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A Secret Worth Dying For …
Jac L’Etoile has always been haunted by visions of the past, her earliest memories infused with the exotic scents that she grew up with as the heir to a storied French perfume company. These worsened after her mother’s suicide until she finally found a doctor who helped her, teaching her to explore the mythological symbolism in her visions and thus lessen their painful impact. This ability led Jac to a wildly ...
A Secret Worth Dying For …
Jac L’Etoile has always been haunted by visions of the past, her earliest memories infused with the exotic scents that she grew up with as the heir to a storied French perfume company. These worsened after her mother’s suicide until she finally found a doctor who helped her, teaching her to explore the mythological symbolism in her visions and thus lessen their painful impact. This ability led Jac to a wildly successful career as a mythologist, television personality and author.
When her brother, Robbie—who’s taken over the House of L’Etoile from their father—contacts Jac about a remarkable discovery in the family archives, she’s skeptical. But when Robbie goes missing before he can share the secret—leaving a dead body in his wake—Jac is plunged into a world she thought she’d left behind.
Traveling back to Paris to investigate Robbie’s disappearance, Jac discovers that the secret is a mysterious scent developed in Cleopatra’s time. Could the rumors swirling be true? Can this ancient perfume hold the power to unlock the ability to remember past lives and conclusively prove reincarnation? If this possession has the power to change the world, then it’s not only worth living for . . . it’s worth killing for, too.
The Book of Lost Fragrances fuses history, passion and suspense in an intoxicating web that moves from Cleopatra’s Egypt and the terrors of revolutionary France to Tibet’s battle with China and the glamour of modern-day Paris. This marvelous, spellbinding novel mixes the sensory allure of Perfume with the heartbreaking beauty of The Time Traveler’s Wife, coming to life as richly as our most wildly imagined dreams.
"The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose is an amazing novel, an utterly engrossing thriller that weaves together reincarnation, ancient Egypt, international intrigue, and a lost book of fragrances. Elegantly written, with unforgettable characters and flawlessly realized international settings, here is a novel that will keep you up all night—and leave you with powerful feelings of revelation, wonder, and the infinitude of human possibility." —New York Times bestselling author Douglas Preston
"A bewitching brew of history and suspense, as well as a deeply felt love story that transcends time, The Book of Lost Fragrances had me spellbound from the very beginning, taking me from Ancient Egypt to Napoleonic France to the mordern day. This is a book full of delicious surprises, superb research, and brilliantly drawn characters that will live on in your heart long after you turn the last page." —Anne Fortier, author of Juliet
"The Book of Lost Fragrances is one of those rare novels that reminds us of the beauty and enormous complexity of the human soul. The way Rose uses perfume's evocative power is both intelligent and intriguing - triggering her characters memories of their current lives as well as memories of their past lives. This novel is a marvelous discovery." —Javier Sierra
"The Book of Lost Fragrances resonates with spirit, blending myth with reality, tragedy with triumph, pain with joy. You'll find yourself questioning everything you believe—and wanting more." —New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry
"Clever, with beguiling characters; a wonderful mixture of suspense and pace and good old fashioned storytelling, and the research never gets in the way of the plot." —Kate Mosse, author of Labyrinth, Sepulchre, and The Winter Ghosts
The Book of Lost Fragrances
ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT, 1799
Giles L’Etoile was a master of scent, not a thief. He had never stolen anything but one woman’s heart, and she’d always said she’d given that willingly. But on this chilly Egyptian evening, as he descended the rickety ladder into the ancient tomb, each tentative footstep brought him closer to criminality.
Preceding L’Etoile had been an explorer, an engineer, an architect, an artist, a cartographer, and, of course, the general himself—all the savants from Napoléon’s army of intellectuals and scientists now stealing into a sacred burial place that had remained untouched for thousands of years. The crypt had been discovered the day before by the explorer Emile Saurent and his team of Egyptian boys, who had stopped digging when they unearthed the sealed stone door. Now the twenty-nine-year-old Napoléon would have the privilege of being the first man to see what had lain lost and forgotten for millennia. It was no secret that he entertained dreams of conquering Egypt. But his grand ambitions went beyond military conquests. Under his aegis, Egypt’s history was being explored, studied and mapped.
At the bottom of the ladder, L’Etoile joined the assembled party in a dimly lit vestibule. He sniffed and identified limestone and plaster dust, stale air and the workers’ body odor, and a hint of another scent almost too faint to take in.
Four pink granite columns, their bases buried under piles of dirt and debris, held up a ceiling painted with a rich lapis lazuli and a silver astronomical star chart. Cut into the walls were several doors, one larger than the others. Here Saurent was already chiseling away at its plaster seal.
The walls of the antechamber were painted with delicate and detailed murals, beautifully rendered in earth-toned colors. The murals were so vibrant L’Etoile expected to smell the paint, but it was Napoléon’s cologne he breathed in. The stylized motif of water lilies that bordered the crypt and framed the paintings interested the perfumer. Egyptians called the flower the blue lotus and had been using its essence in perfumes for thousands of years. L’Etoile, who at thirty had already spent almost a decade studying the sophisticated and ancient Egyptian art of perfume making, knew this flower and its properties well. Its perfume was lovely, but what separated it from other flowers was its hallucinogenic properties. He’d experienced them firsthand and found them to be an excellent solution when his past rose up and pushed at his present.
