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REVIEW:  The Chocolate Temptation by Laura Florand

REVIEW: The Chocolate Temptation by Laura Florand

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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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REVIEW:  The Boy Who Belonged by Lisa Henry & J.A. Rock

REVIEW: The Boy Who Belonged by Lisa Henry & J.A....

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Dear Lisa Henry & J.A. Rock,

As I said in my review of The Good Boy, I liked it so much, I started The Boy Who Belonged straight afterwards.  While I liked The Boy Who Belonged, it wasn’t as successful for me as the first book in the series.

**mild spoilers for The Good Boy follow**

The Boy Who Belonged takes up about 6 months after the end of The Good Boy. (As I said in my earlier review, I do think one has to have read the first book to appreciate the second.)  Lane and Derek have settled into a fairly stable and very happy relationship, Lane has turned 21 and begun community college to become a vet technician. He’s still working at The Taco Hub part time and he helps out at the animal shelter run by Derek’s sister, Christy, and occasionally helps Derek out in his photography business too – so he’s a very busy boy.  Christmas  is coming and Lane is facing final exams, which creates some stress but things become a bit shaky for him when he is contacted by his mother’s attorney.  His parents are about to appeal their lengthy gaol sentence for securities fraud and they want Lane to participate in the PR campaign to change public opinion about them.  This includes doing a tv interview.  Shy Lane is not comfortable talking in public and the prospect of an interview is pretty daunting for him.  Added to that, his feelings for his parents are very complicated.  I appreciated that this was so.  Lane was hurt and angry but he also still loves his parents, even so. And, even though he doesn’t really believe it’s very likely, he’s hoping that their prison stay will have led them to reevaluate their lives and perhaps they could have some kind of meaningful relationship in the future.  He doesn’t want to shut the door on that possiblity, as remote as it is – they are the only family he has.

Derek is feeling a bit sensitive about the 17 year age difference between he and Lane and when young colleagues call him “daddy” it’s even worse.  He loves Lane but he sometimes feels that he can’t have a bad day himself – if he gets upset and lets it out, Lane doesn’t fight back or tell him what he thinks in no uncertain terms.  No, Lane gets hurt and scared and worried that everything is falling apart.  An apology and acceptance won’t make those worries fade away.  Derek loves the D/s stuff they do but he wants a partner and he worries sometimes that he is acting in loco parentis – something he absolutely does not want.

I appreciated that this book made an attempt to show Lane’s and Derek’s relationship becoming more balanced.  I don’t think I said it in my review of The Good Boy (which was too long already – my review not the book) but, while I certainly saw growth during the story, I was a little worried myself that Lane was too needy and that left Derek without someone to lean on occasionally.  Whether the book succeeds in showing that Lane can be Derek’s rock too sometimes will be a matter for individual readers, but for this reader, well, I wasn’t quite convinced.

The story is about 50 pages shorter than The Good Boy and there seemed like a lot more sex in this book than in the other one. In part that is because The Good Boy had a lot of character set up before Derek and Lane were at a place where they could have sex.  This book, of course, starts off where they are in an established relationship so there is the opportunity for sex from the get go.   More kink is explored in this book – including some sounding.  It’s the first time I’ve read about the practice and frankly, I was too scared to Google it.  Even though it was described as not painful, I couldn’t help but be extremely skeptical.  (But I don’t have a penis so what do I know?). I did find the ‘explanation’ in the book of the different ways their play soothed, challenged or helped Lane enlightening however.

It wouldn’t be the same as a spanking or chemical play or having Derek stop his breathing with the choke chain. He wouldn’t have the escape of pain. Wouldn’t be the same as wearing the collar either. With pain, Lane could pretend to lose control, when really he took on the responsibility of processing the hurt, of coping with it, leaching pleasure from it. He decided what to make of it. With the collar, he could have a respite from the demands of the outside world, a space to retreat, if that was what he wanted. With the sounds, he was at the mercy of his own closeness with Derek. He had to let Derek see him.

The money problems Derek clearly had in the first book were alluded to in this one but it had no real resolution.  Derek has a professional opportunity which could potentially lead to some financial and reputational improvement but the book finished before the event takes place.  Similarly, Lane’s interview has been recorded and was being promoted on the TV but the book ends before it airs.  This left me feeling a bit let down.  I felt that the book explored a number of different issues – some of them had a level of resolution, some of them were left hanging and others were all about the lead up to something but not the actual thing.   I think the book could really have used another 50 pages to go a bit beyond Christmas  in the plotting.

Christy and her new partner (Paul) are away for most of the book, as is Erin (Derek’s mother) so the book felt a little narrower in focus in some ways, even as it also had a greater number of  individual issues  to address.  There was plenty of Brin and Ferg and the macaw with the filthy mouth, Mr. Zimmerman.  Brin is a good friend to Lane and gives him some good relationship advice, even if it is delivered in Brin’s typically outrageous style.

Brin said it was okay to be pissed off. Brin said Lane needed to let himself get pissed off more often. That if Lane didn’t, he’d die early of a stress-related aneurysm, or at the very least would miss numerous chances to flounce around dramatically, ranting about the injustices of life and forcing Derek to comfort and validate him.

In the end, I think you did a good job of setting up the problems and potential pitfalls in Derek and Lane’s relationship but I’m not sure there was sufficient space to fully sell me that they were resolved by the end of the book.  I did feel like I got part of the way there, but it wasn’t enough for me to feel like they wouldn’t just keep going round and round the same issues.  If there had’ve been more pages, or less of the book devoted to sex scenes (as well written as they were), I may have felt differently.  Nevertheless, by the end of the book Derek has come to this realisation:

It wasn’t that Lane was a child—that he needed too much or fell apart too easily. It was that he was, at times, too gentle for a rough world. All that tenderness he had to give—that quiet love, that faultless obedience—he wouldn’t always get it back. Some people would see it as a weakness. Some people would use it against him.

While I felt that Derek’s understanding had grown, I wasn’t sure the fundamental issue had been dealt with.  Could Lane be there for Derek in the same way that Derek so often was for Lane?  A good opportunity to demonstrate such strength on Lane’s part was lost when the book ended before Derek’s photographic event.

I did enjoy spending more time with these characters and I did feel there was growth, particularly with Lane by the end of this book.  To his great credit, Lane was negotiating his relationship with his mother on his own terms by the end and speaking up for himself, which was good to see.  I do think it likely that Lane and Derek will be able, with more time, to settle into a more balanced relationship where Derek isn’t always the caretaker but I would have liked to have seen a bit more of that on the page.

I liked it but it wasn’t the breath of fresh air The Good Boy was.  I give The Boy Who Belonged a B-.

Regards,
Kaetrin

 

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