Tag Archives: Contemporary Fiction

Review: “A Perfumer’s Secret” by Adria J. Cimino

16 May

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I thank Adria J. Cimino and Velvet Morning Press for the opportunity to review this new novel by Adria, who is already familiar to readers as the author of Amazon best-seller  Paris, Rue des Martyrs and Close to Destiny.

My Review

A Perfumer’s Secret is richly evocative of a very special art, the art of composing fragrances, practiced well by only a very few, remarkable people. I’ve never read a story so thoroughly drenched in fragrances–one in which olfactory imagery was not merely added to color and deepen the reality of the fictional world but in which particular scents were themselves central to the plot and keys to character. Scents function as the engine of the plot, and characters are so sensitive to smells of all kinds in their environment that they truly earn the perfumers’ nickname for one of their best: a “nose,” un nez.

Being a nose is a gift, a natural endowment as valuable to their craft as winning the lottery would be to a person deep in debt. And that gift in turn puts them in debt to the world, as they seem to be driven from within to create the most meaningful, memorable scents, which others are then privileged to experience. But to most of us, these nuanced scents and their creators remain a mystery.

The book opens with a haunting prologue:

Zoe Flore’s first creation was the scent of tears. A hot, salty fragrance that she concocted the day her mother died. A perfume built on oak moss, a touch of geranium and the real tears that tumbled into the mix. It was her fifteenth birthday, and from that moment on, she wore the scent as a suit of armor.

Zoe Flore, now 30, is one of these gifted people, a “nose,” who could transform her grief into a living epitaph for her mother, whose memory still infused her consciousness and her creative life. As Zoe works on new fragrance ideas for an important contract, it is her mother’s very particular gift for perfume concoction that occupies her dreams:

she dreamed of her mother composing a fragrance, like the conductor of an orchestra. Barbara Rose sat before the rows of vials, each containing a different basic material. With careful, flowing movements, she went through the routine: selecting vials from the perfume organ, sniffing scent dips that she inserted into one tube and waved delicately over another, then noting each element on a piece of parchment paper. Zoe squinted, but she couldn’t read the words Barbara Rose had printed on the paper.

She awoke in sad frustration.  When Zoe thought of her deepest yearnings, it was not, in fact, romantic love she wanted most but “the thrill, the excitement that came with creating an unusual fragrance of unprecedented complexity.”

Unexpectedly, the death of her great aunt Marie-Odile in France broke open the lingering sadness in her life and sent her on a quest to discover her mother’s secrets and her own identity.  For one thing, she never knew that her mother, Barbara Rose Flore, was really Barbara Rose Flore-Fontaine, daughter to one of the great families of French perfume makers in the commune of Grasse. Her mother had fled this family, moved to America, and hidden this connection. Zoe was summoned to the reading of her great-aunt’s will where she would inherit a letter, something of incomparable value to her. The scent of the envelope itself told her its origin: it still carried the elusive, but unmistakable scent of Barbara Rose’s perfume, a fragrance she always wore and which Zoe would never forget. The enclosed letter detailed this perfume’s secret formula.

Such a secret was valuable to a host of people beside Zoe, and it only took a short time before the letter was stolen from Zoe’s belongings. Yet, it was still possible she could reconstruct it from memory with a little trial and error.

She decided to stay in France, despite the deadline pressure from her New York City office; they wanted her to take the first plane home and turn in some sort of perfume proposal right away in hopes of pulling off a miracle and securing the coveted contract. But Zoe knew her best chance of recreating her mother’s perfume was right there in Grasse, near her family’s home. Furthermore, she felt inspired to try creating something entirely new and uniquely her own.  She rented a picturesque cottage called the Rose of May, frequented by visiting perfumers from around the world. This was her first view of it:

Her eyes drank in the hillsides with their emerald-colored foliage and houses like droplets of rose, violet and mustard. She could almost see through this to the vast flower fields whose perfume drifted delicately into town whenever the wind took hold. How many times had her mother looked out a similar window right here in Grasse?

Grasse is situated at the southeast corner of France on the French Riviera.  The painter Fragonard was born here, and Édith Piaf spent her last days here in her villa.  With its warm coastal climate, sheltered from salty sea air, it is the perfect farmland for flowers in the many hundreds of species. The profusion of flowers and other plants fostered in Grasse made it the “perfume capital of the world” by the 18th century, a magnet for those who wish to combine the essences of its unique botanical treasures.

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Photograph of the Fragonard’s Museum building.

