Take a healthy dose of a heroine who mixes wishes into her chocolat chaud: May you love your life and seize it with both hands; and works in a shop called La Maison des Sorcieres or The Witches’ House. Add equal parts of a macaron-maker extraordinaire whose macarons are as delicious as he is, and whose pastry-making philosophy dictates that “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.”
Mix in a lesbian aunt who holds that Magalie (the heroine) preferring men to women is “like seeing your own child grow up to be a unicorn or something”. Stir with a Parisian setting, Ile Saint-Louis, a quaint and charming island in the middle of Paris that I immediately wanted to visit!
What you get is Laurie Florand’s “The Chocolate Kiss”, a romance that is as delightful as it is sinfully delicious.
As a newbie to the whole genre of ‘foodie romance’ I can see the appeal of mixing the two. There is something intensely personal and sensual about the act of cooking:“She lifted the spoon, unctuous chocolate clinging to it. Thick and pure, probably rich with cream and high-quality dark chocolate, the liquid slid slowly back off the spoon. The scent of it promised bliss.” It’s almost like putting a little piece of yourself into your loved one. The way it assaults our senses, its visceral nature and its very indispensability to who we are – all these aspects of food serve to heighten and accentuate the sense of romance.
The recipes and the world of food is not the only thing that Miss Florand handles deftly. The secondary characters, especially Aunt Geneviève will have you giggling within seconds. An amazon of a woman with the feistiness to match it, Aunt Geneviève “was to other people’s lives what a heavy, old-fashioned iron was to clothes.” Unlike Magalie who is terrified that Philippe’s (the hero) new patisserie down the street will draw away the small pool of La Maison’s own customers, Aunt Geneviève puts up a sign saying, “Morally opposed to Valentine’s day. Closed in protest,” shooing away the horde that descends on the shop on Valentine’s Day.
And then there’s Magalie and Philippe themselves; trying to answer the age-old question of whether a witch and a prince are meant to be together. Given the imagery of castle that persists throughout the book it may be more appropriate to view Magalie as a witch-princess than just a witch. This distinction is important – the ensuing emotional struggles that Magalie undergoes, as she tries to come to terms with Philippe, is perhaps more the domain of princesses than witches.
A child of a Parisian mother and an American father who still commute across the pond, Magalie is prickly about her aunt’s shop and the Ile Saint-Louis, the only stable environment she has known in all her life. “It was her place. The one she wouldn’t leave, so no one could grow over her spot and take it from her”. Until that is Philippe Lyonnais comes to Ile Saint-Louis and “brought time in”.
The Chocolate Kiss is the story of Magalie learning to deal with this interloper. Unlike princesses of the yore who needed some princely rescuing to escape the castles they were imprisoned in Magalie makes space for Philippe to join her inside her castle. Giving a healthy kick to the long line of princesses before her, she rescues herself. Perhaps, that makes Magalie more of a witch than a princess. And perhaps all we girls need to be the right balance of witchy-princesses in the first place.
Through all of this what I loved the best and that has made me want to seek out Miss Florand’s other books was the writing.
Miss Florand’s descriptions tug at my heartstrings:
It would probably taste like she had been permitted to spend three bites of her life in heaven. Like the essence of apricot had come down and kissed a shy pistachio, and they had decided to hang out and cuddle.
(I mean really, the apricot and pistachio decide to hang out and cuddle?! How sweet is that!)
And make me realize that the banal can be funny too:
Geneviève narrowed her eyes at him as if she suspected impudence. Philippe just leaned back against the counter, his presence competing firmly with hers to dominate the overcrowded kitchen, until Magalie felt like the stuffed inside of a sandwich fighting valiantly to prove she was the best part. (emphasis is mine)
– the stuffed inside of a sandwich fighting valiantly to prove she was the best part? Oh dear! I never looked at a Subway in this way precisely but once Miss Florand puts it so it becomes startlingly clear! And funny!
The whimsical nature of her description makes the character’s experience more vicarious (for the reader) than just a thing to observe passively: If Magalie cedes to Philippe,
He would ride his big white stallion right over her hedges and into her garden and never even notice that he had killed her favourite black hen.
Best of all her writing puts a big smile on my face:
One must always know when to yield magic into the hands of children..
So, if you’re on the lookout for a light and fluffy read that’s also immensely enjoyable I’d strongly recommend The Chocolate Kiss. Just don’t forget to arm yourself with chocolate delicacies before you begin!
P.S. And here’s the post that tipped me onto this book in the first place: Foodie Feminism: Laura Florand’s THE CHOCOLATE KISS
(this is one of my favourite blogs to head over to for romance related recommendations and thoughts!)