Reviewed by Chris
TITLE: The French Lesson
AUTHOR: Robyn Elliot
PUBLISHER: Jaguar Press
LENGTH: 397 pages
RELEASE DATE: January 19, 2014
When Daniel Peter Hastings steps into the welcoming warmth of Guillaume’s cafe-restaurant on a chill, rainswept morning, his only focus is a cup of coffee. Danny has to keep his life in perfect order, seeing as he feels like he’s about to fall apart at any moment. As a regular at Guillaume’s he knows here is a temporary sanctuary before making his way through the London rush to his barrister chambers. Danny had only ordered coffee, after all. He hadn’t expected it to be served by a handsome, French waiter called Stephane, who threatens to tip Danny’s fragile world into full scale panic mode.
This is a gay contemporary romance, based in London and Paris, charting the tumultuous road to love in an opposites attract romantic story.
Danny and Stephane might think they’ve overcome most of the obstacles to their relationship; those little things, like panic attacks and arrogance and anxiety and blinding attraction than can only lead to falling in love ever so passionately. Danny thinks he’s reached his emotional and sexual nirvana with his romantic Frenchman, but maybe Stephane isn’t all that he appears. If there’s one thing Stef is good at, apart from the obvious, it’s keeping secrets from those he loves best. And this is one enormous secret that may just threaten the French-Anglo entente cordiale forever…
Can Danny overcome his own hang ups and neuroses to face up to Stef’s complex past, and find the courage to cross the Channel in search of a love ever after?
After having a complete meltdown in his favorite café, Daniel Hastings can confidently say that he is not having a good day. Or year. In fact, just about everything after deciding to follow his father’s footsteps and becoming a barrister has been a complete and total mess. But if anything good can come out of his embarrassing show in the café, it is meeting Stephane. Stephane has recently come over from France, where he worked as a professor, in order to help his brother run his café. Well, that and escaping a rather sticky situation involving a student and a request that he leave the college posthaste.
Danny and Stephane are complete opposites, but as odd as it seems there is something about the flirty man that instantly soothes Danny. And in Danny Stephane is seeing for the first time a reason to slow down and maybe stay in one place for a while. But Stephane has a past that won’t be left behind quite so easily, and Danny is slow to trust that Stephane will stay longer than the night, let alone forever.
Having mulled over this book for the last day or so, I have to say I am a bit conflicted. The first part of the story was really good. It had a few flaws (character head-hoping in the middle of the scene) but I like the snarky way the characters talked—both to other characters and to themselves—and I think the author did a good job writing some very intelligent sounding main characters with the word choices. I wasn’t immediately drawn into the story, but I did have an easy time reading it. There were also a few times that plot twists really caught me off guard and I liked that. They seemed rather true to the characters and they moved the story along, so that was good.
However as the story moved along I began to worry since there didn’t seem to be much plot shaping up. Yeah, the characters were getting together, but I wasn’t quite sure what the driving force of this story was. I thought maybe it would be Danny with his whole breakdown going on…but that was kinda pushed to the side the longer the story went on. Danny might still be having issues, but they were mostly in relation to shit that Stephane was doing.
And on a side note…how exactly did Danny afford to keep living in his apartment after losing his job? Was he rich? Did he have a lot of savings? Did he become an art sensation overnight and lived off the profits of his once hobby turned profession now that he is no longer forced to be a barrister? As far as I can tell it was never explained. From everything I heard, living in and around London is kinda expensive. Surely this should have been a bigger issue for Danny.
So once we rule Danny and his breakdown out of contention that just leaves Stephane. And ok…there were several directions that this could have gone in. Unfortunately after the thing that happened about a third of the way thru (Spoilers!) the plot ran into problems. And that problem has a name: Every Romance Cliché Ever.
Dramatically dumping your boyfriend for no reason: Check!
Dramatically dumping your boyfriend for no reason…in flashback, because why the hell not?: Check!
Lying about the reason for dumping them by claiming to want your ex back because you can’t tell the truth: Check!
Emotionally storming into a room: Check!
Emotionally storming out of a room: Check!
Fleeing the country at a moment’s notice: Check!
Family forces couple to confront their feelings in the most underhanded way possible: Check!
Running thru an airport to stop lover from getting on a plane: Check!
Arguments in the rain: Check!
Reveal of a secret that really wasn’t all that secret nor bad but was treated like if it was revealed it would doom the universe to everlasting darkness and all the puppies in the world would no longer want to snuggle: Check!
And last but not least…no one talks shit out, they just kiss and suddenly all things are happiness and light and they never ever had problems again: Check and Check.
By the time I got near the end of the story it felt so fake and so contrived that I no longer cared what the characters did as long as they did it quickly so I could just finish the book already. I don’t know why the author felt the need to overload the latter half of the book with every romance cliché known to man, but I really wish they hadn’t. Had they sought to undermine the cliché or at least twist it some way I think I would have been more forgiving. I just felt like, by the end, I have read the plot so many times that I have absolutely nothing riding on this particular one. I knew exactly how it was gonna end, and I knew exactly how it was going to happen. I was only left wondering why exactly I was reading it at all.
The promise of this book’s start was severely undermined by the actions of the rest of it. The characters seemed to shake off everything that made them unique and interesting in order to conform to a list of character traits and actions that appear in every romance cliché known to mankind. And because of this the love came out hallow, the dramatics boring, and the plot plodding.
If the author had stuck to their guns and written a book about the characters I read in the first few chapters, then this could have been real good. As it was, it was mediocre at best.