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Amour et Florand: My first Laura Florand book (or how Laura Florand ate my weekend)

Nalini Singh is a bestselling author of numerous paranormal romance novels. Can I just say how awesome it was that Nalini agreed to do a guest post for Amour et Florand? I was ecstatic when I received her reply.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Nalini to Amour et Florand!

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My first Laura Florand book (or how Laura Florand ate my weekend) by Nalini Singh

NaliniSinghI’m not sure who first mentioned Laura’s books to me—I just know that I received multiple recommendations all at once. Twitter peeps started saying I needed to read Laura’s books, then I went to brunch with my writing buds and one of them basically ordered me to read the books.

I usually don’t read too much while I’m deep into writing a story. Instead, I keep a running list of what I want to read, and then once I hand in my manuscript, I have a “reading vacation” for two or three days, in which I happily inhale books.

Generally, my auto-buy authors top the list, as I catch up on their newest releases. New-to-me authors tend to be lower down on the list. But that day, I decided to pick up a Laura Florand book – mostly so I could tell my friend I’d read it!

Three hours and many contorted body positions on my couch later, I turned the final page and immediately fired up my e-reader to buy the next. And so it continued. Two and a half days later, I’d read everything Laura had written to that point (and it was a fair few books, since I only discovered her last year), and was haunting her website trying to find the release date of my next fix. (I also bought all the books in print, because one copy wasn’t enough ;-)).

What do I love about Laura’s books? Everything.

I love that these are unashamed love stories, raw with emotion and hot with passion. I love that the characters are imperfect and yet perfect for one another. I love that we get to see Paris and other parts of France through their eyes.

And of course, I love the chocolate… and the macarons… and the roses.

I visited Paris for the first time earlier this year, and though it was an unfamiliar city, it felt familiar to me because of Laura’s books. Late on our first night in Paris, I suddenly dragged my sister out to the balcony and into the freezing wind. She thought I’d lost it… but that room had a view of the Eiffel Tower, and a minute after I dragged her out, it ticked over to eleven at night and the Eiffel Tower began to sparkle in a shower of light.

I knew it would because of Laura’s books, and now that moment on that windy balcony is one of my favorite memories of Paris.

Not long after that first visit to Paris, I was lucky enough to have lunch with Laura. Her warmth and sweetness just put the final seal on my love for her work. (And she brought chocolate!!)

I can’t wait to read the next Laura Florand story and the next and the next. So write like the wind, Laura!

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Merci, Nalini! I visited Paris for the first time this year too and I kept talking about Laura’s books while I was there.

Amour et Florand


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Amour et Florand: Guest Post from Mandi

Since I consider Mandi of Smexy Books an expert when it comes to the romance genre, I love getting recommendations from her. I’m delighted that she’s also a fan of Laura Florand’s writing.

Amour et Florand participants, please give it up for Mandi!

SmexyBooks
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There are so many aspects of Laura Florand’s writing that appeals to me. The way she sets the books in romantic Paris, in busy kitchens or in quaint chocolate shops. The detail she uses not only in describing the setting, but the food that is created in these kitchens is terrific. It’s so easy to immerse yourself in the world she has created. Inside of this world she gives us such rich characters that leads to a full romance. My favorite thing about her books though, is what she does with her heroes. Her typical hero is a big guy who is extremely passionate about cooking, creating pastries or amazing chocolate. He is extremely intense, usually grumpy, and has 100% of his focus on his career. Until he meets his heroine. All of a sudden, that extreme focus, is parted. All of that intense passion has a new target. And instead of that heroine melting like a piece of chocolate in his hand, she resists. She might ignore. She doesn’t look his way. So instead of getting what he wants immediately (as he is used to) he has to work for it. His feathers are ruffled, and he has to find a way to prove to the heroine, he is worthy of her. This big strong man, is being brought down, and I love every second of it.

Dom in the Chocolate Touch knows he is overbearing and aggressive and wants to be a better man for Jamie.

Merde, but this stuff was complicated. He kept trying to pretend she was chocolate because at least he understood that you could never rush chocolate, but since she persistently resembled a woman instead, it was hard for him to treat her like something he could stir with a spoon.

Unfortunately.

