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Willaful Review: The Chocolate Kiss by Laura Florand

chocSensuality rating: Steamed and Chocolate Dipped

I was a little nervous starting this. Florand had two five star books in a row, for me — could she possibly pull off a hat trick? Yes. Yes she could.

Magalie, the daughter of a trans-continental marriage, spent her youth being shuttled between France and America.  As an adult, she made the most secure, permanent home possible for herself in the whimsical, witch themed chocolate shop of her aunts, cooking chocolat chaud that she infuses with appropriate wishes for its drinkers. (One of these fortunate drinkers was Cade Corey, heroine of The Chocolate Thief, and it worked out very well for her.) When world famous patissier Phillipe Lyonnais decides to open a new shop on her street, Magalie feels threatened enough to move out of her comfort zone and beard the lion in his den. Phillipe tries to soothe her with one of his exquisite handmade creations, she defiantly refuses… and the battle is on.

The Chocolate Kiss is very like Florand’s previous amour et chocolat books in many ways, but has a few key differences. In this story, both characters put their heart and soul into their delicious sweets, and their increasingly desperate efforts to make the other have a taste makes for one of the most delicious wars in the history of romance. Phillipe continually outdoes himself in dreaming up symbolically meaningful pastry to woo Magalie.  The defiant Magalie tries to infuse humility for him into her chocolate, yet keep unconsciously stirring her own unadmitted longing for Phillipe into it, causing him to be constantly pursued by random chocolate drinkers.

The story also differs from the previous books in being unexpectedly sad, at least for me.  Magalie is so wounded underneath the desperate armor of her Parisian chic, I couldn’t help crying for her.  For awhile I was even aghast about Phillipe’s seeming indifference to how much his shop threatened Magalie, because I identified so strongly with her that despite her aunts’ unconcern, I didn’t realize it was never a genuine threat.

Florand makes art and magic with words as she describes how Phillipe and Magalie make art and magic with food. Every word had meaning; I had to keep slowing down and going back, to savor phrases that had rushed by too fast to be appreciated.  She fills her books with rich metaphor — like all of her food magicians, Phillipe is his creations, but he is also a lion, and a prince, and he’s wary that a witch might turn him into a beast (or a frog.)  Magalie is a witch trying to stifle her longing to be a princess, but she’s also Rapunzel trapped in her tower, and a dessert that melts into goo from Phillipe’s attention. It sounds overly complicated and mishmash, but it all swirls together into a perfect mix of flavors.

This phrase struck me as being representative of Florand’s unique style:

“His laughter expanded into the whole room, his energy embracing everyone and everything in it. And that bell in her shop rang again, pure and clear, piercing her through the heart — which hurt like hell — and holding her there, impaled for somebody else’s pleasure.”

I love how her characters embrace metaphor so thoroughly, they make it almost literal. They also invariably think along the same lines — while Magalie tries to make sure no chocolate skulls are left off the fence that guards her Baba Yaga display, Phillipe immediately notices the one that’s fallen, which means the fence can no longer keep a prince out. This completely works with the gentle magic realism that’s especially strong in this story.

I read this with gusto, making gleeful noises and awwws and sobs as I went. I adored Phillipe, so large and competent and sure of himself, yet so vulnerable as he falls hopelessly in love with a walled-off princess who thinks she can’t have a prince.  (I was amused when I looked up “Magalie” and discovered it means “pearl” — she could not be more aptly named.) He truly needs the patience of someone who takes the utmost, delicate care with his work. And I cheered as Magalie starts letting her armor drop enough to enjoy a run — impossible in the high heels she unusually insists on — and even begins to believe in the power of her own magic.  It’s yet another 5 stars — or maybe that should be 3 Michelin stars. You can buy it here.

Published by Kensington. Review copy from the public library.

Willaful Review: Rafe Sinclair's Revenge by Gayle Wilson. (TBR Challenge)

rafeSensuality Rating: lightly steamy

The Challenge: Read a book by an author with more than one book in your TBR

Gayle Wilson is one of my favorite Harlequin writers. Her historicals have a emotional quality that reminds me of Mary Balogh.  I’ve also enjoyed several of her contemporaries, but sadly, this romantic suspense story left me cold.

Suffering from severe PTSD, Rafe Sinclair left both the CIA and his lover Elizabeth; he’s spent the past six years doing carpentry in an isolated cabin. But the past refuses to let Rafe alone, and a threat to Elizabeth is all that’s needed to flush him out. Now he needs to discover if the despicable terrorist he killed six years ago could somehow have survived to haunt them.

Nothing about this story ever caught fire for me. Instead of sympathetic, I felt impatient with Rafe for deserting Elizabeth instead of seeking treatment for his PTSD. (And unless I missed it, he never does — they just decide to live with it!) The suspense isn’t suspenseful. And there was way too much backstory for a book that’s supposed to be beginning a series — it’s a spin-off, and tons of previous storylines and characters clutter up the place.

This isn’t much of a review, but if I keep going I’ll just put myself to sleep. I’m giving this book 2 stars, for some tender moments between lovers who could never forget each other. It’s out of print, but you can buy it used or for Kindle here.

