Chachic's Book Nook


4 Comments

The Chocolate Temptation by Laura Florand

Apparently I’ve had a draft of a review for The Chocolate Temptation by Laura Florand sitting in my dashboard for the past few months. I dusted it off and tweaked it just in time for Amour et Florand this weekend. It’s always a pleasure to read a book by one of your favorite authors. The Chocolate Temptation is part of the Amour et Chocolat series and the books can be read out of order because they stand well enough on their own. However, the characters in The Chocolate Temptation were earlier featured in The Chocolate Heart so I think it would be a good idea to read the latter first. I was intrigued by Patrick in The Chocolate Heart so I’m delighted that he got his own book.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The Chocolate TemptationShe 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?

Out of all the Amour et Chocolat novels, The Chocolate Temptation stands out because one of the main characters is a female pastry chef. I know how male-dominated the industry is since I have a cousin abroad who works in that field, so it’s pretty interesting to get a better idea of what things are like from Sarah’s point of view. I think Sarah is a great character. I love how brave she is in terms of changing career paths. She’s an intelligent person, with an engineering degree from Caltech. She could have been living comfortably in the States while working as an engineer and yet she chooses to throw that away to pursue a culinary career. I admire her guts and her passion for what she feels is the right path for her. Patrick is also very passionate about being a pastry chef. He was once a foster child but he has risen to the top of the culinary ladder and is now one of the best pastry chefs in Paris. I liked Patrick’s easygoing nature and how he’s constantly being likened to a beach bum/surfer guy. What a contrast to the demanding and hectic workplace that they thrive in. He also has a terrific sense of humor, which he uses to relieve the pressure that everyone feels in their work environment. I also loved the dynamics between his relationship with Luc, especially after getting Luc’s POV from The Chocolate Heart.

Sarah thinks of herself as the lowly intern and she obviously looks up to Patrick as her mentor. Being attracted to each other, without knowing what the other person is feeling, gives their relationship tension that stretches out over the months of Sarah’s internship. They both feel that liking the other person is inappropriate – since Patrick is essentially one of Sarah’s bosses – and yet they can’t help feeling that way. I loved this bit of comparison of their romance to their creations:

“This thing between them was like this beautiful fairytale of a dessert constructed out of work and caution and risk and whimsy. Leaping and twirling, full of color and taste, a wrong breath could break it. And yet night after night, in the kitchens, they made such fragile magics and waiters got that fragility all the way to the tables they were meant for.”

Such a beautiful way of describing what began as a tentative romance that slowly developed into something deeper. Given how passionate they are about their work, it’s not surprising how strong their feelings are for each other. I’m not usually a fan of workplace romance but Laura Florand handles it so well. I had such a lovely time reading about Sarah and Patrick – from how they started getting to know each other outside the workplace to how much they’re willing to sacrifice to make the other person happy. At this point, I feel like I’m a broken record because I keep recommending Laura Florand’s books. But that’s only because they’re SO GOOD. Go forth and read them.


8 Comments

It Happened One Wedding by Julie James

I love Julie James‘ books. They’re just so much fun to read with all the banter between the male and female leads. It’s so comforting to curl up with one of her books because they read like a favorite chick flick. Something that fills you up with good vibes. I had known about It Happened One Wedding months before it came out and I read it as soon as I could get my hands on a copy. I was supposed to do some things one Friday night but I just couldn’t stop reading so I gave in and stayed up late to finish the book.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

It Happened One WeddingSHE KNOWS BETTER THAN TO SAY “I DO”

After a humiliating end to her engagement, investment banker Sidney Sinclair is done with commitment-phobic men. But when her sister winds up engaged after a whirlwind courtship, she’s thrown in to close contact with exactly the kind of sexy playboy she wants to avoid — the gorgeous best man. She’s stuck with him, for better or worse, until her sister walks down the aisle, but that doesn’t mean she has to give in to his smooth advances, no matter how tempting they are…

BUT HE MAKES IT HARD TO SAY “I DON’T”

