Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

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For me, a certain smell can vividly bring back a memory–bread baking, the ocean, a drive by the B & M Baked Bean factory when the weather is just right…  Other scents tell a story–incense when I enter a church, smoke on a cool fall afternoon, charcoal on a summer evening… What is most intriguing to me about The Perfume Collector is the way the author uses the reader’s sense of smell to tell the story of Grace and Eva.  There are no perfume inserts or samples, yet I closed the book with my olfactory senses tingling!

London, 1955.  Grace is a well to do but unhappy socialite who receives a letter notifying her of a generous inheritance from Eva…whom she does not know.  With nothing to lose and no one to miss, Grace has a Shirley Valentine moment and travels to Paris to find out more about her inheritance, who Eva was, and what their connection might be.   Paris, 1927.  Eva was orphaned early and works as a hotel maid who always manages to land on her feet, as we get to know her.  She is bright, she is determined, and yet she is often a victim of the company she keeps.   She is a one step forward, two steps back kind of girl, and seems an unlikely benefactor for most of the book.  I enjoyed the mystery that unfolds, the time periods so vividly depicted, the mercy and kindness some characters show, and the last word each woman is able to have. Worth the read!

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The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

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Ah summer reading…every summer I say I am going to read Anna Karenina, and every summer I am distracted by all of those delicious, lighter pleasure reads advertised to complement your visit to the beach, enhance your vacation, carry you through the dog days of summer…  The Astronaut Wives Club is just such a distraction.  Koppel’s book paints a portrait of the wives of America’s first space visitors.  Life is a cross between Mad Men and Leave It to Beaver, with fame, fortune, and paparazzi.  These overnight sensations seem to have a glamorous existence, but with their notoriety  come Cape Cookies, divorces, and the tragedies of failed missions.  Koppel gives a good sense of the challenges these women faced as they strived to support their husbands, keep their families together, and show their patriotism.  While their friendships are strongest at the beginning, they are lasting.

It is sometimes difficult to keep everyone straight, perhaps because their situations are all so similar, and there are so many wives.  I might have preferred the story told from fewer points of view, or as a fictionalized biography, but that didn’t stop me from reading it cover to cover.  My favorite astronaut and wife?  John and Annie Glenn.

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