The Chocolate Rose
by Laura Florand, contemporary (2013)
Laura Florand, $10.99, ISBN 978-1484157152
Jolie Manon is a food writer who has to help her father, the famous chef Pierre Manon. Okay, here is where things enter soap opera territory, so bear with me. Years ago, Pierre hired Gabriel Delange, a young but talented fellow, to be the chef pâtissier at the Luxe, so that the place could obtain its third Michelin star.
Unfortunately, after Gabriel worked day and night, creating all kinds of magical recipes only to lose his girlfriend in the process, he discovered that Pierre took all the credit and even had the Luxe fire Gabriel when the man protested about this. Gabriel stormed off and started his own business, Aux Anges, and went on to eclipse Pierre in terms of fame and success.
Meanwhile, Pierre sank into depression after losing a Michelin star, and Jolie managed to coax him back into something like his old self when she collaborated with him on a cookbook. Unfortunately for the two of them, Gabriel took one look at the cover, scanned the recipes within the book, decided that a bulk of them were his recipes, and filed a lawsuit. His timing was awful, because Pierre suffered a stroke shortly before Gabriel decided to sue.
Jolie has had a crush on Gabriel since forever - just like every other romance heroine these days, snort - and, when this story opens, she decides to have a nice talk with him. Of course, since this is a romantic comedy where the heroine acting like a fool is always good for a laugh, she mucks things up - to be humored by Gabriel because she's cute, of course - and eventually Gabriel decides that he'd like to sleep with her. He knows she wants him, apparently because Jolie never wears a bra and her nipples extend like Pinocchio's nose when she's with him.
Unfortunately, the chef's jacket hid her breasts while she was working, but something had intrigued her nipples, when he first spotted her in that camisole peeking into his kitchen, and it certainly wasn't the cold. It had aroused the heck out of him, trying to guess what those nipples were doing under that chef's jacket every time he got close to her. And, putain, when he got that coat off, there they were, all tight for him.
I think Laura Florand is trying to take revenge on all those ridiculous passages in other romance novels where the hero's pee-pee bulged and strained against the irksome confines of denim, an angry Moby Dick surging up from the ocean to batter at the stern of the Pequod.
Laura Florand's The Chocolate Rose has plenty of yummy scenes involving desserts and sweets, but this is one story where I find myself gaping at the pages in disbelief instead of laughing along. For example, Gabriel shows up uninvited at Jolie's room shortly after they first meet, and when she claims that he smells of the restaurant, he walks straight into her shower to bathe. And then, when he comes out and spies her toiletries, uses her pink disposable razor to shave himself. Fortunately, we are talking about his face and not... anywhere else.
Maybe this is how French guys do thing - maybe in French "personal boundaries" translates to "Excuse me, your nipples are hard so I'm going to use your shower, babe" - but I can only wonder whether any sane guy would do these things these days without risking the possibility of being hauled into jail for behaving this inappropriately towards a woman whom he barely knows. Gabriel mentions sexual harassment occasionally, but, again, maybe in France that phrase means "Every woman wants my big fat French lollypop", because he has no hesitation in telling her things like he fires her because he wants to sleep with her.
I can't find scenes such as the ones I mentioned above funny because they are too... outlandish, for the want of a better word, to be believable. Gabriel is supposed to be this confident guy whose gauche ways with women are supposed to be a cute reflection of his inner nerd or something, I don't know, but he just comes off as a walking magnet for restraining orders. If this is a story set fifty or sixty years ago, or the hero's name is Charlie Sheen and he is trying to get laid after sixty days of non-stop dabbling in chemistry, I may be able to accept his behavior better, but as it is, The Chocolate Rose is more a story of weirdos trying to be funny than anything else.
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