Or when Gabriel is brought to his knees by Jolie in The Chocolate Rose…

“You’re beautiful,” she said involuntarily.

His smile grew wider, a boyish delight. “You mean, this.” He gestured to the marble counter, indicating her dessert and everything that had come before or been served to others.

“I said what I meant.”

His hand froze in the middle of the sweeping gesture. It turned, pressing flat against the marble, and his head bent. She couldn’t read his expression, as he stared down at his hand, so still. It was almost as if he was badly shaken, as if something was rising out of the shaking, warring inside him.

Or poor Philippe from The Chocolate Kiss (my personal favorite) who would make macaron after macaron for his beloved Magalie, and could never understand why she rejected them each time.

He couldn’t believe she had rejected one of his macarons. He had offered it to her fresh from his own hand. Not just his recipe, but made personally by him. And she had refused it.

His Desir. Apricot kissed by pistachio, with the secret little square of pistachio praline hidden inside, like a G-spot. Well, he didn’t call it le point Gin his marketing brochures, but whenever he created, he knew what he was doing: every pastry had to have its orgasm, its culmination of bliss that hit like a complete surprise. That made the eyes of those who bit into it shiver closed with delight.

But don’t fret. Not only do we get fulfilling and satisfying happy ever afters, but all that intense passion, and torment these heroes live with – pays off well in the bedroom too. I can’t recommend this author enough.

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Merci, Mandi! I do love how these big, super confident guys turn into marshmallows when it comes to their leading ladies. :)

Amour et Florand


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Amour et Florand: Guest Post from Maureen

So, so, so. Like Brandy from today’s earlier post, Maureen of By Singing Light is also one of my trusted bloggers. I think it’s awesome that while she’s not a big romance reader, she loves Laura’s books.

Welcome, Maureen, to Amour et Florand!

By Singing Light
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I’m not a huge romance reader, mostly because I tend to like my romance as the subplot of a story rather than the main event (think Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane). I do enjoy some romance novels on occasion, and yet I don’t normally absolutely love them. But there are a few exceptions to this: Georgette Heyer, Cecilia Grant, and Laura Florand.

Chachic was the one who first recommended Laura Florand’s books, but even knowing how much she loved them I hesitated a bit until The Chocolate Thief and The Chocolate Kiss were returned to the library where I work. I do love a good heist story, and the covers looked fun, and I did want something light to read… So I checked them out and read them. I liked The Chocolate Thief, although it wasn’t quite what I had expected, but I loved The Chocolate Kiss. I loved Magalie, and the aunts, and the Maison de Sorcieres, and the way it was almost a fairy tale retelling, but not quite.

Since then I believe I’ve read everything Laura has published, and loved them all. There are a few reasons for why I connect so well with her books, despite (again) not being a big romance reader. Some are more shallow, some are deeper. On the shallow end, I am a huge sucker for fairy tale retellings, and there’s a bit of a fairy tale woven into almost all of the stories. I won’t spoil them for you, because they’re quite subtle and part of the fun of reading a new one is keeping your eye out for clues.

I also love the way the settings are important. The way the characters interact with where they live makes the French-ness so much more than just a gimmick. And I always love when the place a story is set seems almost like another character. These stories are really good at that. For instance, here’s Magalie’s island in The Chocolate Kiss:

“On the island, all the freshly discovered hustle and bustle of Paris seemed to fade away. Stone buildings centuries old rose around her, never taller than eight stories, including the slanted one, under slate roofs. The rare car passed discreetly, inching its way through the people who walked easily in the middle of the street, looking up at old carvings on the walls, into storefronts filled with strange specialities. Time lay over the island like a cloak: the idea that you always had time, that it had been here for awhile and wasn’t going anywhere soon.”

As you might be able to tell from that, Laura Florand writes really, really good prose. I pulled a couple of examples from The Chocolate Kiss, because it was the one I remembered to bookmark. Here’s the very first line:

“It was a good day for princesses. The rain drove them indoors, an amused little rain with long, cool fingers that heralded the winter to come and made people fear the drafts in their castles.”

It’s a perfect beginning for this book, and a great example of the way this subtle imagery is woven through the prose, always tying back into the characters and often the fairy tale that’s being referenced.