The lotus wasn’t the only floral element in the paintings. Workers took seeds from sacks in storerooms in the first panel and planted beds in the next. In the following panel, they tended the emerging shoots and blooms and trees and then in progression cut the flowers, boughs, and herbs and picked the fruit. In the last, they carried the bounty to the man L’Etoile assumed was the deceased, and laid it at his feet.
As more plaster fell and chips hit the alabaster floor, Abu, the guide Saurent had brought, lectured the men about what they were seeing. Abu’s recitation was interesting, but the odors of perspiration, burning wicks, and chalky dust began to overwhelm L’Etoile, and he glanced over at the general. As much as the perfumer suffered, he knew it was worse for Napoléon. So great was the commander’s sensitivity to scent, he couldn’t tolerate being around certain servants, soldiers, or women whose smell disagreed with him. There were stories of his extended baths and his excessive use of eau de cologne—his private blend made of lemon, citron, bergamot and rosemary. The general even had special candles (they lit this dark chamber now) sent over from France because they were made with a wax obtained by crystallizing sperm whale oil that burned with a less noxious odor.
Napoléon’s obsession was one of the reasons L’Etoile was still in Egypt. The general had asked him to stay on longer so he could have a perfumer at his disposal. L’Etoile hadn’t minded. Everything that had mattered to him in Paris had been lost six years before, during the Reign of Terror. Nothing waited for him at home but memories.
As Saurent chipped away at the last of the plaster, the perfumer edged closer to study the deep carvings on the door. Here too was a border of blue lotus, these framing cartouches of the same indecipherable hieroglyphics that one saw all across Egypt. Perhaps the newly discovered stone in the port city of Rashid would yield clues as to how to translate these markings.
“All done,” Saurent said as he gave his tools to one of the Egyptian boys and dusted off his hands. “Général?”
Napoléon stepped up to the portal and tried to twist the still-bright brass ring. Coughed. Pulled harder. The general was lean, almost emaciated, and L’Etoile hoped he’d be able to make it budge. Finally, a loud creaking echoed in the cavern as the door swung open.
Saurent and L’Etoile joined the general on the threshold, all three of them thrusting their candles into the darkness to enliven the inner chamber, and in the flickering pale yellow light, a corridor filled with treasures revealed itself.
But it wasn’t the elaborate wall drawings in the passageway, the alabaster jars, the finely carved and decorated sculptures, or the treasure-filled wooden chests that L’Etoile would remember for the rest of his life. It was the warm, sweet air that rushed out to embrace him.
The perfumer smelled death and history. Faint whiffs of tired flowers, fruits, herbs, and woods. Most of these he was familiar with—but he smelled other notes, too. Weaker. Less familiar. Only ideas of scents, really, but they mesmerized him and drew him forward, tantalizing and entreating like a lovely dream on the verge of being lost forever.
He ignored Saurent’s warning that he was entering uncharted territory—that there could be booby traps, serpents coiled and waiting—and Abu’s admonitions about lurking spirits more dangerous than the snakes. L’Etoile followed his nose into the darkness with just his single candle, pushing ahead of the general and everyone else, hungry for a more concentrated dose of the mysterious perfume.
He walked down the highly decorated corridor to an inner sanctuary and inhaled deeply, trying to learn more from the ancient air. Frustrated, he exhaled and inadvertently blew his candle out.
It must have been all the deep breaths, or perhaps the pervasive darkness. Maybe it was the stale air that made him so dizzy. It didn’t matter. As he battled the vertigo, his awareness of the scent became more powerful, more intimate. Finally, he began to identify specific ingredients. Frankincense and myrrh, blue lotus and almond oil. All popular in Egyptian fragrances and incenses. But there was something else, elusive and just beyond his reach.
Standing alone, in the dark, he was so deep in concentration he didn’t hear the footsteps of the rest of the party as they came closer.
“What’s that odor?”
The voice startled the perfumer. He turned to Napoléon, who’d just entered the inner chamber.
“A perfume that hasn’t been breathed for centuries,” L’Etoile whispered.
As the others entered, Abu set to explaining that they were now standing in the funeral chamber and pointed out the brightly colored murals. One showed the deceased dressing a large statue of a man with a jackal’s head, placing food at the man-beast’s feet. Slightly behind him, a lithe and lovely woman in a transparent gown held a tray of bottles. In the next scene, she was lighting a censer, the smoke becoming visible. In the next panel, the jackal stood among jars, presses, and alembics, objects that L’Etoile recognized from his father’s perfume shop back in Paris.
L’Etoile knew how important fragrance was to ancient Egyptians, but he’d never seen this much imagery relating to the making or using of scent before.
“Who is this man buried here?” Napoléon asked Abu. “Can you tell yet?”
“Not yet, Général,” Abu answered. “But we should find more clues there.”
Abu pointed toward the center of the room.
The stylized black granite sarcophagus was five times the size of an ordinary man. Its polished surface was carved with cartouches and inlaid with a turquoise and lapis portrait of a beautiful, catlike man with blue water lilies around his head. L’Etoile recognized him. He was Nefertum, son of Iset. The god of perfume.
