Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro
Published May 2013 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: I bought this one in paperback after I couldn't get to the copy I bought for my Nook when it died. Yeah, that's annoying!

Publisher's Summary:
London, 1955: Grace Monroe is a fortunate young woman. Despite her sheltered upbringing in Oxford, her recent marriage has thrust her into the heart of London's most refined and ambitious social circles. However, playing the role of the sophisticated socialite her husband would like her to be doesn't come easily to her—and perhaps never will.

Then one evening a letter arrives from France that will change everything. Grace has received an inheritance from a mysterious benefactor, Eva d'Orsey, whom she's never met.

So begins a search that takes Grace to a long-abandoned perfume shop on Paris's Left Bank, where she discovers the seductive world of perfumers and their muses, and a surprising love story. Told by invoking the three distinctive perfumes she inspired, Eva d'Orsey's story weaves through the decades, from 1920s New York to Monte Carlo, Paris, and London.

But these three perfumes hold secrets. And as Eva's past and Grace's future intersect, Grace must choose between the life she thinks she should live and the person she is truly meant to be.

My Thoughts:
This book was suggested by one of my book club members. I pick most of the books but since she's someone I can count on to read the book and come ready to discuss it, I knew it was worth going with despite a cover that made me wonder if it might not be a little too light.

It was not. The Perfume Collector has surprising depth. Tessaro weaves some very heavy topics into her story: the plight of orphaned children, alcoholism, gambling, infertility, infidelity and rape. Then she layers in guilt, lies, obsession, oppression, the lack of options for women in the mid-twentieth century, and Nazis. You didn't see any of that coming when you saw that cover did you?

There's a hook I saw coming well before the big reveal (and I'm certain I'm not alone in this), but Tessaro still managed to make it poignant. By that time, readers are so attached to Grace that you can't help but feel her pain. Eva? Well, now, she's a bit harder to become attached to. Eva is forced to grow up fast and lives her life in a way that hardens her. Still, I couldn't help but understand and feel that she did what she had to do even before I knew why.

Curiously, the perfume parts of the story often got to be a little much for me and I found myself skimming over them. But the hint of romance Tessaro introduced was never allowed to overshadow the real story and I appreciated that; in fact, it was used as a point of emphasis.

Sadly, I was sick the day that the Omaha Bookworms met to discuss The Perfume Collector. I would loved to have been able to talk about this one with my girls!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books That Were Hard For Me To Read

The ladies at The Broke and The Bookish this week are asking us to list the top ten books that were hard for us to read. These are all books that either broke my heart or made me afraid to turn the page, knowing that something terrible was about to happen.

First up, the tear jerkers:

1. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes - this one may appear on all kinds of lists for me; it's here this week because it made me literally the lunchroom at work

2. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion - Didion writes about the death of her husband and her first year without him

3. Every Last One by Anna Quindlen - if I'd had any inkling of the terrible thing that was going to happen in this book, it might have fallen into both categories. Instead, I only experienced shock and then the terrible sadness that followed.

4. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt - desperate poverty, abusive teachers and clergy, and an alcoholic father; need I say more?

5. Sophie's Choice by William Styron - because I knew what was meant by Sophie's choice when I read the book but also because of her time in a concentration camp, my heart ached for Sophie throughout this one

Now for the books that put me on edge:

6. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver - long before I reached the shocking points of this book, it was hard to read about a woman who really did not like her own child

7. The Kite Runner by Kahlid Hosseini - from the brutal rape early on to the journey back to Afghanistan to save a friend abandoned decades earlier, I was on edge throughout this book

8. City Of Women by David R. Gillham - in the midst of WWII, the wife of a soldier finds herself caught up in an effort to save Jews and the line between right and wrong is not always entirely clear

9. A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash - the tension in this book begins almost from the beginning and never lets up until the horrific, shocking conclusion

10. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand - the true story about one man's survival, against all odds after being lost at sea for 47 days only to be "rescued" by the Japanese and put into prisoner of war camps

What books were hard for you to read? Was it because they were emotionally charged, horrific, scary, or hard to read simply because they were so bad?

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
Published: April 2013 by Doubleday Publishing
Narrated by Rachel Leigh Cook
Source: why yes I did buy both the book and the audiobook...again

Publisher's Summary:
Andrea Sachs, a small-town girl fresh out of college, lands the job “a million girls would die for.” Hired as the assistant to Miranda Priestly, the high-profile, fabulously successful editor of Runway magazine, Andrea finds herself in an office that shouts Prada! Armani! Versace! at every turn, a world populated by impossibly thin, heart-wrenchingly stylish women and beautiful men clad in fine-ribbed turtlenecks and tight leather pants that show off their lifelong dedication to the gym. With breathtaking ease, Miranda can turn each and every one of these hip sophisticates into a scared, whimpering child.

