Review—Chocolate Beach

Today I have the fun of discussing ACFW Featured Author Julie Carobini‘s first novel, Chocolate Beach (Bethany), released earlier this month.

    Julie Carobini and Chocolate Beach

The thing is, there’s an elephant in the room which I need to address. If you visit Amazon.com and take a look at the information offered about Chocolate Beach, you’ll find a review by Publishers Weekly. Quite the coup for a first-time novelist from a Christian publishing house. Except for the part of the review that delivers some tough criticism. Here’s probably the harshest line:

“the series of misunderstandings that she substitutes for actual problems give the novel a contrived feel”

Don’t get me wrong—I respect PW and know that their approval (which they end up giving in small doses) can mean a lot to the success of a novel. However, they are not infallible. In this instance, they got it wrong. Not totally. But still wrong.

Yes, protagonist Brianna Stone does seem to have an ideal life. I thought it sounded about perfect and sort of smiled when she found her day at her beach home with her one son and lawyer husband so exhausting she needed to take a nap. But Bri’s worries are not based on misunderstandings, as PW suggests. Nor does the one comment from her friend send her off doing drastic things to her lifestyle.

Instead, a sequence of events, one after the other, expose a problem at her core—a problem she handles badly. All of these circumstances taken together work powerfully to teach Bri what change she really needs to make. Which is the way I see God so often working in my life.

Strengths. There are many. For one, I agree with PW that Carobini’s “descriptions of characters and events are often witty and engaging.” The book was fun, humorous, yes, witty.

Carobini also has such a strong, fresh voice and has the knack of making each of her characters unique and interesting. Bri, of course, is the strongest. She is a likable protagonist, convincing—someone I found myself caring for, worrying with. Her jaunty tone contrasted with several of the uptight women in her life, setting her apart in a positive way.

The story is delightful—the unexpected and worrisome mixed with the humorous. Carobini sprinkles the story liberally with pop-culture allusions that add an interesting dimension. Plus, I found the events believable, especially as backstory was layered in.

No, some of the deep hurts of Bri’s past do not become the focus of the story, nor should they in a mom-lit story. What does happen is the realization of a new way to handle hurts.

Which brings me to the theme of the story. * * * SPOILER ALERT * * * If I had to spell it out, I’d use lines straight from the book—not because Carobini preached, but because her character discovered what she needed to know: “Not that I don’t believe there’s power in transformation. Oh, I do, I do! I think, though, that it should start with the mind and the heart, not rumors and fears.”

It seems to me the PW reviewer missed this point in stating that the story was built upon misunderstandings. It was not. It was built on Bri’s doubts and fears, all well established throughout the story, but not belabored. After all, this is mom-lit. * * * End SPOILER ALERT * * *

Weakness. As I’ve already mentioned, in the beginning I had a little bit of a desire to head-slap Bri for not drinking in her perfect life. Of course, that was because as I first viewed her life, it looked quite appealing, something I wouldn’t mind too much if I were forced to take her place.

But as I began to see her life as she saw it, to understand that she had good reasons for her concerns, my empathy for her grew and my belief in the rightness of her reactions cancelled out those early inclinations.

Recommendation. I enjoyed this book immensely, even though it is not my genre of choice. It was fun to read and the character stayed on my mind for days after. I was sorry I didn’t have some way of checking in on Bri to see how she is doing now. 😛 I highly recommend this entertaining, light book for all fans of mom-lit.

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Published in: on February 15, 2007 at 9:47 am  Comments (1)  

One Comment

  1. Great review, Becky! I bought the book yesterday and am really enjoying it.

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