The scenes in the murals, the motif of lilies, the censers in all the corners of the room, suddenly made sense to L’Etoile. This was the tomb of an ancient Egyptian perfumer. And judging from its majesty, the priest had been revered.
Saurent barked out orders to his team of workers, and after a brief struggle, the young men lifted the stone lid. Nestled inside was a wide wooden coffin painted with still more scenes of the two people represented in the murals. This cover they were able to pry off without much difficulty.
Inside was an oversize mummy, oddly shaped—the right length but too wide by half—blackened with asphalt from the Dead Sea. Instead of only one, it wore two elaborate gold masks. Both were crowned with headdresses of turquoise and lapis and wore carnelian, gold and amethyst breastplates. The only difference between them was that the one on the right was male and the one on the left, female.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Abu uttered in hushed astonishment.
“What does it mean?” Napoléon asked.
“I don’t know, Général. It’s most unusual,” Abu stammered.
“Unwrap him, Saurent,” Napoléon ordered.
Despite Abu’s protestations, Saurent insisted the young men cut through the linen and expose the actual mummy. The Frenchman was paying them, so they agreed. As L’Etoile knew, ancient embalming techniques using fragrant oils and unguents along with the dry air should have prevented the deceased’s soft muscles and tissue from decaying. Even the hair might have been preserved. He’d seen mummies before and had been fascinated by their sweet-smelling corpses.
It took only a few minutes to cut and peel back the blackened cloth.
“No. Like nothing I have ever seen,” Abu whispered.
The corpse on the right didn’t have his arms crossed on his chest, as was the custom. Instead his right hand was extended and holding the hand of a woman with whom he’d been mummified. Her left hand was knotted with his. The two lovers were so lifelike, their bodies so uncorrupted, it appeared they had been buried months ago, not centuries.
The assembled crowed murmured with amazement at the sight of this couple intertwined in death, but what affected L’Etoile was not what he saw. Here at last was the fountainhead of the odor that had begun to tease him as he’d climbed down the ladder.
He struggled to separate out the notes he recognized from the ones he didn’t, searching for the ingredients that gave the blend its promise of hope, of long nights and voluptuous dreams, of invitation and embrace. Of an everlasting covenant ripe with possibility. Of lost souls reunited.
Tears sprang to the perfumer’s eyes as he inhaled again. This was the kind of scent he’d always imagined capturing. He was smelling liquid emotion. Giles L’Etoile was smelling love.
The perfumer was desperate. What gave this fragrance its complexity? Why was it so elusive? Why couldn’t he recognize it? He’d smelled and memorized over five hundred different ingredients. What was in this composition?
If only there were a machine that would be able to take in the air and separate out the components it contained. Long ago, he’d spoken to his father about such a thing. Jean-Louis had scoffed, as he did at most of his son’s inventions and imaginings, chastising him for wasting time on impractical ideas, for indulging in foolish romanticism.
“Perfume can evoke feelings, Papa,” L’Etoile had argued. “Imagine what a fortune we’d make if we were selling dreams and not just formulations.”
“Nonsense,” his father admonished. “We are chemists, not poets. Our job is to mask the stench of the streets, to cover the scent of the flesh and relieve the senses from the onslaught of smells that are unpleasant, vile and infected.”
“No, Father. You’re wrong. Poetry is the very essence of what we do.”
Despite his father’s opinion, L’Etoile was certain that there was more that scent could offer. That it had a deeper purpose. It was why he had come to Egypt. And he’d discovered that he was right. Ancient perfumers had been priests. Perfume was part of holy rituals and religious customs. The soul rose to the heavens on the smoke from incense.
The general came closer to inspect the mummies. As he reached down into the coffin, Abu muttered a warning. Napoléon waved off the cautionary words and lifted a small object out of the male mummy’s hand. “How extraordinary,” he said as he extracted an identical piece of pottery from the female’s hand. “They are each holding one of these.” He opened the first pot, then the second. A moment passed. He sniffed the air. Then he lifted each pot to his nose, smelling one and then the other.
“L’Etoile, they seem to contain an identical perfumed substance.” He gave one of the pots to him. “Is this a pomade? Do you recognize it?”
The container was small enough to fit in his hand. Glazed white, it was decorated with elaborate coral and turquoise designs and hieroglyphs that encircled its belly. The lost language of the ancients no one could read. But one L’Etoile could surely smell. He touched the waxy surface. So this, here in his hand, was the wellspring of the odor that had drawn L’Etoile toward the chamber.
He wasn’t prescient. Not a psychic. L’Etoile was sensitive to one thing only: scent. It was why at twenty he’d left Marie-Genevieve and Paris in 1789 for the dry air and heat of Egypt, to study this ancient culture’s magical, mesmerizing smells. But none of what he’d discovered in all that time compared to what he held in his hands.
Up close, the scent was rich and ripe, and he felt himself float away on its wings, away from the tomb, out into the open, under the sky, under the moon, to a riverbank where he could feel the wind and taste the cool night.
Something was happening to him.
He knew who he was—Giles L’Etoile, the son of the finest perfumer and glove maker in Paris. And where he was—with general Napoléon Bonaparte in a tomb under the earth in Alexandria. Yet at the same time, he was transported, sitting beside a woman on the edge of a wide, green river under the shade of date trees. He felt he’d known this woman forever, but at the same time, she was a stranger.
