I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to like Ms. Florand’s books for over a year. But I keep reading them because I recognize her talent, so I always pick up the next book with high hopes and expectations (although I haven't read them all). I say this because when an author fails to impress repeatedly, chances are it will happen again, so reading another book may seem pointless and even a bit unfair. But my experience with this book was negative in a way that extends beyond my inability to connect with the author’s voice and stories, and I feel the need to vent and warn you all.
Our heroine is Sarah Lin, a pastry chef apprenticing at one of the most exclusive and famous restaurants in Paris. This place is so prestigious that it has not one, but two renowned pastry chefs working at the kitchen, the second of which, Patrick, is directly in charge of teaching Sarah. He also happens to be thoroughly infatuated with her.
Sarah, who quit her budding career as an engineer to follow her dreams, feels mighty insecure about herself, so even though she, too, is infatuated with Patrick, she’s equally resentful of his, well, distracting and dreamy perfection.
And so it begins.
At first, our two leads were so filled with passion and longing that reading the book became an intense and gripping experience (not to mention the fantastic tension). I found the first book in the series slow and coldly detached, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much this one grabbed me. But passion isn't enough, and if you add a bunch of problematic elements, what started as a riveting read, turns into a distracting mess.
As I said before, Patrick is Sarah’s boss. Not only that, but he’s one of the most respected and famous pastry chefs in France and perhaps even the world. She, on the other hand, hasn’t even finished her training and her insecurities enhance the awe she feels when she’s in the presence of her boss. So we start off with a power imbalance that puts a potential relationship in an awkward, complex place. That alone should be enough conflict to last the whole book, and I was curious and eager to see them negotiate their romantic and working relationships. But it never happened, instead, we have an insecure heroine and a cocky, yet charmingly eager hero that don’t give much thought to potential issues and even romanticize sexual harassment. Because when your superior is hot, you don’t sue him, you marry him.
She’d kind of thought – okay, hoped – that Patrick had been sexually harassing her at one point, but that was just her delusions.I see your problematic dismissal of a potential conflict…
“You’ve been sexually harassing me!” she realized, startled. Like – really. All those times she had imagined he was flirting with her, only to have him go on his merry way and pretend to flirt with Luc next, and…she hadn’t been imagining it. He had been making her think she had imagined it.…and I raise you one French stereotype.
“But very discreetly,” he pointed out, dark but wry. “Since you thought I was just being French.”
The worst thing is that Patrick is so charming that the book almost fools you into thinking it’s okay to abuse your power in order to position yourself as a potential lover. But I see what you did there, book, and I’m not amused.
Sarah is Korean, and Patrick keeps thinking of her in terms of how small and delicate she is. Her tiny hands are mentioned a few times and he has a constant need to protect her from the hard work she’s required to do as part of her training. He teases her about things like how all Asians are the same and how she probably can’t tell the differences because she’s part dumb American. It’s too much. I don’t think he is fetishizing her Asian features, and the teasing seems (offensively) good naturedly, but this is a white author writing about an Asian character, and it all seems so careless and potentially hurtful.
And speaking of potentially hurtful things, Sarah, and her mother in particular, have tragic pasts. She describes herself as an Anchor Child, a pejorative term that I found jarring. Would a person in her position describe herself that way? She is painfully insecure and doesn’t see herself as worthy of much, but is that enough to justify her using that term? I can’t attest to the authenticity of their experience, but the whole thing was mostly used for angst and to make the heroine even more insecure (and this thing is already 300 pages of Sarah feeling unworthy and not good enough). Worse, when we learn the mother’s story*, what we get is something so awful that it made me physically recoil from my kindle. I’m not denying that such things happen, on the contrary, it angers me to see them reduced to plot devices. There was enough conflict and background to justify her personality and to provide angst and character growth, but sometimes you just gotta have the extreme, borderline exploitative backstory, right?
It’s undeniable that Ms. Florand has talent, and I see much improvement from the first book in terms of emotion and flow. I also feel like her style has changed a bit and now it better matches the more emotionally-charged stories, although perhaps what I see is just different stories and not a different voice. But where the first book in the series made me eager to keep trying regardless of how little I enjoyed it, this one proved, once and for all, that I should just quit.
* If you can't handle children in danger stories, don't read this book.
She hated him.
Patrick Chevalier. The charming, laid-back, golden second-in-command of the Paris pastry kitchen where Sarah worked as intern, who made everything she failed at seem so easy, and who could have every woman he winked at falling for him without even trying. She hated him, but she'd risked too much for this dream to give up on it and walk out just so he wouldn't break her heart.
But he didn't hate her.
Sarah Lin. Patrick's serious, dark-haired American intern, who looked at him as if she could see right through him and wasn't so impressed with what she saw. As her boss, he knew he should leave her alone. The same way he knew better than to risk his heart and gamble on love.
But he was never good at not going after what - or who - he wanted.
He could make magic out of sugar. But could he mold hate into love?The Chocolate Temptation (Amour et Chocolat) by Laura Florand
AOS Publishing. January 15, 2014.