Personally, I’ve found the last few Amour et Chocolat books to be very emotionally intense, focusing as they do on characters who really have to struggle to work out their relationship and their own issues. I’ve liked that a lot, since the intensity fits those characters and stories. Once Upon a Rose is a little quieter, a little less obviously intense, and I found that I really like that too; the different kinds of stories fit different moods. Here there’s a sense of the characters essentially being okay, even if they don’t quite know it yet. Even in the big dramatic moments, I trusted that Matt and Layla cared enough about each other to work things out.
I love the sense of roots and rootedness, which comes up several times as an image. It works really well with the sense of family that pervades the book. It’s not that family is absent in the earlier books, but here it becomes even more central. And for Matthieu, it’s both a blessing and a burden. His journey in this story is of finding himself in relationship to his family and the responsibility of being the heir to the valley. It’s in finding a way to avoid replicating the mistakes of the previous generations, which continue to be felt. His grandfather loves his family, but he defines family too narrowly. It’s a question of how to honor traditions–real, important traditions–and at the same time be yourself.
And for Layla, it’s almost the opposite. She needs to find a place to be rooted and therefore nourished. Almost–and I know this is maybe a weird image, but I think it works–to be cultivated like the rose bushes (she equates herself with them several times). She’s a musician and performer, and part of her story is a powerful look at creativity and the need to rest and be fed in order to create. (I didn’t think of this at the time, but echoes of Gift from the Sea!) That tension between Matt’s need to care for the valley and Layla’s need to have some of it herself drives a lot of the story, both in the obvious plot and in the character stuff that’s happening underneath.
As always, the setting and writing are wonderful. I loved the texture of the descriptions, the rose petals and scents, the stone and thorns. And there are some fun fairy tale echoes, which I will admit it took me awhile to pick up. Florand is really good at these quietly lyrical moments, and they’re definitely present here. I loved every minute of this book, and I’ll be looking forward to whatever story comes next.
Book source: review copy from author
Book information: 2015, self-published; adult contemporary romance