16 December 2014

Claiming Carlos by Rachelle Ayala

Choco Sanchez is stuck in a rut. She's never hit a softball and has been friends forever with Carlos Lopez, the head cook at her family's Filipino restaurant. When flashy restaurant consultant Johnny Dee hits her with a pitch, she falls head over heels and gets a makeover

Carlos Lopez is not about to lose one for the home team. Johnny launches a full scale change on the menu, and Carlos sends him straight into the dumpster. Claiming Choco's heart proves more difficult. But never underestimate a man who can cook hot, spicy, and steamy, and we ain't talking just food.
Food and romance abound in this lovely tale about friends, food and love!

The Sanchez family owns a Filipino restaurant.  Chief hostess is Choco Sanchez, who has high aspirations in management and is working on her degree.  Her family puts a lot of pressure on her for perfection, as she is a leader in the family and must set a good example, but Choco is unhappy.  Life has become bland for her…until Johnny shows up.  He’s been hired to help the restaurant expand and he sets his sights on Choco as well.  He gives Choco a makeover and pretty much sweeps her off her feet.  This does not sit well with Carlos, Choco’s friend and head chef of the restaurant.  Carlos wants to be more than friends with Choco, but the final straw is when Johnny tries to change the menu.  Carlos has had enough and he decides to take back his restaurant and his woman – for good.

This was a pretty delightful read.  Not terribly original in its plot, but that was made up for by the characters and the way the story is written.  I really do like this author’s writing style.  It’s a very flowing style that ensnares the reader.  This book was over 300 pages but it didn’t feel that way to me, it flew by and I had fun reading it and being a part of the crazy Sanchez family for a while.

I really did love Carlos…that guy is the bomb.  Choco, on the other hand, is kind of a mess.  There were several points where I think a well-placed kick to the backside would have done her some good.  Carlos was steamy and sexy, and I found myself at points wondering what the hell he was seeing in Choco that just made her so important to him.  But I guess love will do that to you, and Carlos is a –ahem- fierce lover, to the say the least!

Overall, I liked this book.  It got a bit bogged down in plot for me at a few points; I happen to find giant misunderstandings and assumptions that drive the plot to be supremely annoying.  But, I still found myself enjoying it.  3.5 stars.
Claiming Carlos was well on its way to a 1 or 2 star rating, but fortunately Ms. Ayala pulled the ending together enough that I was able to deal with the characters' behavior from the first part of the book. Why did I dislike the first 60% or so of the book so much? Because with the exception of Carlos, pretty much everyone else was an asshole. Both of Choco’s parents were acting like assholes. Tita Gloria, Choco’s godmother, was a holier-than-thou asshole. Julia wasn’t an asshole but she was bat shit crazy. Yes, even Choco started acting like an asshole. I enjoyed Taming Romeo and the large Filipino family that surrounded and supported Evie in her time of need. Yet in this book it felt like the family members had a personality transplant and Choco and Carlos became everyone’s whipping posts, with Carlos taking more than his fair share of abuse. Even when contributing factors are revealed in the end, it still doesn’t explain or justify why Choco’s father was being an asshole to almost everyone.

Because a LARGE part of Claiming Carlos is based upon secrets, there is so much that cannot be said about the storyline. While Choco’s part of the underlying secret was believable, the additional facts regarding the secret that were revealed at the end were not. The blackmail situation that was revealed was unrealistic because seriously, the blackmailers had no footing on the highroad they were trying to take. As for the Facebook post, I cannot imagine anyone involved with the family or the blackmailers would do it knowing the fallout it would cause, so it too lacked authenticity. Too many of the unrelated parties ended up being related as more facts came to light. And the issues of the urine in the dressing, the stock thefts, and other sabotages seemed to be dropped. Unless I missed something, there were suggestions as to who was suspected but no follow-up on that particular thread. In short, there was just too much drama and too much angst that felt forced and contrived and it just didn’t work for me.

About the only part of Claiming Carlos that did work for me was the chemistry between Carlos and Choco WHEN she was willing to acknowledge it. Although they were almost 70% into the book before the two finally had sex, I understood that particular delay and the sex between them was hot, but it didn’t make up for the way she treated him earlier in the book. Fortunately for Choco, the Sanchez sisters do seem to worm their way deep into a man’s heart – even if they don’t mean to – and Carlos does what he has to in order to insure his happy ending. It is Carlos’s happy ending that is the only reason I was able to give Claiming Carlos the rating I did. Unfortunately, the personality shifts that the Sanchez family underwent this time around means I won’t be back for book three. I will, however, check out more of Ms. Ayala’s other works because I enjoy her writing style, just not the direction she took the family in this time around.


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