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REVIEW:  The Chocolate Temptation by Laura Florand

REVIEW: The Chocolate Temptation by Laura Florand

temptation

Dear Ms. Florand:

It’s always fun for me to see what will turn up in a Florand book; I hadn’t seen the cover before I started reading, so the fairy tale allusions here snuck up on me. (Hmmm…. Sarah is working on spun sugar slippers…) But there was another surprise in store, because this is not your usual Cinderella story. As always, there’s a clue in the names: Patrick and Sarah, “nobleman” and “princess.” Patrick is definitely a prince… but he’s not necessary to turn Sarah into a princess.

The story takes place concurrently with that of The Chocolate Heart (which made me a little sorry I hadn’t read that first, but it’s not vital.) In a busy restaurant in Paris, pastry chef intern Sarah Lin spends her days fiercely trying to perfect her techniques and fiercely hating her supervisor, Patrick Chevalier. (Heh… I hadn’t even noticed his last name!) Patrick’s gorgeous,  effortless perfection is galling for someone struggling under a heavy weight of disappointed family expectations and survivor’s guilt, and his seemingly casual flirtation drives her mad:

“Sarabelle,” he called laughingly, and she hated him for that, too. The way her ordinary, serious American name turned so exotic and caressing with those French Rs and dulcet Ahs, like a sigh of rich silk all over her skin. The way he added belle onto it, whenever it struck his fancy, as if that couldn’t break someone’s heart, to be convinced someone like him thought she was belle and then realize he thought everybody was belle. He probably called his dog belle, and his four-year-old niece belle when he ruffled her hair. And they both probably looked up at him with helpless melting, too.

Sarah completely discounts Patrick’s continuous care of her — the way he always makes sure she’s fed during their crazy workdays, his quick massages to ease her tense muscles, his constant encouragement. She has no idea that he’s trying to show his feelings in the only way he knows how. Not only is he her boss, in an intensely competitive field, but his own family issues make him approach everything through manipulation rather than directness: “Don’t show you want it. Never show how much you want it.” And he wants Sarah so desperately, he can’t convince himself to be noble. When his boss Luc challenges him about his behavior, Patrick thinks to himself, “I’m not harassing her, really. If she told me to stop, I’d… change my technique.”

I often have trouble with romances in which characters doesn’t think much of themselves — I tend to take them at their own valuation. Although Sarah’s self-esteem is low as only a perfectionist’s can be, The Chocolate Temptation succeeded in making me see why Patrick is so smitten with her. At first, all he can do is constantly tell her she’s pretty, but it’s really her directness and intense focus that beguile him. Sarah’s sense of being ordinary and doing everything wrong gets tiring — in fact, both of their big emotional issues do, because they both think about them all the time – but her seriousness and dedication charmed me as well. And interestingly, although she may feel humble, Sarah completely rejects the role of Cinderella to Patrick’s Prince Charming. There’s quite another role for her in that story, as she and Patrick will discover together. (Though if you relish conventional romance trappings, have no fear. Paris, The Eiffel Tower, Valentine’s Day… I’ll leave it at that.)

Despite his manipulations, Patrick is so smitten and so genuinely kind that he’s almost equally adorable. Their sex scenes are gorgeously sensual and emotional, and told in such fresh language they can go on for pages without getting dull. They’re also often a place of conflict and negotiation, because of the real and perceived power issues between them: “They were not equals. She didn’t have the right to fall in love with him…. she liked him taking over, to be honest, but it left her in a very strange place.”

I was slightly discomforted by their dynamic — him so perfect and golden to her, her so small and pretty to him — because Sarah is half Korean. (Her mother immigrated from North Korea, a highly traumatic experience.) But that may well be me being oversensitive to possible stereotypes because I’m worried about missing them. Sarah’s overachieving character could certainly be seen as stereotypical, but she’s given a lot of background history that makes it feel very specific to her situation. That history is problematic though; Sarah is a self-described Anchor child (a pejorative term, and though thematically interesting, not that likely a situation.) I discussed this with Sunita and she pointed out several ways in which the backstory strained credulity. Also, Patrick likes to tease Sarah by deliberately mixing up elements from different Asian cultures, which I think is intended to show how little importance it has to them, but I’m not sure someone who’s actually had to deal with racist microaggressions would be as patient about it as Sarah is. Overall, I didn’t get the feeling that their attraction was about her being Asian and him being white — I believed that Patrick loves her smallness because he loves her, not the other way around — but another reader with a different background might be more bothered than I was.

There are more complex themes going on in the story than I can mention, and sometimes the book felt overcrowded with meaning and revelations. I think it could have been tightened up, but it’s very sweet and fun to read. B

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First Page: Katrina

First Page: Katrina

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Some days Katrina Villalobos could barely manage the strength to get out of the bed. After opening her eyes from a particularly good dream, she’d be glad to be alive and next to the person who she cherished more than her very life. Then she’d roll over and greet nothing but cold pillow still indented with her corazon’s head print. Then pain and memory so sharp she felt as if she were performing an exercise in self-mutilation would wash over her. She’d grab for the pills she kept next to her bedroom, take two to get rid of her continuous headache, then stop and deliberate whether she should take another twenty. For whole minutes, she’d stare at them, mesmerized by their bleached white pureness. Her alarm would go off for the second time, she’d drop the pills onto their assigned spot and get out of bed.

Those were the good mornings.

On the bad mornings, she’d wake up from nightmares of Lucia dying. She’d shot straight up, like heroines in the movies, and have to struggle to grasp a real breath. Seconds stretched into lifetimes as her lungs would try to give her heart a reason to get the blood pumping. But her heart had died a long time ago and her body was housing the ghost of long dead memories. She’d stumble into her living room and fumble under the sofa cushions for the gun bought after Lucia, sunshine, and flowers. Her fingers would stop their trembling as she cocked it and placed it next to her head. Before she’d close her eyes to watch her life flash before her eyes, her eyes would settle on Lucia’s drawing of them together, holding each other so tight it seemed they merged into one another. She’d put the gun down, take a deep breath, and either light a cigarette or pour herself some wine before she took a cold shower.

This was one of those mornings. The very violence of these kinds of mornings did not scare her. Quite the opposite. Katrina took a small amount of pleasure from the painfulness of her existence. Any other way of living would be an affront to the memory of her corazón. She could not pretend that her very reason for living was anywhere but six feet under. Her solace in the midst of her mental self-torture was pure because it meant that Lucia had meant something to her and would always mean something to her.

Katrina had become used to cold showers. She even liked them. They would hit her like cold tears from heaven, the kind that fell on her girlfriend’s coffin as they lowered her to the ground. Although it hadn’t been raining when she’d had Lucia buried, whenever the dream memory would hit her there would always be rain. What she wanted desperately as she was showering was a cigarette. She wondered what stopped tobacco companies from creating a cigarette that could be smoked in the shower. She’d gotten used to cigarettes as well, the kind that scratched at her throat and made her voice sound like she’d been up all night making love to sandpaper. Lucia had loved her voice, had told her that it sounded like cashmere over silk as Katrina whispered soft words across Lucia’s thigh.

Her landline rang as Katrina got out of the shower. She owned a cell phone but didn’t have the energy half the time to charge her phone. The one person who she wanted to talk to was gone.