She was lovely, long and lean with thick, black hair and black eyes that were filled with tears. Her body, enrobed in a thin cotton shift, was wracked with sobs, and the sound of her misery cut through him. Instinctively he knew that something he’d done or hadn’t done was the source, the cause of her pain, and that her suffering was his to quell. He had to make a sacrifice. If he didn’t, her fate would haunt him through eternity.
He removed the long linen robe he wore over his kilt and dipped a corner into the water so that he could wipe her cheeks. As he leaned over the river, he glimpsed his face in its surface. L’Etoile saw someone he didn’t recognize. A younger man. Twenty-five at most. His skin was darker and more golden than L’Etoile’s. His features were sharp in places where the perfumer’s were round, and his eyes were black-brown instead of light blue.
“Look,” a voice said from far away, “there is a papyrus here.”
Dimly, L’Etoile was aware that the voice was familiar: Abu’s. But more pressing was the sudden clatter of horses’ hooves. The woman heard them, too. The panic evident on her face. He dropped the robe and took her hand, raising her up to lead her away from the river and find a place to hide her and keep her safe.
There was a shout. Someone fell against him. He heard pottery shattering on the alabaster floor. L’Etoile was back in the tomb, and instead of the woman’s lovely, melancholy face, he was looking at Abu, clutching a thick scroll to his chest and staring down at a broken clay pot.
The scent had sent everyone into a trance, but L’Etoile had come out of it first. All around him, chaos had erupted. Men whispered, wept and screamed, speaking in languages L’Etoile couldn’t understand. They seemed to be battling invisible demons, struggling with hidden foes, comforting and taking comfort from unseen companions.
What had happened to him? What was happening to the men around him?
One of the young Egyptian workers was slumped against the wall, smiling and singing a song in some ancient language. Another was lying on the ground moaning; a third was striking out at an invisible assailant. Two of the savants were unaffected but watching in horror. Saurent was kneeling in prayer, a beatific expression on his face, speaking in Latin, reciting a mass. The cartographer was beating on the wall with his fist, crying out a man’s name over and over.
L’Etoile’s eyes found Napoléon. The general was standing, frozen, by the sarcophagus, staring at a spot on the wall as if it were a window onto a distant vista. His skin was paler than usual, and sweat dotted his brow. He looked sickly.
There were scents that could cure ills and others that could make you ill, poisons that seduced you with their sweetness before they sucked the breath out of you. L’Etoile’s father had taught him about all of them and warned him about their effects.
Now, here, he was afraid for himself and for his commander and for the men in this room. Had they all been poisoned by some ancient noxious scent?
He had to help. Grabbing a small gold box from a pile of treasures against the far wall, he opened it, dumped its contents—gold and colored glass—onto the floor, and then hastily thrust the still-intact clay pot inside. Scooping up the shards of the pot that the general had dropped, L’Etoile added them and slammed the lid shut.
The scent was still conspicuous, but now that the perfume containers were enclosed, the air slowly began to clear. L’Etoile watched as first one man and then another stood and looked around, each trying to get his bearings.
There was a loud crash as Napoléon fell onto the wooden coffin, smashing and splintering its cover. The perfumer had heard the rumors that the general suffered from epilepsy, the same nervous disorder that had affected his hero, Julius Caesar. Now froth bubbled from the general’s mouth, and he shook with convulsions.
His aide-de-camp rushed to his side and bent over him.
Had the strange perfume brought on this episode? It had certainly affected L’Etoile. The dizziness and disorientation he’d been experiencing since he’d entered this tomb were only now starting to dissipate.
“This place is cursed!” Abu yelled out as he threw the papyrus scroll back inside the coffin and on top of the desiccated bodies. “We must leave here now!” He rushed out of the inner chamber and down the first corridor.
“The tomb is cursed,” the young workers repeated with trembling voices as they followed, pushing and shoving each other out through the narrow entryway.
The savants went next.
Napoléon’s aide-de-camp helped the general—who had recovered his faculties but was still weak—escorting him out, leaving L’Etoile alone in the burial chamber of the perfumer and the woman who had been entombed with him.
Bending over the lovers, he grabbed the papyrus scroll that Abu had thrown into the coffin, added it to the contents of the small gold box, and then shoved the box deep inside his satchel.
Behind the book: Katherine Neville Interviews M.J. Rose about The Book of Lost Fragrances
Katherine Neville: I have to confess that part of why I was so drawn to THE BOOK OF LOST FRAGRANCES is that you and I share a fascination with telling stories that interweave multiple themes—romance, history, science, esoteric, mystery, etc. What do you feel is the challenge and great payoff of stepping off the edge like that?
M.J. Rose: I think it's the ultimate challenge of any book, really— to make every one of those themes and elements you describe strike notes that feel true and surprising and human. But I guess the added challenge—and also the reward, if you've done it right—of 'stepping off the edge' with all those pieces in play is the hope that the notes work together to form a rich and resonant and emotionally satisfying chord by the time the book's done. Even though this is a suspense novel, a lot of my friends have told me that the ending of BOOK OF LOST FRAGRANCES made them cry—to me that's the ultimate compliment!
Katherine Neville: It's often said that our sense of smell is our earliest memory. The earliest smell I could recall was ice on the branch of a tree, which may explain why I've always been captivated by stories like Hans Christian Anderson's Snow Queen and the snow scenes and music in Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite.