This lush scene is outside the Fragonard Musée du Parfum, adjacent to the Fragonard Perfumerie, one of the few perfumeries that gives public tours.  It gives an idea of the beauty of Grasse and why Zoe wanted to stay! The lovely cover of Adria’s book, with its lavender fields stretching toward the horizon, also conjures up the romance of the place, the sheer abundance of it.

Zoe was not working in a vacuum.  The family she suddenly acquired already had a heap of their own issues and complications. Some of them were very unhappy about her arrival on the scene, and others proved to be surprising allies. They were vying for that same perfume contract, and they desperately wanted to learn her mother’s secrets too. One competitor in particular, Philippe Chevrefeuille, was a particular problem for Zoe because he captivated her romantically in a way she thought she was immune to.  Likewise, he was unnerved by her “scent of tears,” and waivered between wanting to market it as his own and wanting simply to drink it in and discover the reasons behind her sadness.

Besides coping with the confusing distraction of Philippe in her life, Zoe had to figure out who took her mother’s formula! Perhaps a greater mystery, what were the circumstances of her creating it in the first place? Why did she leave her family behind so completely when she seemed perfectly suited to the career she was born to?

I won’t hint at the answers to these mysteries, since Adria discloses the truth so deftly as she spins her tale. I will say that I felt I knew Zoe very well as I was reading. I could predict her reactions. Just one example: When she picked up her key for the Rose of May cottage, she declined to have the rental agent show her around. Although the author didn’t say so, I surmised that Zoe didn’t want anyone else’s scents to mingle with her first impressions of the place, the accumulated traces of those perfumers who had lived and worked there. I can only imagine what it must be like to live so deeply immersed in one’s olfactory sense. Or rather, I can imagine it much better now, for having read A Perfumer’s Secret. For me, the title now has a double meaning: the family secret (or secrets) of various characters in this particular story, and the private world of the extraordinary creative people who make original perfumes.

Synopsis

The quest for a stolen perfume formula awakens passion, rivalry and family secrets in the fragrant flower fields of the South of France… 
Perfumer Zoe Flore travels to Grasse, perfume capital of the world, to collect a formula: her inheritance from the family she never knew existed. The scent matches the one worn by her mother, who passed away when Zoe was a teenager. Zoe, competing to create a new fragrance for a prestigious designer, believes this scent could win the contract—and lead her to the reason her mother fled Grasse for New York City.
Before Zoe can discover the truth, the formula is stolen. And she’s not the only one looking for it. So is Loulou, her rebellious teenage cousin; Philippe, her alluring competitor for the fragrance contract; and a third person who never wanted the formula to slip into the public in the first place.
The pursuit transforms into a journey of self-discovery as each struggles to understand the complexities of love, the force of pride, and the meaning of family.
Contemporary/ Literary fiction, Women’s fiction

Pages: 258 print length

Release date: May 16, 2016

Publisher: Velvet Morning Press

Buy the book: Amazon

 

About the Author

7751480Adria J. Cimino is the author of Amazon Best-Selling novel Paris, Rue des Martyrs and Close to Destiny, as well as The Creepshow (release April 2016) and A Perfumer’s Secret (release May 2016).
She also co-founded boutique publishing house Velvet Morning Press. Prior to jumping into the publishing world full time, she spent more than a decade as a journalist at news organizations including The AP and Bloomberg News. Adria is a member of Tall Poppy Writers, which unites bright authors with smart readers. Adria writes about her real-life adventures at AdriaJCimino.com and on Twitter @Adria_in_Paris.

Twitter | Facebook | Website | Blog

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*Note*: I received an advance electronic copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.  I did not receive any other compensation, and the views expressed in my review are my own opinions.

Review: “The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction” by M. A. Orthofer

9 Apr

The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction

My Review

For those of us attempting to cast a wider net in contemporary world fiction, The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction is no less than a godsend. I could not imagine designing a more useful reference tool for readers, bloggers, and reviewers wishing to discover authors of distinction from around the world. This book grew out of the Complete Review website, founded by M. A. Orthofer in 1999 to provide timely information on book reviews of international fiction, along with publishing and translation information for readers.  This website is phenomenal, but I am delighted to have a guide in book form that digs deep into the literary scene for nearly all the countries of the world and offers a rich treasure trove of contemporary fiction to consider.

What is considered contemporary? The Guide focuses on fiction after 1945, but rest assurred, earlier fiction is discussed to provide context for the relevant country or national literature.  A fascinating Introduction describes the selection process and some of the issues involved in classifying the works.  The author has done internet detective work ever since founding the Complete Review website, trawling newspapers worldwide, online reviews and forums, and a host of professional websites, including publishers’ foreign rights pages, international literary agencies, and national organizations that promote the exchange of book information and news about contemporary fiction. An extensive appendix of Supplemental Resources shares many of the available sources with the reader.  The very scope of information available online, as the author notes, creates the need for an overview, country by country, as a helpful “entry point” for readers seeking to delve into a nation’s literature.