Special Agent Vaughn Roberts always gets his man on the job and his woman in bed. So Sidney’s refusal to fall for his charms only makes him more determined to win over the cool and confident redhead. Only what starts out as a battle of wills ends up as a serious play for her heart. Because the one woman who refuses to be caught may be the only one Vaughn can’t live without…

Julie James’ contemporary romance novels are consistently funny. Several scenes had me smiling or laughing while I was reading them. Sidney and Vaughn verbally spar while they keep denying that they’re attracted to each other. Aside from their banter, I also enjoyed how their friends – Sidney’s best friend Trish and Vaughn’s best friends Cade and Huxley – tease them and give them a hard time. Here’s a snippet that I really liked:

“What was that?” Trish demanded to know, in a hushed tone.

Sidney tried to play innocent. “What was what?”

“That look between you and Vaughn,” Trish said. “I can’t decide if you two should box a few rounds or go screw each other brainless in the pantry.”

“My god, Trish – his mother is standing right over there.”

“In that case, I’d strongly suggest locking the pantry door should you choose option B.”

I think it’s great that the focus of the story isn’t just on Sidney and Vaughn but also on how they interact with their family and friends. I’ve noticed that this is something that’s also present in her other novels. I really liked that the plot revolved around the wedding, where both Sidney and Vaughn played major roles as maid-of-honor and best man. I think weddings are fun so I like reading stories about them. If there’s one minor thing that I can complain about Julie James’ books, it’s that all of her heroes and heroines might seem a bit too perfect – amazingly good-looking with really successful careers. But that’s not a big issue for me since the characters in her stories are fully fleshed out, complete with insecurities and problems so I feel like that balances the scale. In It Happened One Wedding, Sidney feels pressured to find Mr. Right because she’s worried that her biological clock is ticking. I also feel like Julie James does her research when it comes to providing background information on her characters’ occupations. While I’ve never worked in investment banking or private equity firms (or the FBI, for that matter), I’m familiar with some aspects of Sidney’s job and the descriptions felt realistic. I felt a bit lost after reading It Happened One Wedding because I enjoyed it so much. I couldn’t decide what to read next because frankly, I just wanted another Julie James novel. Can’t wait for the next one to come out next year! It will be interesting to see who the lead for that will be.


7 Comments

A Rose in Winter by Laura Florand

No Place Like HomeA Rose in Winter by Laura Florand is a novella in the No Place Like Home anthology. It’s set during Christmastime in Grasse, in the south of France. I read and loved it last December but wasn’t able to review it. I recently reread it on my flight back to Singapore because I wanted to be reminded of Aix-en-Provence and this is the closest that I could get because I haven’t read any novels set in Aix. At least Aix and Grasse are in the same region!

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Allegra Caldron knew the rule never to talk to strangers. But on a cold winter night in Provence, she breaks that rule – and more – with an irresistible man. Raoul Rosier seems thrillingly dangerous, yet why does Allegra feel so safe with him – even when she believes he’s a thief?

If Laura Florand’s Amour et Chocolat series is all about chocolate then her La Vie en Roses series is all about perfume. Each of the La Vie en Roses books feature a Rosier cousin. The Rosier clan own and control a significant portion of the world’s perfume business through their company. A Rose in Winter is Raoul’s story. Raoul has spent several years in Africa, establishing his family’s foothold in that region, and is itching to settle back home in Provence where the familiar scents of lavender, rose and jasmine will calm his restless soul. Laura’s writing style paints a vivid picture of the settings of her stories. She makes Grasse seem like such a charming and beautiful place. It’s not surprising that Allegra fell in love with it and decided to stay a while. Given that A Rose in Winter is a novella instead of a full-length novel, the romance gets developed pretty quickly. After all, Allegra’s mom said it best:

