Skincare – Starting Tretinoin

I’ve been using a prescription tretinoin (retinoic acid/vitamin A) cream for a year now and thought it might be worth sharing my experience.

Retinoids are the only topical skincare ingredient that have been scientifically proven to reverse the signs of aging by increasing cell turnover.

I’d been using the Paula’s Choice 1% Clinical Retinol for a couple of years with no issues but now in my late 40s I felt the need to step it up. The retinol serums produced by beauty companies can make a difference but are a lot weaker than pure tretinoin/vitamin A. As I understand it, the skin has to do some work to convert the retinol into vitamin A and some of the potency is lost in the process.

I know that in the States you can buy the retinoid acne treatment Differin over the counter. However, in the UK it’s impossible to get a tretinoin for anti-ageing purposes unless you you pay £200+ to go to a dermatologist who will issue you a prescription.

Then I found Dermatica (not a sponsored post!). They are an online dermatologist-led subscription service that supply prescription treatments for acne and  signs of ageing. I completed the online consultation/questionnaire and uploaded photos of my skin. I also provided my GP details so they that they will be informed.

 

With an introductory discount, I paid £7.98 for the first month’s treatment and it has been £20 thereafter (my subscription is set to every 45 days). They prescribed me tretinoin for anti-ageing combined with hydroquinone for pigmentation. I started with 0.25% and then they put me up to 0.05% the following month. I began very cautiously because tret is notorious for causing irritation and dryness which can leave the skin red and peeling. I applied it only once a week to begin with and gradually built up my tolerance.

After four months I could apply 0.05% every night and experienced no irritation whatsoever. I must say this is quite unusual. It may be because my skin had become acclimatised by the Paula’s Choice 1% Clinical Retinol.

As for the results, it’s still a bit early to say. With tretinoin you have to play the long game but I already feel the skin looks better even if it’s never going to shift deep frown lines, I have noticed an improvement in the skin’s quality, looking fresher and clearer with more glow. One thing to note is that retinoids increase the skin’s senstivity to the sun so you should apply at night only and use SPF the next morning fastidiously. I didn’t use it at all during the height of summer.

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Have you tried tretinoin or a retinol serum?

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Reading Diary – November/December 2019

Happy New Year!

May 2020 bring you many wonderful books as well as the time to read them.

2019 was a good reading year for me. I just missed my target of 30 books in 2018 so I downgraded last year’s goal to 25. In the end I managed 50, which I was extremely happy with but probably won’t be repeated. My favourite book of the year (though released in 2014) was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The best 2019 release I read was Lanny by Max Porter, see below.

 

The Familiars by Stacey Halls

“- ‘I bet you are not afraid of anything’, I said.
‘Of course I am,’ she said, and she pulled at a loose thread in her apron. ‘I am afraid of lies.’-”

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This book had a lot of promise and not just that gorgeous cover. It’s historical fiction based on the true events of the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612. I’m interested in the trials and  this period of history and it makes a change to the Victoria era I usually read about. The narrator is 17 year-old wealthy gentlewoman, Fleetwood Shuttleworth, whose midwife is accused of being a witch and we follow her galloping around the Lancashire and Yorkshire countryside trying to prove her innocence.  I felt dissatisfied because I wanted to hear the story from the point of view of the supposed witch, not a rather dull teen. Then we find out (spoiler) Fleetwood’s husband has got another woman pregnant but it all ends happily because he was only trying to protect his wife from a further miscarriage. That’s okay then. It has an average rating of 3.9 on GoodReads so I’m in the minority.  2/5

Overcoming Anxiety by Helen Kennerley

My CBT therapist recommended the ‘Overcoming…’ series of books and I started with this one. It’s a lot better than many books on the subject and has practical tools to help you cope, including breathing and relaxation techniques as well as written CBT exercises. I also liked its compassionate and down to earth tone. However, I would say it’s better for those whose anxiety causes phobias than those with generalised anxiety disorder. 3.5/5

Lanny by Max Porter

“We are but pitiful narrative creatures… obsessing over the agony of not knowing. Sisyphus, Atlas, Echo, all those poor souls, now us. It is the oldest story of them all; never-ending pain.”

