We all know Stacey Lee’s historical YAnovels, Under a Painted Sky and Outrun the Moon. If you’re not familiar, I strongly urge to get familiar ASAP. You’re missing out! She knows how to build strong characterizations and friendships. Her level of research is astounding and she expertly implements tidbits of historical data to make a realistic backdrop for her characters. So, what happens when Stacey Lee writes her first contemporary novel? Find out after the jump.

From the book flap:

 An evocative novel about a teen aroma expert who uses her extrasensitive sense of smell to mix perfumes that help others fall in love while protecting her own heart at all costs

Sometimes love is right under your nose. As one of only two aromateurs left on the planet, sixteen-year-old Mimosa knows what her future holds: a lifetime of weeding, mixing love elixirs, and matchmaking—all while remaining incurably alone. For Mim, the rules are clear: falling in love would render her nose useless, taking away her one great talent. Still, Mimosa doesn’t want to spend her life elbow-deep in soil and begonias. She dreams of a normal high school experience with friends, sports practices, debate club, and even a boyfriend. But when she accidentally gives an elixir to the wrong woman and has to rely on the lovesick woman’s son, the school soccer star, to help fix the situation, Mim quickly begins to realize that falling in love isn’t always a choice you can make.

At once hopeful, funny, and romantic, Stacey Lee’s The Secret of a Heart Note is a richly evocative coming-of-age story that gives a fresh perspective on falling in love and finding one’s place in the world.


Me Talk Pretty:   We usually begin our reviews with our overall impression, but it’s an absolutely necessity when reviewing and discussing Lee’s novels to begin with her words. Their weight are immeasurable in her novel.

In the world of The Secret of a Heart Note, an aromateur is a love witch who works with scents to create the perfect combination of scents that make people fall in love. They are hired by those seeking love, but have very strict rules of engagement and seeing their services through. They are scent witches with written rules spanning generations, after all. This unique environment, although completely natural, is elevated to an almost fantastical state by Lee’s aromatic descriptors. Lee had a seemingly endless and creative list.  She is like a sommelier for scents.  She captures her characters souls through her unique desecriptions of their scents and the world around them. This beautiful balance uplifted an ordinary contemporary YA novel into something unique and timeless.

One of the common themes in this novel is the “absolutes” in Mim’s life. She can’t fall in love or her nose will fail her. Her list of items she can’t eat is positively ridiculous–she can literally not eat anything with flavor. She shouldn’t go to school and should focus on being a better aromateur. You get an idea of her predicament immediately: Mim is trapped by her life, the expectations of her mother, what she’s supposed to be. Being an aromateur is a full-life immersion.  In this highly unusual predicament, love is the great equalizer. It will lay waste to the best of plans and the reader is gifted with words that make this journey so delightful to read. We were provided an ARC to review this book, so the quotes below may not be final, but they are some of our favorites:

“Do not linger in the garden of memories, for there are many traps.”

“She’s done her best, and Kali’s still standing. No, she’s outstanding.”

“Perhaps the note of a heart in free fall is too fleeting to notice.”

“…when you think you’ve found the answer, it turns out you were asking the wrong question.”


Overall:  As I mentioned above, this is not your run-of-the-mill contemporary YA. Lee’s unusual take on the world of aromateurs adds fantasy to ordinary elements of contemporary living.  Each chapter is introduced by a quote by a historical aromateur and the action unfolds from each.  We learn who Mim is and destined to be through these chapter introductions.  What we do know from this start: Mim is a smart girl, who knows the rules. However, she also wears her heart on her sleeve and she stumbles along the way.  Flawed, imperfect, unsure of herself, teetering on (but not quite) self-destructive, every girl can see bits of herself in her. Mim is flanked by a variety of colorful characters, ala The Sky is Everywhere, who are all mythical in their own sense.


Judge a Book by its Cover:  Simple and beautiful. The use of the flowers both around the young woman and on her dress let you know that you’re about to open an aromatic journey that you won’t quickly forget.


Open tab/Last call:  I’ll be at the bar, waiting for Stacey to bring me a manuscript of her next historical YA, Dear Miss Sweetie.  I’d like to toast Mim (and Stacey) with something she would never have in real life–a Manhattan.



BEFORE I LET YOU GO….PRE-ORDER INCENTIVE!!  The first 100 pre-orders of The Secret of a Heart Note will receive a personalized perfume recipe on antique stationery.  More details here.


The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee is scheduled to be released on December 27, 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books. 384 pages.