Black Swan, £6.99 stg
Fourteen years after the success of his first book 'Three Summers with Jackapple Joe', all Jay Mackintosh can do is write trashy science fiction novels under a pseudonym and drink heavily coasting on the remnants of his literary reputation. He's moved too far from his boyhood relationship with the magical Joe who inspired the book but, with the help of Joe's homemade 'Specials', wines made from blackberries, damsons and elderflowers, he starts to revisit the past and take a clearer look at the future.
Jay leaves his empty London life behind and buys a house in the sleepy French village of Lansquenet. The setting for Joanne Harris' first (recently filmed) book, 'Chocolat', Lansquenet is peopled with several familiar characters including bar owner Josephine and river rat Roux. Mackintosh, however, becomes fascinated with the mysterious Marise and, with the help of the 'Specials', starts to piece his life back together again.
Harris' books are full of sensuous and evocative descriptions of chocolate, wine and other culinary delights. She writes about what Joe calls "the magic of everyday things" – belief in yourself, the simple alchemy that turns fruit into wine, strangers into friends. An entertaining and charming read but as ephemeral as many of the sensations it describes.