soul mate. I was very disturbed when he was attacked because he was a homosexual, and pleased when he recovered and was there for Hattie when she needed help.
The other character that I just loved was Aunt Piddle, with her catfish biscuits and tell-it-like-it-is mouth. The other supporting characters added to the fun and family feeling of the book.
I was, however, disappointed with the tempo of the romance between Hattie and Holston. I waited the entire story to see the two get together, and it was a very disappointing scene. After two years of knowing each other, it wasn't what I'm used to in a first time romantic encounter. I was so disappointed, that when Hattie got ill with colon cancer, I really didn't care, and it was the one time the story rang false. It was drama that wasn't necessary to add to the plot. It seemed it was placed there to lengthen the story.
This story was a good first effort by Ms. DeVane. If you like a story that has a little bit of romance and a tale of southern families and how they survive hardships by banding together, with topics like homophobia, colon cancer and even adopting Chinese baby girls, which all seem to be ripped from today's headlines, then you'll enjoy this one. But beware, you might find yourself gaining weight from trying all those delicious chocolate recipes.