My Thoughts:
I can't even count the number of times Miss H and I have watched the movie adaptation of this book so it was hard to get the image of Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep, and Emily Blount out of my head as I listened to this book. Honestly? I never did - not even when the descriptions of the characters didn't match those images at all. And I was okay with that.

While I found that the movie adaptation has stuck pretty close to the book source, particularly in tone, there were some differences. The nightmare that is Miranda Priestly and the cold-heart that is Emily (Miranda's other assistant) in the book were really amped up in the movie. I didn't like Miranda any better in the book but it was easier to warm to Emily.

It was less easy to warm to Andrea's boyfriend and friend in the book. I get that her job had become all-consuming and she just didn't have time for them. But, in the book, their biggest beefs seemed to come from being unable to get ahold of Andrea during the day, a time of day that most of us wouldn't expect others to be able to just stop what they're doing at work to talk to us. Even in the movie I found them to be a bit annoying, unable to understand that the job was what it was and Andrea had made a commitment to stick it out for the year. Christian (played so charmingly by Simon Baker in the movie) played a smaller role in the book and had no impact in the "straw that broke the camel's back" the ended Andrea's career at Runway and Andrea's parents played a much larger role.

Rachel Leigh Cook, as the narrator, conveyed the wit and snarkiness of the book perfectly. I definitely enjoyed this book, it's just plain fun, and it was just the right "read" to cleanse my listening palate.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Life: It Goes On - September 28

Wow - September is almost over and I've hardly gotten a chance to really enjoy it! Just as I was feeling good enough to start walking again, I caught my annual nasty fall cold. Ergh! I even had to miss book club and you know how much I love my book club girls!

Big doings in Omaha this weekend - the world's, world's, second biggest rodeo was held here this weekend. If you believe everything you've ever heard about Nebraska, you're sure to think we'd all be heading there. Truth is, I don't know anyone who went. But still, it's kind of cool to have hosted it.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Still Sarah's Key. There are some things about it that are really annoying me but I'm pretty hooked on it now. It'll take me another week or so to finish it yet.

Watching: "The Voice!" So glad it's back on and I'm thinking that Pharrell Williams and Gwen Stefani are fitting right in. Although, Gwen, girl, you know I love you but please stop focusing on the fashion.

Reading: I put aside How To Build A Girl for a bit so I could squeeze in a "banned" book during Banned Books Week. I hadn't intended to read one this year but I just couldn't let it pass unnoticed. Thought I'd pick up a quick read so I read Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage. Not so quick - oh my goodness did my copy have tiny little print! But it has been challenged and it also counts for The Classics Club challenge so it's a win. Yesterday wrapped up A More Diverse Universe. I was hoping to squeeze in another book for that but with book club and review books, I only got Chef read.

Making: Yeah, nothing. The Big Guy's been pulling more than his fair share of weight in the kitchen this month! I did scrounge up the energy to make some chocolate chip cookie dough. But it took two days to work up to actually baking the cookies. This morning I threw together crock pot macaroni and cheese. A new recipe so we'll see how we like it.

Planning: Oh, who am I kidding? I'll just be happy if I can get the house back to respectable and some meals on the table this week!

Grateful for: Heating pads. I've been moving that bad boy from one achy place to another this week.

Former Nebraska star and current Kansas City Royal, Alex Gordon
Enjoying: Watching the Kansas City Royals make the baseball playoffs for the first time since 1985, even if it is as a wildcard.

Feeling: Energized. I'm ready to start walking, I'm ready to do fall cleaning, I'm ready to do fall yard work. I'm just ready to be able to do things again!

Looking forward to: My favorite indie bookstore in town is moving locations and reopens in their new spot this week. Looking forward to checking it out. Because you know I need some new books!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Fairy Tale Fridays - Bit and Pieces

I got a new fairy tale book last Friday when I stopped at Half-Price Books to sell some books. I always hit up their clearance section, sometimes with good luck, sometimes not. The books are always a bargain and yet I often pick them up and then put them back down. But when I found Kate Bernheimer's Horse, Flower, Bird, I didn't hesitate. It will be full of modern, grownup fairy tales that just might be the kick I need to pull out my basket of fairy tale books and get back to reading them.

I read an interesting article on Tales of Faerie about the tale of the frog prince and wondering if it was meant as a statement about the marriageable age of girls in medieval times. The princess in this tale gets a bad rap as being selfish and not keeping her promise. But we seem to be overlooking the fact that the princess also appears to be a very young girl,  one we would certainly consider too young to be marrying. She is, after all, playing with a ball when she meets the frog, a ball she is so fond of that she will promise anything to get it back. Is it any wonder, then, that she would act immature later when the frog tries to force her to keep her promise?

The Guardian, this week, posted this quiz about the Brothers Grimm and their fairy tales. Don't even ask me how I did. So embarrassing! I need to go grab my book and catch up on my Grimm tales!