The Secret Ways of Perfume by Cristina Caboni

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From Goodreads: From Florence to Paris, a scent like no other can take you unexpected places . . .

Ten-year-old Elena lives in Florence with her cold and distant perfumier grandmother. Only when enveloped in aromas does Elena feel at home, and she has nurtured a unique gift: the ability to decipher the ingredients of a perfume, and experience the feelings it evokes.

Years later, Elena’s talent leads her to the cobbled streets of Paris. There she rediscovers an old, secret family perfume recipe that no other perfumier has been able to replicate.

As Elena begins to open her heart to new adventures she meets a man who is guarding his own secrets. From France’s sun-drenched lavender fields to the ancient heart of Italy, together they will follow a path of secret scents, distant memories and new hopes . . .

From Penguin:

Scents evoke the memories that linger in our minds and our hearts in this evocative, romantic, international bestselling novel.

“Remember Elena, perfume is the truth. The only thing that really counts. Perfume never lies, perfume is what we are, it’s our true essence.”

Elena Rossini has a rare gift: She has the ability to decipher the ingredients of a perfume from its scent alone. Passed down through generations of her family, Elena’s ability delights as easily as it overwhelms, especially when she catches a scent in the air that evokes painful memories of her mother.

For so long, Elena has avoided the world that was her past. But when a betrayal destroys her dreams for the future, her best friend lures her from Florence to Paris. There, Elena finds that when she is wrapped in the essences of flowers, herbs, and spices, she doesn’t feel quite so alone.

Once again immersed in the ancient craft of perfumery, Elena searches for a celebrated family recipe that no perfumer has been able to replicate. And as she opens herself up to secret scents and distant memories, Elena discovers the very essence of the woman she could become…

I received an ARC from Penguin’s First to Read.

I like both of those covers. The one with the Eiffel Tower is the Hardcover edition and the woman in the field is the Kindle edition.

The story was a bit clichéd and formulaic (ha – a pun), but I still enjoyed it very much. Some parts were repetitive and dragged, but overall I liked the characters and the journeys they went on.

I was invested in the mystery about Elena’s ancestor, Beatrice, and her lost Perfect Perfume, and how it affected generations of the Rossini women. The outcome was plausible and satisfying.

There were a few things I nitpicked about. I would have liked Elena and her mother to reconcile sooner so that the epilogue could have taken place a few years into the future. But I have my own head cannon for that.

The descriptions about the perfumes themselves were divine and delightful. I would usually read while commuting and I swear I could smell people’s perfumes more acutely than usual because of the beautiful prose. It made me want to have my own personalized perfume. There was even one part of the story that took place in a bakery, and I swear I could smell pastries.

4 out 5 Perfect Perfumes.

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Land of Enchantment by Leigh Stein

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Set against the stark and surreal landscape of New Mexico, Land of Enchantment is a coming-of-age memoir about young love, obsession, and loss, and how a person can imprint a place in your mind forever.

When Leigh Stein received a call from an unknown number in July 2011, she let it go to voice mail, assuming it would be her ex-boyfriend Jason. Instead, the call was from his brother: Jason had been killed in a motorcycle accident. He was twenty-three years old. She had seen him alive just a few weeks earlier.

Leigh first met Jason at an audition for a tragic play. He was nineteen and troubled and intensely magnetic, a dead ringer for James Dean. Leigh was twenty-two and living at home with her parents, trying to figure out what to do with her young adult life. Within months, they had fallen in love and moved to New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, a place neither of them had ever been. But what was supposed to be a romantic adventure quickly turned sinister, as Jason’s behavior went from playful and spontaneous to controlling and erratic, eventually escalating to violence. Now New Mexico was marked by isolation and the anxiety of how to leave a man she both loved and feared. Even once Leigh moved on to New York, throwing herself into her work, Jason and their time together haunted her.

I received this ARC from First to Read by Penguin Random House.

Ok I am going to be honest. When I started reading I had forgotten what it was about and that it was a memoir. It doesn’t read like a memoir, but more like a novel.

At first I couldn’t stand either Leigh or Jason. I felt they were both big drama queens and was so annoyed by the fact that they were actors. They just loved the drama and being at the center of a scene.

Then I went on Goodreads and realized it wasn’t a work of fiction. Something about it kept me going. It might be because it was a short and fast read, and the other reason is that Leigh is quiet poetic with her descriptions. (Well, she does write poetry.) I especially liked when she spoke about having a witness to your memories to make sure they were real.

My feelings started to change when Leigh spoke about her depression and I became more sympathetic. I even felt connected to her when she spoke about pouring out her feelings on LiveJournal and feeling closer to her friends online. I totally admit I inwardly fangirled when she mentioned LiveJournal and blogging.

When she finds out people had knew died and goes through the Facebook messages and old photos, that’s something we can all relate to. Her stages of grief and coping are feelings anyone can understand.

What I liked best was that her story is one of hope and inspiration. She pushed through to escape her abusive relationship with Jason and made a good life for herself.

At first I totally hated Jason for being abusive and cruel to Leigh. I wasn’t even sorry he died. By the end, even though there is no excusing his behavior, I just saw it as another sad and unfortunate truth that not everyone can turn their life around. Jason couldn’t escape his mental illness, which I do think he had, and he lived fast and died young. Not everyone gets to have Leigh’s outcome of a better life.

One of my favorite quotes was at the end about having a friend to help push you to be your most excellent self but also doing the hard work to push past your fears and doubts. “And so today I dare you to do the thing you don’t think you’re ready to do.”

3.5 out of 5 El Chupacabra.

Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet, by H.P. Wood

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A hypnotic debut in turn-of-the-century Coney Island, where an abandoned girl collides with a disgruntled menage of circus freaks.

Kitty Hayward and her mother are ready to experience the spectacles of Coney Island’s newest attraction, the Dreamland amusement park. But when Kitty’s mother vanishes from their hotel, she finds herself penniless, alone, and far from her native England. The last people she expects to help are the cast of characters at Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet, a museum of oddities. From con men to strongmen, from flea wranglers to lion tamers, Kitty’s new friends quickly adopt her and vow to help find the missing Mrs. Hayward. But even these unusual inhabitants may not be a match for the insidious sickness that begins to spread through Coney Island…or the panic that turns Dreamland into a nightmare.

With shades of Water For Elephants and The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet sweeps readers into a mesmerizing world where nothing is as it seems, and where “normal” is the exception to the rule.”

I received this book through Net Galley.

Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet was a wonderful story. I really felt for many of the characters and their journey. I even loved the weird and mystical Curiosity Cabinet, which was a character too. The Cabinet and Timur’s inventions reminded me a bit of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Because of that magical feeling I put aside some of my reservations about the end and how quickly some characters recovered.

They say write what you know and it shows. The author is the granddaughter of a mad inventor and a sideshow magician. I also loved the author’s notes about what was historically accurate and what was historical fiction. I am interested in looking into some of her recommendations that helped her writing.

I have family in Brooklyn near Coney Island, so I have spent time there, and I loved reading the descriptions of the place. It felt like home and I became giddy as I recognized the places.

When Hoffman Island and Swinburne Island were mentioned I knew exactly where they were. In the early 1900s, the islands were used as a quarantine station, housing immigrants found to have been carrying contagious diseases when they landed at Ellis Island.

Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet is a spectacular story and definitely worth reading, especially if you like magical and anything Unusual.

4 out 5 Boxing Kangaroos