The Chocolate Kiss / Laura Florand. 2013
Until today I'd never tried a macaron. It's not as if these French pastries are readily found in local bakeries here in flyover country. But what do you know? There they were in my local Whole Foods when I was shopping this afternoon and I figured that even if it turned out to be a poor imitation of the real thing, I should at least try one. Because after spending the last 2 days reading Laura Florand's latest, The Chocolate Kiss, I had macarons and chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) on the brain. The verdict? Pretty good! I got a passion fruit and chocolate-flavored macaron. The best part was the chocolate center. I think it was a little overly sweet for my taste, but I loved the textures and the chocolate combined with the tart fruit flavor.
A-hem. This is supposed to be a book review. Back in August, Florand's The Chocolate Thief was one of my Phaves. I said then how much I enjoyed the way Florand made Paris come alive and how engrossing I found that story. The same can be said about this book, which I thought was even better. The Chocolate Kiss has wonderful characters, is set in the (to me) exotic backdrop of Paris, and includes some serious food porn.
Magalie Chaudron is a young woman living with her two aunts on the small Île St. Louis in the heart of Paris. Here's a link to Google maps for the island, which I found quite helpful when I wanted to follow Magalie around Paris. Anyhow, she works in her aunts' charming tea salon and makes a very special chocolat chaud. They have a small but steady stream of customers. One day Magalie finds out that the famous pastry maker, Philippe Lyonnais plans to open a shop down the street from their salon. Magalie is fearful that his shop will put her aunts out of business and she instantly goes on the offensive toward Philippe in a vain effort to get him to open his shop elsewhere.
Philippe is instantly drawn to Magalie and he spends months trying to get her to taste his macarons. Out of pride, Magalie refuses; meanwhile Philippe won't try Magalie's chocolat chaud either. Philippe's frustration and Magalie's unwilling attraction to Philippe are really just the tip of the iceberg. Magalie is battling some huge insecurities that have caused her to put up emotional walls that Philippe has to battle through time and again. Eventually there's a wonderful scene where they each agree to try the other's specialty. And from here Magalie's carefully constructed walls begin to come down. It's not easy, and it's not instant. And that's what I think makes this book stand out (no, really, it's not just the chocolate). A person doesn't spend a lifetime walling herself off, only to let the walls crumple in a day. It takes time for Magalie to trust that Philippe truly does want to be there for her.
This is a book that is charmingly quirky in spots (the aunts and their tea salon, especially), funny, emotional, and so well-written. Florand's prose is amazing--almost poetic in its descriptions of her characters and their situations. I loved it. And bonus! The end of the book includes Magalie's recipe for chocolat chaud. It's supposed to turn quite cold here tomorrow and there will be football to watch. I'm going to give that recipe a try.