Quote from A Rose in Winter

What was Allegra supposed to do when she meets someone she can’t resist? I still felt that there was enough character development in the short span of time that Allegra and Raoul got to know each other. It wasn’t just their attraction that was the focus of the story but also their insecurities and how those affect their budding romance. I loved the Christmas setting of the story and how we get an idea of what a traditional Provencal Christmas is like. I liked how santons, terracotta nativity scene figurines that are only available in Provence, play an important role in the story. I also enjoyed seeing a little bit of the Rosier clan during their Christmas dinner. A Rose in Winter is a delightful installment in the La Vie en Roses series. I really can’t wait to read the next books and find out more about the other members of the Rosier family. Similar to Laura’s other books, there are hints of a particular fairy tale included within the story. Part of the fun in reading Laura’s books is trying to determine what fairy tale is being alluded to so I’ll let the rest of you discover that for yourselves. Prior to reading this, I wasn’t aware that Grasse is the perfume capital of the world. Now I want to visit the place and immerse myself in the world of artisan perfumeries. I ended A Rose in Winter on a happy sigh, dreaming of flying back to France to visit Grasse this time. I would probably end up buying several bottles of perfume if that ever happens.

Aix-en-Provence - santons

Santons in Aix-en-Provence


4 Comments

Welcome to Envy Park by Mina V. Esguerra

I think it’s pretty clear by now that I’m a Mina V. Esguerra fangirl. I grab copies of her novellas and short stories when they’re released and I try to read and review them as soon as I could. The early chapters of Welcome to Envy Park were uploaded to Wattpad so I was able to sample part of the story. I was really looking forward to reading this particular title because it’s about a Filipino lady in her mid-twenties who worked in Singapore for five years and is now back in Manila, trying to figure out what her next move is. I think Welcome to Envy Park’s cover looks pretty good. I like how bright and happy the colors are. I think it’s a great idea for Mina to partner with Filipino fashion bloggers for her book covers. I think the outfit that the girl is wearing is cute and girly although I don’t really picture Moira wearing something like that.

Welcome to Envy ParkHere’s the summary from Goodreads:

Moira Vasquez is a doer. A planner. A get-up-and-goer. At twenty-two, she left her hometown to work in Singapore, to satisfy a need to travel as well as give her savings account a boost. Five years later and she’s back in Manila, with a shiny new apartment to her name, but no job, no career, no boyfriend. She meets Ethan Lorenzo, the quiet hunk of an IT consultant on the ninth floor of her condo building, and he’s a welcome distraction during this period of having absolutely nothing going on in her life.

But she has a plan – of course she does – and this is just a short layover on the way to the next country, the next job, the next big thing. Or will she be missing out on something great that’s already there?

I’m glad that Mina gave us a character who has lived and worked abroad because that’s such a common occurrence for Filipinos. I’m proof of that. I think half of my friends are currently studying or working abroad and I’m not sure when they’re planning to go home or if they’d rather settle down outside the country. I could totally relate to Moira because of the similarities in our working experience and because we’re about the same age. Her descriptions of what her life was like in Singapore is pretty accurate, although I was hoping it included more details. I would have wanted to know what her hobbies were, where she hung out, what her favorite restaurants or dishes were, etc. But maybe I’m just curious about those things because I’m currently based in Singapore. I feel like I could be friends with Moira, we would have conversations about OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) life while trying out new restaurants. Once she’s back in Manila, it was expected that she’d compare herself to her friends who stayed back home and here’s a section of the book that I really liked:

Maybe it was the tequila buzz, but I really did think that I had come out ahead. Surely the lessons in independence that leaving home provided a person counted for something. Counted for more, at least, in terms of emotional growth, and maturity, because those years were the most difficult and humbling of my life so far.

