The Collector of Dying Breaths

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The Collector of Dying Breaths

by M.J. Rose

published by Atria Books

2014

I received this book from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

 

My Review

It turns out this is the 5th book in the author’s Reincarnationist series, yet that did not take anything away from this story, though reading the 3rd and 4th books might help  little with the backstory.  I really enjoyed this book, as I love when there is a story behind things such as scents and flowers.  I loved the story of the perfumer Rene le Florentin, his apprenticeship with the Monks, and his eventual rise to perfumer of the powerful Catherine de Medici.  There was so much espionage, intrigue, and murder in the royal court.  Add to that the powerful motivation to find the secret f immortality by collecting the dying breath of a person.

The story goes back and forth between Rene and present day with mythologist Jac L’Etoile.  Hers is the story that might be aided by reading the previous two books in the series, but only a little.  She becomes embroiled in finishing the work of Rene, after the mysterious death of her brother.

A great read that I did not want to put down- I definitely recommend this book!

Summary

Florence, Italy—1533: An orphan named René le Florentin is plucked from poverty to become Catherine de Medici’s perfumer. Traveling with the young duchessina from Italy to France, René brings with him a cache of secret documents from the monastery where he was trained: recipes for exotic fragrances and potent medicines—and a formula for an alchemic process said to have the potential to reanimate the dead. In France, René becomes not only the greatest perfumer in the country but the most dangerous, creating deadly poisons for his Queen to use against her rivals. But while mixing herbs and essences under the light of flickering candles, Rene doesn’t begin to imagine the tragic and personal consequences for which his lethal potions will be responsible.

Paris, France—The Present: A renowned mythologist, Jac L’Etoile, is trying to recover from personal heartache by throwing herself into her work, learns of the 16th century perfumer who may have been working on an elixir that would unlock the secret to immortality. She becomes obsessed with René le Florentin’s work—particularly when she discovers the dying breathes he had collected during his lifetime. Jac’s efforts put her in the path of her estranged lover, Griffin North, a linguist who has already begun translating René le Florentin’s mysterious formula. Together they confront an eccentric heiress in possession of a world-class art collection. A woman who has her own dark purpose for the elixir… a purpose for which she believes the ends will justify her deadly means. This mesmerizing gothic tale of passion and obsession crisscrosses time, zigzagging from the violent days of Catherine de Medici’s court to twenty-first century France. Fiery and lush, set against deep, wild forests and dimly lit chateaus, The Collector of Dying Breaths illuminates the true path to immortality: the legacies we leave behind.

 

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Vienna Nocturne

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Vienna Nocturne

by Vivien Shotwell

published by Ballantine Books

2014

I received this book from the publisher through Librarything in exchange for an honest review.

Summary

In late-eighteenth-century London, a young girl takes her first singing lessons with a mysterious castrato in exile. Her life is forever changed. Having learned everything he can teach her, Anna leaves behind all the security and familiarity of home and journeys to Naples and Venice to struggle and triumph in Italy’s greatest opera houses. Only sixteen, she finds herself in an intoxicating world of theaters, nobility, and vice, overwhelmed by her newfound freedom and fame. Her first bitter experience of love and heartbreak inevitably follow. 

Within a few years, Anna is invited to sing in Vienna, the City of Music, by the emperor himself. There, in a teasing game of theft and play, Anna first meets Mozart, a young virtuoso pianist and striving, prodigiously talented composer. They are matched in intellect and talent, and an immediate and undeniable charge forms between the two, despite both being married to others. 

As her star rises in Vienna and her personal life deteriorates, Anna experiences an ultimate crisis. During this trying time, her only light is Mozart: his energy, his determination in her, and his art. She, in turn, becomes his hope and inspiration, and his joy, as he writes for her some of his most exquisite and enduring arias—music that will live on as his masterworks. 

Rich in historical detail and beautifully wrought by Vivien Shotwell, an author who is herself an opera singer, Vienna Nocturne is a dramatic tour de force of a woman’s struggle to find love and fame in an eighteenth-century world that controls and limits her at every turn.

