Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin with Ritual, Cacaosuyo, Chocolarder and Undone Chocolate

17th June 2016: Our meeting this time was held at Theresa’s dad’s house. As usual there was a lot to catch up on as it had been a while since we’d all been together and with wine and snacks to sustain us we were ready for another good night. There were eight of us for this meeting Kathryn, Theresa, Vicki, Sally, Lara, Gini, George and Jo.

The Book

Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin tells the story of Tessa who at 17 was the only victim to survive a series of attacks by a serial killer. Years later as the killer is due to be executed Tessa becomes involved in the process surrounding his appeal against the death penalty and she begins to question whether the right man was convicted. If the wrong person was on death row who was the killer? The narrative switches backwards and forwards in time, with Tessa’s therapy sessions following the attack forming an important part of the story. The reviews were good, so we had high hopes for this book. 

Black Eyed Susans had been a quick read. Most people had finished it easily and there were lots of positive comments. It was Gini’s  “sort of book”, Jo had found it really hard to put down. It reminded Vicki of Before I Go to Sleep  and I found the forensic science techniques Heaberlin had included really interesting, but then, I am a fan of CSI! Heaberlin had introduced plenty of possible leads giving us much to think about and ponder although we did wonder how much of what the main character reported was fact or just in her own mind.

Although the group had enjoyed reading Black Eyed Susans, we all said we ultimately ended up feeling disappointed. It was a good enough read but not as good as its reviews had suggested and George said she had found it hard to get into it. We talked about how the to & fro nature of the narrative made it difficult to settle into the story and how our expectations had been built up too high which was bound to lead to disappointment.

So what was wrong with it? Well some of us were disappointed that a particular character seemed to avoid the consequences of their behaviour. A major issue for others was that there was a big plot hole concerning the denouement and this tainted the end of the story for them. We all agreed that there was not really much depth to any of the characters and that the romance in the novel was a bit ‘Mills & Boon’ in nature. So to sum up, a page turner and readable but not as good as it was built up to be.

Lara

The Chocolate

In keeping with Black Eyed Susans, this time I chose bars that were either American, floral or earthy. The bar chosen for its earthy flavours was from Washington DC makers Undone. Quite a neat reference to the ending of the book we thought, but you will see that we will remember this bar for much more than an incidental association with a slightly over-marketed thriller.  The Undone bar was part of the Cocoa Runners April Collection and the rest were sourced again from the Cocoa Runners makers library.

 Ritual Chocolate, Ecuador Balao 75%

Ritual Ecuador

According to the Cocoa Runners introduction, Utah based American makers Ritual are one of the best known makers in the US. They use no added ingredients other than sugar, focusing solely on the unique flavours of the bean’s origin. This bar, like two previous bars we have tasted (by Duffys and Pitch Dark), used beans from the Camino Verde plantation, renowned for their floral flavour notes.

We all agreed with Jo that it was beautifully packaged and opening it up, it had a delicate floral aroma that made us more optimistic about being able to detect the floral notes this time. The first bar is always difficult because you have nothing to compare it with and no-one was very forthcoming. Disappointingly we just couldn’t get floral. We talked more of toffee flavours and the slightly astringent finish. But it was very good, we all liked it and interestingly, the second tasting seemed to give more delicate flavours. Could that delicacy be the allusive floral?

 Cacaosuyo, Lakuna 70%

IMG_0140Ok, we couldn’t fail with this bar. The packaging said it was ‘full of floral notes’, the Cocoa Runners review talked of ‘lavender notes leaping forth’ and it had two Silver International Chocolate Awards. Cacaosuyo are Peruvian chocolate makers using some of the rarest beans.  We loved the geometric design of the packaging and it had a lovely deep aroma. Gini got it first… ‘Oh definitely floral’, the rest of us I admit were still looking a bit puzzled at this point. Sally was struck by how completely different it was compared to the Ritual bar. We took our time and gradually started to detect the flavours. Jo found the floral notes in the finish rather than an initial hit. Lara found this bar was lighter but more intense than the first one. I found this one more complex and although I admit I didn’t get ‘lavender leaping forth’ it was deliciously fragrant. We didn’t all agree, not everyone liked it as much as the Ritual bar.

 Chocolarder Chocolate, Wild Gorse Flower 40%

IMG_0142For our milk chocolate bar, I went for a different take on the floral theme. Javan milk chocolate infused with wild gorse flowers handpicked from Cornwall. The bright yellow blossom of wild gorse flowers seemed a good fit for our black eyed susans but I had no idea what it would taste like. We soon found out…coconut! It was described on the packaging as having the ‘floral toasted coconut flavour of wild gorse’ but since none of us had tasted wild gorse before we didn’t expect quite so much coconut. It was quite overwhelming. Superb is you like coconut. Although we like dark chocolate, we all agreed that we do enjoy the comforting creamy taste of a good milk chocolate and this was certainly that. Despite the dominance of the coconut flavour, Jo commented on how it was still well balanced with the more delicate floral notes. Quite a different taste experience.

 Undone Chocolate, Wild Bolivian 70%

IMG_0149This was the most expensive bar at £9.95 for 2oz (less than 60g!) but apparently they pay three times the fair trade premium for their beans and this bar is made from incredibly rare wild beans sustainably harvested from the Bolivian Amazon. So buying this chocolate has helped support the conservation of the Bolivian rainforest…great ethical credentials but would it taste that good?  It was Cocoa Runner’s description of the earthy flavour notes and coffee mixed with ‘fresh soil’ that made me pair it with our thriller. Obviously we didn’t expect it to taste like being buried alive but it looked interesting and gave us a good excuse to taste a £9.95 bar.

It was definitely earthy, Gini was surprised how much she liked the earthy taste and it had an astringency that Sally thought was ‘strangely pleasing’. The earthiness gave way to fruit which I think impressed us all. For Vicky it was ‘syrupy’ and fruity, Lara found it ‘highly fruity’, raisins and dried fruit were mentioned and Theresa found it even more fruity on the second tasting.  Jo and George also picked up a hint of coffee at the end. So a good choice I think. It was interesting and complex and when compared to a bottle of wine, we thought it was well worth the price tag.

Some of us found deciding which one to take home more difficult this time but the final results were:

Theresa – Ritual Chocolate, Ecuador

George, Vicky – Chocolarder Chocolate, Wild Gorse Flower

Gini, Jo, Kathryn, Lara, Sally – Undone Chocolate, Wild Bolivian

Kathryn

We have chosen A Life Discarded by Alexander Masters as our next book.

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