Miss Bates loves chocolate: she likes it with sea salt; she likes it dark; she likes it Lindt; and, she likes it with almonds too. Laura Florand’s novels are an original bar in contemporary romance: Paris-set in the world of the chocolatiers, hot romance, soft-heart-hard-abs alpha heroes, and heroines who hold their own, asserting their identity and independence before the hero’s uber-protectiveness. With the help of one of the most beautiful cities in the world and best cultivated national palates, Florand builds a unique world in contemporary romance. Her latest, the first in the Paris Hearts series, All For You is a title – in light of the hero’s sacrifices – most fitting. A character’s chocolate palate (in this case, the hero’s) serves as a means of identifying and communicating with him – because he is one hard-headed fella. His love’s honey-hibiscus chocolate creation is her way of saying this-is-me “if anyone knew how to properly taste her.” 😉 The chocolatière, heroine Célie Clément, is chief chocolate-creator for Dominique Richard, hero of The Chocolate Touch; the hero, Josselin “Joss” Castel, five-year veteran of the French Foreign Legion. It was lovely to see Dom with his girlfriend, Jaime, soon to be wife if only he were worthy of being her husband. With this notion enters a major theme in this latest novel: to be worthy of the other, deserving of love and trust, to overcome fears of inferiority and abandonment. So much angst and so much sexy in one succinct chocolate-filled soupçon of a delightful novel.
Twenty-three-year-old Célie is an award-winning chocolatière at Dom’s exclusive shop. She can afford a small apartment with a bare glimpse of the Eiffel Tower’s night-time sparkle and a modest moped. She has friends and work she adores. Though she dates, she’s never been able to get over her teen-age crush on her older brother’s best friend, Joss. When the novel opens, Joss lounges against a wall waiting for her outside the chocolate shop. Five years ago, when she worked in a patissier, he did the same in Les Tartarets, a down-out-and-out banlieue, a place of unemployment, addiction, and nil opportunity. Joss showed Célie affection and protected her from the worst aspects of their milieu; he was friend, protector, and knight, never boyfriend. After losing his mechanic’s job because of his association with her drug-dealing brother, he joined the French Foreign Legion without saying good-bye, or communicating in the ensuing five years.
Célie is hurt and furious. Joss is back and prepared to win her hand. He joined the Legion to be worthy of her, to offer her more than the meager existence of privation and hopelessness. He honed his body, filled his pockets, and is ready to lay it all at her feet. What he doesn’t expect is an enraged, teary-eyed Célie and certainly not one who made her way out of Les Tartarets to achieve such success. He’s proud of her, but oblivious to her anger, feelings of betrayal, and hurt at his abandonment. Joss is an adorable giant of love and cluelessness. Célie is smart and temperamentally prone to, as she charmingly puts it, whop him with “flutters of Scarlett O’Hara fists.” The scene is set: along the Seine, in Paris’s night-time sky, in les parcs that Parisians kiss and picnic in … for Joss to do everything he can to convince Célie they should be together forever. Joss doesn’t understand how conflicted Célie feels, “as unable to let him back in as she was to send him away.” Joss persists in treating her like the innocent of five years ago; he doesn’t see the now-her. He wants to be lover and friend … this is certainly a novel that burns up the pages with The Sexy … if only he could learn to stop playing big brother.
While Miss B. understood Célie’s need to assert her new independent self and Joss to be brought in line, Miss B. nevertheless loved his humility. The idea that he should deserve Célie by honing himself into a man strong enough to eclipse the banlieue was pretty darn attractive and endearing. Now, what Célie was totally justified in was her righteous anger when he didn’t write, or see her during leaves for FIVE YEARS. She makes him work for forgiveness and acknowledge their relationship must take a new tenor. Her pixie pissiness was likeable, a sure match for Joss’s big heart and humble soul. But his five-year silence means he has to re-establish Célie’s trust, that he returned thinking it was a given was really really dense and he deserves the merry dance she puts him through.
One of the most interesting aspects to Joss and Célie are their lumpenproletariat roots in that depressed banlieue. Florand wrote this so well: aware that university is not an option, they took what was at hand, France’s reputation for great food and the military, and made the best they could for themselves. They’ll never be wealthy, but they’ll be comfortable, satisfied, and safe. Their shared history and dysfunctional families define, but don’t determine them and that was a delicate and difficult line for Florand to walk. It was most successful. Célie and Joss tended to hyper-sexuality: their desire for each other is over the top and sustained over so much of the novel that Miss B. wanted them to do The Deed just to see what their relationship would be afterwards – if they were to have one with lasting power. With that quibble aside, Miss Bates enjoyed Florand’s All For You and looks forward to the next in the series. Miss Austen says that, in Florand’s latest, is evidence of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Laura Florand’s All For You has been available in E and paper since April 20th at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates is grateful to the author for an e-ARC.