Monday, July 29, 2013

Perfume by Patrick Suskind

The Scent of a Murderer (Murder, He Wrote Week)

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind is about a man who has a serious obsession with scents.  Set in eighteenth century France, Genouille is born with a prodigious proboscis, not in size like Cyrano de Bergerac, but wholly in his ability to sniff out and differentiate all odors. His snout involuntarily works overtime.  To him smells are like a drug, a serious boost in his serotonin levels.  Even as a young child, he memorized and categorized all odors he encountered in the file cabinet of his mind. It’s all he ever thinks of. He has an uncanny gift of being able to check out any scent in his nasal library as if it were a book, or drink it in like intoxicating alcohol. He follows his nose to the perfect career as a perfumer’s apprentice, where like a true craftsman, he begins experimenting with all the various kinds of odors. And though he eventually moves on from the perfume profession, scents are ingrained in his being. He continues experiments to create scents that manipulate people into being kind or caring.  But like the crazy, creepy guy he is, it’s never enough.  Finally, he seeks out very specialized ingredients to create the perfect scent.  This book is dark and disturbing, but it’s also very original and thought-provoking.  I liked it.  The murders Grenouille commits are not graphic or detailed; they’re just necessary parts of the story: the story of a very unusual man whose life is ruled by his ultra-sensitive sense of smell.  If you’re looking for a light detective story, this isn't it.  If you’re looking for something very unique, you may want to consider this book.

Here’s what my book club had to say about it.
This book wasn’t exactly what we were expecting.  We weren’t slinking through dark alleys following a serial killer around waiting with bated breath to see his next move, as we had perhaps hoped.  In fact, there wasn’t that much action at all.  Sure there was a killing and later some more.  But this is not an action thriller by any means. Not everyone finished, though that wasn’t entirely the book’s fault.  It is summer, after all.  Busy, busy.  Sounds like the general reaction was ambivalence.  Those who read it mostly liked the book, though they agree that it was perhaps a little over descriptive and dry at times—like when he was on the mountain.  Most just wanted him to get off the mountain already.  But those who chugged through to the end urged those in the middle or towards the end to plod on.  The end was, let’s say, interesting.  Worth the trip. 

Update:  9/15/13.  My sister just finished the book and was not impressed.  She wants her three months back.  That's how long it took her to drag herself through the book.  Of course it was summer and she didn't devote loads of time to it at once.  But she hung in because she kept thinking it's going to get better, and also because we urged her to read the ending which we thought would spark her interest. Wrong!  The ending really threw her over the edge from "ok" to "very strong dislike."  She said the ending was odd, irritating, and even gross.  And as she spat out those words her thumbs took two dramatic turns downward.  :(  This was clearly not a love match. 

Happy Reading,

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Monday, July 22, 2013

The Diary of Mattie Spenser by Sandra Dallas

Prairie, Prairie, Quite Contrary (Pioneer Women Week) 

The Diary of Mattie Spenser by Sandra Dallas had me smiling from the beginning. Right off, this book promised to be a fun read and it did not disappoint. It’s the story of a young woman who gets an unexpected proposal from a man and is then whisked away to the Colorado Territory just weeks later.  The proposal came as rather a surprise since Luke had never even asked Mattie out for a date.  Mr. Luke Spenser was quite the attractive catch.  But in her own opinion, Mattie considered herself very plain. “Handsome is the best I might be, and then only on special occasions, and in poor light.”  Mattie writes about her new life with a husband who is practically a stranger on the harsh new homestead.  Like all pioneer stories the book is filled with hardships and dangers as well as determination and resourcefulness.  The adversity the pioneers faced head on always amazes me.  Although this book is a novel the general circumstances of their journey and living conditions in the new settlement are historically accurate.  The pioneer people were an unimaginably hardy group, especially the women. This was no camping trip. Camping with all the supplies we have available now would be a dream come true for them back in the 1800s. I wouldn't do very well back then on the frontier. Personally I find modern-day camping a bit too rustic.  I think my husband or neighbors might just have thrown me to a hostile Indian tribe had they heard my constant complaining.  “Where’s my mattress, my hot shower, my coffee maker?  How am I supposed to keep this sod house swept clean?  Why do the Indians keep attacking us?  Stop the madness!” Mattie was a bit more adventuresome and resilient.  She rarely complained and had the best of attitudes in the most trying situations.  This story wasn’t just about surviving in a cruel and unforgiving country; it was also about the complications of love and deception. It had me guessing to the outcome till the very end.  I wish my book club would read this one because I would really like to discuss this story and characters with them. I hope you’ll pick it up and let me know what you thought of it.

