THE SECRET WAYS OF PERFUME Magic or a Finely Honed Sense of Smell?



Secret Ways Perfume cover

By: Cristina Caboni
Narrator: Hillary Huber
Penguin Random House Audio/Penguin Audio
Genre: Fiction – Contemporary Women
Release Date: July 26, 2016
14 Hours and 24 Minutes


Audiobook provided by publisher for review. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.




A huge Italian bestseller, The Secret Ways of Perfume is an evocative, poignant read set between the cobbled streets of Florence and the lavender fields of Provence — perfect for fans of The Secret Language of Flowers, Victoria Hislop and Santa Montefiore.

From Florence to Paris, a scent like no other can take you unexpected places…

Elena has a gift unlike any other: the ability to decipher the ingredients of a perfume from its scent alone. Perfume is a part of who she is, and where she comes from. Only wrapped in essences of flowers, herbs and spices does she feel truly at home.

But when Elena’s gift leads her to Paris to learn about the ancient arts of the craft, she also discovers a secret recipe designed by her great-grandmother that no other perfumer has been able to replicate.

As Elena immerses herself in the task, travelling from Paris to Florence, she encounters Cail: a kind, shy man who has his own gift for cultivating unique roses. Together they will follow a path of secret scents, distant memories, and the hope of finding a love neither will ever forget.


My Take Oblong Shaped

Outstanding narration by Hillary Huber’s round and plush voice was the best thing about this book.  I found the characters two-dimensional, and a bit dumb.  The story depends on Elena’s ability to smell people’s needs and, in the way of CHOCOLAT by Joanne Harris, provide them with the antidote.  Harris does it with food, and Elena does it with perfume. 

It’s one of those small, everyday magic books with that magic being vague and remaining thus. It seems to be based in intuition or a very finely — impossibly so —  sense of smell.  The result is usually an aromatherapy antidote.

But, no one seems to think the ability is that remarkable in the sense of it being magical. People respect her abilities, but, no one runs out to call the press or accuses her of witchcraft.

Maybe the magic isn’t remarkable in this world: after all, the man she meets seems to be able to almost magically grow and cross breed roses.  That character is Cail, a vaguely Irish/English guy whose family lives in France and whose name, in the hearing of it, sounds like “Kale.”  I found myself wondering who would name their child “Kale.”  They find themselves the ultimate in cliche, in Paris and in love.

In any event, I found the premise thin.  I thought the relationships, in particular Elena’s best-friendship with Monie, seem self-serving, even a little abusive.  Monie gets Elena a job, although I really didn’t understand her financial situation, with her engaged [to someone else] boyfriend who is an asshat, just by virtue of him being engaged to someone else, but compounded by his poor business management. I, didn’t get the fond feelings Elena had for a grandmother who would beat her as she smelled perfumes in an effort to find an ancestor’s secret recipe for the perfect perfume. 

Elena continues to search for the rest of the book. She creates perfumes, but she remains an enigma.

A lot is left unformed – I have no doubt the characters are there but remain undeveloped. 

It’s possible this lack of depth is a translation issue; but I wasn’t feeling it.  I love perfume and always have. But this is like a garden of aromatic flowers where the rate of germination is low.


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