Here are some of the considerations that went into making the Guide:

  • How to classify an author who has written in more than one language? Nabokov, for one, wrote in Russian and then in English, and this is not an uncommon situation because authors tend to move around both geographically and linguistically. Today, for example, Indian-American novelist Jhumpa Lahiri,  has just relocated to Rome and made the transition from writing in English to writing exclusively in Italian, and one can anticipate future works of fiction in her new chosen language.
  • How to classify authors geographically when their country itself has undergone transitions? This comes into play in Europe in the comparatively recent reunification of Germany, and in the breakup of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia. The Guide gives separate consideration to contemporary fiction originating in the Federal Republic of Germany (West), the German Democratic Republic (East), and then a reunified Germany. In Central Africa, fiction produced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (known formerly as Belgian Congo and then Zaïre), in which the difficult political situation has largely inhibited any flourishing of book culture (with exceptions that are noted), is contrasted with that from Congo-Brazzaville (Republic of the Congo), which has produced several well-known writers. Although the guide is organized by continent and then by region, you will find detailed treatment down to individual countries, as they are currently constituted.
  • How to classify writers who have relocated in adulthood?  This issue overlaps to some extent with the issue of language but also depends on the writer’s predominant subject matter. Chinua Achebe moved between Nigeria and the United States, finally settling in the U.S. after 1990 to teach at Bard College. His novels are revelatory of Nigerian traditional life under the twin impacts of colonial rule and modernity, so they are classified in his native country.

Orthofer summarizes the guiding criteria for classification:

“In The Complete Review Guide,  authors are assigned to specific locales according to–in order of significance–the language in which they write, their domicile (previous or original as well as current), the subject matter of their fiction, and their reputation.” (p. 4)

Regardless of classification decisions, cross-cultural connections are carefully treated wherever an author and that author’s works are discussed.

The problem for those of us who want to read international fiction (as Ann Morgan will attest from her year of reading the world) is finding good translations into the language one reads (English, in this case).  Realistically, this is the only way most of us have access to some level of appreciation of an author’s achievement and fictional worldview.  This guide is “emphatically a reader’s guide for an English-speaking audience.” American publishers have been slower to introduce translated works, and the translation market has been dominated by fiction translated from French or Spanish, enjoying sustained interest in America, and a selection of Nobel laureates. This is changing gradually. The translation boom in European crime fiction, especially from Scandinavia, has meant that crime fiction has gotten special attention from translators across many languages, and this is reflected in the Guide, which often devotes a special section to crime fiction in a given country. Orthofer traces the recent history of globalization in literature and how it is affecting the translation and dissemination of fiction.

As a reader, I am most excited to ask, what’s out there?  And, how will I know where to begin? Fortunately, each country’s entry includes a mini-overview of its most prominent authors, summary and evaluation of major works, and boxes of other notable writers to “keep in mind.” Every title mentioned (always in English) has an original publication date and the translation date (if different). I will share a few random discoveries that caught my eye:

  • The greatest modern writer in Catalan is considered to be Mercè Rodoreda (1908-1983); her most important works are The Pigeon Girl (1962, English 1967) and A Broken Mirror (1974, English 2006).  This is very typical of this guide–“Spanish” writers in Basque, Catalan, and Galician receive separate notice, in addition to Castilian writers.
  • Manuel Rivas (b. 1957) is the leading Galician writer (The Carpenter’s Pencil, 1999; English 2001).
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Jonathan Dunne, trans.

 

  • Heðin Brú (1901-1987) published an important novel in Faroese, the language of the Faroë Islands, in 1940. The English translation, The Old Man and His Sons, was published in 1970 and is readily available. Although most of the authors discussed in the chapter on Scandinavia were familiar to me, Heðin Brú was new; I already have my copy, ready to read on Kindle and include on my Northern Lights Reading Project.

 

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John F. West, trans.

 

  • Aleksis Kivi (1834-1872) wrote a Finnish classic, still important today, called Seven Brothers (1870, English 1929, 1991). This is a good example of the way the Guide anchors the overview for each country with key works that pre-date the main corpus of post-war fiction being catalogued.
  • Nervous Conditions (1988) by Tsitsi Dangarembga (b. 1959) is an autobiographical novel, and the first novel by a Zimbabwean woman.

