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