You got that right, sister. Living independently, away from the support system of family and friends, is definitely good for emotional maturity and growth but it’s damn hard. It’s the second most difficult experience of my life, the first was when my dad passed away. I can’t believe that in the five years that she was away, Moira only came home for Christmas visits. I think I wouldn’t last here if I didn’t get to go home three or four times a year. I liked that Moira was also not sure about her career plans, that she was still trying to decide what to do next. I’m also at that stage in my life and I believe most of my friends are also like that – in the process of understanding in what direction our career should go or figuring out what our calling is. The one big difference between me and Moira is that’s she’s a doer and I’m more of a go with the flow type of person, which makes me more like Ethan in that regard. I didn’t really plan to move to Singapore, the opportunity presented itself and I knew it would be stupid not to take it. Anyway, I liked how Moira and Ethan got to know each other through their gym sessions and food trips. I always enjoy reading Mina’s books because of the romance and while I have no complaints about how Moira and Ethan’s relationship developed, I would have loved to see more swoon-worthy scenes. That’s a minor quibble because I enjoyed it overall. What I really liked was that while Welcome to Envy Park is a light and fun romance, it still makes you think about life choices – why people choose to work abroad and why others would rather stay in the Philippines. I will definitely be recommending this title to my friends because I feel like they would be able to connect with the story, regardless of what their choices are. There’s just something about Mina’s novellas that make it easy for me to both read and review them. In my dashboard, there are several other drafts of reviews for other books that I’ve read but here I am talking about Welcome to Envy Park.

My reviews of Mina’s other books:
My Imaginary Ex
Fairy Tale Fail
Love Your Frenemies
No Strings Attached
That Kind of Guy
Interim Goddess of Love
Queen of the Clueless
Icon of the Indecisive
Young and Scambitious


9 Comments

Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer

I have been meaning to read another Liza Palmer novel ever since Seeing Me Naked surprised me by how good it was. So many other titles have distracted me and I wasn’t able to get back to her writing until I recently picked up Nowhere But Home. I was feeling a little homesick and thought it would be a good idea to read a book about coming home. I found it funny that the main character is named Queen Elizabeth because this isn’t the first time that I’ve heard of someone with that name – Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao chose that name for his second daughter. I had a feeling it would be interesting getting to know Nowhere But Home’s Queenie and I was right. Also, how pretty is that cover? I like the vintage, nostalgic design of it and I think it goes well with the story even though the picture portrayed in it isn’t an actual scene in the book.

Nowhere But HomeHere’s the summary from Liza Palmer’s website:

After Queenie Wake is dismissed from her restaurant job, she returns to North Star to cook meals for death row inmates.

Hopeful that the bad memories of her late mother and promiscuous sister (now the mother of the captain of the high school football team) have been forgotten by the locals, Queenie discovers that some people can’t be forgotten — heartbreaker Everett Coburn — her old high-school sweetheart.

When secrets from the past emerge, will Queenie be able to stick by her family or will she leave home again?

A few pages in and I knew Nowhere But Home will be a very good read. Right from the start, I kept highlighting lovely passages that stood out for me. Queenie and her sister Merry Carole, grew up with the stigma of being daughters of the town slut. Nothing much was expected of them and Queenie wanted nothing more than to leave all of that behind. Which is why she has been flitting from one city to another, doing any kind of work that would let her stay away from her hometown. My heart went out to Queenie and Merry Carole for the difficult life that they’ve had, for everything that they’ve had to go through because of their mother’s reputation. I used to think small towns must be charming with how close-knit and warm everyone is but there’s an ugly side to it. Queenie is such a prickly character at the start of the novel but I liked her right away. She has more than enough reason to be like that. I might not have had the same experience that she did but I understood her reactions. Here’s a passage early on, before Queenie decides to go home, that resonated with me:

“I can’t be the only one faking it. I’m not the only lonely small-town girl drowning in this big city. I’m not the only refugee feeling invisible and alone. I’m not the only one who wants to scream, “NOTICE ME! I MATTER!” Maybe everyone is faking it. Maybe they’re just better at it than I am.”

