cover image The Scent of Rosa’s Oil

The Scent of Rosa’s Oil

Lina Simoni, . . Kensington, $14 (264pp) ISBN 978-0-7582-1924-4

Simoni’s juicy debut is the story of Rosa, a young Genoan woman born to a prostitute and orphaned at birth in the late 19th century. Her guardian is Madam C, the proprietor of a much-loved brothel called the Luna, who shields Rosa from “the game” played on the second floor of her house. But for Rosa’s 16th birthday party, she wears a special perfume distilled by her peculiar friend Isabel, and before the evening’s over, the mayor, enchanted by the scent, ends up playing “the game” with Rosa. (Rosa, unbelievably, doesn’t realize what’s going on nor has she ever seen a naked man before.) When their tryst is discovered, Madame C, who has pined for the mayor for years, hurls Rosa onto the street. The orphan seeks refuge with Isabel and hides her born-in-a-brothel past from her new beau, longshoreman Renato (who is also susceptible to Isabel’s perfume), but when Renato’s life and their love are threatened, Rosa must decide what truths are worth the risk of losing him. Though parts of the story feel pat and the dialogue is often stiff, most of this light, whimsical romance’s flaws are forgivable. (Jan.)