Here’s another example, because I can’t resist:

“Aunt Aja took that tray out and, just as she left the kitchen, the silver bell over the front door rang with a chime so sharp and true that it pierced Magalie straight through the heart.”

Again, this is just perfect for this book – slightly heightened, slightly fairy-tale-esque. It sounds, perhaps, a little melodramatic out of context, and yet in context it fits perfectly into this almost magical world that Magalie inhabits. I love that I can trust these books to be not only competently but beautifully written.

One of the other things I love about these books is the way they’re open to all kinds of relationships, not just the romantic one that is of course at the heart of the story. But family and friends, coworkers – they’re all important too, as they are in real life. I often find that romance books tend to have a kind of tunnel vision when it comes to the main characters’ other relationships. They might exist, but they’re never as important, never as realized as the romance. But here, partly because Florand is really good at sketching characters in a few sentences, they seem just as real, just as important as the main characters.

For instance, here’s Magalie’s Aunt Aja:

“Aunt Aja was soft-voiced and supple as a slender shaft of tempered steel. Her dimpled fingers could press the nastiest kink out of a back. Wrong-mindedness had no quarter around her. Her gentle strength seemed to squeeze it out of existence, not by specifically seeking to crush it but by expanding until foolishness had no room left.”

(Relatedly: I WANT TO BE AUNT AJA.)

But perhaps most importantly, I love the characters. I love that they’re not perfect, even the ones who at first look like they are, and yet they try really hard to get things right, both personally and professionally. I really like the fact that they care about things beyond themselves, about tea shops and cookbooks and getting chocolate just exactly, perfectly right. And because I’m so invested in them as a reader, even situations that otherwise might seem melodramatic work for me. There’s a sense of careful craft about these books, in the way they use the conventions of the genre sometimes and other times fall away from them entirely.

In the end, though, I think the real reason I love these books so much is that they’re about more than just a romantic relationship. I mean, don’t get me wrong! That’s definitely there! At the heart of the story, though, the journey of the main characters is not only towards each other but toward a greater understanding of themselves. It’s the way this interacts with the romance that makes me care so much about these characters as they find the courage to walk together through the dark forest.

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Merci, Maureen! I love how strongly you feel about Aunt Aja. LOL.

Amour et Florand


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Amour et Florand: My Gateway to Contemporary Romance

Brandy of Random Musings of a Bibliophile is one of my trusted bloggers because we share similar tastes in young adult fantasy and contemporary (as evidenced by past guest posts that she’s done for EWein Special Ops and Marchetta Madness). I also think of her as an expert on middle grade fiction. I love what she has to say about Laura Florand’s books.

Here’s Brandy for Amour et Florand!

Random Musings of a Bibliophile2

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My Gateway to Contemporary Romance by Brandy

I began reading romance novels when I was in high school. They were an easy quick distraction from the heavier (often duller) required school reading. I was actually sort of known for it because they were the books I chose to bring to school with me every day for whenever I had a free moment to read-they were easy to slip in and out of-and it was quickly noticed that I had a different one every day. I read fast. I read A LOT of romances over those years. Most of them I don’t even remember, but they were all historical. For some reason I have always had a mental block when it comes to reading contemporary books. As a teacher I read plenty of them aimed for the elementary school set, but I never ventured into that genre in any other area. Melina Marchetta changed that in regards to YA literature. Laura Florand unlocked the world of adult contemporary romance for me.

What mainly attracted me to Florand’s books was Chachic talking about them constantly on Twitter. I know I can trust her. We have VERY similar taste in books. That in itself wouldn’t have been enough though. These books are about Paris. These books are about CHOCOLATE. And I love romance, but actually hadn’t tried a new author in quite some time. All those things worked together to make me want to read The Chocolate Thief. And then I really wanted to kick myself because what had I been missing out on? If THIS is what the world of contemporary romance was like, then I had been lacking some seriously good entertainment for years. It had been so long since found a new-to-me author I liked enough to want to binge read everything they had ever written, and boy did it feel good. At the time that was a total of three books, but I had found a new author to love and pre-order all the things she would write in the future. (Or buy as soon as she lets us know that’s possible.)