THIS. Even though I was born and raised in a city instead of a small town, I get what Queenie feels. Maybe that’s why home is such a comforting place – it’s where you don’t have to feel invisible or alone. Even if being visible means being judged by others, like in Queenie’s case. I loved that each chapter heading was about a meal – either one that Queenie just had or one that she cooked. Seeing as I’m a big fan of food, I was able to appreciate this. Queenie is passionate about the meals that she cooks, she believes in the comfort that food is able to provide. When things get too much for her, she also turns to cooking:

“I need to cook something. I need to lose myself in something else besides the fractured light of my own memory.”

Beautiful wording, right? Another instance where I could relate to Queenie – just replace cooking with reading because I lose myself in books all the time. The reason why Queenie cooks is the reason why I read. Nowhere But Home is filled with the heartaches of Queenie’s life but all that pain is soothed away by a strong sense of family and belonging. Plus there’s such a beautiful, bittersweet romance that I was more than happy to devour. If anything, I would have loved for there to be more romance in this book. As it is, I loved spending time with Queenie as she tries to battle her demons and figure out what she’s meant to do with her life. Queenie’s hometown, North Star, is also very big on football (one character mentioned that it’s like Friday Night Lights with how serious everyone is about the sport) and that’s something that I’m familiar with and yet it didn’t affect my reading experience. I only mention it now because I know some readers might be drawn to the book because of that aspect. I feel like Nowhere But Home is contemporary romance (or literature for women? I’m not really sure what to call it) that has more depth than chick lit. It is more emotionally layered and complex, and can make readers ache and feel for the characters. I would love for more readers to pick up Liza Palmer’s novels because I feel like they aren’t getting the attention that deserve. Nowhere But Home is one of the best books that I’ve read this year, I feel like it was exactly what I was looking for when I picked it up. I look forward to reading the rest of the author’s back list. I think Nowhere But Home has the same tone and feel as Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols and All I Ever Wanted by Vikki Wakefield, it just has older characters instead of teens. I recommend that fans of those two books give Liza Palmer’s latest a try.

Other reviews:
Angieville
Ivy Book Bindings
write meg!


3 Comments

Young and Scambitious by Mina V. Esguerra

I grabbed Young and Scambitious while it was available for free on Amazon. I think the cover looks great, it has an intriguing and glamorous feel that goes well with the premise. Yesterday, I couldn’t decide what to read next so I thought I’d start on this short story because it would be easy to get into. I started reading it on the train ride on the way to work in the morning and was able to finish it on the way back in the afternoon.

Young and ScambitiousHere’s the summary from Goodreads:

Who is Elizabeth Madrid, exactly? She’s Manila’s latest It Girl–stylish, staple of the club scene, new best friend of famous-for-being-famous Chrysalis Magnolia. She’s also a jewelry clan heiress, a former model, an Ivy Leaguer… except no one actually knew of her until last year. Shouldn’t her new society friends be more suspicious? Especially “BFF” Chrysalis, who reportedly already lost an expensive ring to a friend who turned out to be a thief?

I like that this story focuses on the Manila socialite scene and the people who prey on the rich. While I’ve never been into that kind of scene, I think it’s interesting to read about it. Even though Jane is a con artist, I really liked her as a character. I feel like she’s only doing what she has to do in order to survive. She’s good at playing out different roles and she takes advantage of that skill. I also like that she’s a reader, I think it’s always nice when a character likes to read.

“Jane liked to go to libraries. She spent a lot of time in them growing up, and she had had to grow up in several places. Later she started seeing how each building was different. In one place, old and regal; in another, shabby and musty.

So since the preparation for the Chrysalis Magnolia job had her visit Singapore, a city with a (shiny and modern) public library, she naturally had to go there on her only day free.”

I thought it was pretty cool that the story was partially set in Singapore, in a library! I could totally relate to that. I also liked that even though the story is so short, there was still enough room for some romance. My only issue with this short story is that I felt like the whole thing ended a bit abruptly. I kind of got the feeling there should be more to the ending that what I got. Maybe I wouldn’t have minded if I knew that the ending was meant to leave readers hanging? According to Mina, there will are probable sequels to this but no definite date on when they will be published. I think that will give readers a fuller perspective of the story that was introduced in Young and Scambitious. Check this out if you want a quick read that you can finish in one sitting or if you want to give Mina’s writing a try.


