Friday, April 11, 2014

The Collector of Dying Breaths and The Vodka Smoked Rose

Today marks the opening of our 2014 Drinks with Reads series starting with MJ Rose's new book, The Collector of Dying Breaths. Our drinks with reads series matches great reads with great drinks every Friday through the fall. You can see earlier posts here

First a little about The Collector of Dying Breaths before I get to the drink I've paired it with: The Vodka Smoking Rose. Since The Collector of Dying Breaths goes back and forth between two time periods, we need to know a little bit about each:   

Florence, Italy—1533: 

An orphan named René le Florentin is plucked from poverty to become Catherine de Medici’s perfumer. Traveling with the young duchessina from Italy to France, René brings with him a cache of secret documents from the monastery where he was trained: recipes for exotic fra­grances and potent medicines—and a formula for an alchemic process said to have the poten­tial to reanimate the dead. 

In France, René becomes not only the greatest perfumer in the country, but also the most dangerous, creating deadly poisons for his Queen to use against her rivals. But while mixing herbs and essences under the light of flickering candles, René doesn’t begin to imag­ine the tragic and personal consequences for which his lethal potions will be responsible.

Paris, France—The Present:

A renowned mythologist, Jac L’Etoile—trying to recover from personal heartache by throw­ing herself into her work—learns of the sixteenth-century perfumer who may have been working on an elixir that would unlock the secret to immortality. She becomes obsessed with René le Florentin’s work—particularly when she discovers the dying breaths he had collected during his lifetime.

Jac’s efforts put her in the path of her estranged lover, Griffin North, a linguist who has already begun translating René le Flo­rentin’s mysterious formula. Together they confront an eccentric heiress in possession of a world-class art collection, a woman who has her own dark purpose for the elixir . . . for which she believes the ends will justify her deadly means.

This mesmerizing gothic tale zigzags from the violent days of Catherine de Medici’s court to twenty-first-century France. Fiery and lush, set against deep, wild forests and dimly lit cha­teaus, The Collector of Dying Breaths illuminates the true path to immortality: the legacies we leave behind.

This is me trying to get a photo of the drink with the cover on the iPad, art shot, bad shot, you decide

My Review:
My first book written by MJ Rose was The Book of Lost Fragrances. I loved the ties to the family run perfumery, the french setting, the character of Jac L'Etoile and the fast paced plot. All of that perfumy wonderfulness is back with The Collector of Dying Breaths. I love the way the story moves back and forth between the present and the past. I love learning and thinking about perfume scents and how they are put together. 

I have to say that the title of this book ranks up there with the best ever: The Collector of Dying Breaths. Not only is it fresh and intriguing it fits the book in so many ways. The plot is fast moving but slow enough that you feel like you get to know the characters. 

The character of Rene de Florentin is a wonderful addition - when we meet him he's collecting breaths from dying people and then he winds up being Catherine de Medici's perfumer. That's a resume that would impress anyone on Linked In.

I loved the little homey details throughout the book, like when one of the characters, Serge, rattles off his great-grandmother's recipe for onion soup:

"One onion for every person, one knob of butter for every onion. Carmelize the onions.Then add one ladle of veal stock and one of white whine for every person and let it cook while you take care of the bread."
I can see someone being able to rattle that off if they have heard it a million times. 

If you like fast paced suspense, with a dash of history and a lot of scent, then you'll love The Collector of Dying Breaths

A free electronic copy of this book was provided in exchange for a fair review.

The Drink: The Vodka Smoked Rose 

It was hard to pick one single drink to pair with this book. The are so many scents and flavors throughout - coffee, lavender, cinnamon...

But in the end I decided to go with something completely different, so I selected a liqueur called Chartreuse (spell that three times fast). 

It was originally made in France by Monks and contains more than 130 different plants. You can see why it is so fitting for this book, just on the plant mixture alone. Chartreuse comes in green and yellow and the color chartreuse was named after the liqueur. I chose the green over the yellow because I liked the flavor profile a bit better.

One my recipe journey first I found a drink at called The Smoked Rose. It contains Chartreuse, Whiskey, Rosemary Simple Syrup and dried, burned rosemary. 

It sounded perfect but I tried it and it was a little heavy for me so I swapped the whiskey out for some Gala Apple Vodka. Here's the adapted recipe:

The Vodka Smoked Rose

  • 2 ounces Gala Apple Vodka
  • 1/2 ounce Green Chartreuse
  • One sprig dried rosemary
  • 1/4 ounce rosemary simple syrup
  • Garnish: one sprig fresh rosemary and one slice of lemon
You light the dried rosemary on fire carefully and then blow it out and put it in the glass while it's still smoking. Mix the other ingredients in a shaker over ice. When the rosemary is done smoking and cooled, pour the cold drink over it and remove the burned rosemary. I replaced it with fresh rosemary and added a lemon garnish. Serve cold. 

The view from the top

Rosemary Simple Syrup:
  • Mix 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 2 springs of rosemary in a sauce pan (I grow my own organic rosemary and submerge it in water for several minutes before using it)
  • Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved
  • Remove from the heat, cover, allow the rosemary to steep for 10 minutes.
  • Using a fine mesh strainer, strain out and discard all of the rosemary leaves (sometimes I just use a regular strainer)
  • Allow the strained syrup to cool completely
  • Chill

Come back next Friday when Sue Carpenter tells us all about the drink she's paired with the book, A Fistful of Collars

Author MJ Rose


  1. OMG, what an awesome review!! Lush as the book itself! if I had not read it yet, I would dash to buy it now. Fantastic pairing. Though I have to say personally I'm a purist,and I LOVE la Chartreuse, I even bought some there last time I was in France [it is still made by the monks - set in a stunning landscape], so I think I would not mix it with anything, lol. Glad you loved the book and shared it with such passion. Emma

    1. Thanks Emma. I didn't realize that Chartreuse was still made by monks! I got mine here in the states so it might not have been. It is a great book.

  2. I am a big fan of books that toggle back and forth between the past and the present. I love to see the present character unravel a mystery that has been long buried and then go back into the past to live the actual events. This book sounds like an excellent read, and the drink yummy! As always, these pairings make my Fridays.

  3. Oh no! I have her Book of Lost Fragrances on my To Read list and now I can't make up my mind which one to read first! Perhaps I need a Vodka Smoked Rose to help me make up my mind.

    1. You should definitely read The Book of Lost Fragrances first because it happens in the same timeline. But you definitely need to start burning rosemary for the Vodka Smoking Rose immediately.

    2. I should add, you should burn the dried rosemary safely... It also smells really good when thrown on a BBQ...

  4. I can just picture myself reclining on the veranda, reading The Collector of Dying Breaths and sipping a Vodka Smoked Rose. Of course, first I have to find a veranda.

  5. Both the book and the drink sound fabulous. Great post.

  6. I will be indulging in the drink while reading your tome...I do recommend however you keep your vodka in the freezer, I find it much more 'user friendly'.