Tuesday 31 January 2017

#CBR9 Book 7: "A Crown of Bitter Orange" by Laura Florand

Page count: 323 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Malorie Monsard returns to the south of France, where she grew up, having left on a hike after finishing high school and made enough money in Paris to put herself through business school. Having felt like an outcast while growing up, due to the legacy of her great-grandfather who betrayed resistance members to the Gestapo, and a narcissistic father who would manipulate her, her mother, her sisters and her grandmother, and charm, lie and steal his way until he finally met an unglamourous end in a car accident with another woman. After the women of the Monsard family left and scattered across the globe, Malorie's grandmother remained and tried to keep up what little remained of the family's once great fragrance business. Now she has died, Malorie is in charge of the inheritance, forcing her to return to her brittle roots. Will she sell off the near-dead family business or make a go of it in a town she's wary about returning to?

Tristan Rosier is the youngest of five male cousins and always felt it was his job to see to the emotional well-being of all his family. He grew up with Malorie, having been placed next to the quiet, studious girl all the way through school as this seemed to be the only thing that could somewhat calm his own irrepressible, energetic and impulsive self. Nursing a crush on her since childhood, Tristan never could figure out why Malorie was the only woman who would never give him the time of day. Growing up with war hero relatives, privileged and loved constantly, Tristan nonetheless deeply felt the loss of his two oldest cousins who went off to join the armed forces, and Malorie, who simply never returned from her post graduation hike.

When he met her again a few years ago in New York, he was trying to pitch his most extravagant and brilliant perfume to the company where she worked, and she used her cold, logical accounting skills to ruin his dream. Now she is back in Grasse, and Tristan wants to do everything in his power to make sure she decides to stay around. He'll help her restore the Monsard perfume house to its former glory, he'll offer up his perfumes and heart on a plate, if only she'll notice how much he adores her and decide to stay.

Tristan and Malorie may be the same age, but they are also in many way a study of opposites. Tristan had a loving, supportive family, a proud family legacy, and while he may have suffered from something like ADHD while in school, when working with fragrances and creating world-class perfumes, he's an unsurpassed genius, making his family's company millions every year. Handsome, charming and confident, he always tried to gain Malorie's attention, but when she seemed to always ignore him and treat him with indifference, he would happily flirt with any of the other many girls in school. While being the youngest cousin has earned him his fair share of taunting and rough-housing from the older ones, and he deeply felt the sting when his cousins Raoul (who later returned) and Lucien (as of yet unaccounted for, he joined the Foreign Legion) left the village, and then Malorie took the chance to get the hell out of dodge as soon as she graduated from high school. While he's deeply proud of her for making the connections needed to get herself a job and put herself through business school, he's always been sad that she never said goodbye, and left just as he intended to declare his feelings for her.

Malorie, on the other hand, grew up ashamed, knowing that while the Rosier patriarch and his step-sister were Resistance heroes, her great-grandfather sold out one of their allies to the Gestapo, and her grandmother was left a pregnant, teenage scandal in the village. That her son, Malorie's father, grew up to be the most selfish, self-centred user imaginable was also the Monsard's misfortune. While Malorie's grandmother struggled to keep the once great pre-war perfume house of Monsard from completely collapsing, her father would steal whatever valuables weren't nailed down and sell to support his extravagant habits. He would manipulate his mother, his wife and his daughters and leave them all wary and distrustful of charming, glib men. Both amused and exasperated by Tristan as they grew up, Malorie was very aware that while on the surface he might resemble her father, he was really nothing like him. She was nonetheless not going to fall for his flirting, shoring up her heart and making sure she never revealed any of her infatuation to him, instead having to watch him flirt with everyone else in school (not realising that every time he clumsily knocked over her books, or squeezed down next to her or insisted on sitting next to her in school, it was to get her undivided attention).

At twenty-nine, Tristan is a passionate, creative genius - a fragrance-creating artist who makes best-selling perfumes for fragrance houses world-wide. Malorie is a top rate accountant, using her financial skills and logic to work herself into a very prominent position at a New York-based perfume house. When her grandmother dies, she returns to Grasse, the town she grew up in, and faces the memories of her childhood and mourns for the loving woman all of them (her mother, her sisters and herself) left behind, who worked tirelessly to retain something of the Monsard family legacy, even if it was just a small soap and perfume shop. Living in her grandmother's old house, in a garden of bitter orange trees, Malorie realises how little she appreciated her grandmother, who is now lost to her. Malorie and her sisters have twenty percent of the stocks of the Monard family business, and she needs to make some difficult decisions about what she wants to do with her future.

She's both amused and confused by Tristan's attentions, not to mention the scrutiny she faces from the various critical members of his family. While Tristan is now trying to convince her of his long-lasting devotion, she cannot believe that this handsome, brilliant man, who has always had women fall at her feet, isn't just trying to finally seduce "the one that got away". But as Tristan really starts pitching woo, and his entire family seems to be taking her measure to see if she can possibly be good enough for him, she starts to realise that he might in fact be serious, and his feelings for her may be more than just lustful.

Malorie is a great character and she's clearly not had an easy life of it. Tristan is an adorable puppydog of a man, but he did occasionally get on my nerves with his complete lack of empathy for the lives of others, considering the incredibly privileged life he himself has led. He, unlike many of his other family members, who seem perfectly capable of understanding why Malorie may be wary and insecure, cannot seem to understand why Malorie can't just get over her past and be happy about her future. He also insists on keeping a secret from her for the longest time, despite advice from pretty much literally every other member in his family, and seems absolutely baffled when the situation blows up in his face. Luckily, he doesn't take long to realise that he's been an idiot, and grovels appropriately.

While her Amour et Chocolat books were set in Paris with arrogant chocolate and pastry-creating geniuses, Laura Florand's books in Provence, with a large extended family involved in perfume creation is possibly even more comforting to me. I wasn't entirely wild on the previous book in the series, A Wish Upon Jasmine, the first book, Once Upon a Rose, is lovely and well worth checking out. In that one, there are several references to Goldilocks and the three bears, here the fairy tale references are to Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. I know some CBR romance readers recently have expressed an inability to tolerate Florand's more alphahole and arrogant heroes - I would recommend they try this or the first book in the series for slightly more sensitive beta heroes. I'm already looking forward to what's in store for the rest of the cousins.

Judging a book by its cover: OK, this cover drives me nuts with annoyance. I absolutely loathe generic covers that are clearly designed by someone who hasn't read or has any idea of what the content of the book are. Neither of the people on the cover look ANYTHING like the descriptions of Tristan or Malorie, and at the bottom there's a huge field of lavender, when the whole point of this book is ORANGE BLOSSOMS! I think lavender may be mentioned in one sentence in passing over the entire course of the book. How hard would it have been to find a stock photo of orange blossoms, people (I found one in a ten second Google search!), and a couple who at least nominally matched the descriptions of the protagonists? Grrr!

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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