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Oh Lanny, how I love you. This novel was shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker Prize and while it has an unconventional format, I found it to be a page-turner. I almost read it in a single sitting but knew I had to get up for work the next morning. Lanny is one of those exceptional, magical boys who seems connected to the natural world in a way the rest of us can’t imagine. Sadly not everyone in the tiny village where he lives understands him. His mother is consumed with writing a crime novel and still sees him as her baby while his London banker father is constantly freaked out by him. The person who relates to Lanny the best is a once famous artist dubbed by the locals as ‘Mad Pete’. Running beneath all this is the ramblings of mythical bogeyman Dead Papa Toothwort who we follow as he listens to the conversations of the various villagers. He grows in power from their words and eventually reflects them back in a strange and unsettling way.

The narrator switches from character to character and to start with each is labelled: Lanny’s Mum, Lanny’s Dad etc but as events escalate so the narrative becomes more free-flowing. We see people’s prejudices amplified by quiet village life: some reassess them when Lanny is in danger but most are reinforced. It’s a call for tolerance of difference and not to rush to judgement. It’s a warning that the stories we tell ourselves and each other matter more than we realise. Most of all, it’s a very special little book and totally captured my heart. (Owing to the format, it’s best read as a paperback or audiobook). 5/5

Becoming by Michelle Obama

“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.”

I tend not to read memoirs because they are real life and that’s what I’m trying to escape through reading. However, this book has gained so much praise and was picked by Val the Cookie Queen as one of of her 2019 favourites and so I decided to try it on audiobook.  Well, believe the hype. I thought I’d be more interested in her time as First Lady and of course, the details of life inside the White House were juicy (it was gratifying that she didn’t pull any punches with Trump). But hearing about her upbringing and seeing how she made the absolute most of the opportunities her parents worked so hard to give her was what stayed with me. We learn how generations of black men were unable to progress economically because they were kept out of the unions. How her father with MS practically dragged himself to work at the filtration plant as his disease progressed. Michelle herself is a model of what dedication and drive can do for anyone given half a chance (being someone with almost zero ambition, I found it fascinating). That coupled with immense empathy and a strong belief in social justice, is a compelling combination. You just hope it gets to all those young girls who need to read it because it has the power to change the course of their lives. 5/5

Autumn (Seasonal Quartet Book 1) by Ali Smith

“All across the country, people felt it was the wrong thing. All across the country, people felt it was the right thing. All across the country, people felt they’d really lost. All across the country, people felt they’d really won. All across the country, people felt they’d done the right thing and other people had done the wrong thing. All across the country, people looked up Google: what is EU? All across the country, people looked up Google: move to Scotland.”

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Autumn is the first book in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet with the fourth book, Summer, expected next year. The books are fictional but reflect the political landscape in Britian at the time. Autumn was written around the time of the referendum and while the story revolves around the relationship between a young woman named Elisabeth and an elderly man, named Daniel, the vote is directly referenced. In fact I found myself reading Brexit into a lot of the scenes in the book. You can see nearly everything as a metaphor. Despite the age difference Elisabeth and Daniel are clearly soul mates. Daniel is now seeing out his final days in a care home where Elisabeth visits him. We go back in time to see how their friendship developed.

The main narrative takes detours into the Profumo Affair and the life and work of little known Pop Artist, Pauline Boty. I was fine with these but can understand why some find the other elaborate flights of fancy pretentious. I just let them go over my head and rolled on through until it made sense again. Overall it was really interesting to read something based on such a turbulent and divisive time and one we are still going through. I also really liked Elisabeth and Daniel and hope they’ll turn up again later in the Quartet. I decided to continue with the others books in the series. 4/5

Winter (Seasonal Quartet Book 2) by Ali Smith

“The people in this country are in furious rages at each other after the last vote, she said, and the government we’ve got has done nothing to assuage it and instead is using people’s rage for its own political expediency. Which is a grand old fascist trick if ever I saw one, and a very dangerous game to play. And what’s happening in the United States is directly related, and probably financially related.”

