Tag Archives: books like Deborah Harkness

M. J. Rose’s The Collector of Dying Breaths Left Me Mesmerized by the Scent of Obsession

Gorgeous Cover!!!

Gorgeous Cover!!!

The Collector of Dying Breaths, by M.J. Rose, Review~

Completely absorbed in exquisite storytelling, reading M.J. Rose’s The Collector of Dying Breaths kept me captivated to the point I didn’t want to have to go to sleep, and in the morning, I forgot to eat breakfast.  I did have my coffee though, the steaming red cup held in one hand, while the other held the book with the gorgeous, also red, cover open to where my eyes were glued. Transported to another world, I didn’t even smell my usually glorious creamy and pungent aroma, but rather was intoxicated by the words within the  novel, and her description of flowery scents, of her newest story.

The novel juxtaposes between the mid-1500s with the story of Italian orphan Rene le Florentine, who first is the apprentice of a highly-regarded monk and then the perfumer of Catherine de Medici, and a modern day story of Jac L’Etoile, a single woman who is mourning her brother and has inherited the prestigious L’Etoile perfumery.  It brings the obsession of the past, as well as its mysteries, to the future in a very calculated, yet seemless way that entranced me from the start.

The modern story is set in Fontainebleau, France, but the past begins in Italy and descends into the time that Catherine de Medici becomes Queen of France. It begins with a monk who is trying to capture dying breaths in little glass bottles in hopes of bringing a person lost back to life. When the monk dies, Rene is passed on the desire, and soon it becomes his only thought, to attempt and succeed at this experiment.  In the meantime, after Catherine saves his life he is put to the task of also creating perfumes-and poisons-for her.  His most fervent work, though, is with reanimating the dying breaths and this creates a suspenseful mystery that centuries later ensnares our modern era mythologist Jac to become involved in also. Suddenly the thought of past lives and our associations with ancestors become not so hard to understand or believe.

I was absolutely enthralled by this story and didn’t want to stop turning page after page, even to get anything done on my busy to-do list. It was truly an escapist type of book–you know, one that allows you to forget reality and immerse yourself in the story and the mystery as the suspense builds. The beautiful imagery and descriptions of smells added to the endearing quality of the book, as well as wonderful character development. M.J. really set the scene well on every page of the book so I felt completely lost in the story–both time and place.

Earlier in the year her novel, Seduction, was Suspense Magazine’s book of the 2013, but I think that The Collector of Dying Breaths is even better. Well, to me, I know it was better. I am happy to read this book again, even considering the fact that I rarely want to read a book twice.

By intertwining mythology, alchemy, passion, and lush prose she brings an underlying eerie feel to the book that kept my arm hair standing on end in anticipation and a desire to peek deeper into the story. As readers, we are compelled to see that there is a fine line between obsession and passion. Throw in all the thrilling mysteries that Jac set to uncover as she also rekindles romance with Griffin, a man she’s always loved but had let go, and the novel can’t be more well-rounded or complete.

M.J. Rose writes a MUST HAVE book if you want an excellent one to dive into for a weekend you expect to not come up for air. Her work of introducing us to new, modern gothic tales of reincarnation and connections of past lives to present lives, as well as spirits of our ancestors connecting our own puzzles, is amazing. She offers us tangible stories that allow us to really think about the world around us and the legacies we leave.

The House of L’Etoile might hold fast on not using vanilla so that the perfume isn’t like candy, but The Collector of Dying Breaths was certainly like melting a decadent caramel on your craving tongue. 5 stars!

The Collector of Dying BreathsThe Collector of Dying Breaths, Synopsis~

Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Atria Books
Hardcover; 384p
ISBN-10: 1451621531

From one of America’s most imaginative storytellers comes a passionate tale of love and treachery, spanning the days of Catherine de Medici’s court to the twenty-first century and starring a woman drawn back, time and again, to the past.