Tell me about your own earliest recollections of scent, and how perhaps they motivated you to write THE BOOK OF LOST FRAGRANCES?
M.J. Rose: My mother wore only one perfume her whole life, Shalimar. And that fragrance, and the way it embodied my mother, figures in so many of my earliest memories. I was a very shy child, and when I first started school I always had a hard time when she got ready to leave. We had a routine. I'd cry. She'd take a handkerchief out of her pocketbook and give it to me to dry my tears. And then she'd go. But I'd still have that fragrant handkerchief. And I could still smell her. I suppose it felt that, as long as I had something that smelled of her, she was never too far away, and would always come back.
Despite the fact that my books are labeled suspense, at heart I think I'm a very emotional writer. I think there's magic in how something as simple as my mother's perfume on a white linen cloth could give me so much comfort. I believe you find a character's heart when you discover what sight or sound or smell or taste moves them, or frightens them or makes them feel safe in the dark.
Katherine Neville: You and I both write what might be called Quest novels: the quest being the earliest tradition of literature. But in our books, instead of Parsifal questing after the Holy Grail or Jason seeking the Golden Fleece, or even Indiana Jones looking for the Lost Ark - we have female protagonists who are hunting for a mysterious object of universal power.
What do you feel are the drawbacks, the difficulties, or ultimately the advantages, of having a female protagonist in what was traditionally, until very recently, a "male genre?"
M.J. Rose: I'm not sure it ever occurred to me that I was challenging the status quo, to be honest! For instance, in this book, it seemed totally natural that Jac L'Etoile would take up the search for a 2000 year old fragrance and have as great a chance of finding her holy grail as her brother or any man would.
From first to twelfth grade I went to an all girl's school. When there are no boys around it's very liberating. It's never about "only boys should do this" or "only girls should do this." Instead it's just, what are you interested in, what do you care about? So when I started writing I never questioned the role I was assigning to my female protagonist—I wish I could say I was taking a stand, but really it just felt very natural to me.
Katherine Neville: On a more personal level, PERFUME: I cannot wear it because it "pops" on me about 3:00 in the afternoon However, I collect it because I love the aromas, and I have my favorites that I love to smell, for various reasons. I have a collection, each reminds me of different phases of my life...
What are your favorites? Do you wear them or keep them to relish privately? How does your relationship with these scents connect with Jac, the protagonist in the new book, and the way her 'destiny' plays itself out in the course of the story?
M.J. Rose: Many of my favorites are vintage scents that are no longer available but of those that are, I'm partial to Vol de Nuit by Guerlain, Citrine by Olivier Durbano, Coromandel by Chanel, Musc Ravageur by Frederic Malle... But the one that's become the most special for me is Âmes Soeurs, which translates as 'the Scent of Soulmates.' It was created by the amazing Frederick Bouchardy of Joya Studios and was actually inspired by this novel!
Jac wouldn't exist if not for my love of scent, and (to go back to that idea of "quest" you mentioned earlier) a search I started about ten years ago to find my own "signature scent." This led me deep into the fascinating world of fragrances, how they're created, and I became obsessed with the idea of a woman so attuned to scent that she could be haunted by it.
Posted March 28, 2012
The Book of Lost Fragrances is the latest release in M. J. Rose's long, successful career, and the fourth installment in her Reincarnationist series. It is full of intrigue, mystery, a race for a historical artifact, family, and timeless romance. Although it is a part of a series, the book is a standalone novel.
The story contains a host of minor characters from ancient Egypt, 18th century France, and modern day, but focuses mostly on Jacinthe L'Etoile and, to an extent, Xie Ping. Xie is an artist living in China who has a secret, and is trying to survive under the watchful eye and heavy hand of the Chinese government. Jac is a mythologist television personality whose family perfume business is on the verge of collapse. When her father's declining mental facilities forces him to retire and her brother goes missing, Jac's life begins to spin out of control. She only has days to find her brother and his mysterious, ancient Egyptian pottery shards that hold the potential to save the family business from financial ruin. Xie and Jac are on opposite sides of the world, but are thrust into the midst of intrigue, murder, and the age-old question of whether or not the possibility of reincarnation truly exists.
I found The Book of Lost Fragrances to be a beautiful and well-written novel. The story flowed seamlessly across time and continents to tell a story of the search for the scent of memory. I was never bored by the flashbacks of the past or by the steady change in character focus. I would be reading what is going on in modern day Paris, then suddenly find the book describing events in ancient Egypt. The only problem that I had with the book was something that slightly offended my old-fashioned sensibilities. It was not a huge deal, but it made me a bit uncomfortable. However, it served a purpose at the end of the novel. The ending would not have been as powerful if not for that particular plot point.
As I stated in my summary, the book contains a multitude of characters. I think in this instance they were beneficial to the pacing and wove the story together more completely. Each was necessary to develop a major character or better explain a scene. Jac may have been the diamond, but she would not have shown without the never-seen little girl, Elsie. The assassin for the Chinese mafia added another dimension to Xie, in my opinion. The relationships between the characters were also stunningly lovely threads that wove this engrossing story together. To say more than that could potentially ruin the surprise of how everything was tied.