My Review

Vienna Nocturne is a well written historical fiction novel by first time author Vivien Shotwell, a classically trained singer.  It tells the story of real life English soprano Anna Storace, and imagines a very complex and loving relationship between the singer and the composer Wolfgang Mozart.  This is a wonderful story of live, passion, and music.  The love between Anna and Mozart was so beautifully written,even though no actual evidence exists  that Mozart and Storace had an affair, he did write some of his most beautiful arias for her, including the role of Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro.   I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you enjoy opera and/or historical fiction.

More about the author

website
Vivien Shotwell is a classically trained singer with degrees from Williams College, the Yale School of Music, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was an Iowa Arts Fellow. As an undergraduate voice student at Williams, Shotwell first sang the beautiful aria “Non temer, amato bene” (“Don’t fear, greatly beloved”), which Mozart wrote for and performed with the young soprano Anna Storace, and knew she had to tell their story. A daughter of independent booksellers, Shotwell was born in Colorado, raised in Nova Scotia, and now divides her time between Halifax, Nova Scotia, and New Haven, Connecticut. This is her first novel.

Blood & Beauty

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Blood & Beauty – A Novel of The Borgias

by Sarah Dunant

published by Thorndike Press

2013

Summary

Is there a family in history more dazzling, dangerous and notorious than the Borgias?

A powerhouse of the Italian Renaissance, their very name epitomizes the ruthless politics and sexual corruption of the Papacy.

The father, Pope Alexander VI, a consummate politician and a man with a voracious appetite both as Cardinal and Pope.

The younger Juan, womanizer and thug, and their lovely sister, Lucretia, whose very name has become a byword for poison, incest and intrigue.

But how much of the history about this remarkable family is actually true, and how much distorted, filtered through the age old mechanisms of political spin, propaganda and gossip?

What if the truth, the real history, is even more challenging? 

“Blood & Beauty: The Borgias” is an epic novel which sets out to capture the scope, the detail, the depth, the color and the complexity of this utterly fascinating family.

 

 

My Review

I love books based on historical figures.  This gets my old history major juices flowing!  Books like this and Dunant’s others-The Birth of Venus and In the Company of the Courtesanbased on history and set in Rome and Venice- are my guilty pleasures.  I tried to watch The Borgias on Showtime, but I just couldn’t get behind the idea of Jeremy Irons as the Pope.  I have always been interested in the Borgias and how they were portrayed, especially Lucrezia. .  In many instances, they have come across as a family of sociopaths, interested only in sex and power.  Scandal and the Borgia name have become synonymous.  Rumors of incest and murder still hover around them all these years later. Dunant tempers this view.  There is definitely the feeling that the Pope and his son Cesare care more about the power they amass than anything else, but that most powerful men of the time behaved the same way. Cardinals had mistresses and children, families married off children to further enhance their own power, and murder was not considered the ultimate sin.  This book actually remedied me a little of The Game of Thrones, each character being just another piece on the chessboard.  This is a well written, fun book and I would definitely recommend it.

To Live Forever

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To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis

by Andra Watkins

published by Word Hermit Press

2014

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review

Summary

Explorer Meriwether Lewis has been stuck in Nowhere since his mysterious death nearly two centuries ago. His last hope for redemption is helping nine-year-old Emmaline Cagney flee her madame mother in New Orleans and find her father in Nashville. To get there, Merry must cross his own grave along the Natchez Trace, where he duels the corrupt Judge, an old foe who has his own despicable plans for Em.

My Review

A mixture of historical fiction and magical realism, To Live Forever is an amazing novel from Andra Watkins.  Merry is trapped on Earth after his death on the Natchez Trace, the historical path that extend over 440 miles, from Natchz to Nashville.  He is haunted by his failures in life and his legacy.  He has tried multiple time to free himself from “Nowhere”, and now he has only one more chance to redeem is soul.  To do do, he has agreed to help 9 year old Emmaline escape the evil Judge Wilkinson, another ghostly figure, who has murdered her mother and wants to keep Emmaline for his own.  They set out from New Orleans and travel the Natches Trace to get Emmaline to her father in Nashville. Along they way, they encounter a host of historical characters, lending a feeling of magic to the story.

