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Books: Leisure reading

'The Discovery of Chocolate'

By James Runcie

HarperCollins, $25

This is a playful, romantic novel about the discovery of chocolate. It begins in 1518 when Cortes and his conquistadors take Diego, a young Spaniard, with them on an expedition. Diego has been told by the woman he loves that she will not marry him until he returns with a special treasure — a symbol of their love — that no one has ever received before.

During his travels he falls in love with Ignacia, a native woman who introduces him to the most delicious drink he has ever tasted: chocolate. Their passionate affair is cut short by the conquest of Mexico. Later, Diego discovers that his lover has secretly added the elixir of life to his chocolate drink. The result is that he travels through history — to Paris during the Revolution, to Vienna in the 19th century, to late Victorian England — and finally to Hershey, Penn.

Because he cannot die, he tries desperately to recapture the magic of Ignacia's chocolate. — Dennis Lythgoe

'The Business'

By Iain Banks

Simon & Schuster, $25

This odd story concerns a business with global supremacy, a business so old that it owned the Roman Empire for 66 days. The beautiful Kate Telman has been groomed from childhood to become a partner in the business, a powerful organization that stretches from the ice fields of Antarctica to a remote Himalayan principality.

One eccentric aspect — employees must renounce their religion in order to ascend to upper echelons. When Telman realizes the business has its eye on a remote independent nation, she realizes the business has always had control of her destiny. This is high satire about the world of international business, so look for its not-so-hidden meanings. — Dennis Lythgoe

'Voices in Our Blood'

Edited by Jon Meacham

Random House, $29.95

This is a literary anthology of the most important interpretations of the civil-rights movement. It showcases 40 of the best writers in America, including Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Alice Walker, Robert Penn Warren, Eudora Welty, Taylor Branch, Russell Baker, John Lewis, David Halberstam and Richard Wright.

The editor, who is also managing editor of Newsweek, has chosen journalists, novelists, historians and artists who present a wide range of black and white perspectives on one of the central developments of the 20th century. The sum of all these writers is to note the seminal events in the history of civil rights and to suggest how far there is to go to reach "the promised land." — Dennis Lythgoe