What is it about Florand’s books that captured me so fully? It is the way she combines all of my favorite elements into each and every one. Her characters are complex people. The have flaws and hard edges, weaknesses that are completely realistic. I love how she shows how difficult it can be to fit two strong people with all their baggage and life expectations together into a partnership that works for both of them. And she does it with it humor. There is excellent dialogue in her books. The banter is top-notch, and I truly adore it when the heroes of the previous novels are around to mock the newest one. (Sylvain is particularly good at this.) I love how she writes about married couples too, and shows how difficult marriage can be, but also how rewarding. Then there are the fairy tales she slips into the stories like special little presents you just give someone because you love it. All of that together is impossible for me to resist. And yes, they are sexy. Exactly the kind of sexy I like.

Thanks to Laura’s books I was willing to explore a whole new genre. And most of the exploring I’ve done has come at her recommendation. She is an excellent book pusher. She caused my book bingeing one other author too, and I can’t stress again how long it had been since I had wanted to binge books. It’s been a great feeling. It had also been quite some time since I had found books that I wanted to reread so much. Books that when I had a stressful day, were the perfect solution. I can’t tell you how many times in the past year I’ve reread all of these. For that, for all the new authors she’s introduced me to, and for giving me an excellent gateway into this genre, Laura Florand’s books will always have a special place in my heart. As I have explored this genre more too, I can also say she is my favorite author of contemporary romance and I don’t see that changing.

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Merci, Brandy! I also get romance recommendations from Laura. :) Melina Marchetta was also my gateway to YA contemporary.

Amour et Florand


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Amour et Florand: Guest Post from Laura Florand

Bonjour! Today, we have a very special guest post for Amour et Florand as Laura Florand herself shares some thoughts about her writing.

Yay, Laura! *claps enthusiastically*

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Exploring the streets of the towns around Grasse leads here, in Cagnes (Haut de Cagnes), France.

Exploring the streets of the towns around Grasse leads here, in Cagnes (Haut de Cagnes), France. This street, with its thick vine, will become the inspiration for the street on which Colette Delatour’s house is found, in the Vie en Roses series.

I think anyone who reads my work can tell that I am deeply compelled by the powerful sensuality of setting. The sound of bees buzzing densely around you as you crouch amid lavender, the way the sprigs of it gently scratch their scent against your skin. The silk of petals as you press your thumb into a rose to harvest it, and the prick of a thorn if you’re careless. The scent of sun against stone and jasmine, and the subtle chatter of dried leaves over cobblestones in the streets of some old Provençal town, as if the wind is gossiping about you as you climb toward some chapel or castle set on the heights.

These are the settings of the Vie en Roses series, a setting that defiantly eludes capture. All words fail here. How do you describe the harvest of a valley full of roses? Rose petals are actually softer than silk, their scent sweeter and fresher than sweetness, and in any case, all words like “silk”, “sweet” have been worn weak with overuse. So what is a writer to do? This is the challenge and joy of writing about such vivid worlds: that eternal, Sisyphian effort to do justice to their vividness on the printed page.

The books in La Vie en Roses focus around a family in Grasse in the south of France, a family whose role in the fragrance industry of that region dates back to the Renaissance. In the Amour et Chocolat series, on the other hand, I have been fascinated by another profession obsessed with the senses: the top chocolatiers and pastry chefs of Paris. These amazing, incredibly hard-working, passionate, perfectionist chefs who devote their whole being to creating that most perfect, magical dessert or chocolate that will melt in someone else’s mouth, give someone else pleasure.

Laura with chocolatier Michael Chaudun

Laura with chocolatier Michael Chaudun

Maybe I am so fascinated by them because they do so well something I, with words, would like to do: capture the power of the senses. One small, perfect chocolate is, in itself, the quintessence of sensuality. And here, too, the setting helps compel me: that rich setting of chocolate, pastry, intense work, and, of course, one step outside the laboratoire, the streets of Paris. If you cannot walk down the Seine at night and be utterly enraptured by the fact that you are alive to experience this, then you are immune to all magic.