To add to this amazing story, author Andra Watkins actually walked all 444 miles of the Natchez Trace recently.  Read more about her walk at  –http://andrawatkins.com

My rating

5 out 0f 5

 

More about the author-

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Andra Watkins is a native of Tennessee, but is lucky to call Charleston, South Carolina, home for 23 years. She is the author of ‘To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis” (coming March, 2014) as well as short stories and her blog athttp://www.andrawatkins.com.

 

 

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure- a review

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The Paris Architect

by Charles Belfoure

published by Sourcebooks Landmarks

2013

I received this book as a digital ARC from the publisher through Net Galley in return for an honest review.

Summary

Like most gentiles in Nazi-occupied Paris, architect Lucien Bernard has little empathy for the Jews. So when a wealthy industrialist offers him a large sum of money to devise secret hiding places for Jews, Lucien struggles with the choice of risking his life for a cause he doesn’t really believe in. Ultimately he can’t resist the challenge and begins designing expertly concealed hiding spaces—behind a painting, within a column, or inside a drainpipe—detecting possibilities invisible to the average eye. But when one of his clever hiding spaces fails horribly and the immense suffering of Jews becomes incredibly personal, he can no longer deny reality.

Written by an expert whose knowledge imbues every page, this story becomes more gripping with every life the architect tries to save. (from Goodreads)

My Review

It seems like I have read many well written books recently that centered on WWII, such as The Storyteller, The Girl You Left Behind, The Light in the Ruins, and The Perfume Collector.  I had heard good things about The Paris Architect, so I decided to give it a try, though I hated to compare it to the previous books I loved.  When I began this book, I admit I didn’t like it much.. The writing was very good, but I didn’t like the main character, Lucien.  He was a bit smug, shallow, and obnoxious.  This quickly changed as I read further.  In the end, I loved this book.  It was well written and moved very fast for me.  I read it in 1 1/2 days.  The only thing I would change is I would have liked to have known more about the people Lucien was helping.  There was some background given, but it left me wanting to know more about them.  I guess this is a good sign! If you enjoyed any of the books I mentioned before, I would definitely recommend this book to you.

rating

4 out of 5

Before I Met You- a review

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Before I Met You

by Lisa Jewel

published by Century

2013

Summary

After her grandmother Arlette’s death, Betty is finally ready to begin her life. She had forfeited university, parties, boyfriends, summer jobs—all the usual preoccupations of a woman her age—in order to care for Arlette in their dilapidated, albeit charming home on the English island of Guernsey. Her will included a beneficiary unknown to Betty and her family, a woman named Clara Pickle who presumably could be found at a London address. Now, having landed on a rather shabby street corner in ’90s Soho, Betty is determined to find the mysterious Clara. She’s ready for whatever life has to throw her way. Or so she thinks . . .

In 1920s bohemian London, Arlette De La Mare is starting her new life in a time of postwar change. Beautiful and charismatic, she is soon drawn into the hedonistic world of the Bright Young People. But two years after her arrival in London, tragedy strikes and she flees back to her childhood home and remains there for the rest of her life.

As Betty navigates the ups and downs of city life and begins working as a nanny for a rock star tabloid magnet, her search for Clara leads her to a man—a stranger to Betty, but someone who meant the world to her grandmother. Will the secrets of Arlette’s past help Betty find her own way to happiness in the present?