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The core narrative of Winter is nature blogger Art’s trip to spend Christmas with his fragile mother in Cornwall. He pays a girl – Lux – he meets on the street £1,000 to pretend to be the girlfriend he has recently split from. After realising that his mother Sophia is suffering from delusions, he calls her estranged sister Iris who arrives to help out. Happily there is a connection with a character from Autumn which becomes clear at the end of the  book. Brexit is still rolling on with fearful Sophia being a Leaver and bohemian Iris, a Remainer. Sophia has become a recluse, wrapped up in her own psychosis and scared that food is poisoned. Iris meanwhile has been living in Greece helping the many Syrian refugees arriving on boats.

As with Autumn we zip back and sometimtes forth in time to learn more about the characters. We see that Art has suppressed his sensitivities to the point where he doesn’t really know how to be himself anymore. His ex has commandeered his Twitter account in an attempt to show him up. Lux is there to illuminate them all and we later learn that she can’t get permanent employment because she might not be able to stay after Brexit. There are mentions of Trump’s election and Grenfell and we go back to when Iris protested at Greenham Common. It’s an incredibly layered book and I fear I only scratched the surface.

The books definitely bear repeated reading to get the most out them. Each one in the quartet references a different Shakespeare play and Dickens novel. Not getting these nuances didn’t bother me although some of the obtuse (to me) imagery did irritate. I have no idea why Sophia sees a disembodied head or Art, a piece of coastline floating above him. All the same, the characters and the story are captivating.  I don’t whether to continue with Spring now or read it just before Summer is released. 3.75/5

 

What was your favourite book of 2019? Do you have any reading goals for 2020?

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Merry Christmas

A Bottled Rose will be eating lots of chocolate and putting its feet up for the next couple of weeks so we’ll see you again in 2020.

Thanks to Val the Cookie Queen and Portia for their wonderful contributions this year. If you have the time over the holidays you might want to do yourself a favour and make Val’s Classic Fudgy Brownies.

This time last year I was shell-shocked from going through the home selling and buying process. It’s been a year of recovery but some wonderful highlights too, including getting to see Undina again in London and a trip to Grasse. My favourite fragrance of the year was Frederic Malle’s Rose et Cuir (I know that it’s hit or miss for many).

Huge thanks to you for reading.  Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year. The end of another decade. Wow.

May the 2020s treat us all kindly.

Tara xxx

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Memoire d’Une Odeur by Gucci

Notes: Roman Chamomile, Indian Coral Jasmine, Musks, Vanilla, Sandalwood and Cedarwood.

My signature scent for the late 90s was Gucci’s Envy. When I fell down the rabbit-hole about a decade later, I congratulated myself for unknowingly choosing a perfume authored by the masterful Maurice Roucel, who is responsible for the incomparable Musc Ravageur and Iris Silver Mist. I marvelled at how he had transformed green tea into something glossy and sexy.

In some ways, Gucci have pulled off a similar trick with their 2019 release Memoire d’Une Odeur. Chamomile is rarely used as a starring note, being both sedate and sedative. It’s hard not think of nice ladies in floral dresses sipping it as herbal tea in neat gardens. However, this composition takes this demure plant and polishes it until it gleams like an emerald before placing it in a setting that shows it off to its best advantage.

The perfumer is Alberto Morillas who has been creating blockbuster mainstream fragrances for years, from CK One and Aqua di Gio to Mugler Cologne and Daisy.

To be honest, I was so taken with the retro packaging the scent itself didn’t have a lot of work to do.

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Memoire d’Une Odeur rolls out a chamomile lawn; fresh and herbal – but not as grassy as Daisy – with a nice hint of tart citrus peel. I find the novelty of this and its satiny greenness pleasing. It possesses an easy stylishness while radiating a soft wistful mood. It gels with the idea of a scent that instantly connects you with a long-term memory. I can imagine the wearer floating away on it to summers’ past, when they believe life was simpler (even if it wasn’t).

Although the bottle and concept are nostalgic the fragrance is decidedly modern.

A silken jasmine weaves through the heart while pale woods and clean musks make up the rather predictable but perfectly adequate base. It stays green and shimmery throughout with the progression taking the form of a slow slide. I found that after the memorable beginning, it became quite quiet and longevity was average for an EdP.

This is not a fragrance of complexity or twists and turns. Neither could it be mistaken for niche but for a mainstream fragrance, it’s good. It’s the best example of a green floral you’re going to find at this price level (even if Gucci are hailing it a ‘mineral aromatic’). Whether civilian consumers feel the same is far from clear but it’s great to see Gucci releasing something different to the mass of berry bombs and candyfloss canons lining the shelves.