Published by Harlequin. Review copy obtained from paperbackswap.com

Through the Eyes of a Child: my husband interviews my son about me



If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for?

 I don’t know. She might get mentioned in the newspaper for having so many books…


What is your mom not very good at?

 I want to say “getting rid of books,” as a joke.


What does your mom do for a job?

 A librarian, previously.


What is your mom’s favorite food?

Well, I don’t know what goes on in there when I’m not around. Because the smell.


What makes you proud of your mom?

I’m proud of her because she’s gotten rid of so many books already!


How are you and your mom different?

I think it’s because I’m a man and she’s a woman.


Where is your mom’s favorite place to go?

 My arms! Also her office, because it has her computer and stuff.

Willaful Review: A Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss

Manually ReleasedSensuality rating: Steamy.

I wish I were good with photoshop, because it would be so fun to depict this story ala Twitter:

Lee Davis @leemealone Hey, it’s great to be back with the people who truly love me. #subtweeting #womenbebitches

Juliet Browne @needsnoromeo That awkward moment when your lover returns from the dead right after you finally slept with another man.

I have to joke a little, because this was such an intense read. Reading the first half felt like someone had grabbed my heart and was gently squeezing. The second half changed direction, but was equally powerful.

When Jules gets the news that her lover Lee hadn’t died in Afghanistan after all, her joy is mixed with apprehension.  For the past two years, she’s been playing the grieving fiance for Lee’s family and friends — the grief was completely genuine, but she couldn’t bear to tell them that she’d rejected Lee’s proposal before he went on tour. Lee, severely traumatized from his time as a POW, is suspicious of Juliet’s motives when he learns of her involvement in his family’s life and acceptance of his estate. When she doesn’t immediately confess her deception, he embarks on one of his own to punish her, pretending he doesn’t remember anything past his intention of proposing.

The vindictive hero/misjudged heroine dynamic is one that I absolutely love, and which we don’t find much in realistic contemporary romance any more, because it’s hard to write a hero who isn’t a despicable jerk. Here there’s such strong backstory that it works — both Lee and Juliet have been through a wringer, and it’s easy to cut them some slack. Lee’s frequent pangs of conscience and inconvenient feelings for Juliet also help redeem him.  As is common with this sort of story, Juliet comes very close to seeming like a martyr, but again, her history and character makes it plausible. And I vastly admired her clear-sighted and honest reaction when the truth finally comes out.

The story loses some steam after the big reveal, going on to concentrate on Lee’s difficulties with PTSD and integrating back into normal life; the two halves aren’t a seamless fit, but both evoked strong emotion.  The depiction of how it feels to be Lee is evocative and touching, with both deeply upsetting and positive aspects. Here he is after soaking up his first rain in years:

When at last he climbed into the car, water had plastered his hair to his skull and the sodden t-shirt clung to his body, revealing every rib, every sinew of lean, wasted muscle. But his green eyes were luminous, as though the rain had filled him to the brim and spilled over.

This is the final book in a series I hadn’t previously read, and the previous couples are big parts of the story; although it stood alone fine, I suspect reading them all in order adds even more to the experience. (There are also some possible spoilers.)

Four stars for good writing, great characterizations, and my favorite gut-punch. You can buy it from Amazon here.

Published by Harlequin. Review copy provided by NetGalley.

Boredom in Death

Boredom in Death

Friday, May 10, 2013
Posted in: willaful







Lately I’ve been wondering if I should give up on the “In Death” series. Thirty-six books plus novellas in, they’re still decent reads, with suspense, and humor, and characters I’ve grown fond of. But I’m also racking up a list of annoyances.

Eve is always right. Not that she doesn’t make mistakes, but she’s an unbeatable, unfoolable judge of character. This leaves very little room for real mystery of the “whodunnit” variety. There’s no point in suspecting someone Eve doesn’t suspect.

Only Eve and Roarke are allowed to have conflict. It’s great that they do have conflict, and that their relationship continues to evolve. But all other relationships in their sphere are eternally roses and sunshine. Love happens at first sight and with complete understanding. Parenthood is nothing but smiles and burbles. Perhaps the intent is to increase the comfort level of the book, when so much that happens in them — murder, rape, torture — is upsetting to think about.  But part of Eve’s journey is learning how to have people in her life, how to be a good friend. How can she fully achieve this when none of the demands of friendship are ever made upon her, when she never has to provide a shoulder to cry on or a couch for the night? And really… the secondary characters are just getting dull.

The worldbuilding is inconsistent. This is perhaps an inevitable result of writing a futuristic series for almost twenty years. Technology catches up, or goes in a different direction.  What something futuristic — a ‘link, an autochef — meant at the beginning of the series now means something else.  I tried my geek husband on the series and he liked it enough to read more than one, but as a science fiction reader, he just couldn’t take it for long.

I’ve seen people argue that the series has gone on long enough and should just stop. I wouldn’t necessarily say that, but I think it would be great if it would slow down. If Robb didn’t write so many books, so fast. If she took time to give some thought to what could happen to the characters besides another crime to solve, to what real life holds for most people, to what the future might be like aside from her original vision. For now, what we’re getting is In Dearth.