A rich detective story and a captivating look at London then and now,Before I Met You is an unforgettable novel about two very different women, separated by seventy years, but united by big hearts and even bigger dreams (from Goodreads)

My review

This book started off real well for me.  I loved the premise- finally moving out on one’s own, with a sort of “quest”.  I very much enjoyed how Betty tracked down the mysterious beneficiary, and the flashbacks to Arlette’s story.  I loved the descriptions of life in 1920s London, the changing of norms, the freedoms, and the music.  The part of the book that didn’t work for me was with Betty herself.  It was a little too predictable, moving next door to a rock star, and all that transpired there (do not want to give away too much).  I also felt Betty’s character was not as developed as others, especially Arlette’s.  I liked the secondary characters a lot and was hoping they would develop more also.

This was a fun read, and I would recommend it especially to those that enjoy the Jazz Age.

Rating

3 out of 5

 

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Lisa Jewell (born 19th July 1968, Middlesex, London) is a popular British author of chick lit fiction. Her books include Ralph’s Party, Thirtynothing and most recently 31 Dream Street. She lives in Swiss Cottage, London with her husband Jascha and daughters Amelie Mae (born 2003) and Evie Scarlett (born 2007).
(from  Goodreads)

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes- She Reads October Book Club Selection

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The Girl You Left Behind

by Jojo Moyes

published by Pamela Dorman Books

2013

I received this book as a digital ARC from the publisher through Net Galley

I am reposting this, as She Reads has chosen this wonderful book as their October Book Club Selection.

Summary

In 1916 French artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his wife Sophie to fight at the Front. When her town falls into German hands, his portrait of Sophie stirs the heart of the local Kommandant and causes her to risk everything – her family, reputation and life – in the hope of seeing her true love one last time.

Nearly a century later and Sophie’s portrait is given to Liv by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. Its beauty speaks of their short life together, but when the painting’s dark and passion-torn history is revealed, Liv discovers that the first spark of love she has felt since she lost him is threatened…

In The Girl You Left Behind two young women, separated by a century, are united in their determination to fight for the thing they love most – whatever the cost.

My review

I picked up Jojo Moye’s  The Last Letter From Your Lover last year at the Charleston airport.  Some 36 hours later, I was a huge fan of the author.  I missed out reading her wildly popular Me Before You, so I jumped at the chance to read her new book when it was offered through Net Galley.  This story is told in a dual narrative, following the stories of two women and one painting.  The story begins in 1916 in the French town of St. Perrone that is occupied by German troops.  Sophie Lefevre has returned from Paris to help her sister run their family hotel, while both their husbands are fighting on the front.  Moyes paints a vivid picture of the hardships suffered by the town.  While trying to survive, Sophie is forced to serve the german troops in her bar.  The new German Kommandant takes an interest in a painting hanging in the bar that was done by Sophie’s artist husband Edouard.  The painting  The Girl You Left Behind, was of Sophie, and it it the one reminder Sophie has left of her beloved.  The second story is intertwined and is set in present day London.  Liv Halston is a widow still desperately mourning her husband David who passed away suddenly four years ago.  She lives a small empty life, clinging to her pain.  Her one consolation is the painting David bought her a s a wedding present called The Girl You Left Behind.  When Sophie unexpectedly meets American Paul McCafferty, she finally allows herself to imagine her life beginning again.

Moyes takes us through the hardest times in the lives of these two very different women as well as the horrors of WWI in a masterful way.  I don’t want to tell you too much of the story, since it unfolds in a wonderful way.  I did prefer the parts with Sophie slightly over Liv’s, but probably because I am a sucker for well written historical fiction.  I highly recommend this book, as I would The Last Letter From Your Lover.  Moyes is a gifted author who I will look forward to reading in the future.

“I stood and gazed at her, and, for a few seconds, I remembered how it felt to be that girl, free of hunger, consumed only by idle thoughts of what private moments I might spend with Edouard.  She reminded me that the world is capable of beauty, and that there were once things-art, joy, love-that filled my world, instead of fear and nettle soup and curfews.  I saw him in my expression.  And then I realized what I had just done.  He had reminded me of my own strength, of how much I had left in me with which to fight.

When You return, Edouard, I swear I will once again be the girl you painted.”

My Rating

4.5 out of 5

Please head over to She Reads to see more reviews of this wonderful book!