The Chocolate RoseAt first glance, it seems Gabriel Delange has it all – a successful career as one of France’s top chefs, his own three-star restaurant, and all the fame that goes with it. But Gabriel has never forgotten his past, and how his old mentor Pierre Manon pushed him out of the way and claimed Gabriel’s work as his own. So, naturally, Gabriel can’t stand to see the sight of his famous dessert, the Rose, on the cover of Pierre’s new cookbook. Pierre’s daughter, Jolie, wrote the cookbook and is now faced with keeping Gabriel’s lawsuit from her father as he recovers from a stroke. Jolie agrees to a devil’s bargain with Gabriel, helping him write his own cookbook in exchange for dropping the lawsuit. But fraternizing with the enemy is more dangerous than it looks; Jolie is in danger of falling in love, and Gabriel just might end up rethinking his plans for revenge.

The Chocolate Rose is Laura Florand’s third book in her Amour et Chocolat series, featuring the great (ficitional) pâtisseries and restaurants in France. In this novel, the action shifts from the busy bustle of Paris to the lazy, sun-drenched villages of Provence and the Côte d’Azur. Like the previous two books in the series, Florand brings a wealth of rich details to make readers feel as if they are right there with the characters, walking down ancient cobbled stone streets, breathing in the scent of jasmine and lavender. She also sprinkles the novel with French phrases and words, which may not work for every reader, but as an intermediate Francophone, I really enjoyed having the French mixed with the English (especially because Gabriel swears in French quite a bit – they don’t teach you those words in school).

I’m not always a fan of the “blackmail that turns into love” type of plot. If it’s not well written, it can end up feeling manipulative, instead of romantic. But in The Chocolate Rose, it works, and that’s in large part due to the wonderfully flawed, utterly frustrating and entirely loveable main characters, Gabriel and Jolie. In many ways, Gabriel is typical of Florand’s heroes: arrogant, self-assured and supremely confident – until Jolie walks into his kitchen and he completely falls apart. For all of his success, Gabriel still harbors some self-doubt and insecurity, in part stemming from his history with Jolie’s father, and in part because he’s so adorably clueless when it comes to women. Like Jolie, there were times when I wanted to slap him silly and then there were times when I wanted to hug him until his vulnerability went away.

I found Jolie harder to read; she kept so much to herself and spent so much time sacrificing her own desires. There were moments when I felt she was being too martyr-ish, but I also admired her love and dedication to her father, and her infectious enthusiasm for the art of food. Together, they both learn from each other and by the end of the novel, they are better people as a result.

Having now read three of Laura Florand’s books, one of the things I’ve been consistently impressed by is her ability to vividly describe the scenes in the restaurant kitchens, the pâtisseries, and in France itself. My knowledge of gourmet food and chocolate extends to one simple fact: I like to eat it. But by reading Florand’s words, I’m given a glimpse into these worlds, where the most exquisite plates are created and destroyed within the same breath. Her descriptions make these things and places come alive, so I can picture exactly where Gabriel’s restaurant might be and what it might look like, even though I’ve never been to Provence. Florand’s books drag you into a highly visual world. And I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: yes, this book will make you hungry. Just go with it.

If you haven’t yet discovered Laura Florand and her Amour et Chocolat series, you need to remedy that, immediately. The Chocolate Rose, like the famous dessert itself, is sweet and sumptuous, with a hidden center that will surprise you. Vivid descriptions, fantastic characters and plenty of sensual innuendo can be found within its covers. Find yourself some good chocolate, a comfortable chair and lose yourself in Gabriel and Jolie’s story.

Full disclousre: The author provided me with a copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.

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