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REVIEW: The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand

Dear Ms. Florand:

As I started this, wondering if it would grab me as much as the previous books in the series, I came across this line: “He had to form himself back up out of a puddle behind the counter after that laugh. He hoped he was subtle about it, and she didn’t realize he had melted to the floor.” And there I was, sucked in again.

The Chocolate Touch Laura FlorandThis is the essence of romance, Florand-style. The characters are so extravagant — they have feelings, and they have them all over the place. They care about art and beauty and embody those feelings in the creation of delicious food and delicious sex. Incidentally, Dominique Richard had barely spoken to Jaime when he had that thought about her. But when she asks him two weeks later how long they’ve known each other, he says “a month” — “didn’t she realize that those two weeks she’d sat in his salon counted as knowing him?” Chocolate maker Dom fell in love with Jaime while he watched her sitting in his salon eating his creations, “as if his very existence made up her happiness, as if she could spend hours soaking him in and still want more of him.” In Florand’s Paris, this is all it takes — this is everything.

Darker in tone than the previous books — even Dom’s chocolates are called “dark and cruel” by critics — The Chocolate Touch is about two wounded people. Chocolate industry heiress Jaime’s self-worth is wrapped up in activism and helping others, and after a traumatic event she no longer feels capable of it. (Did you know the chocolate industry uses child and slave labor? Like I said, dark. And potentially life-changing, if you like chocolate. And freedom.)  Dom grew up with violence, and fears replicating it if he ever forms a real relationship. (Astonishingly, this is something he’s working on in therapy, which makes him pretty much a romance novel unicorn.) Their mutual low self-esteem makes it hard for them to understand how they’ve wound up together and what it means.

Their romance left me just a little uncertain. Is their love based on anything lasting? Are they too needy and codependent? It helps that they’re aware of this problem themselves:

He saw her sitting in his salon, the still, absorbed focus of her. She had him. He was her healing. Thinking about it that way made him a little uneasy. He could feed her senses and her body, he could warm her, he could let her soak up everything she wanted from him. But… he wasn’t a doctor.

Later, Jaime promises him, “I will get stronger than this.”

Even so, I wasn’t as completely convinced of Happy Ever After as I like to be at the end of a romance. One of the aspects I loved about the previous Amour et Chocolat books is that the main characters were always on the same wavelength (whether they realized it or not.) It’s partly why the stories feel so magical — the whimsical metaphors or outrageous plans are a shared insanity on their journey to each other. There was less of that here, and less of the enchanting writing that expressed it. Instead, there’s more of an emphasis on physical sensuality — which is also gorgeously written, in that way that sort of creeps through my entire body and makes me shiver with delight. But it doesn’t have that inevitable feeling.

There are plenty of funny parts (falling for Jaime, sister of the heroine of The Chocolate Thief,  puts Dom in the position of in-law to one of his most hated rivals and the makers of mass produced American chocolates!) but even the offbeat, imaginative touches often go in a darker direction:

Sometimes he still stood in the little corner of glass and stone, smearing chocolate prints against the glass as he watched her, the poor child outside the candy shop he couldn’t quite believe he had the right to enter. The size of his chocolate prints, compared to the foggy ones they often had to wipe off the front of his own windows was… humiliating. Like his insides should really have grown at the same rate as his outsides.

Don’t you just want to kiss him on the nose and say “poor sweet baby”? My heart broke for Dom, even more when he thinks, “Even when he was six years old, the people who loved him thought he deserved what he got.” And Jaime is very touching and appealing as well. Even with some quibbles, it was lovely to see the tenderness they found with each other, and I finished the book with the precious and elusive Happy Sigh. B

sincerely,

willaful

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Willaful

Willaful fell in love with romance novels at an early age, but ruthlessly suppressed the passion for years, while grabbing onto any crumbs of romance to be found in other genres. About seven years ago she finally gave in and started reading romance again, and has been trying to catch up with the entire genre ever since. She loves exquisitely written historical romance, intense m/m, and crazy, over the top categories about equally, and hopes to be buried with her e-readers. Look for her on twitter or at her blog at www.willaful.wordpress.com

17 Comments

  1. Lori
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 08:56:20

    I’ve read all your reviews about these books and I’m slowly adding them all to my TBR pile. I have a feeling that I should make them my next to reads because they sound like a perfect blend of great writing, emotion and joy.

  2. Sunita
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 09:09:29

    What a great review, Willaful! I love this series (as you know). It feels as if the books seem to get a bit darker with each installment, but the angst doesn’t go into that stratosphere where it becomes too much for me.