In the end, The Book of Lost Fragrances is a story about love. It is about the love between strangers, the love between family, and that intense love of a sweetheart (for lack of a better word). Anyone who enjoys a love story without a lot of romantic elements, a murder mystery without the gore, and a treasure hunt without an insane amount of twists and turns will enjoy this book. I am thrilled that I had the opportunity to review it, and I look forward to starting the series at the beginning. This is a book that I will definitely read again.
*To satisfy FTC guidelines, I am disclosing that I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. It has in no way affected the outcome.
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Posted January 20, 2012
The Book of Lost Fragrances is a captivating historical fiction. It offers a tale of suspense with paranormal elements, religious oppression and a romance that spans the ages. Rose masterfully blends fact and fiction as she takes us from the tombs of ancient Egypt to the catacombs of Paris. I was fascinated by the history and drawn to the characters. Told from multiple points of view we travel from past to present as different groups search for the fragrance of lost souls. Believed to have been created by the perfumer of Cleopatra, this scent is said to help one remember their past lives. The main characters are Jac and Robbie L’Etoile. They are heirs to one of the oldest perfume companies in France; The House of L’Etoile. Their family business is in financial trouble when Robbie uncovers pottery with hieroglyphics. He asks his friend Griffin to decipher the ancient writing. When Robbie ends up missing and a man is found dead, Jac returns to Paris to search for her brother. Despite a painful past relationship, Jac and Griffin work together to find Robbie. We also meet a doctor who believes in past lives, Tibetan monks, a young man believed to be a reincarnated lama and members of the Chinese mafia and government. All of them are seeking the shattered remains of pottery. Each has a reason for wanting them and some of them will stop at nothing to obtain it. While at times the leaping from past to present and the multiple POV’s had me re-reading the beginning of a chapter, I urge you to read on. This seems to be a trend in a lot of books I have read of late and Rose beautifully weaves all of these chapters and timelines into a tale I will not soon forget. The characters have depth and I quickly became invested in their tale. I found the history of perfume, Tibet, Egypt and France to be fascinating. I even stopped reading to goggled some of the subjects. I became completely engrossed in this tale and was moved by the outcome. I want to thank netGalley and Simon & Schuster for providing me with this ARC in exchange for my unbiased review.
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Posted March 15, 2012
The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose is a novel that spans centuries as well as continents. With the heavy them of reincarnation, The Book of Lost Fragrances involves a handful of diverse characters all with a mysterious common goal. They're all after the same thing but you don't know exactly what. This book takes on a slow but steady pace building the mystery that is not only historical but also spiritual.
The story centers around Jac L'Etoile and her brother Robbie. They come from a long line a perfume makers. Jac and Robbie are going through tough times. They've both had difficult lives, especially Jac. They know the power that certain scents have over us. They know how it can trigger a powerful memory. Their family has kept many secrets over the years and now the secrets are coming back to the surface.
The story is told from several points of view. This aspect keeps you guessing but also broadens the scope of the mystery at hand. At first the different characters can be a little confusing. As the story moves along the author slowly reveals not only how the characters are connected but are also the serendipitous nature of the story.
Overall this book is an interesting read. The historical elements as well as the mythological elements are very enjoyable. M.J. Rose teases the olfactory senses with her descriptive words and reminds us how powerful a memory can be.
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Posted April 5, 2012
Once again, I am fascinated and impressed with Rose's knowledge of reincarnation. By now, everyone knows about my interest and belief in the subject and I truly never tire of reading about it, whether it be in a fictional context or in non-fiction (although some may argue that it's all fictional). What I like about Rose's portrayal of the subject is her incorporation of it with history, as well as the current events of the day.
In this book, the fourth installment in The Reincarnationist series, we are treated to ancient Egypt, another subject of endless fascination for me, and the culture's use of fragrance as a link to past lives, particularly during the Ptolemaic period. From there, we are whisked forward to present day China and the endless struggle between Tibet and the Chinese government to control the reincarnation of the next Dalai Lama. As usual, there is mystery and intrigue, which adds a suspenseful element to the story. For me though, the historical aspects of the story are sufficient to keep my interest. Add in a bit of alchemy, and you have a well-rounded and interesting story of history, science, and mysticism.
The beauty of this series is that you really can read the books without having read the earlier books. I still have not read the first and second books in the series (although they are on my shelf), but I had no problem reading the third, The Hypnotist, and the fourth (this one) books as stand alone novels. Rose is a talented author, with a gift for writing about a subject of whic she is clearly passionate. I sincerely look forward to any and all future offerings from her, whether it be more books in this series, or a new set of books down the road.
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Posted February 28, 2013
Wow where to start to talk about this amazing book that I loved; The Book Of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose…
It has a complicated, twisty-turny, back and forth in time plot which all resolves seamlessly; a credit to M. J. Rose’s ability to craft a story.
It has lovable, wounded, flawed characters.
It brings you into other worlds and gives you a realistic-seeming taste of them. For instance, I was vaguely aware that Paris, France has catacombs underneath. This book made them real for me.
It also has an element that I love, love, love; the world of fragrance, aromatherapy, scent.
I found that world fascinating.
The book speaks of fragrance in the sense of perfumes; both perfumes custom-made to suit the individual; a company that mass-markets fictional perfumes with names like Rouge and Noir; and medicinal perfumes.