Why not take a trip down memory lane?

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Have you tried Gucci’s latest mainstream release? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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Cheap Shit Portia Loved – 2019

By Portia

So many lovely Best Of 2019 posts or Gift Shopping posts popping up, don’t you love reading other peoples lists? I wanted to give you all something a bit different. A budget version. The things that cost peanuts yet delivered in spades. For you, for gifting or even as a Best Of Cheap Shit list.

Cheap Shit Portia Loved 2019

4711 Remix Cologne 2018

ALL about the zingy citrus and available for almost nothing 4711 Remix Cologne is so wearable and refreshing.It lasts about 2 hours on me and I’m ready for a respritz or something new. Warm enough to wear all year but cool enough to keep me grounded.

Le Bain by JOOP!

So I saw a piece on Le Bain in Fragrantica a while ago and they waxed so lyrical about it that I went right on over to the discounters and grabbed a gift set. TOTAL blind buy. Mainly Le Bain is a vanilla fragrance with a sheer overlay of an aldehydic floral. So wearable and comfortable, it’s like I’m wearing a favourite T Shirt.

Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker

Lovely is one of those fragrances that non perfumistas really love, as well as us. I often smell it on people on public transport, in malls and galleries. It’s so singular that I always compliment the wearer and ask if it’s Lovely. Though I don’t wear it a lot it remains a firm favourite. That hefty sheer lavender, patchouli and musk work perfectly for me.

Our Moment by One Direction

OK, I am going to keep on loving this original release from One Direction even though you all Poo Poo me. Fruit and creamy, tropical, white florals with a soft focus musky woods base. I seriously don’t understand why you all aren’t screaming for gallons of it. A cut price Guerlain style sweet fragrance, LOVE it.

Teazzura by Guerlain

OK, this didn’t start out as cheap but now you can get a bottle at the discounters for nothing. Chamomile, fresh tea leaves, citrus and a white musks base is all tied up with a cool fresh water accord. Longevity isn’t so great, I’m lucky to get an hour of fragrant before it becomes a very soft murmur of clean laundry. It is pretty though and the opening citrus/tea/chamomile harmony interesting. Respritz after about 15 minutes to give MUCH better projection and longevity.

Tabac Original Shower Gel by Maurer & Wirtz

This one is SERIOUSLY cheap. I think you can grab a bottle for well under $10. Don’t worry, it’s such a beautiful fragrance you won’t even notice you’re having a bubble bath in dudes fragrance. Makes terrific bubbles and leaves my skin very softly scented. Just enough to continue on my day, even without fragrance. Yet it doesn’t seem to interfere with my frag choices either.

TABU Shower Gel

HA! You should see your faces reading this post. Eyebrows shooting up in snobby questioning mode. This is a HUGE secret, “TABU shower gel is freaking gorgeous.” It’s a very pared down version of the perfume. All the soft, fluffy, cozy bits. Seriously, I absolutely love this stuff and have myself quite the hoard and it costs about $5 or less for a tube. YEP, you read it here first. Go crazy.

Now you need to tell me what cheap shit YOU loved in 2019 please. Come on, share the love crew.

See you all in 2020

Portia xx

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Strange Tales from the Cookie Kitchen.

“Look up here, I’m in heaven I’ve got scars that can’t be seen, I`ve got drama, can’t be stolen, Everybody knows me now.  LAZARUS.  David Bowie.       

THE UNSTERBLICHE (THE IMMORTAL) SISTER WALLNER.  1923 – 2011.          

 

I first met Sister Wallner after the birth of my son, 1993.   She came to visit me in the hospital with a homemade applesauce, which she had put into a glass jar that had previously been filled with  pickled garlic.  “Sister” because she was a member of the same church as I was, where everyone is called/or can be called “brother” and “sister”.  Although I became very good friends with both her and her family, I never called her anything other than Sister Wallner.

At the end of WWII Sister Wallner walked back from from Greece to Austria, through Yugoslavia.  Yes, walked.  We do know that it was extremely traumatic, and she carried the scars throughout her life.  It did not kill her though.