  3. Dabney
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 09:37:59

    Lovely review, Willaful. I’ve not read any of these books, but, after reading your review, I’m adding the first in the series to the more urgent of my TBR piles. Do these books need to be read in order? Which is your favorite?

  4. Jane
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 09:46:47

    @Dabney: We’ve reviewed most of them here at Dear Author with Sunita putting them in her top ten lists.

  5. Dabney
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 10:09:10

    @Jane: Thanks for the link. I’ve read and enjoyed Sunita’s reviews. I was just curious about Willaful’s take.

  6. Sunita
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 10:32:37

    @Dabney: Willaful has a lovely review of The Chocolate Kiss here.

  7. Dabney
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 10:38:21

    @Sunita: Thanks. Do you have a favorite? And do you feel they need to be read in order or do the books work as stand alones?

  8. Willaful
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 10:45:56

    @Dabney: Thank you Dabney! I think The Chocolate Kiss might be my favorite, because it touched a lot on feelings and experiences I know very well, but honestly I love all of the first three about equally. Although I’d say they stand alone, I think you’ll miss some of the fun with the recurring characters if you don’t read the novels in order. (You could skip the novellas.)

  9. Willaful
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 10:49:07

    @Sunita: I’m usually all about the angst, which is one of the reasons I love these — because I don’t need it in these books.

  10. Willaful
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 10:52:03

    @Dabney: Hehehe… “the more urgent of my TBR piles. ” How that phrase sums up our lives!

  11. Dabney
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 10:52:06

    @Willaful: Thanks. I’ve been loathe to start any new series lately so it’s helpful for me to know if I were going to read just one, which one is best.

  12. Sunita
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 10:56:58

    @Dabney: I think The Chocolate Kiss is my favorite too, although I have a hard time choosing just one (much like fine chocolate, in fact). I’m usually compulsive about reading in order, but I read The Chocolate Thief before I read the novella that preceded it and didn’t have any trouble. The characters reappear, so if you know them you get more out of those interactions and scenes, but you don’t need to know them to enjoy each installment.

  13. Dabney
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 11:01:42

    @Sunita: @Willaful:I’m going on my extended family’s exceedingly rustic vacation next week. I usually read a book a day. I’ll plan to read The Chocolate Kiss then. Thanks for the help.

  14. Joopdeloop
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 16:13:34

    I love how you put your finger on the bittersweet darkness pervading this romance and its main characters. For me I find its darkness nicely balanced by humor and tart observation – I love how she writes food and clothing and place. (Also, romance novel unicorn: stealing it immediately!) I think all of Florand’s heroes have a bit of unicorn quality to them, in that they seem to fall in love with their heroines so gloriously deeply, in a very vulnerable and emotional way. This allows the heroine a place of power, room to work through her personal arc in tandem with setting the pace of the romance. Heroes with space to be messy and emotional (and yet are so very appealing and outright sexy), heroines who can be complicated individuals whose problems are not answered by their romance (but maybe instead are catalyzed?) Anyways I really enjoy that dynamic and find it really refreshing.* Le sigh, indeed

    *in the back of my head there’s that thing AJH admires about Scandal, having a hero who decides to win the heroine by being nice to her – weird what comes off as revolutionary in the genre.

  15. Willaful
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 16:25:26

    @Joopdeloop: “I think all of Florand’s heroes
    have a bit of unicorn quality to them, in that they seem to fall in love with their
    heroines so gloriously deeply, in a very vulnerable and emotional way. ”

    Yes! My first draft of this review was actually talking about how Florand writes men so differently from other romance writers, but I just couldn’t find the right words to express it.

    It is weird indeed what comes off as revolutionary in our genre. We have authors doing all kinds of new and different things now, but the basic form still seems so heavily codified.

  16. Leah Hultenschmidt
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 13:00:58

    Oooh, I was just asking for recommendations yesterday and a romance fan said she loved this series. Thanks for the great review–one to add to the pile for sure.

  17. Sirius’ Best of 2013
    Dec 27, 2013 @ 11:02:23

    […] The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand (DA review by Willaful). Sunita introduced me to these series and I loved all the books, but this one was probably my favorite so far. The first book and this book have some common characters — the female lead in this one is a younger sister of Cade, heroine in The Chocolate Thief, but you can read this book without having read the first two (although why would you, I have no idea). Trust me, I do not read a lot of m/f romance but Florand’s books just swept me away. The men in all her books that I have read are famous French chocolatiers/pastry chefs. I adored that they have well-earned confidence, even arrogance in their abilities, but at the same time they do not behave as a*holes. […]

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