I have been previously underwhelmed by Laura Florand, but was heartily encouraged to try, in particular, this and one of her other novels as a better representation of her potential. I’m now very scared I am going to be shunned. Here is the plot summary — it’s basically You’ve Got Mail — in Goodreads’ words:
“Welcome to La Maison des Sorcieres. Where the window display is an enchanted forest of sweets, a collection of conical hats delights the eye and the habitues nibble chocolate witches from fanciful mismatched china. While in their tiny blue kitchen, Magalie Chaudron and her two aunts stir wishes into bubbling pots of heavenly chocolat chaud.
But no amount of wishing will rid them of interloper Philippe Lyonnais, who has the gall to open one of his world famous pastry shops right down the street. Philippe’s creations seem to hold a magic of their own, drawing crowds of beautiful women to their little isle amidst the Seine, and tempting even Magalie to venture out of her ivory tower and take a chance, a taste…a kiss.
Parisian princesses, chocolate witches, patissier princes and sweet wishes—an enchanting tale of amour et chocolat.”
What you are about to read is a second draft of this review. The first one was written past my bedtime and after a few wines, and as such was barely coherent. I hope this version is better.
Here’s the deal — I think I just don’t like Laura Floand’s men. She writes a particular type of French chef arrogance that I find insufferable. The way that The Chocolate Kiss is supposed to work, I think, is that it is a story about an uptight woman with control issues, who has a reasonable explanation for not trusting easily, but nonetheless needs to relax and not push away the very romantic man who is trying to woo her. The way that it actually reads to me is that a woman runs a successful business that she loves, and this totally presumptuous guy who is her direct competition would like her to forget about all of that because he loves her, see, and that’s much more important than that other thing that had been her life’s work.
I honestly found it so frustrating and tone deaf that I couldn’t even finish it. Phillippe does things like barge into her kitchen and start correcting Magalie’s technique, unsolicited (this would be cause for actual castration in my home.) He literally breaks into her apartment and starts going through her things when she’s not there. He chases away food writers and other well-known chefs who could be a huge boon, publicity-wise, to her (now struggling, since his shop down the street has taken away many of her customers) business, and not even because he is threatened by her, but because he is jealous of her spending time around other men! He uses his large physical presence to take up space in her small kitchen and rooms, forcing her to move around him, to increase her “awareness” of him or something? Prior to any kind of sexual contract, he grabs her by the bottom to pull her off of a step-ladder she was climbing, because she was wearing heels at the time, and Phillippe can’t fathom that a woman who wears heels every day could possibly be capable of anything other than just standing around in them looking sexy. When she verbally expresses concern and anger about the future of her shop, he’s barely listening because he’s too busy daydreaming of banging her.
As I said, I didn’t finish the book, so it’s possible this behavior is addressed in a meaningful way, but it did not look like that was the direction it was headed. The whole relationship between the two is couched in the language of war and conquest — Phillippe is “victorious,” he takes her power, he is proud when she gives in. Their interactions are painful, a battle of wills between two people who are prideful but only one of them should be allowed to keep theirs without rebuke. It’s written like it’s a good thing that he breaks down her defenses and forces her submission, but Magalie wasn’t written as a heroine that had been comfortable with that dynamic or had a preference for it. While taking down emotional barriers is a common theme in romance, this went beyond that to me — this man threatens her business, disregards her personal space, and treats every little thing she says like a challenge where he can pull rank. This isn’t just Magalie thawing out; it’s a dismantling of autonomy. He bullies her until she gives up, and taking a bite of a macaron is supposed to be shorthand for consent.
I get why a less pessimistic reading of this is appealing to a lot of women, though, and that’s why I am not one-starring it. It’s not irredeemable garbage. There’s something in here about the desire to be taken care of, and to not have to be so self-sufficient all the time. I get that. I think everyone feels that from time to time. I just found Phillippe’s particular approach overly aggressive, and his demeanor to be more patronizing than charming. The idea of him “winning” made me angry, and I didn’t think it was worth finishing a romance where I was actively rooting against the hero.