In 2003 Sister Wallner had two hip replacements within a very short time of one another, and was sent to the rehabilitation centre to recover and to start physiotherapy.  She was told under no circumstances could she leave leave the hospital grounds.  Unfortunately the people in charge had no idea that you couldn’t tell her what to do.  She shot off one evening, as fast as she could on two sticks, and indeed did walk out of the hospital, onto the pavement, and then decided to cross the road, on a curve.  The Audi A3 was going way too fast, and she should not have been there.

Her daughter, (the infamous Doctor Fox, my eternal partner-in-crime, but that’s a Strange Tale for another day) and son-in-law received a phone call, informing them that Sister Wallner/mother/mother-in-law was lying in the intensive care unit and things were not looking good.  They lived about a 45 minute drive away, and so called us to go straight up to the hospital, and they would meet us there.   We were and still are only a five minute drive away.

Sister Wallner was unconscious, green skin, black and blue eyes like you have never seen, a massive cut on her head; I thought that my husband was gonna pass out when he saw her, as he too turned the same shade of green.  For the first time I offered a prayer for her well-being, little knowing that I would find myself doing the same thing many years later.  It did not kill her though.

As she became older she began to have various strange episodes and was at times extremely difficult, and Dr. Fox and I cared for her Mum in different ways. Together we moved her from her home of many years, into a smaller apartment.   Dr Fox and her family had moved into the area several years earlier to be closer to her mother.   Around 2008 Sister Wallner’s health, both physical and mental, started to go downhill.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE. 

I had just come out of the supermarket and was loading the car, when I got a call from Dr.  Fox.  “My Mom has just slumped over, and is dying, and if you wanna see her you had better get your ass down here quick.”  I was there so fast, like in two minutes.  Parked the car, and ran upstairs.  It was 11:00.

I ran in through the  door the same time as Dr S arrived.  Now let’s be clear, this was not a doctor that was coming to rescue Sister Wallner, no.  This was the  doctor dude from the council who had come to reevaluate her level of care, to increase the level of financial aid she was receiving.  Which was why Dr Fox was there in the first place.

Sister Wallner was a Grinchy shade of green, not breathing, and had her eyes been open, she would have been staring vacantly.  It was not the first time that Dr Fox and I had been confronted with a dying person – unlike the doctor apparently, who took a quick pulse check, started sweating profusely, and started walking circles in the kitchen. Dr Fox and I were holding her slumped Mom between us.  We told the guy to go home.  He did mumble something about maybe calling an ambulance, but we sent him packing,  telling  him we would deal with the situation ourselves.

Between us, we carried the ever-so-slightly-stiffening, and bloody heavy,  Sister Wallner into her living room and laid her on the sofa.  Once again I offered a prayer, asking that she be taken in peace.  Dr Fox called her husband and said her mom had just died.  I called my husband and said Sister Wallner just died.  Dr Fox called meals-on-wheels and said Frau Wallner had died and would not be needing her Mittagessen.  We sat at her mother’s side.

Suddenly Sister Wallner took an almighty great big breath, and started to sit up.  “I’m hungry, where’s lunch?”

We called our husbands and said it was false alarm.   They were not surprised,  a bit weird yeah, but then you really have to know our two families to understand where things are on the weird scale.  The tipping point for us was when Dr Fox called the meals-on-wheels back and told them that Sister Wallner had not in fact turned-up-her-toes, and that she would like her lunch delivered, preferably as soon as possible, and we started to laugh, albeit tinged with hysterics.   And this did not kill her.

As sure as little apples grow on trees, this happened.

After this episode we were fortunate to be given a place in the Altersheim (Old Folks’ Home) here for Sister Wallner.  She had no idea that she was going into one.  Dr Fox organized it all and waited there, as I went to pick Sister Wallner up from outside her apartment, having lied to her about going out for tea, to get her to come out and wait for me.  Basically a kidnapping.  I took her to the home, and she was not a happy camper.  But after a relatively short period of time, she  settled down, and lost a lot of her stubbornness and her need to fight so many battles.  She softened after having had such an incredibly difficult life, and began to have some peace.

