Two delicious words combine to form the title of this well-crafted first novel by Julie Carobini. While there is no specific place in the story called Chocolate Beach, the setting is a southern California beach town, Ventura. Plus, at one point, Brianna Stone, the central character, takes a Chocolate Cooking Class by the Sea.
In the opening pages readers learn that Bri, a tour bus host, and attorney Douglas Stone have been married for 14 years and live in a beach bungalow with their teenage son, Nathan, who loves to surf. Nathan is concerned about the spiritual condition of his friend, Gibson, and gives him a Bible.
Initially, Bri’s biggest inconvenience is hearing about best friend Gaby’s failed romantic escapades. Bri wants Gaby to find the right man and settle down to the kind of lifestyle that Bri has attained. However, Bri’s problems begin to mount when she does the laundry and finds a fax in the back pocket of Douglas’s pants. It’s from Bri’s meddling mother-in-law, Mona Stone, marked “For Douglas Only.” Mona is a local realtor who wants Douglas and his family to move into a property that would be much more in line with her expectations for her attorney son.
Life spirals out of control when the owner of Coastal Tours, Rita Holland, retires and turns her business over to her son, Ty, who seems determined to put a different spin on the tour bus business. For example, Ty includes a vague promise about how the tours will see celebrities, and a busload of Asian tourists throw some different expectations for Bri.
Meanwhile, Douglas is consumed with a complex trial where he is working all day and night. Upon its completion, he flies to Atlanta for a series of meetings. This intense schedule permits zero time for Bri to communicate with him. Eventually, she learns that Douglas is spending many hours with his female associate, Kendall, and begins to worry that her marriage is in trouble.
Readers will be delighted by the author’s use of snappy dialogue and fast-moving scenes. Her characters leap off the pages and are modeled after people who you probably know (and even if you don’t, they still are incredibly believable). CHOCOLATE BEACH is an excellent book that I highly recommend. Let’s hope we won’t need to wait too long for Carobini’s sophomore effort to be released.
Reviewed by W. Terry Whalin on February 1, 2007