People often ask me why I write about France. Sometimes I say, tongue in cheek, that the culture appropriated me. As a student planning her dissertation in Francophone literature, with a focus on French Polynesia, I came to Paris with some reticence, as a graduate assistant with my university’s study abroad program. I initially was underwhelmed by Paris — compared to warm and energetic Madrid, in which I had spent the semester before, or Tahiti, where I had spent a year on a Fulbright Grant. In Paris that first year, it rained all the time and the very bad bet of an ex-boyfriend I had left behind found my number and kept calling me at three in the morning, and it was all just very miserable.

But Paris caught me. France caught me. I met my husband there. He took me out inline skating on the Seine night after night and taught me to fall in love with his city, in all its fascination and frustration. And his huge, effervescent family wrapped us up in their embrace, welcoming and fun but very much taking over my whole life as I had known it, until there came a point that so little of my original self was left in me that I would struggle to recapture the English language by sitting down to write, forcing my way through the awkward syntax French kept imposing on my thoughts, until I could express myself again in my native language.

Patriarch Joseph Mul with in his fields of roses, near Grasse, France. Joseph Mul grows the roses and jasmine used in Chanel’s perfumes, including the famous N. 5.

Patriarch Joseph Mul with in his fields of roses, near Grasse, France. Joseph Mul grows the roses and jasmine used in Chanel’s perfumes, including the famous N. 5.

So writing became a way of possessing my own experience, if you will — of everything that was so powerful and magical and, yes, difficult about that experience. I had always written — I’ve been writing every day since I was nine years old, determined to “be a writer”—but once when I was a teenager, my grandfather told me to “go live my life first and then write about it”. And I guess I had finally done that.

I still teach, and one thing I try to give my students is the same thing I try go give my readers: the world is a huge, rich place, and I hope you’ll go after it with everything in you. Sink into experiences. (And no, these don’t have to be expensive experiences, although I do love travel and believe strongly in its value and in the value of learning at least one other language. But you can take a walk in your nearest woods and sink into experiences, just by remembering to touch the bark on the trees sometimes. You can eat a clementine and sink into the experience, just by squeezing the peel to release the oils.)

Enrobeuse at Jacques Genin

Enrobeuse at Jacques Genin

I once in a while receive emails from a rare reader who is angry — really, virulently angry — that I might write about something outside small town America. I grew up in a small town myself, and small towns can be as rich in experience as anywhere else (Sarah Addison Allen, for example, vividly evokes small towns at an all-five-senses level). But that someone should think you should close off all other options makes me really, really sad.

But what makes me really happy is when I hear from readers who have, after reading these books, decided to take that trip to France they’ve been dreaming of, or try that basil-infused gourmet chocolate, or just take whatever action expands your life and experience.

You encourage me to expand my life and experience. To brave anticipated rejection from one of the world’s best chocolatiers and maneuver myself into his laboratoire, to chat with people in the streets of Grasse as I hunt down access to rose growers and perfumers, to explore new places and tastes and textures, new sources of story.

So thank you, all of you, for that. For keeping me reminded not to shrink-wrap my own life, but to keep all that space open to stretch out my arms, take deep breaths of lavender, go taste some chocolate… and I hope write about it in a way that encourages you to do so, too.

Thanks so much for reading. And thank you, Chachic, for doing me the wonderful honor of this week, and to all of you who have participated in it. I am very, very honored and thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

A fountain entirely surrounded by jasmine becomes the setting for a kiss, in The Chocolate Rose. While the village of Sainte-Mère is a deliberately fictional invention which blurs elements of several small towns in this area, in real life, this fountain is in Mougins, France.

A fountain entirely surrounded by jasmine becomes the setting for a kiss, in The Chocolate Rose. While the village of Sainte-Mère is a deliberately fictional invention which blurs elements of several small towns in this area, in real life, this fountain is in Mougins, France.

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Merci, Laura! This is a beautiful. It has been my pleasure to organize Amour et Florand to celebrate your work. I really think your writing captures the power of the senses and yes, it also encourages readers to sink into experiences. Just look at how many readers had to run and buy chocolates while reading your books. :)

Amour et Florand


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Amour et Florand: Guest Post from Angie

I think my reading life would be super boring if I never met (sadly just online and not yet in person) Angie of Angieville because she gives the best recommendations. She writes these lovely reviews that make you want to read the book that she’s talking about as soon as you can. Seriously, there’s even a button for her recs:

recommended by Angie

An image created by fellow YAcker Laura

So when I manage to recommend a book that she ends up liking, I feel like giving myself a pat on the back. Here she is to tell us what she loves about Laura Florand’s books.