In 1533, an Italian orphan with an uncanny knack for creating fragrance is plucked from poverty to become Catherine de Medici’s perfumer. To repay his debt, over the years René le Florentine is occasionally called upon to put his vast knowledge to a darker purpose: the creation of deadly poisons used to dispatch the Queen’s rivals.

But it’s René’s other passion—a desire to reanimate a human breath, to bring back the lives of the two people whose deaths have devastated him—that incites a dangerous treasure hunt five centuries later. That’s when Jac L’Etoile—suffering from a heartache of her own—becomes obsessed with the possibility of unlocking Rene’s secret to immortality.

Soon Jac’s search reconnects her with Griffin North, a man she’s loved her entire life. Together they confront an eccentric heiress whose art collection rivals many museums and who is determined to keep her treasures close at hand, not just in this life but in her next.

Set in the forest of Fontainebleau, crisscrossing the lines between the past and the present, M.J. Rose has written a mesmerizing tale of passion and obsession. This is a gothic tale perfect for fans of Anne Rice, Deborah Harkness, and Diana Galbadon.

Praise for The Collector of Dying Breaths

“History, mystery, ambition, lust, love, death and the timeless quest for immortality…a riveting tale of suspense.” – B.A.Shapiro, New York Times bestselling author of The Art Forger

“Mysterious, magical, and mythical…what a joy to read!” – Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author

Buy the Book

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble

Author M. J. Rose, Biography~

M.J. RoseM.J. Rose is the international best selling author of fourteen novels and two non-fiction books on marketing. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in many magazines and reviews including Oprah Magazine. She has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, USA Today and on the Today Show, and NPR radio.

Rose graduated from Syracuse University, spent the ’80s in advertising, has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, and since 2005 has run the first marketing company for authors – Authorbuzz.com.

The television series “PAST LIFE,” was based on Rose’s novels in the Renincarnationist series. She is one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers and runs the blog- Buzz, Balls & Hype. She is also the co-founder of Peroozal.com and BookTrib.com.

Rose lives in CT with her husband the musician and composer, Doug Scofield, and their very spoiled and often photographed dog, Winka.

For more information on M.J. Rose and her novels, please visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/collectorofdyingbreathstour

Tour Hashtag: #DyingBreathsTour

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Interview with Emily Croy Barker, Author of A Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

Today, I’m continuing my coverage of Emily Croy Barker and her debut magical novel, A Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic. For lovers of Harry Potter and A Discovery of Witches or even Alice in Wonderland, the book has fantasy elements as such, with a strong female lead. I’m reading it now and enjoying it!

In the meantime, please get to know the book, and Emily, a little better by reading this interview graciously given by Emily and her publisher, Pamela Dorman Books/Viking/Penguin. Thank you, Emily for taking about your book at Oh, for the Hook of a Book! and I hope I get to further interview you at a later date!

Thinking Woman's photo

Q. Which of the characters in THE THINKING WOMAN’S GUIDE TO REAL MAGIC did you most enjoy writing?

A. Aruendiel, no question. He says exactly what he thinks, and he doesn’t mind giving offense to anyone. Not something that most of us can get away with in our daily lives.

Of course, Ilissa was also a lot of fun, too. Because she’s also honest—Faitoren can’t tell lies—but at the same time, she’s thoroughly deceitful.

Q. Are any parts of this novel autobiographical?

A. You mean, is it about the time I stumbled into an alternate world and started studying magic? Sadly, no.

There were things in my life that I deliberately borrowed for the novel. The way Aruendiel talks about other magicians—I was thinking of how my father, who was a painter, used to talk with his artist friends about other artists, about who was doing good work and who wasn’t. My dad was the kindest and most gentle person ever, but he was ruthless when it came to criticizing bad art. It’s the idea that you have a calling that you have to follow and you don’t sell out.

I gave Nora some of my interests—a penchant for memorizing bits of poetry, a love of cooking—although she’s much better at both things than I am. She’s also braver than me. You could never get me to go up a cliff like the one at Maarikok, even with a levitation spell! And I let her take a path that I considered but never took—going to grad school in English.

