Posted in: willaful reviews
I was a little nervous starting this. Florand had two five star books in a row, for me — could she possibly pull off a hat trick? Yes. Yes she could.
Magalie, the daughter of a trans-continental marriage, spent her youth being shuttled between France and America. As an adult, she made the most secure, permanent home possible for herself in the whimsical, witch themed chocolate shop of her aunts, cooking chocolat chaud that she infuses with appropriate wishes for its drinkers. (One of these fortunate drinkers was Cade Corey, heroine of The Chocolate Thief, and it worked out very well for her.) When world famous patissier Phillipe Lyonnais decides to open a new shop on her street, Magalie feels threatened enough to move out of her comfort zone and beard the lion in his den. Phillipe tries to soothe her with one of his exquisite handmade creations, she defiantly refuses… and the battle is on.
The Chocolate Kiss is very like Florand’s previous amour et chocolat books in many ways, but has a few key differences. In this story, both characters put their heart and soul into their delicious sweets, and their increasingly desperate efforts to make the other have a taste makes for one of the most delicious wars in the history of romance. Phillipe continually outdoes himself in dreaming up symbolically meaningful pastry to woo Magalie. The defiant Magalie tries to infuse humility for him into her chocolate, yet keep unconsciously stirring her own unadmitted longing for Phillipe into it, causing him to be constantly pursued by random chocolate drinkers.
The story also differs from the previous books in being unexpectedly sad, at least for me. Magalie is so wounded underneath the desperate armor of her Parisian chic, I couldn’t help crying for her. For awhile I was even aghast about Phillipe’s seeming indifference to how much his shop threatened Magalie, because I identified so strongly with her that despite her aunts’ unconcern, I didn’t realize it was never a genuine threat.
Florand makes art and magic with words as she describes how Phillipe and Magalie make art and magic with food. Every word had meaning; I had to keep slowing down and going back, to savor phrases that had rushed by too fast to be appreciated. She fills her books with rich metaphor — like all of her food magicians, Phillipe is his creations, but he is also a lion, and a prince, and he’s wary that a witch might turn him into a beast (or a frog.) Magalie is a witch trying to stifle her longing to be a princess, but she’s also Rapunzel trapped in her tower, and a dessert that melts into goo from Phillipe’s attention. It sounds overly complicated and mishmash, but it all swirls together into a perfect mix of flavors.
This phrase struck me as being representative of Florand’s unique style:
“His laughter expanded into the whole room, his energy embracing everyone and everything in it. And that bell in her shop rang again, pure and clear, piercing her through the heart — which hurt like hell — and holding her there, impaled for somebody else’s pleasure.”
I love how her characters embrace metaphor so thoroughly, they make it almost literal. They also invariably think along the same lines — while Magalie tries to make sure no chocolate skulls are left off the fence that guards her Baba Yaga display, Phillipe immediately notices the one that’s fallen, which means the fence can no longer keep a prince out. This completely works with the gentle magic realism that’s especially strong in this story.
I read this with gusto, making gleeful noises and awwws and sobs as I went. I adored Phillipe, so large and competent and sure of himself, yet so vulnerable as he falls hopelessly in love with a walled-off princess who thinks she can’t have a prince. (I was amused when I looked up “Magalie” and discovered it means “pearl” — she could not be more aptly named.) He truly needs the patience of someone who takes the utmost, delicate care with his work. And I cheered as Magalie starts letting her armor drop enough to enjoy a run — impossible in the high heels she unusually insists on — and even begins to believe in the power of her own magic. It’s yet another 5 stars — or maybe that should be 3 Michelin stars. You can buy it here.
Published by Kensington. Review copy from the public library.