Angieville
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It’s especially fitting that I write this post for Chachic’s Laura Florand event, as it was she who inspired me to give these delightful books a try in the first place. I remember judging the first couple of Amour et Chocolat books by their adorable silhouette covers (one of these days I will learn my lesson), and so I went in expecting something light and fluffy and charmingly Parisian. I was almost immediately surprised to find out there was quite a bit more going on under their benign covers. And rather intensely going on at that. Sylvain is Parisian. And Cade is (at times) charming. But nothing — right down to the obscenely dark chocolate Sylvain creates — is light and fluffy.

So much of the wonderful gravity Laura Florand imbues her characters with is present in their meet-cutes, which almost always weigh in on the devastating end of the “cute” spectrum. They are often smashed over the head with their attraction to one another, yet Ms. Florand neatly avoids any irksome instalust by matching up such intelligent, talented, and professional people, and by providing them with deep backgrounds, conflicts, and motivations. All of this is not to say that the swoon factor isn’t there. On the contrary, the swoon is off the charts. Particularly as it is paired so beautifully with master craftsmen who are at the top of their game, who know how to woo, and who are not afraid to use every last swirl of chocolate and spin of sugar to do it.

But the real ace in the hole is the writing. Each of these decadent concoctions could so quickly fall flat if they weren’t rendered in such lovely prose. When Philippe calls Magalie’s name, when she frustratedly explains the wishes she stirs into her chocolat chaud. When Dom pushes past his disbelief and realizes he means that word Jaime can’t find, that word that means warmth. Well. In those moments, I care about them so much. Those moments, those passages are so well-crafted they linger in my mind and resurface as bright spots in my day months later. These are books worth hugging to your chest, worth owning so you can pull them out as needed to read and reread and — in their pages — wander Paris, falling in love with each lovely step.

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Merci, Angie! I wholeheartedly agree that Laura’s books are the type that are worth hugging to your chest. They’re the kind of books that feel like comfort reads even if you’re reading them for the first time.

Amour et Florand


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Amour et Florand: Making Great Characterization Look Easy

Rachel Neumeier is the author of fantasy novels House of Shadows, the Griffin Mage trilogy, The Floating Islands, The City in the Lake and Black Dog. Rachel and I chat about the books that we read all the time. She’s recommended some books that have become favorites for me and I’m always flattered when she decides to try a book that I’ve recommended. We both love Laura Florand’s books so we’ve discussed them several times. Rachel is here to talk about what she likes the most in Laura’s writing.
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Rachel NeumeierCade Corey is the uber-rich heiress to the world’s biggest and most powerful chocolate empire, Corey Chocolate. Her sister, Jaime, is a rich do-gooder who travels in the third world to Improve People’s Lives. Summer, their cousin, is luminously beautiful as well as rich. Her father has just bought her a hotel as part of a bribe to get Summer to live her life his way.

Sylvain Marquis is the best chocolatier in Paris (just ask him). He has all the fame one ego can manage. So does his main rival, Dominique Richard. So does Luc Leroi, one of the top pastry chefs in the world, who happens to work for Summer’s hotel.

People, these are not characters just any writer could pull off. I can’t be alone at rolling my eyes when a romance involves the richest girl in the world and the best chocolatier in the world. Isn’t it possible for a romance to involve protagonists a little more… normal?

Yet, in Laura Florand’s hands, these characters are somehow transformed from the cardboard cutouts we might expect into real people that we sympathize with and root for – that we can’t help but sympathize with and root for. This is partly Florand’s beautiful writing – and her writing is beautiful – but mostly it is her talent for establishing a complicated backstory that echoes forward into a character’s present.

Cade Corey is confident of her business acumen, but she’s not at all sure a man could possibly care about her rather than about her money. She knows she can run her father’s company when her turn comes, but she’s not sure she has the right to claim a life of her own. Sylvain knows his chocolate is the best in the world, but success was not something he was born with. He’s experienced plenty of rejection in his life, and he’s not at all sure a woman could care about him as a person.