“This was one of the scents from The Game of Impossible Fragrances. In the scent vocabulary that made up her and Robbie’s secret language, this was Fragrance of Loyalty, Jac’s favorite. Adding notes of bergamot to a rich earthy base of oakmoss, she’d come up with a chypre—a type of warm, woody scent first made famous by the legendary perfumer Francois Coty in 1917. Fragrance of Loyalty was neither feminine nor masculine, and could be worn by either brother or sister. And that was as it should be, she said, so they both could use it to signal when something was wrong and they needed help.” The Book of Lost Fragrances by M. J. Rose.
This book does not have a HEA, everyone gets married, ending. The ending is happy and hopeful but the soul mates, ‘Ames souers’, do not ride off into the sunset together.
I highly recommend that you read this book when you want to be completely drawn into another world. Taken away. Transported.
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Posted April 12, 2012
don't know if this is as contradictory as it seems to me, but the premise of the novel and Chapter 1 had me hooked immediately, but it took me a while to fully invest in the storyline. Once I did though, I couldn't put the book down. The story flowed seamlessly between past and present, and from present to present in a completely different part of the world, both transitions I usually find very difficult to navigate. The plot and characters are incredibly fleshed out and very intriguing. This story covers romance, loss, family, mystery, suspense, intrigue, history, and much much deeper elements and I closed the book feeling enjoyably satisfied.
This has something for everyone. Side note: The ARC provided to me by Historical Fiction Blog Tours included an author's note section full of pictures and stories of her research for this novel. It was awesome! I hope this is included in the book store releases because it drew me in at the beginning and was great to go back to once I finished the novel!
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Posted May 20, 2014
The Book of Lost Fragrances is one of those rare reads that pulls you in from the first page, and keeps you at the edge of your seat until the end. M.J. Rose is a wonderful author, who has a real knack for storytelling, and for pulling the reader into the story. With beautiful, atmospheric descriptions, the author describes both settings and characters sublimely.
Jac is our main character. She’s always been haunted by the past. After her mother’s suicide she moves to America, leaving her parent’s perfume company into the hands of her brother Robbie. But when Robbie hints at an earth-shattering discovery in the family archives, and then goes missing, Jac is plunged into a world she thought she’d left behind. She has to discover an ancient family secret, a perfume that unlocks the mysteries of reincarnation. With a large cast of side characters, and a journey through time, this book combines mystery, history, and romance into an intriguing read I fell in love with right away.
I also liked the premise of finding a scent powerful enough to stretch through time. Kind of reminded me of “Perfume”, the murder mystery novel about a serial killer obsessed with scent. I loved that one, and I loved The Book of Lost Fragrances as well. Guess I’m a perfume lover of sorts.
It’s hard to review books you loved, since there’s nothing I can find in this book that upset me, or that I thought could be improved. If anything, it was a tad too complicated at times, especially keeping characters apart. Some names were similar, and sometimes I had trouble linking names to characters. The whole: “who’s that again?” thing. Also, it started out a little slow.
But all in all, a wonderful, amazing read that I thoroughly enjoyed. I look forward to reading more books by this talented author! I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Posted May 9, 2014
Posted February 16, 2014
MJ Rose delivers another suspenseful tale with “The Book of Lost Fragrances.”
A brother and sister have inherited the House of L’Etoile, and then discover the perfume company is in serious financial difficulty. They need a hit fragrance to save the corporation or else parts of it will have to be sold off, something Robbie does not want to do. Robbie feels that delving into the 250 year old family business history will uncover an ancient perfume formula that will save the day. He has the professional talent, but not the nose to sort through formulas that he knows the family possesses, somewhere hidden. His sister, Jac, has the nose, but not the interest in investigating something that she considers a fantasy. She is more pragmatic and wants to sell off bits to save the whole. Neither of them suspects at first that the lost fragrance could save more than just the business.
During the years since her mother’s death, Jac has suffered with unsettling dreams she does not understand. For a long time she (and others) thought she was mentally unbalanced and she never believed that she might be reliving the distant past. Her struggle with her own past, her trust issues, and her conversations with family ghosts – create a multi-layered, vulnerable lead character. We want her to make the right decisions, to be happy, trust, and find love again.
M.J. Rose believes that who we were influences who we are today, and her four books in the Reincarnation series apply that concept across the centuries. “The Book of Lost Fragrances” deals with the power of a love that endures from the time of Cleopatra. Fragrance is employed as a memory tool to not only bring reincarnated lovers back together, but also as an aid in returning to a difficult time when one can undo mistakes and therefore ease the pain of the future. In “The Book of Lost Fragrances,” governments and religious institutions race to find this tool before it falls into the wrong hands.
The brother and sister have an interesting dynamic and as we learn the business and history of perfumery from the inside out, their interaction rings true on every level, even after a murder is committed and Robbie is suspected. A former lover adds tension and intrigue to the mystery. Dr. Malachi Samuels, a scientist working to prove that reincarnation exists, is a recurring character in the four books, continuing his search for ancient memory tools, sometimes involving others in dangerous schemes, always under scrutiny by the FBI.
Supporting characters are well written in this enthralling tale that addresses issues in Tibet and China, the Dali Lama, the French Revolution, lost and found again lovers, Cleopatra’s perfume formula book, and more. Students of archeology will be drawn to the ancient Egyptian pottery shards in the storyline.
