>> Sunday, March 23, 2014
TITLE: The Chocolate Rose
AUTHOR: Laura Florand
SETTING: Contemporary France
SERIES: Part of two different series: #3 in Amour et Chocolat and #1 in La Vie en Roses
Romantic Times calls Laura Florand's writing "sensuous and sumptuous", awarding her their Seal of Excellence, and NPR says it's "explosive, sensual... and utterly sweet".
Now, in the third book in the Amour et Chocolat series, a book USA Today calls "so romantic and sexy", Florand takes us from Paris to summer in Provence, for the steamy encounter between top chef Gabriel Delange and the daughter of his worst enemy, Jolie Manon. Hot-tempered Gabriel isn't above blackmail to get what he wants, but what he wants might very well be Jolie herself. Because in the heat and sun of Provence, where jasmine and roses climb up old colored walls and fountains play in ancient stone villages, even a beast can prove he is a prince at heart...
Jolie Manon's father Pierre, one of the world's top chefs, has always been a difficult man. Jolie loves him, though, so she's very disturbed when she sees the letter announcing that a former pastry chef of her dad's is suing him. Gabriel Delange, now the head of his very own 3 Michelin starred kitchen, claims that the recipe book that Jolie (a food writer) and Pierre recently cowrote includes several recipes created by Gabriel, including the spectacular and extremely famous chocolate rose on the cover.
Pierre is recovering from a pretty bad stroke which has left him with some motor impairment, and Jolie refuses to put his recovery in danger by bringing up the lawsuit. She'll deal with it herself, even if it means travelling to the little village where Gabriel has set up his own restaurant.
The premise of The Chocolate Rose is quite clearly based on the Beauty and the Beast basic storyline, which is always something I like. There's the father who steals a rose from the Beast, whom the daughter must then appease (Gabriel even roars quite frequently, at least at the beginning). Gabriel, who's attracted to Jolie from the start, demands that she cowrite a recipe book with him, as an excuse to spend time with her.
I think this might not have been the best book to start reading Florand. I did end up liking it and it made me want to read more by her (good thing, too, because I have several of her books in my TBR). However, it was touch and go for a while. It was a very rocky start and I really struggled with it, coming close to abandoning the book several times.
The problem was that in the first sections of the book, Gabriel's behaviour came across as sleazy and smarmy, rather than seductive. When Jolie first shows up in his kitchen there's a mixup and he thinks she's a new potential staff member, there for a trial. She knows she shouldn't, but she jumps at the opportunity of doing a day in a kitchen such as Gabriel's, even if all she's doing is the nasty, boring jobs. She doesn't do great, but doesn't humiliate herself, either. At the end of the day, Gabriel fires her, which is fair enough, because she clearly doesn't have the experience the job candidate claimed. What is not fair enough is that he thinks to himself that he's so attracted to her that the choice was between sexually harassing her if she continued to work there or fire her now and just ask her out (which he then promptly does). There follow loads of overly familiar and sexually aggressive innuendo (including constant talk about how she's clearly aroused by him, and look at how perky her nipples are, etc.) that I didn't find charming or sexy. I found it offensive, and would have liked to see Jolie tell him where she could shove his advances.
He also kept (as in, every couple of paragraphs, when we were in his POV) using the expletive "putain", which means 'whore' in French. Things like "Putain, but she was beautiful". I understand he wasn't calling Jolie a whore (we have a similar expletive in Spanish, and while you can (and I do) argue that it's offensive that the word should be an expletive at all, it doesn't mean you're calling anyone a whore). Once or twice would have been fine, it was the neverending litany, combined with his sleaziness at that point in the book. It was especially weird at one point when Jolie had just complained that the way he was treating her made her feel like a prostitute.
It took me weeks to get past the first quarter or so of the book. But then things suddenly got a LOT better. Jolie and Gabriel start a relationship of sorts, where the attraction is acknowledged. Gabriel continued to be a bit out there about his sexual interest in Jolie, but now it felt more like mutual flirting... consensual foreplay, basically. Now that it was appropriate, the same sorts of things felt hot, rather than smarmy, as they did when they were directed at a total stranger.
I also started to find Gabriel endearing, with his lack of a filter that keeps getting him in trouble and loneliness and need for a mate. He envies men, especially other chefs, who have managed to find someone to love them and tolerate a chef's long hours. But at the same time, I never got the feeling he fell for Jolie just because she was the first to be willing to do so.
Florand managed to convince me that these two fit together perfectly. She made the argument well, making it clear that Jolie's personality and her need to have her own space would make Gabriel, with his long hours and focus on his own thing as well, exactly the right guy for her, someone who wouldn't cling and smother her.
MY GRADE: A B. The last section is more like a B+, but I really was annoyed by the start.