Of course she did die.  Because no one is immortal.  It was the 24th of November 2011.  My birthday.  Dr Fox was on her way over to me to celebrate it, when she got the call from the Old Folk’s Home. “Your mother has been taken into hospital and you need to hurry if you want to see her before she passes away.” Been there, done that, she thought. She called me and said “My Mom is dying again and if you wanna see her, meet me at the hospital.”  We hurried, but this time we were too late.

CQ of APJ

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Dr Fox and I have talked about this experience we had together many times over the years.  Recently Dr Fox`s daughter, a medic, said it would seem that this might have been what is known as the Lazarus Syndrome, so rare that not fifty cases have been recorded.    The spontaneous return of a normal heartbeat after failed attempts of resuscitation. Except no one tried to resuscitate her.  Why would you?  She was the Unsterbliche Sister Wallner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reading Diary – Dark/Atmospheric Books

I normally steer clear of any books or television/films that might be even remotely upsetting. However, I’m currently receiving CBT and therefore trying not to avoid anxiety as much. I’ve been reading darker novels that I’d never have considered previously. I have to say that it’s been surprisingly entertaining. Creeping yourself out can be weirdly thrilling when you’re safe at home.

Around Halloween I read some of the short stories by H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe which I plan on making a yearly event. Below are the complete novels I read.

 

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

“When your dreams come true, your true has moved. You’ve already stopped being the person who had the dreams, so it feels more like a weird echo of something that already happened to you a long time ago.”

the girl with

The blurb for this post-apocalyptic horror novel doesn’t tell you what’s it really about but I’m going to talk about it below because it’s pretty obvious early on and I think if you go into it expecting somehting else you may be disappointed. The book starts with ten-year old Melanie being strapped into a wheelchair at gunpoint and taken from her cell to a classroom with other children in a similar condition. Melanie has a genius level IQ and adores her only kind teacher, Miss Justineau. They are all confined to an underground army bunker in rural England. Soon, we learn that a pandemic swept through the world twenty years previously and the only civilisation left in the UK is a place called Beacon on the South Coast.

SPOILER REVIEW

The virus turned people into ‘hungries’ (read zombies) who attack and feed on other humans, passing on the virus. We gradually find out what is really happening in the bunker and why.

This book had great reviews and there was a film adaptation starring Glenn Close in 2016. It is certainly action-packed but it is also very character focused which I imagine sets it apart from a lot of other zombie books. I didn’t find it frightening but it is rather gory. It didn’t have the literary merit and atmosphere of Station Eleven but it was hard to put down at times. 3.75/5

 

Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

“As is well-known, when the moon hours lengthen, human beings come adrift from the regularity of their mechanical clocks. They nod at noon, dream in waking hours, open their eyes wide to the pitch-black night. It is a time of magic. And as the borders between night and day stretch to their thinnest, so too do the borders between worlds. Dreams and stories merge with lived experience, the dead and the living brush against each other in their comings and goings, and the past and the present touch and overlap. Unexpected things can happen.”

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I’m smiled inwardly after reading the first page of Once Upon A River because I knew it was going to be just my kind of book. Darkly atmospheric, historical and gorgeously written. The book is set in Victorian England along the River Thames in Oxfordshire. One winter solstice, an injured man stumbles into the Swan Inn carrying a drowned girl. Before the night is out, the little girl comes back to life. The next day, several people arrive claiming she belongs to them, including a couple whose daughter was kidnapped two years ago.

The young girl is mute and the mystery surrounding who she really is deepens as we learn more about the various characters and their secrets. It unfolds at a gentle pace but I read the final quarter in one sitting as we start to get some answers. However, there is always a fine line between reality and myth and that’s what I love about it. It’s part historical fiction, part fairy-tale. Some aspects could be explained rationally or could be put down to the magical. That’s for the reader to decide. I look forward to reading the author’s debut, The Thirteenth Tale. 5/5

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

 

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“For a while I was looking for a person but I didn’t find them and after that I was looking for myself. Now that I’ve found me I’m back to exploring, which is what I was doing in the first place before I was doing anything else and I think I was supposed to be exploring all along.”