Rose always does impeccable research in order to build the historical foundation for the ‘Reincarnation’ books. Each title spans several centuries and countries and she has openly admitted loving this part of her process. While working on “The Book of Lost Fragrances,” Rose sent the manuscript to a perfumer in France, who designed a fragrance (Ames Soeurs) inspired by the book. She subsequently showed the fragrance in NYC when the book was being launched.
The B of LF was on the ‘Indie Next List’ in 2012 and was named one of the Top Ten Mystery/Thrillers for 2012 by Publishers Weekly. While it is part of a series, it is a solid stand-alone title. Just don’t let it be.
Posted August 29, 2013
This book was pretty disappointing and very upsetting. If I'd had any idea the extent of the content, I would've passed. The focus on reincarnation isn't just a plot point, it's constant. Made worse by the seeming fact that no one in the whole thing can be happy in their present lives because they are so consumed by past lives. Top that off with the rape of a convent of nuns, monks setting themselves on fire, and I just could not enjoy the read at all.
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Posted May 1, 2013
Posted April 14, 2013
I got this book because it was recommended by Steve Berry on Facebook. It is a good read about a brother and sister in the perfume business in Paris. A business that has been in the family for generations. It is about the searce for a fragrance that can cause you to remember past lives. It is a good read with interesting twist and remembered lives going back to Cleopatria's time.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 15, 2013
Posted February 12, 2013
I love historical fiction that teaches me something along with an intriguing and entertaining plot, and this was a wow — the business, power, mystery and intoxicating magic of scent on our subconcsious. The characters were as vivid as the perfumes (and describing smell is not so easily done as she would make it seem!), and I loved the path of history from the tombs of Egypt to the catacombs of Paris. A great read!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 27, 2012
What a wonderful read! Paris, the catacombs, a lost secret and somehow we tie in the Dalai Lama and the current Chinese policy against reincarnation. Absolutely spell-binding! And now I want a perfumer's organ and someone to make a scent for me...Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 12, 2012
This is the second or third book I've read by M.J. Rose. It was a interesting mystery with paranormal added to it. My favorite kind of book! I find the whole idea of possibly having lived a previous life very interesting. This book weaved back in forth from the past and present with ease.I don't think you'll be disappointed!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 26, 2012
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It’s surprising how enthralling a story about perfume can be but M. J. Rose has crafted a tale that’s almost lyrical in the telling, moving effortlessly from one time period to another and from one place to another and back again and, yet, with an air of nearly unbearable suspense at times. Of course, the truth is that this is not just about perfume. An enduring love in ancient Egypt, the terrible cruelties that took place in France during the Revolution, a modern-day Tibetan calligrapher who may hold the key to identifying the next Dalai Lama, a brother and sister whose Parisian childhoods took very different directions, an important man bent on having what he wants at any cost—all flow together in a seamless, almost hypnotic way that defies easy explanation. The perfumes themselves take on a life of sensuality and the reader can almost smell the heady fragrances. It’s as if the author takes the reader by the hand and crosses into a realm of enchantment and mystery.
I first encountered M. J. Rose a number of years ago when she was going to be participating in the Virginia Festival of the Book and my bookstore was handling the sales for all the mystery authors. I hadn’t been familiar with her work before so I read a couple of her books and, to be honest, they weren’t my cup of tea, so to speak, but there was something about them that has stuck in my mind, not the stories but the writing itself. I remember thinking at the time that I wished she would write something, well, different. Then, in 2007, The Reincarnationist was published and it was, oh, so very different. The Book of Lost Fragrances is the fourth in her collection of Reincarnation novels and, in my opinion, this is her breakthrough book. Will every reader agree with me? Of course not, but it will be in the top 5 of my best books read in 2012 list.
I’m not sure it’s possible to accurately classify this novel (or any of the others in the collection). Certainly, it’s a mystery—more specifically, a thriller, with murder, secrets, gangs and stalking in the forefront—but it’s also romance, historical fiction, political intrigue and more than a dollop of fantasy. All I can do is urge book lovers to look in every section of their favorite bookstores to find this must-read book.
Posted May 30, 2012
Posted May 29, 2012
THE BOOK OF LOST FRAGRANCES by M.J. Rose is a suspense/thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat. It weaves reincarnation,intrigue,perfumery,a book of scents,suspense,legends,Egypt,family secrets,murder,mystery,and romance.What an intense thriller that you can almost smell the fragrances from the pages of “The Book of Lost Fragrances”. Jac L’Etoile haunted by visions of a past and exotic smells,her mother’s suicide,she embarks on a career as a mythologist T.V. personality. Her brother Robbie,takes over the family business,the House of L’Etoile,learns a family secret but suddenly goes missing.Jac goes to Paris to look for her brother and finds a discovery of her own. Filled with passion,history,and suspense,you will not regret picking up “The Book Of Lost Fragrances”. A fast paced story. Ms. Rose pulls the reader into the story with her vivid descriptions and her intriguing characters. Received for an honest review from the publisher. Details can be found at Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster,Inc.,the author’s website,and My Book Addiction and More.
HEAT RATING:Sweet: No sex or scenes of physical intimacy except some kissing. No graphic violence or profanity.
REVIEWED BY: AprilR, My Book Addiction and More
Posted May 12, 2012