Book Review: The Chocolate Thief

Chocolate ThiefLet’s be perfectly clear: This is not my usual kind of read.

My lovely online book group picked The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand for our February group read. Don’t get me wrong — I have nothing against chocolate! And if you don’t believe me, just send me some and see if I eat it.

I do have a problem, though, with romance novels, and The Chocolate Thief belongs firmly on the romance shelf.

All that being said, I will admit that I didn’t hate The Chocolate Thief, and actually, once I accepted that I was reading this book and sticking with it, I kind of got sucked in — at least, enough to read for a couple of hours straight this morning so I could see how it all turned out.

Enough preamble.

In The Chocolate Thief, 20-something American businesswoman Cade Corey has come to Paris to see if she can make a dream come true. Cade is the youngest generation of the Corey chocolate dynasty of Corey, Maryland. Think Hershey — Corey is a multi-billion dollar corporation that thrives off of its 33-cent chocolate bars sold at Walmarts and in supermarket checkout lines across America.

Cade’s dream is to launch a line of gourmet, high-end chocolate as a flagship enterprise for Corey, but to make it happen, she needs a Parisian chocolatier to sign on to the scheme, agree to let Cade buy him for millions, and then mass-produce his type of chocolate, stamped with his name, as part of the Corey brand.

Cade gets a nasty awakening when she pursues the #1 chocolatier in Paris, Sylvain Marquis, and is given an angry and emphatic NO. (Or “non”, I suppose). Not one to give up, Cade eventually ends up breaking into Sylvain’s laboratoire, fingering all of his chocolate-making supplies, leaving chocolatey fingerprints everywhere, and winding up covered by gourmet blogs as the mysterious “Chocolate Thief”.

Needless to say, it doesn’t hurt a bit that Sylvain is gorgeous and manly and has beautiful hands. Cade falls hard. He falls right back. The chemistry grows and the heat rises. And it goes pretty much where you’d expect it to go.

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Okay, my thoughts:

Well, as I said, I did read all the way to the end, so clearly, it’s a compelling story. Of course, there are things that bugged me. Such as Cade stubbornly running around the city in heels while thinking about how much her feet hurt. Or having to describe every outfit she wears and how much makeup she puts on. Or the fact that Sylvain’s early refusal and dismissal of Cade seems to be the key to what keeps her coming back. Or looking at every attractive woman as competition.

There are positives: I liked that the main character is a successful professional who’s devoted to her family and to the family business. I liked that she and Sylvain are both outwardly cool and confident, but have lurking insecurities underneath — she, that men only want her for her money, and he, that women only want him for his chocolate.

They spend a lot of the book mistrusting each other’s motives and getting either hurt or angry, when if they’d only talked a bit more, they’d have reached an understanding (and happiness) a lot sooner.

The writing is a bit bumpy. Lots and lots (and lots) of decadent, sensuous descriptions of the flavors of chocolate, the way it melts on the tongue, the scents and textures of every food, every piece of clothing, every touch of skin. These bits are all quite delicious (sorry…), if occasionally overdone. By the time I was further in the book, it was like — enough already! We get how good the chocolate smells. Can we get on with the plot?

Where was I? Yes, the writing. Some bits just made me groan, and not from ecstasy:

Long, phallic eclairs in shades of coffee, chocolate, and pistachio stretched in rows like some nymphomaniac’s dream.

Okay…

Chocolate melted on her tongue, melted into her body. Its warm, rich sweetness combined with the pounding adrenaline until she felt … the closest she could think of was aroused. Desperately, intensely aroused, as if someone could come out of the shadows with his sorcerer eyes glinting and lay her down on the dark counters and …

Is it getting hot in here?

This clunker just did not work for me:

She had hunted him. She had tethered herself out there like some kid goat to his Tyrannosaurus rex.

Wait, what? Goats hunt T-Rexes? Not sure this makes the least bit of sense.

The plot is a fairly standard romance arc — two beautiful people, intense instant attraction, lots of tingly bits leading up to hot sex, misunderstandings and obstacles, and finally, the HEA you know is coming at the end. Sorry, that’s not a spoiler — that’s just how these things go.

Speaking of hot sex — there’s quite a bit, including two especially… um, let’s say VIVID… scenes, one on the marble countertops of Sylvain’s workplace, and one quite memorable escapade taking place during the ascent of several flights of stairs.

Do I recommend this book?

