The Book of Lost Fragrances - M.J. Rose A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of Seduction by M.J. Rose to read and review, and I found I really enjoyed it. The novel was actually the fifth installment in a series called The Reincarnationist, and even though each book can be read as a one-shot, I'd learned that the protagonist Jac L'Etoile actually first appeared in the previous book. Long story short, I was intrigued enough by her character after reading Seduction that I was motivated to pick up its predecessor, and that's how I came to read The Book of Lost Fragrances.

I went backwards in the reading order, so here we're given a formal introduction of Jac L'Etoile and her brother Robbie, heirs to a preeminent French perfume company. Haunted by memories of her mother's suicide, however, Jac moves to America to become a TV host of a show about mythology, leaving her sibling to take care of the family business.

Like all the other books in the series, this one explores themes around the idea of reincarnation and other paranormal occurrences. While going through the old archives, Robbie stumbles across a collection of ancient pottery shards and a family secret about a scent rumored to enable a person to remember past lives. Robbie has big plans for the discovery, but there are others who would do anything to stop them from happening. When Robbie goes missing, leaving the dead body of a stranger at the scene of the crime, Jac and her former lover Griffin North are drawn into the search, becoming embroiled in politics, suspense, passion, and a mystery that goes back thousands of years.

The first thing I gleaned about this book is that it suffers from a problem I also noticed in its sequel, except to a greater degree -- the fact that there's so much going on! We have multiple plot threads and multiple character points-of-view, and when some of these character perspectives are also past reincarnations, it just makes this book feel even more complicated and jumbled. In addition to Jac, Robbie and Griffin, we also have the story lines about the Panchen Lama, the members of the Chinese mafia, the Parisian police, flashback sequences involving a L'Etoile ancestor and his lover, flashback sequences about an affair in ancient Egypt involving Cleopatra's perfume maker, sections about Jac's past and her psychological disorder, sections focusing on Jac's doctor Malachai...I think I've caught most of them, but it's possible I still missed some.

Despite being called "A Novel of Suspense", I didn't find this to be very suspenseful at all, and I have a feeling this is because all the plot threads going on might have "watered" it down a little. I once saw an interview with M.J. Rose in which she said that booksellers often have trouble categorizing her books, and I can see why this would be the case since this series appears to cross multiple genres, including suspense, fantasy, romance, historical fiction, mystery and paranormal. I loved Seduction because it managed to incorporate all these genre elements and still made it work, but I didn't think it did so much in The Book of Lost Fragrances.

In some ways, the writing and characters feel completely different when I compare the two books, almost like they were written by two separate people. TBoLF felt awkward whereas Seduction was incredible; it's like the latter was a more refined and improved presentation of all the ideas put forth in the former. Perhaps it was because of all the subjects crammed into this novel, ranging from ancient Egypt to Chinese politics to Tibetan Buddhism, and how some of the character perspectives jump all over the place in history. The author tried to weave it all together, but it didn't end up very well. The last few chapters of the book started to fizzle out after what I suppose was the climax, because it still had to wrap up all the other story lines.

Also, Robbie and Griffin had little to no presence in Seduction, which might be another reason why I liked that book so much more. I found both their characters extremely unlikeable in TBoLF; Robbie was more like a stubborn child than a grown man in many ways, and Griffin made for a very frustrating and unsympathetic romantic interest. I have to say though, M.J. Rose can write one hell of a love scene. That one torrid and intense chapter notwithstanding, I still couldn't really get into the Jac/Griffin relationship at all, and that was even with the "eternal love" and "soulmates" angle the book was emphasizing.

Anyway, my opinion would be to save this one, and pick up Seduction instead if you can. And one final note: I half read this and half listened to the audiobook. If I could do it again, I wouldn't have opted for the Whispersync bundle. Phil Gigante is a narrator I've listened to and enjoyed for many books in the past, but I admit was a little surprised he was chosen for this one, since it doesn't seem like a book suited for his voice. He also mispronounces a lot of French words, which was a pretty big distraction.