I usually 99p for my ebooks but when I heard that the author of The Night Circus was finally releasing a new book on 5th November, I pre-ordered it for £9.99. The Night Circus is not a perfect book by any means but it’s the most memorably atmospheric I’ve ever read and I’m all about the atmosphere. Fans like me have waited 8 years for a follow up. It seems to have been greeted with a raft of gushing reviews and 5 star ratings. I was ready to give it 5 stars myself until I got into it…

The Starless Sea is an ode to storytelling and indeed, their are stories within stories as well as a number of mentions of other books and authors including The Shadow of the Wind, The Little Stranger, Donna Tartt and Raymond Chandler. A short way in, our main character Zachary, who is a video games grad student in New England, not only finds a story from his own life within the pages of a book but also the fairy-tale like chapters we have just read.  Zachary finds his way through a portal to the home of these stories. It’s a magical underground library called The Harbor and his time there alternates with tales that read like fables.

On the face of it, this book ticks a lot of my boxes, it has a magical setting, good diversity, poetic writing and a clever structure. I kept wondering why I wasn’t really enjoying it After some thought, I feel it’s the lack of a cohesive plot, a nice but bland central character and a setting that didn’t captivate me. Zachary bumbles around library with no clear motivation following one vague ‘clue’ after another. There was a suggestion of a threat but this doesn’t amount to anything. Where I was desperate to visit The Night Circus I had zero desire to go to The Harbor/The Starless Sea. It didn’t possess an ounce of the previous setting’s magic. It says that its heyday is now over and boy, did I feel it. Zachary’s meanderings become more and more convoluted (I have a high threshold for weirdness but Alice in Wonderland-style bizarreness is not for me). I just didn’t care enough about him or the meaning of it all. It got to the point where I just wanted to be done with it. Very sad. 2.5/5

 

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

“God has had His chance to free me, and for reasons known to Him alone, He has pinned me to ill fortune, and although I have struggled, I am run through and through with disaster; I am knifed to the hilt with fate.”

burial rites

Burial Rites is historical fiction based on the events surrounding the last person to be executed in Iceland in 1830, Agnes Magnusdottir. Agnes was convicted along with two others of the murder of two men. While awaiting her sentence to be carried out, she was placed in the custody of a family on their farm. One of the amazing things about this novel is how the Aussie author manages to make you feel like you’re there in this poverty-stricken, almost claustrophobic atmosphere where everyone sleeps in the same room – family, farmhands and convicted murderer.

Agnes is entitled to religious counsel to help her prepare for her death and she requests a young assistant priest. He is naive and woefully out of his depth but over time he and Agnes form a bond.  After being initially horrified, even the family begin to empathise with her position and we gradually learn what happened to Agnes and the murders. At the end of the book, Hannah Kent tells us how the book came about. Apparently this was a notorious case in Iceland and people still know of it today. The novel is based on local histories and various records with meticulous research. Agnes was cast as an instigator, an inhuman witch, but here Kent restores her humanity and teaches us all a lesson in empathy. It’s slow paced and not an easy read, but a worthwhile one. 4/5

 

I’m not about to start reading crime novels about female victims but if you have any darker reads to recommend, please let me know in the comments.

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Voyage 2019 by Hiram Green

Notes: Citrus, Lotus Flower, Amber and Vanilla

 

Indie perfumer Hiram Green released the luminous rose Lustre earlier this year and before that, the intoxicating Hyde which quite rightly won an Art and Olfaction Award.

He has now launched a new limited edition version of Voyage, a fragrance that had a limited run of 250 bottles back in 2015. It was inspired by Indian street markets and the floating palace on Lake Pichola in Rajasthan.  I wasn’t fortunate enough to experience that first version but it included a suede note that has now been replaced in Voyage 2019 by lotus flower, the national flower of India.

Voyage 2019 50 ml (1)

Voyage 2019 opens with smooth and glowing orange-tinted citrus, undercut by what my nose reads as a velvety musk. As the lotus flower comes through, it gives the fragrance a lift with its refreshing flow of water drenched petals.

This version has been designed to be lighter and more tropical than the original and it does have a subtle languid quality. I don’t generally enjoy straight-up florals because they are often rather ‘much of a muchness’ and can be rather vapid. However, I do have a soft spot for sultry florals, especially when layered over an appealing crème brulee base, as here. There’s a nice contrast between the freshness of the lotus flower and the cosiness of the drydown: like the feel of a warm breeze over hot skin.

