The Perfumist of Paris

Radhi is living in Paris in 1974 with her French husband, Pierre, and her two young daughters. She loves her job as a lab assistant working for a master perfumer, Delphine, at the House of Ives, but Pierre feels she should spend more time at home with their daughters. Radhi disagrees, and when she is tasked with creating a new fragrance around a painting by Edouard Manet, she travels to her homeland of India to source new ingredients. But part of Radhi’s past will intrude into her present life, and she must make some hard choices. I felt this was very well done; I love reading about foreign locales and cultures and this provided both.

Black Cake

I enjoyed this book! Firstly, I love it when books jump through time and this one did that in a very compelling way. Normally, in many books, there’s a looking back and jumping to the present but this time it came to the present as well as hopping into the future. You think you have things all sewed up on a character but then you find out no, -there was more to this person’s involvement and you see it from THEIR perspective as well as opposed to the original main characters. I like this kind of “surprise” dynamic. To use time to your advantage to visit and revisit scenes from different viewpoints, like a hidden cameras in different places.
The variety of characters was also intriguing. There were no “good guys” or “bad guys.” Well, maybe one or two REALLY bad guys. But their presence was needed to expose flaws of a father and create a character who needed to be reunited with her family. The mother, who I see as the main character, had a way of completely disappearing and reinventing herself to be reborn in a new life, more than once! This is always an interesting plot because who doesn’t admire that ability to change oneself into someone new? And she did it at least twice.
The only thing I found lacking was the book’s original mother leaving her child to a flawed father and being written off in a kind of quick, convenient way. I would’ve liked to know more about her.
And lastly, I love the Black Cake being such an important touchstone of this book in all its colonial symbolism and familial weight. I loved how the plastic measuring cup was a cherished kitchen utensil. Every family kitchen has something like that, I believe. Ordinary things that become almost holy in their family’s lore. 4/5 stars. –An anonymous Winter Reading 2023 participant.

Midnight on the Marne

I haven’t read a lot about World War I, so I enjoyed this title by Sarah Adlakha. Her main character is a French woman named Marcelle Marchand, who joins a nursing unit along with her sister Rosalie, with whom she is very close. Marcelle also becomes a spy for the British Intelligence, and is called “the witch of the river” for her ability to outsmart the Germans. Eventually she is captured, and tortured until two American soldiers help her escape. The descriptions of the torture were tough to read, but it was the reality of her experience. The author offers differing views of the plot, with the idea that two of the characters return after being killed, to change outcomes of the war. Adlanka did model her story on real people, places and events, even while taking liberties with other elements. All in all, it was a satisfying read.

Book of Night by Holly Black

This was an interesting book but it took awhile to get into and actually understand what was going on as the beginning was very confusing. Overall it was entertaining for what it was, though I didn’t realize going into it that there would be a sequel. So waiting until the 2nd book would probably be best before starting this one. 3/5 stars.

–An anonymous summer reading participant