The Chocolate Rose (La Vie en Roses, #1)

The Chocolate Rose (La Vie en Roses, #1) - Laura Florand 3 1/2 stars. Once upon a time, a man stole a beautiful rose from a beast. And when the beast roared in anger about the theft, the man's daughter offered to sacrifice herself for her ailing father's sake. So the beast asked her to stay and write a cookbook with him. Jolie ("pretty" in French) fears that learning he's being sued will be the nail in her father's coffin; he's already depressed after a stroke that left him unable to do the deft work required of a top chef. So she goes to throw herself on the mercy of Gabriel, once her father's pastry chef, and the (uncredited) originator of the chocolate rose that is now the star attraction of the cookbook she wrote for her father.Gabriel is far from the skinny young man she vaguely remembers: "He had filled into that space she had used to only imagine him taking up, all muscled now and absolutely sure. His growl started low and built, built, until it filled the kitchen and spilled out into the street as a full-bodied beast's roar, until she clapped her hands to her head to hold her hair on. Gabriel Delange turned like a lion who had just finished chastising his cubs and spotted her. Her heart thumped as as if she had been caught out on the savannah without a rifle. Her fight instinct urged her to stalk across the small space between them, sink her hands into that thick hair, jerk her body up to him, and kiss that mouth of his until he stopped roaring with it.That would teach him."Gabriel is also instantly attracted to Jolie: "He wanted to catch that fluttering strength and grace. Pick it up and gather it to him. Lose himself in it, kiss her, make sure she knew what good care he could take of it.Except according to his every attempt at a girlfriend, he took lousy care at that sort of thing."Since despite his good looks and fame he has never had any luck keeping a woman, Gabriel uses his leverage to insist Jolie stay with him in Provence for half of every week to co-write his cookbook. His feelings for her quickly grow, but she is intensely wary of becoming involved with a chef, knowing better than most how constrained their lives are. And Gabriel is intensely fearful of being left and hurt again:"No sudden movements. He had known he shouldn't make any sudden movements with her hand gripping his heart like that.And sure enough, she had ripped it right out of his body, and now she was standing there looking at it as if it was icky and bloody and she wasn't sure where to put it so that it didn't mess anything up."If I had never read Florand before, I would probably have adored this, because her voice is still unique and enchanting. But I didn't fall as much in love as usual this time. The previous books in this series all made strong use of metaphor and allusion, but this is the first to closely follow a specific story. The lack of subtlety feels a little off somehow, as if there's too much constraint to fit the story into the expected mold. Jolie continued insistence on calling Gabriel a beast -- "you know--brute strength, unshaved, atrocious manners, ready to rend sick old men, roaring." -- gets tiresome, even though Gabriel correctly points out, "You like it when I roar."I found Jolie tiresome in other ways, too. One minute she's fretting about how impossible it is to have a relationship with a top chef because of their crazy hours, then about a page later she's thinking she can never have a long-term affair, because "Men were just invasive and clingy, draping around her life like some heavy, wet cloak she just had to shrug off." By the time Gabriel points out to her how well their needs mesh, at about two-thirds of the way through, I was ready to smack her for being so dense.But though Jolie is not the most appealing Beauty, Gabriel does make a fabulous Beast. Unlike other romance rewrites, his beastliness is not in his looks but in his exuberant, larger than life personality. "He always did seem to feel things more powerfully than anyone else around him. Out there, unshielded, and subjugated by his damn senses.""He tried to figure out what a guilty or apologetic look would feel like on his face. They weren't emotions he was familiar with much.""Everything that was the best and most wonderful about himself, what expressed everything in him, all the energy and beauty and love, the heart of him that he could only communicate that way because every other way people always thought it was such a beast's. Everything beautiful--and women always thought it was what made him the worst. What they couldn't love."(It just occurred to me that though he's miles from the stereotype, I can totally see Gabriel as someone on the autism spectrum. Someone filled with more emotion than he can contain, ruled by his senses, tending to run roughshod over others without realizing it yet incredibly sensitive himself... I know this guy. I'm this guy's mom.)So this was kind of a mixed bag for me. It's perhaps like a new chocolate, one made from traditional delicious ingredients but which hasn't worked out quite the right balance of flavors. (This book was a no-strings gift to me from the author.)