A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

The Chocolate Heart by Laura Florand

(reviewed from an e-arc provided by NetGalley. A long time ago. Better late than never!)

If you’ve read other books in the “Amour et Chocolat” series, this is in some ways a familiar dance: an American heiress in Paris, and the French patissier who woos her with unbelievable desserts. But there’s a bit of a twist here: Summer Corey’s childhood love for both Paris and desserts have been twisted into hate. (Rather than Florand’s usual fairy tale source, this story draws on Greek mythology, with Paris as Summer’s Hades.)

Summer and Luc Leroi basically fall in love at first sight, each seeing warmth and comfort in the other. But their public images and private pasts work against them, and they constantly misunderstand each other. Both were deprived of love as children, but while Luc aims for constant perfection, Summer wears her spoiled bad girl rep as a shield. (Come to think of it, they are interesting representatives of two classic aspects of a dysfunctional family: “The Hero” and “The Scapegoat.”) Every time Luc unwittingly hurts her, she tries even harder to live down to his expectations.

As you might expect from the inspiration, this is dark in tone — not because anything overtly awful happens, though Summer has had more ugly experiences than the world would guess, but because both characters have so much pain in their lives. The story does a beautiful job of showing how two people who seem to have it all can still be so lost and justifiably unhappy. They’re perfect for each other because at heart they have the same need: to give love to someone who needs them and would never let them go.

There was a bit too much repetition of phrases, but the prose is gorgeous. I love the way Florand extends the metaphor beyond its original inspiration:

“That’s what makes it so incredible. What you do. You’re just a man. A human mortal man. And you do–what you do.”

There was a long silence. “Merci, soleil“, he said softly. “After all those people who call me a god, I never realized you could give me a promotion.”

I also liked the realism in the “baby epilogue.” Neither character is completely fixed by true love, and their happy ending requires commitment and care. (There’s also a sequel, Shadowed Heart: A Luc and Summer Novel, which expands on this.)

You don’t have to have read any of the previous books to enjoy this one, although several characters do recur. Just open your heart to a prickly couple who need love, and some astonishing desserts that need to be eaten.

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