Which gives rise to one of the best opening lines ever, incidentally:

Sylvain Marquis knew what women desired: chocolate. And so he had learned as he grew into adulthood how to master a woman’s desire.

This is funny and intriguing and a wonderful invitation to read the next line, and the next after that – Laura Florand knows how to draw in a reader, that’s for sure. But it also shows right away that Sylvain doesn’t really believe a woman is likely to desire him for himself. And this is not just something the author tells the reader: Florand makes us believe in Sylvain’s insecurity and Cade’s vulnerability. She really does.

The Chocolate Thief, featuring Cade and Sylvain, is light and fun and charming. But the Chocolate romances gain depth as the series goes on, so that by the time we get to the fourth book in the series, The Chocolate Touch, which features Jaime and Dom, the story is not so light – though it still has plenty of humor – but is truly touching.

Jaime is not some posturing first-world twit showing off her moral superiority with her Causes. We find out just enough about her activities with the cacao plantations to know she is intelligent and practical and has truly been making a real difference in people’s lives. For me, that’s crucial in establishing her as a sympathetic protagonist. And we also know she has recently been badly hurt, not just metaphorically. Her confidence in herself has been shattered. She needs someone to help her regain that confidence.

Dominique Richard is one of Sylvain’s main rivals for Best Chocolatier in Paris, but his background is awful. We all know how violence and abuse in one generation tends to lead to violence and abuse in the next generation, and here is Dom, so determined that he will not contribute to that pattern. He’s got quite a reputation as a tough guy, yet he’s vulnerable in a whole different way compared to Sylvain. And Florand makes us totally buy this with her brilliant writing. Dom is (still) my favorite male lead from the Chocolate romances.

Then we have their cousin, Summer. Summer is the rich girl who is also luminously beautiful: a tough protagonist to handle, because what kind of difficulties can a woman like that actually have? Well, it turns out she does have real problems. She’s in a genuinely painful situation and as that is slowly revealed, well, it would take a pretty hard-hearted reader not to sympathize with her and root for her and join her cheering section.

And Luc! He’s made it to the tippy-top of his profession, but, you guessed it, his life is not actually in perfect order. For him, it’s all about breaking out of his own tight defenses. Summer gives him a reason to do that.

Luc’s eyebrows drew together. He stared after the barge, profoundly disturbed at the thought that Summer might have needed him and his tangle of pride and hunger had left her unprotected. “Do you really think she’s shy?” he asked after a while…. I failed her didn’t I? I never fail at anything, but I think I keep failing her.

Yes, he does, until he gets it together and begins to really believe that Summer can be hurt and that he keeps hurting her and maybe he should start supporting her instead.

Seriously, any writer could learn a lot from Laura Florand about giving a protagonist a difficult, complicated background that echoes forward to produce real human problems and touching vulnerability. Thus we have:

In Sun-Kissed:

Her isolation itched at him. Mack wanted to reach out and break it, like one of those damn sugar sculptures over on the bridal table, break the translucent pieces of that isolation, say, Hey, did you notice all the world here you’re missing?

In Turning up the Heat:

“You’ve got to admit, it’s a beautiful irony, chérie. I gave myself up for you. You gave yourself up for me. And we’re here scrabbling to find enough of each other we can hold onto.”

In The Chocolate Temptation:

Why was he so bad at this? Surely no other man had to sue a woman just so he could make her put up with him long enough that he had a chance to figure out how to talk to her.

And I haven’t even mentioned some of my favorite Florand titles! Sticking to the Corey family simplified this post, but here I am, and I haven’t had a chance to mention the fairy tales that infuse at least half of Florand’s stories, or describe her beautiful use of metaphor, or discuss the wonderful relationships between her secondary characters that deepen every book, or refer to the lovely hints of magical realism in The Chocolate Kiss, or, or, or…

One of my favorite finds over the past couple of years, Laura Florand is now an auto-buy author for me, even though I’m not a big romance reader in general. I’m definitely right there for whatever she writes next.

_________________________

Merci, Rachel! I think Laura does a very good job in fleshing out her characters – I like that she shows us the flaws of these characters. That they’re still vulnerable and insecure even if they’ve accomplished so much in their lives.

Amour et Florand

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