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  • The first novel from Malawi is No Easy Task (1966) by Aubrey Kachingwe (b. 1926).
  • Wizard of the Crow (2004-2006, English 2006) by Kenyan Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (b. 1938; also known as James Ngugi) is a satire set in a fictional African republic. This epic work has won numerous literary prizes.
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Trans. by author

  • Evening Is the Whole Day (2008) by Preeta Samarasan (b. 1976) is a popular family saga about Indians living in Malaysia.

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  • Goh Poh Seng (1936-2010) wrote If We Dream Too Long (1972), deemed the first true Singaporean novel.

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I invite you to explore The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction for yourself. It manages to include just the right amount of information about authors and their works to engage one’s interest and lead to further exploration. One can only be grateful to the translators who undertook to share these works of international fiction with English-speaking readers, and I am surely grateful to M. A. Orthofer, for the dedication that it took to offer this comprehensive guide. Be sure to visit the Complete Review website as well to find links to full-length reviews of many titles. You are sure to find something amazing.

 

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The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction

The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary

World Fiction

(Literary Criticism/ Reference/ World Literature/ Literary Studies)

Columbia University Press

Released April 5, 2016

496 pages

Available in Paperback, Hardcover, and e-book (from the publisher)

AmazonComplete Review Website | Publisher’s page | Goodreads

Description

For more than a decade, the Complete Review has been an essential site for readers interested in learning about new books in translation and developments in global literature. Expanding upon the site’s content, this wide-ranging yet user-friendly resource is the perfect guide for English-language readers eager to explore fiction from around the world. Profiling hundreds of titles and authors from 1945 to today, with an emphasis on fiction published in the past two decades, this reference provides a fascinating portal into the styles, trends, and genres of the world’s literatures, from Scandinavian crime thrillers and cutting-edge works in China to Latin American narco-fiction and award-winning French novels.

What sets this guide apart is its critical selection of titles that define the arc of a nation’s literary development, paired with lively summaries that convey both the enjoyment and significance of each work. Arranged by region, country, and language, entries illuminate the fiction of individual nations, cultures, and peoples, while concise biographies sketch the careers of noteworthy authors. Compiled by M. A. Orthofer, an avid book reviewer and founder of the Complete Review, this reference will benefit from an actively maintained companion site featuring additional links and resources and new reviews as contemporary works are published. The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction is perfect for readers who wish to expand their reading choices and knowledge of contemporary world fiction.

About the Author

M. A. Orthofer is the founder, managing editor, and lead contributor to the Complete Review and its blog The Literary Saloon. Launched in 1999, the Complete Review has been praised by the Times Literary Supplement, Wired, and the New York Times Book Review, which called the site “one of the best literary destinations on the Web.” Orthofer has also served as judge for the Best Translated Book Award and the Austrian Cultural Forum’s ACF Translation Prize, and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

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*Note*: I thank Columbia University Press and NetGalley for providing an advance electronic copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.  I did not receive any other compensation, and the views expressed in my review are my own opinions.

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Image courtesy of potowizard at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

 

Review: “Letters for Scarlet” by Julie C. Gardner

2 Apr

Letters for Scarlet cover

I thank Julie C. Gardner and Velvet Morning Press for the opportunity to review this fine debut novel.

My Review

Epistolary novels–novels in which the narrative is entrusted to letters between characters–have long fascinated me. Ever since I read Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (or parts of it–it is very long), I have thought of this 18th-century masterpiece as the quintessential example of the form.  Despite its length, it is exquisitely suspenseful because the author has such ingenious control over disclosure of the facts and the secrets, little by little.  This feature should make the form attractive to authors of any era, but how does one go about writing an epistolary novel today? How does one craft a story through letters that feels both contemporary and natural?

In her new novel, Letters for Scarlet, Julie C. Gardner has figured out how do this beautifully by adopting a hybrid technique. The story unfolds through narrative and dialogue that we expect to find in a novel, but the main revelations that bind the story together and illuminate its characters’ motives occur in the abundant letters inserted throughout. Gardner handles both ways of telling her story with sureness of purpose and a very genuine voice. Or, should I say, “voices,” because the letters require her to speak in many voices.  But nearly all the letters are intended for the same recipient, Scarlet Hinden, one of the novel’s two pivotal characters. Most of the letters are from her friend Corie Harper.

Both Corie and Scarlet are 28. Corie is an English teacher and aspiring writer, married to Tuck Slater. They would like to have children but so far have been frustrated by trying, something that deeply wounds Corie who already has some nagging doubts about her marriage. Scarlet is a busy attorney and in a relationship with Gavin; she is expecting a baby but struggling with paralyzing fears about being a mother; she is skeptical of ever finding happiness and holding on to it.  What is the connection between these two couples, and how is it influencing their pain in the present moment?