5 Comments

Retro Friday: My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

The moment I saw my good friend Maggie of Young Adult Anonymous give My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger such a glowing review, I knew I would want to read it. I went on Goodreads and also realized that another friend, Flannery of The Readventurer, rated it highly. I wanted to grab a copy as soon as I could but since books are expensive here in Singapore, I waited until I was in Manila before buying the paperback. I’ve had my copy since December last year and only felt like reading it recently. I was in the mood for a fun contemporary YA read and thought My Most Excellent Year would fit the bill. It was published in 2009 so I realized it’s the perfect choice for a Retro Friday review.

My Most Excellent Year outdoors

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Best friends and unofficial brothers since they were six, ninth-graders T.C. and Augie have got the world figured out. But that all changes when both friends fall in love for the first time. Enter Alé. She’s pretty, sassy, and on her way to Harvard. T.C. falls hard, but Alé‚ is playing hard to get. Meanwhile, Augie realizes that he’s got a crush on a boy. It’s not so clear to him, but to his family and friends, it’s totally obvious! Told in alternating perspectives, this is the hilarious and touching story of their most excellent year, where these three friends discover love, themselves, and how a little magic and Mary Poppins can go a long way.

I am happy to report that My Most Excellent Year lived up to my expectations. It is such a feel good, heartwarming kind of read. I have no idea why it isn’t more well-known. It’s been out for a while now and I think only a handful of my blogging buddies have read it. It’s a good thing I love spreading the word about under-the-radar titles because I need to convince more people to read this. At first glance, I didn’t think My Most Excellent Year was the kind of book that I would enjoy mostly because the story has alternating POVs (T.C., Augie and Alé) and their interests lie in American history and politics, baseball and musicals. While I love seeing musicals, I’m not a die-hard fan who knows all the songs, actors/actresses and notable performances. And I know next to nothing about baseball and American history. In spite of that, I was absorbed by the story because at its core, My Most Excellent Year is about family, friendship and first love. I was charmed by the thought of two boys, T.C. and Augie, deciding to be brothers when they were 6 years old. Not like two best friends who think of each other as brothers, they really act like siblings to the point that even their parents have gotten used to having two sons instead of just one. So they have a Mom, Dad and a Pop. They share their rooms in two households and they have vacations together. I thought it was so sweet how warm and accommodating their families were. This book has such great parents in it, I think it’s worthwhile to point that out since we rarely see wonderful parents in YA.

My Most Excellent Year - headings

During ninth grade, both T.C. and Augie have to deal with falling in love for the first time. It was so much fun to see them struggling to adjust to what they’re feeling (especially Augie, who hasn’t even figured out that he likes boys instead of girls). It was sweet how supportive they are of each other, not just in their love lives but also in their interests in general. Like T.C. would watch musicals with Augie even if he doesn’t really enjoy them. Being great guys, it’s not surprising when T.C. befriends a lonely, deaf six-year-old boy called Hucky and Augie was right there along with him. T.C. wanted to reach out to Hucky because he sees a young Augie in the little boy, while Augie thinks Hucky was exactly like T.C. when they were that age. I hope it doesn’t seem too confusing that there are a lot of characters in the book because it was very easy to get to know the characters. I also really liked the format of the book – emails between various characters (I loved how even the parents email each other about their kids), IM messages and diary entries. I could relate to the format because that’s also how I communicate with friends and family, especially now that I live away from home. This was such a lovely, immensely readable book, the kind that lets you end on a happy sigh. While younger in tone and feel compared to some of the other contemporary YA novels that I loved, I still highly recommend My Most Excellent Year to anyone who needs an uplifting type of read. I’m mighty curious about the rest of Steve Kluger’s back list.

My Most Excellent Year - Augie

Other reviews:
Young Adult Anonymous
The Readventurer
The Book Smugglers
Book Nut

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,383 other followers