Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What are your favorite political books?

As you may have heard, there's a political convention coming to town. To help set the literary mood, I'm planning a story highlighting some great political books you might like to dip into before the delegates arrive.

So far, in my chats with a few political junkies, Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men," the novel based on Huey Long, has received the most mentions.

Personally, Timothy Crouse's "Boys on the Bus" has been one of my favorites since I read it for a political science course at UNC Chapel Hill. At the time, I was an aspiring reporter who knew almost nothing about the actual practice of journalism. I lapped up Crouse's colorful insider look at the political reporters covering Nixon and McGovern during the 1972 presidential campaign.

So what are your favorites, and why are they so good? These can be fiction or nonfiction, highbrow or frothy.

Give me your suggestions. I'll include what I can in my story.

Friday, July 13, 2012

N.C. author's novel offers chocolate and romance

What do women want, anyway?

Laura Florand of Durham knows two big desires: Romance and chocolate, not necessarily in that order.

In Florand’s new novel, “The Chocolate Thief” (Kensington; $14), romance blossoms in Paris, and chocolate plays a starring role.

Florand, 40, teaches French at Duke University. She has lived in Paris and met her husband there, a story she recounts in her memoir, “Blame It on Paris.”

In her debut novel, she tells the story of Cade Corey, an American who has traveled to Paris on a mission. She wants to hire the city’s best chocolatier to create a new premium line for her family’s chocolate company.

Problem is, when she meets with the great Sylvain Marquis, he’s not interested. In fact, he can’t believe she’d even ask him to lend his name to a U.S. company known for its mediocre candy bars.

So their relationship doesn’t begin well. Still, one should never underestimate the power of chocolate to bring people together.

For this book, the first of four in what her publisher calls “the chocolate series,” Florand had to travel to Paris and conduct extensive research – in chocolate shops.

“It was grueling, I’m telling you,” she told me with a laugh recently.

She spent time with two master chocolatiers, Jacques Genin and Michel Chaudun, observing their work, peppering them with questions and, of course, sampling their products.

All that sampling helped her write descriptions like this:

“As flavor pure as sin burst in her mouth, and her whole body melted in response, she pressed her forehead helplessly against her window, trying to keep her mouth in a scowl. Which was hard to do around melting chocolate.”

Being the discerning reader I am, I suggested that it sounds like she’s describing sex.
She agreed. “That’s one of the things that fascinates me about the whole field,” she says. “These professionals are controlled by their senses.” And they learn to manipulate the senses of others with the confections they create.

“To me, it’s a natural tie in,” she says. “They just go together – one kind of sensuality and another.”

“The Chocolate Thief” will be published July 31. Florand’s second novel, “The Chocolate Kiss,” will be out in January.

To research that book, she spent time – get this – with a three-star pastry chef.