(UPDATE:  10/27/13 My book club selected this book and "loved" it.  It got rave reviews with only one member who thought that the sad and disturbing scenes pulled the rating down.)  

As a side note, Sandra Dallas is also the author of The Persian Pickle Club, one of my favorite books.  Personally, I like to sample many authors instead of faithfully sticking to just one until I've worked my way through their entire repertoire. I’m fickle that way. But with Sandra Dallas, I decided to go back for seconds when I saw The Diary of Mattie Spenser at the library bookstore. I sure am glad I did.  I may even be tempted to go for dessert.  Buster Midnight’s CafĂ© sounds promising.  I’ll let you know if I ever get around to it in my giant stack of books.

“I received my first word of praise from my husband at our first campfire supper, and many since. Luke pronounced me a fine camp cook, although at the end of the day I think he is so tired and hungry, he could eat a roasted wagon wheel.”

Sandra Dallas, The Diary of Mattie Spenser  (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997), 15.

“It is said a true woman would rather hear even the faintest praise of her husband than hosannas to herself. The poet who wrote that, I think, was a man.”

Sandra Dallas, The Diary of Mattie Spenser  (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997), 26-27.

One more “pioneer woman” novel you may want to consider is These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 by Nancy Turner. This is another book I truly enjoyed.  It tells the story of Sarah’s journey to the new and unfamiliar Arizona Territory. As most women on the frontier, she was spirited and determined. While there are many tragic events in the book, as illness and death along the arduous journey were familiar occurrences, there is also hope and humor in the love story between her and Captain Elliot. A definite thumbs-up.

On my list of pioneer historical novels still to read is Jubilee Trail by Gwen Bristow.  My mom highly recommends this story of a fashionable young New York lady who impulsively marries a wild trader and together they follow the harsh trail her to a new and exciting land called California. 

For pioneer non-fiction, I found the following books very informative and worthwhile:
Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier by Joanna L. Stratton

Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey by Lillian Schlissel

More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Montana Women by Gayle C. Shirley (I've only read the Montana Women book, but there are many other states: Nevada, Texas, Wisconsin, Washington, etc.)

Happy reading,


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Monday, July 15, 2013

The Floribama Ladies’ Auxiliary and Sewing Circle by Lois Battle

Cherished Ladies Get the Cold, Hard Boot (Female Friendship Clubs Week)

The Floribama Ladies’ Auxiliary and Sewing Circle by Lois Battle is a story about women in a little town called Floribama, Georgia who have just been laid off from The Cherished Lady undergarment factory when it closed its doors to move the operation to Mexico.  The title of the book implies that the main story is about these unemployed women who now form a sewing circle, although that is a little deceptive.  The sewing circle doesn’t come into play until half way through the book and even then it’s not where the story hinges.  This book is mainly about three women, all affected by the lay-offs.  Bonnie, a once well-to-do divorcee settles into her new job at the local community college as a coordinator for the “Displaced Homemaker’s Program,” which is offered to the women from the plant. Bonnie’s job is to help the women find new careers through college education. Ruth is one of those women.  She is a widowed grandmother who was a worker at The Cherished Lady for decades. Like everyone else, she desperately needs her job, especially since her daughter Roxy, has difficulties taking care of her own children.  The third main character is---well, she’s a character alright.  Hilly is a tall, buxom woman with big hair and a Texas drawl.  She’s confident and opinionated. My favorite character in the book, she’s a big presence with a big mouth that spouts memorable lines like:

 “Only hell my mama ever raised was me.”