Q. Your heroine, Nora Fischer, is swept away by magic into a kind of too good to be true existence.  Even though a part of her knew it wasn’t right she stayed.  Why would she allow herself to be easily enchanted?

A. As Aruendiel himself would point out, Faitoren enchantments are very hard to fight, because they give you something you want. Nora was feeling bruised and defeated, and suddenly she had everything that she thought she was missing.

I also think the kind of idealized femininity that Ilissa offers Nora—being beautiful, being the belle of the ball, having this perfect romantic love—is a very seductive thing, even for someone like Nora who has read all the feminist theorists and has really chosen the life of the mind. Maybe especially for someone like Nora.

 Q. You have so many literary references, John Donne, Miguel de Cervantes, William Carlos Williams, Alice in Wonderland and Grimm’s Fairytales, but it’s Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice that Nora ends up with as her only possession in the alternate world.  What is the significance of this particular book?  Any personal connection to it?

A. Well, Pride and Prejudice is so modern in many ways, although written and set in a premodern time. So it seemed like a good match for A Thinking Woman’s Guide, where a contemporary woman is thrown into a world where women are still second-class citizens, at best. And Pride and Prejudice reflects some of the themes that I was interested in—an intelligent woman engaging with a man who has both higher status and worse manners than she does—without being too closely parallel to the plot of my story. Finally, I love Pride and Prejudice! And so do many other readers. So I hoped it might resonate with those who read my novel.

Q. Words are a powerful tool and language is a very important status symbol in Nora’s new world. Women are uneducated and don’t speak to men the same way Nora does; something she is repeatedly frustrated by.  How did you develop Ors, the language Nora must learn in order to communicate?

A. Language reflects society, so as I thought about Aruendiel’s world, I tried to imagine what sort of linguistic rules it would have to help keep women in their place. And as anyone who has studied a foreign language knows, there are all kinds of subtleties that you don’t pick up right away. You can make blooper after blooper, sometimes for years. So Nora keeps bumping up against things like the feminine verb endings, which she never noticed until Aruendiel rather officiously points them out to her.

I was also inspired by how Tolkien, who was a philologist, essentially began imagining Middle-Earth by inventing various Elvish names. He wrote poems about these characters and, eventually, fiction. I thought, wow, what a powerful tool to create a believable fantasy universe, to develop some kind of logical linguistic framework that underlies your story.

Q. You’re a journalist by trade. What was it like, switching to fiction? Where do you write? Do you set hours or just put pen to paper when inspiration strikes?

A. It took me a while to feel comfortable writing fiction. It’s a different kind of narration. Suddenly, after years of having to be super-careful about collecting facts and double-checking them, I could make everything up. That felt wonderful! But what exactly do you include, what do you leave out? Beginning writers are always told, “Show, don’t tell.” Well, in fact there’s a lot you have to simply tell, or you’ll write twenty pages and your character will still be finishing breakfast.

The journalistic skill that I found most useful in writing fiction was simply the ability to sit in front of the computer and write. Even if you’re just trying to write, even if what you’re writing isn’t great at the moment or if all you have to show after three hours is three sentences. And then to do it again the next day. It doesn’t matter if you have to rewrite it all over again—because you’ll find something that’s worth keeping, or you’ll learn what not to do. The important thing is to keep going.

Usually I write at home on my laptop—sometimes on the train when I travel. I write best during the day. If I try to write at night, I’m usually too tired to get very far. Or occasionally I’ve had the opposite problem—I get really into it and then suddenly it’s way past my bedtime and I’m useless the next day. So starting out, I wrote for a couple of hours every weekend. Then it became every spare moment of every weekend. I still owe huge apologies to so many of my friends for turning down all their lovely invitations to go to museums, parties, movies, et cetera, over the past seven years.

Q. Who would be in your dream book club? Where would you meet and what would you talk about?

A. Henry James, Charlotte Brontë, Scott Fitzgerald, Mary McCarthy, Zadie Smith, and couple of my friends. We’d meet at Florian’s in the Piazza San Marco every third Tuesday in the month—this is a dream, right?—and talk about whatever I happen to be reading at the moment. I imagine it would be a lively group.

