A lookery at Lauren Willig’s “The Other Daughter”

The Other Daughter

The Other Daughter

Lauren Willig

St. Martin’s Press

July 21, 2015

304 pages

$25.99

Rachel Woodley, raised in a remote English village by her widowed mother Katherine, is employed as a governess in France. After several years abroad, Rachel receives a telegram, maliciously and intentionally delayed by a member of the household staff. The news is horrible. Rachel’s beloved mother is bedridden with influenza and Rachel is summoned home.

She arrives home to find her mother dead and buried, and receives notice from the landlord that she has but a few days to move out of the home she has shared with her mother since the death of her father Edward, a botanist. Amongst her mother’s belongings Rachel discovers a recent photo of her father, now called Lord Ardmore, escorting his daughter Lady Olivia to a debutante ball.

Suddenly, the only life Rachel has known is a lie. Her father is an earl, her mother his mistress, and she has a half-sister — the legitimate daughter — she has never met or heard of.

A visit to her Cousin David, keeper of the family secrets, confirms that the Woodleys have been quietly living a lie for decades. Rachel storms out of her cousin’s digs, determined to confront the father she remembered so fondly, and who abandoned his by-blow family.

A chance encounter with gossip columnist Simon Montfort gives Rachel the opportunity to enter London’s aristocratic social circle of Bright Young Things under the assumed name of Vera Merton. Simon supplies the flat, the attire and image that Vera needs to gain a toehold with this crowd, and Simon gains a new subject for his column. Rachel’s ultimate goal — to be given an invitation to her father’s estate where she will challenge Lord Ardmore’s duplicity, and force him to acknowledge her.

Rachel soon finds out that there are a myriad of rules governing the behavior of the BYTs, and struggles to remain herself while pretending to be one of the fast crowd. She learns that even the most superficial and shallow of her new friends are complicated companions. Vera also discovers the far-reaching effects of The Great War on soldiers, their families and friends, nearly ten years after the Armistice.

In The Other Daughter, Lauren Willig displays a flair for societal and historical details, develops complex and conflicted characters, presents surprising plot twists and delves into the manner in which deceit and lies become tangled, taking on a life of their own. The conclusion of the novel is surprising and satisfying, and in keeping with the true personalities of the characters.

I have wanted to read one of Lauren Willig’s novels for some time. Courtesy of NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press, an advance copy of Willig’s latest novel The Other Daughter, was made available to me in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

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A Lookery at: “The Book of Lost Fragrances” by M. J. Rose

The Book of Lost Fragrances        

M.J. Rose

Atria Books (2012)

$24.00

Founded before the French Revolution by the family of the same name, The House of L’Etoile is an exclusive perfumery. L’Etoile has developed some of the world’s most famous and beloved scents for centuries. But now, the future of the company is threatened because of the mental deterioration of its current director, Louis L’Etoile. It is up to Louis’ children, daughter Jac and son Robbie, to sort through the mess left in the company office by their father.

Jac is convinced that the only way to save the company is to sell off the formulas and rights to two of The House of L’Etoile’s signature scents. Robbie feels the business has a future if the storied and elusive family treasure – Cleopatra’s “Book of Fragrances” – can be recovered. Central to this ancient document is a formula for a fragrance that can induce memories of past lives using exotic ingredients that may be extinct. Neither sibling has ever seen the mysterious book, but in his Alzheimer’s confusion, Louis has torn apart his workshop looking for it.

Jac, who has the most highly developed “nose” in the family, has rejected the perfume industry in favor of becoming a mythologist. She studies and researches the origins of myths and presents her findings on her American television program and in books she’s authored. For much of her life she has experienced psychotic episodes. Most of these visions reveal stories of Egypt and France’s pasts. Several specialists have tried to treat her for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. Jac finally consults with psychologist Dr. Malachai Samuels, who believes in the possibility of discovering past lives through hallucinations like Jac’s. Malachai teaches Jac to analyze her trances and eventually, her episodes decrease.

Robbie lacks Jac’s gift of a finely developed nose for fragrances, but is still talented enough as a perfumer to develop niche scents for The House of L’Etoile. He is dedicated to saving the business without compromising it in any way. Robbie is also a follower of the Dalai Lama and is a believer in reincarnation. He discovers pieces of an ancient Egyptian fragrance pot amongst his father’s possessions that he feels may have contained Cleopatra’s famous “Fragrance of Lost Memories”. Jac’s brother is determined to analyze the remnants of the pot’s contents and the symbols on it to prove that such a scent existed, thereby making it possible for The House of L’Etoile to recreate the perfume, thus rescuing the business.

The search for the Egyptian document wanders through the epochs of Cleopatra’s reign, pre-revolutionary France, modern Tibet and the People’s Republic of China, and even the centuries-old underground tunnels beneath Paris.  M. J. Rose’s The Book of Lost Fragrances explores the possibilities of reincarnation and the effect of scent on memories and emotions. In scenes set throughout history and the world, myths, legends, politics, belief systems and of course, the perfume industry are explored within this novel of suspense. A very intriguing read, The Book of Lost Fragrances rates three eyes from thebooklookery.