Corie and Scarlet were inseparable friends in high school, and along with Tuck, they were a solid trio until something happened that destroyed the women’s friendship and upended all their lives. We know that the trio turned into a triangle when Corie and Tuck became a couple, but clearly much more must have transpired to cause the kind of unbridgeable rift they are suffering.  It doesn’t seem like anything will change their situation, until Corie receives a letter from the past: the letter she wrote 10 years ago to her future self. It was an assignment in her senior English class (and a very clever mechanism to introduce the first letters into the story). Since she wrote it before her friendship with Scarlet fell apart, Corie feels the loss even more acutely, the aching absence of something that was once unquestionable.  Corie begins to write a series of letters to Scarlet, ones she thinks she’ll never dare send, but which allow her to open her heart to the friend she still needs so desperately. Here are a few bits of her first letter:

Did you get your ten-year letter  from Mr. Roosevelt? Until Tuck handed me that envelope, I had completely forgotten about the assignment. But since I read those words from the past, I’ve been prompted by a desire (more like a need) to say a few things to you. Some old. Some new. All of them true. For what it’s worth. …

I’m sorry we didn’t tell you about us sooner. I suppose the secrets we keep can be as dangerous as the ones we share. Maybe more so.

Sometimes I wonder how different our lives would be if the three of us had loved each other less….

In a surprising move, Scarlet’s mother visits Corie and entrusts her with Scarlet’s 10-year letter.  Corie wants to deliver this powderkeg letter but she hesitates, since Scarlet has refused all contact since high school.

I read the last two thirds of this novel in one long sitting–it was that compelling and I didn’t want to stop until I discovered what tragedy drove these friends apart and how–or whether–they could move on from it. This fine debut novel convincingly explores the ties of love and friendship at the breaking point.

Synopsis

Pain can take a lifetime to heal, but hope lasts even longer…

Corie Harper is twenty-eight years old when she is first visited by a ghost—in the form of a graduation letter she forgot she wrote. Although she spent a decade burying that desperate girl and her regrets, each page resurrects the past, dragging Corie back to a time when all she craved was Scarlet Hinden’s friendship and Tuck Slater’s heart. But she couldn’t keep them both and keep her word.

Scarlet is haunted in her own way, by memories of Corie and of a night that left her wishing she were dead. But Scarlet is not only alive, she’s carrying new life: a baby she never wanted and is terrified to have. Convinced she would be a disastrous mother, she questions whether or not she deserves the love of any man. Especially the father of her child.

Letters for Scarlet traces one friendship from deep roots to branches torn by broken promises and loss.

Release date: April 4, 2016

Publisher: Velvet Morning Press

Buy the book: Amazon

About Julie C. Gardner

Julie C Gardner, author photoI’m a former English teacher and lapsed marathon runner who traded in the classroom for a writing nook. I am the co-author of You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth, and a contributor to the upcoming anthology So Glad They Told Me; my essays have appeared in BlogHerVoices of the Year: 2012 and Precipice Literary Anthology. I live in Southern California with my husband, two children, and three dogs.

Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Website | Blog

 

 

*Note*: I received an advance electronic copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.  I did not receive any other compensation, and the views expressed in my review are my own opinions.

#TTWIB February Readalong: “And the Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini

31 Jan

Khaled Hosseini readalong image

Our February readalong is about to begin! Becca of I’m Lost in Books is hosting a readalong of Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed, and you can find more details on her blog and at our Goodreads group page.

And the Mountains Echoed cover

If you loved The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns, you already know about the experience of reading Khaled Hosseini. Or, if you are like me, and haven’t read his novels yet, this is a great place to get started. Becca writes, “Hosseini is a beautiful writer who captures the images and feelings and humanity of Afghanistan like no other writer I have encountered.” This novel of an extended family in Kabul, Afghanistan also ranges to California, Paris, and Tinos, Greece. I am excited to travel with them and enter into their lives through Hosseini’s eyes.

I also look forward to the Twitter chats Becca has set up for people’s convenience on WEDNESDAY February 10th @ 9pm EST and SUNDAY February 28th @ 3pm EST.  Stop by and tweet chat, with hashtags #TTWIB or #TraveltheWorldinBooks! Questions will also be posted on a discussion board at our Goodreads group page as the month goes along, and you can read or add to the discussion there anytime.

This readalong is an event in the ongoing Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge. Visit and check it out!

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