Well, that depends. I actually had fun reading it, despite not being a fan of the genre, and despite the muscle strain I developed from all the eye-rolling. The Chocolate Thief isn’t a book I would seek out on my own, and I probably would have stopped after a chapter or two if not for not wanting to bail on a book club book. But, it wasn’t unpleasant to read, I did end up getting caught up enough in the story to want to see it through, and overall found it pretty fun. Especially all the chocolate. Yummmmmm.

For readers who enjoy romances with aloof, strong but secretly fragile men and the powerful but secretly looking for love women who break through their defenses, well, this might be just about perfect.

Overall, it’s sweet and romantic and full of the sights of Paris and an absolute walllowing in flavors. Not a bad choice for a quick and light read. And if you just want to get to the… um… vivid bits:

There in his arms. Yielding to him. Pulling at him. Yielding. Her mouth, her tongue, her body that flexed to him and grew softer and softer, as if all strength failed her, even as he grew stronger and stronger, too hard, hard to bursting with himself and his power over her.

… turn to chapters 13 and 18. You’re welcome.

Word to the wise: Stock up on chocolate before reading The Chocolate Thief, and splurge on the good stuff.

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The details:

Title: The Chocolate Thief
Author: Laura Florand
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: July 31, 2012
Length: 303 pages
Genre: Romance
Source: Library

Book Review: Because It Is My Blood

Book Review: Because It Is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin

Because It Is My Blood, book 2 in the Birthright series which began in All These Things I’ve Done, continues the story of Anya Balanchine, 17-year-old heiress to the Balanchine Chocolate empire. Unfortunately for Anya, in New York in the year 2083, chocolate and caffeine are illegal under the laws of the Second Prohibition. As a result, the Balanchines are a notorious organized crime family, and as the daughter of the murdered head of the family business, Anya is a prime target for both internecine bloodshed and for the law enforcement agents eager to make a big splash in the press.

On top of all this, Anya must worry about protecting both her genius younger sister and her mentally-impaired older brother — not to mention the more typical teenage worries of boyfriends, best friends, and high school graduation. The fact that Anya is a convicted criminal who has served prison time complicates matters tremendously, and when she is re-jailed on trumped-up charges, an escape seems to be the only answer.

Because It Is My Blood is a serviceable second book, moving the plot along at a mostly fast pace, although several of Anya’s sojourns along the way seem to drag a bit. The heart of the story is somewhat lacking in this installment. All These Things I’ve Done was propelled forward not only by the crime family plotline but by a compelling “star-crossed lovers” romance between Anya and the son of the New York District Attorney. This romance still features in the second book, but doesn’t carry the sense of excitement and passion present in the first. In fact, that sums up the problem that I had with Because It Is My Blood. The book often reads as a recitation of facts and events — jailbreaks, deaths real and faked, meetings with lawyers, meetings with Balanchine family members and associates — but without a sense of burning passion driving the story forward.

This is not to say that Because It Is My Blood isn’t fun to read. I got a real kick out of the familiar New York landmarks reimagined in the setting of a deteriorating city with meager resources and ample crime. The popular nightclub Little Egypt is housed in what was once a museum (i.e., The Metropolitan Museum of Art), and a vacant mess of a property with weird lion statues out front (i.e., The New York Public Library) is described as a place where they used to keep paper books in the old days. Anya is amused by the old-fashioned slang of her grandmother (OMG, for example), and there’s a film festival showing ancient movies including one where a lady crosses a river on a horse (which I can only assume is a reference to Lord of the Rings). Little details like these make the story accessible and bring to life both the setting and the era in ways both entertaining and relatable.

By the end of Because It Is My Blood, the stage has been set for what I believe will be an exciting third installment in the trilogy. Anya has made key decisions and is about to take a bold new step that will impact all the people around her and will have dramatic impact on the family business as well as on the New York political world. The developments are quite promising, and the storyline is left hanging with a tremendous amount of potential for a satisfying conclusion to the series.

As a young adult trilogy, the Birthright series has a lot going for it: a smart, strong female protagonist, an unusual premise that breaks from the ubiquitous dystopian model saturating the YA market, and a clear-eyed look at a girl who has to balance love, family, honor, and her own sense of purpose. Because It Is My Blood is not a stand-along novel, and you wouldn’t want to jump into the series with it. But if this type of story appeals to you, I’d definitely recommend giving the series a try, starting with All These Things I’ve Done. The writing is fresh, funny, and appealing, the characters are not run-of-the-mill YA teens… and who can resist a book about chocolate?

Note: I have two other book 2s in the works this week, and may actually be back with a few astute observations when I’m done. Middle children never have it easy, do they?