I don’t detect spiciness except for a kind of mellow warmth and a resinous facet that is reminiscent of sticks of unlit incense.

The base is a slightly smoky vanilla which is no doubt where the use of natural materials really comes into its own. It isn’t a thick synthetic cupcake aroma but a pillowy soft vanilla with a burnt caramel edge, stopping it from being overly sweet (not to mention obnoxious). Voyage 2019 starts off on a tropical island and ends in comforting home territory.

I get low-to-moderate projection from this Eau de Parfum but it does last extraordinarily well. I’d recommend Voyage 2019 to those who love cosy yet buoyant ambery vanillas and anyone who is a fan of soft-focus floral oriental fragrances. It’s an incredibly easy to wear perfume offering warmth and comfort with an exotic floral twist.

Only 280 bottles will be available exclusively online from the Hiram Green website where you can also buy a sample if you’d like to test it out for yourself.

 

 

lotus

 

How do you feel about floral oriental perfumes? Do you have a favourite?

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Mon Guerlain EdP Florale by Guerlain

By Portia

Hey A Bottled Rosers!

It’s really cooling down up in the northern hemisphere right now. Most of your jaunty citrus and mint fragrances are taking a back seat to the warming delights of amber, vanilla and woods. For those of us who love something sweet and pretty, and those looking for a beautiful gift for the holiday season, I’m enjoying my Mon Guerlain EdP Florale so much more than I ever did the original. I loved the first but there are days when it’s just too thick and syrupy.

Mon Guerlain EdP Florale 2018

Thierry Wasser

Parfumo gives these featured accords:
Top: True lavender, Bergamot
Heart: Jasmine sambac, Peony, Paradisone®, Ylang-ylang
Base: Iris, Sandalwood, Vanilla

On first spritz the vanilla already shines through. Playing perfectly alongside a sheer lavender and warm, very lightly banana-ish ylang and a dry cardboard iris. Far less intense and more spacious, like the original has been given room to breathe. Within this newfound airiness is a much less confrontational scent, now its prettier, more wearable and less smelling like a lavender nougat, more like fine fragrance. As if Mon Guerlain was a mod and Mon Guerlain EdP Florale the final, perfect product.

 

Legendary longevity, I can still smell the sweet Mon Guerlain essence at the end of a gig and even the next morning there are soft remnants of it floating around my body. Dry down is an attenuated heart, once the initial fireworks are over the changes are infinitesimal, just diminution. While definitely leaning towards the traditional feminine spectrum there is no reason a guy couldn’t get his Mon Guerlain EdP Florale on. It’s not a million miles away from Pour un Homme de Caron.

 

mon guerlain florale.jpg

 

Have you spent any time with the Mon Guerlain range? Do you have a favourite yet? That rose one this year was good too.

Portia xx

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Reading Diary – September/October 2019

I never really feel guilty about staying indoors reading but it’s as if I have more of an excuse when the summer is over and the weather takes a turn for the worse. Autumn officially feels like the start of reading season.

I’m also excited about creepy reads for Halloween which will include H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe.

Here’s what I’ve read over the last two months.

 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too.”

Little-Fires-Everywhere-by-Celeste-Ng

I’ve heard about this book time and time again and was in the rare mood for contemporary fiction. It’s about two families who live in the coveted Shaker Heights neighbourhood in Ohio. The privileged Richardsons have rented out an apartment to artist Mia and her teenage daughter, Pearl. Peart makes friends with three of the Richardson children and the families become increasingly intertwined. Relations become tense for a number of reasons and then the whole situation and pace of the novel is ramped up by divisions over the adoption of an abandoned Chinese baby by a wealthy white couple. It’s not a spoiler to say this culminates in the black sheep of the Richardson family burning their house down (not a spoiler). It’s a book about mothers and daughters, coming-of-age and how the choices we make in life as a result of society’s values can lead to resentment later in life. 4/5

 

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Toikein

“For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

I enjoyed reading The Hobbit last year but had a false start with The Fellowship of the Ring. I’ve finally managed to get through all three books. I didn’t leave gaps in between once I heard that The Lord of the Rings is actually one book split into three volumes.

I liked the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring because it’s set in The Shire and I’m fond of the Hobbits and their Hobbit holes. