Anyway, Chocolate Cake for Breakfast by Danielle Hawkins features quirky rural vet Helen McNeil. One night, escaping someone at a party, she runs into a guy called Mark and they make small talk. Only later does she realise that Mark is actually Mark Tipene, All Black and shirtless poster on the work tearoom wall. He could have any woman in New Zealand (as everyone keeps reminding Helen), but for some reason he stops by Helen's clinic and asks her out. Nor is he deterred by her on-call roster (formidable during calving season) and discussions of bovine uterine prolapse. But he's based in Auckland, and she's in the Waikato, and then something happens that throws their burgeoning relationship right off it's planned course.
I felt like Chocolate Cake for Breakfast sat midway on the spectrum that ranges from chick-lit to contemporary romance. It was written completely from the heroine's point of view, the love scenes were closed-door, and the romantic arc saw the hero and heroine in a stable relationship for much of the book; all characteristics that I would associate more with chick-lit or 'sweet' contemporaries.
However, in other ways, it did feel very much like a contemporary, but I'm not going to list those ways because I promptly forgot most of them after writing them in the original review. The distinction between chick-lit and contemporary is extremely arbitrary, but I feel the to situate Chocolate Cake for Breakfast with reference to them because it felt...different than the majority of both. Somehow, the sense of fulfilment I got from reading it reminded me of those first dozen romance novels I devoured, which made me feel so gooey inside and and which still hold a special place in my heart, even if, rationally, I know that there might be nothing incredibly exceptional about them.
I read Chocolate Cake for Breakfast in a day, driven by my love for the quirky Helen and her poignant but still comic struggle with coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy. Her internal disquiet and insecurities surrounding her relationship with Mark and their impending parenthood were so raw and touching, and I think the lack of sugar-coating was one of the things that made the book feel so different and special.
Helen can't understand what Mark sees in her, and feels sure that the pregnancy means that he'll stick with her just out of obligation. They develop massive communication issues that stem from the fact that they are very different people, who, because they have only been in a relationship a short time, don't understand each others' needs that well. Because the book is written from Helen's perspective, I've focused a lot more on her, but Mark was a great hero, a classic old-school Kiwi bloke with just enough new-age sensitivity thrown in.
The fact that he's an All Black opens the field for comparisons with other rugby romances, particularly Rosalind James' well known Escape to New Zealand series. As much as I did like those, Chocoloate Cake for Breakfast feels far more organic, with New Zealand and the All Blacks undergoing far less fetishisation. This is much more made for an internal Kiwi audience, rather than people for whom New Zealand and rugby are exciting and exotic.
Instead of having one of New Zealand's major draw-cards as a setting, here we have a fictional rural Waikato town, and the representation was both incredibly comic and spot-on. There's grumpy dairy farmers, the local pub, trips to 'big smoke' Hamilton and cousins who spot each others' cars in the local supermarket car park.
I'm sure the way this book portrayed the familiar rhythms of life in the Waikato has impacted my rating, because it's impossible for me to separate my experience of Chocolate Cake for Breakfast with my near-constant sense of...not homesickness, exactly, but of nostalgia, longing and belonging. As a result, I've debated with myself a lot over whether I'm being rational giving this book 5 stars, especially since I 5-starred The Hating Game so recently. But, at the end of the day, when something is a 5 star book for someone, it's a 5 star book.