Title: The Chocolate Heart (Amour et Chocolat, #5)
Author: Laura Florand
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: November 26th, 2013
Usually, after the initial honeymoon period wears off – generally around the third or fourth book in a series – I begin to become wary. Whether it be Kate Daniels or Mercy Thompson, there always comes a time when my stomach churns, my mind imagines all the worst case scenarios, and I settle down to read a book with crossed fingers, toes, and hair strands. When it comes to Laura Florand, however, whose Amour et Chocolat series is made up of companion novels, my trust is never shaken. It’s a comfort to know that even if – by some strange chance of fate – I don’t fall head-over-heels for the love stories Florand writes, I always walk away besotted and impressed by her languid, graceful prose. Of course the setting of Paris, the chocolate-making heroes, and deeply complex heroines draw me in – but Florand’s writing always, always, clinches the deal.
At this point in the series, it is of no surprise to see that Florand’s heroes share many similarities, whether it is their insecurities, vulnerabilities, or just their backgrounds. And yet, this device only adds to the complexity of Florand’s characters for, despite the similarities, each of these heroes possesses distinct differences. Luc, a world-renown chocolatier whose culinary presence has helped make the hotel where he works a 5 Star establishment, cannot be mistaken for Dominque Richard or Sylvain Marquis, although all three have grown up in the outskirts of Paris. Florand’s dual perspectives work effortlessly in creating well-rounded characters who seek to fit in, in more ways than their profession. I find that the more I read her work, the more I recognize qualities to praise. After all, Luc is living the dream in Paris, making food for famous guests and running his own kitchen, but there still remains so much unsatisfaction in his life.
Enter: Summer Corey. It isn’t so much that Summer is beautiful or that she is able to able to fill up the blank spaces in Luc’s life, but rather the fact that he can add color to her existence that makes him pursue her with such determination. From the beginning itself, their attraction is selfless, seeking to understand one another and create a better world for themselves – together. Of course, the journey is slow, arduous, wrought with misunderstandings and an almost irritating back-and-forth banter, equal in wit, charm, and action. The Chocolate Heart isn’t my favorite of Florand’s love stories – that’s a definite tie between The Chocolate Thief and The Chocolate Kiss - but it contains other qualities that make it such a worthwhile read.
Summer, for one, is a heroine whose plight I sympathized with. Not only is her beauty a detriment, isolating her from female companionship, but it also dampens her self-esteem. While everyone sees a pretty face in Summer, not to mention wealth, status, and power thanks to her father, they rarely ever see her. Summer is constantly admonished by her family, downtrodden and put-down, made only to carry out the wishes of her parents and marry the richest hunk they throw at her. Thus, Summer takes off for years, living on an island with no technology, no communication to the outside, and living with the locals, teaching them English and making a happy, sunny community for herself. When Summer is forced back to Paris by her father, whose gift is the hotel where Luc works, it is Summer’s worst nightmare. For one, her parents – though constantly complaining about her absence – don’t stick around long enough to see her and for another, Summer is intensely unhappy.
An unhappy protagonist isn’t exactly likeable, but I loved Summer. Florand writes Summer’s insecurities with genuine feeling. It doesn’t seem contrived in the least that Summer thinks so lowly of herself, her abilities, and what she’s accomplished in life. It takes others to see the beauty in her – past the physical perfection – and Summer’s self-growth is slow, but realistically paced. I particularly love that, despite the happily-ever-after we all know and expect, Florand treats this fragile love story with a healthy dose of realism. For the first time, Florand has written an epilogue, but it is an authentic one, highlighting the truth of the bond Summer and Luc share in a way that is both bittersweet and romantic. It becomes harder and harder to write about this series with time. It only gets better – deeper, more complicated, and far messier. And yet, it is such a wonderful capsule of life. Even in the most romantic city in the world, life and its troubles never cease or escape you. Instead, you just learn to handle them…all with a healthy dose of chocolate, morning, noon, and night.