Lois Battle,  The Floribama Ladies’ Auxiliary and Sewing Circle  (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), 254.

“…Just when you think life is a bitch, it has puppies.”

Lois Battle,  The Floribama Ladies’ Auxiliary and Sewing Circle  (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), 51.

“Let’s just Bobbitt this conversation ‘bout Ruth.” 

Lois Battle,  The Floribama Ladies’ Auxiliary and Sewing Circle  (New York: Penguin Books, 2002), 303.

That last line had me laughing out loud.  I had almost erased memories of the 1993 news story of John Wayne Bobbitt and how his wife, Lorena, severed an integral part of his body after she claimed he raped her and then drove away and tossed the appendage into a field.  

This book wasn’t all laughs, but it was a heartfelt, quick read with an inspiring message of picking up and moving forward as best you can when life knocks you down.  Losing a job can be enormously stressful and depressing, but this book brings hope.  The trauma of losing a job, or going through divorce is not nearly as tragic as the incidents in Ann Hood’s TheKnitting Circle, but neither is the book quite as light-hearted and cozy as The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas.  Like the other two books just mentioned, I enjoyed it for being different in style and story, but still centering around women and the friendships that support one another.

Happy reading,


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Monday, July 1, 2013

Vacation Montage

On Vacation with 36 Books (Vacation Montage)
Click on the book titles to read reviews.

I’m off on vacation this week!  I've been planning it for a long time. There are so many options. It’s always difficult to decide what to do.  At first I thought it would be great to visit all my friends.  I haven’t seen Rebecca in a long time, but I also wanted to see Frida, and Jane Eyre, or Agnes Grey. Let’s not forget Anne of Green Gables, or Silas Marner, or Ethan Frome.  Too many friends, too little time.  So then I considered spending Three Weeks with My Brother until I remembered that he’s overseas—A Year in Provence! What a life.  Must be nice.  

Well that got me to thinking—why not take a great, big, unforgettable vacation, too?  I could go Around the World in 80 Days.  So, I crunched the numbers and, whooo wheee. No can do.  I pared it back, Around the World in 72 Days.  Still too much! By that time it was already late into the Night; actually it was The Other Side of Midnight.  Time for bed. I decided to sleep on it.

The next morning I thought of other glamorous destinations.  I've always wanted to see The Glass Castle and have their famous Pomegranate Soup. I hear it’s to die for.  It really wakes up The 100 Secret Senses of your tongue. They were fully booked. Next I googled The Crystal Palace:  it burned down years ago.  Strike that. 

Finally, I settled on visiting the City of Thieves.  There’s a lot to do there.  The Night Circus will be there all summer. Critics are raving about it.  They’re lapping it up Like Water for Chocolate. Then there’s the local attraction of The Giant’s House. I’m also looking forward to strolling on the tree lined Main Street, which is really quaint with overflowing flower baskets.  There are tons of touristy shops where you can buy anything from Tea and Green Ribbons to the little snow globes.  Of course, I’ll have to buy something for each of my girls at The Persian Pickle Club.  Funny thing about vacations, you never seem to mind overpaying for things.  Back home I would never consider buying The $64 Tomato at Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. They come Cheaper by the Dozen, you know.  But when you’re on vacation your senses and cares seem to leave you.  They’re just Gone with the Wind.     

Vacations are great.  The only sad thing about vacations is when they end.  Afterwards I sometimes feel A Void.  It’s difficult to return to the routine life of being A Reliable Wife and Keeping the House. I guess the best thing to do is plan and dream about my next vacation.  It’s what keeps me going—I call them my Dreams of Joy! Who knows, maybe next year I’ll win a vacation like one of The Weird Sisters did. She was The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. Won an all-paid vacation to Moloka’i sponsored by The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And don’t you know, that’s where she met and fell in love with that handsome magician, The Great Gatsby. Lucky!!

Happy reading!  Happy Vacationing!   Be back soon.


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