Q. Are you a fan of other fantasy novels?

A. Yes, although I certainly haven’t read everything that’s out there. I tend to like the denser, more literary kind of fantasy. Unlike Nora, I love Tolkien. Also Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, Alice Hoffman, Margaret Atwood, Ursula LeGuin, and Kelly Link. Kate Atkinson is best known now for her Jackson Brodie mysteries, but I’m really glad that I didn’t read her Human Croquet until after I wrote The Thinking Woman’s Guide, because in some ways that’s the book I wanted to write.

Q. Your writing is loaded with references from history, literature, and fantasy. What sort of reader did you envision for this series?

A. I tried to write the kind of novel I would want to read, so I guess in that sense I wrote it for myself. And as the book took shape and it became clearer that I would actually finish a draft at some point, I decided I would send it first to one of my oldest friends to see if she thought it was any good.  She and I grew up watching Star Trek and Monty Python, reading Sherlock Holmes and The Black Stallion and Jane Eyre, and doing the ultimate in geekdom—taking Latin—so I trusted her judgment. She liked it, so that encouraged me to keep revising.

Beyond that, I was thinking that it might appeal to some of the adults who loved Harry Potter but who wanted more of a adult perspective and a strong female character at the center of the novel.

 Q. The Thinking Woman’s Guide To Real Magic ends on a cliffhanger. Can you hint at what’s next for Nora and Aruendiel?

A. I’m pretty sure that Nora will find her way back to Aruendiel’s world. The two of them really need to talk and to be straight with each other, don’t you agree? And of course she has a lot more to learn about magic—and how to use it properly.

Check out the guest article by Emily about her transition from journalist to author that was previously posted on my blog HERE!  Watch for an upcoming review and giveaway of the book….!

emily photoAuthor Emily Croy Barker, Biography~

A graduate of Harvard University, Emily Croy Barker has been a magazine journalist for more than 20 years. She is currently executive editor at The American Lawyer magazine. This is her first novel.

A Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, Synopsis~

Nora’s life is not quite going as planned. The man of her dreams is getting married, but not to her; her academic career has stalled; and there’s a mouse in her kitchen… Getting away for the weekend for a friend’s wedding seems like perfect timing, especially when she stumbles across the unfeasibly glamorous Ilissa, who immediately takes Nora under her wing.

Through Ilissa, Nora is introduced to a whole new world – a world of unbelievable decadence and riches where time is meaningless and everyone is beautiful. And Nora herself feels different: more attractive; more talented; more popular….Yet something doesn’t quite ring true: Was she really talking to Oscar Wilde at Ilissa’s party last night? Or transported from New York to Paris in the blink of an eye?

It is only after Ilissa’s son, Raclin, asks Nora to marry him that the truth about her new friends becomes apparent. By then, though, it’s too late, and Nora may never be able to return to the world, and the life, she knew before.

If she is to escape Raclin and Ilissa’s clutches, her only real hope – and an unlikely one at that – is the magician Aruendiel. A grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past, he might just teach her what she needs to survive and perhaps even make it home: the art of real magic.

For fans of Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, or Lev Grossman’s Magicians series, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker is proof that magic not only exists but—like love—can sweep you off your feet when you least expect it…

“A marvelous plot, clever dialogue, and complex characters… With the intimacy of a classic fairy-tale and the rollicking elements of modern epic fantasy”
Deborah Harkness, author of the All Souls Trilogy

Thinking Woman's photo

Purchase~

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Womans-Guide-Real-Magic/dp/0670023663/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0

GoodReads:  http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16158565-the-thinking-woman-s-guide-to-real-magic

IndieBound:  http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780670023660/emily-croy-barker/thinking-womans-guide-real-magic

Barnes and Noble:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-thinking-womans-guide-to-real-magic-emily-barker/1108935054

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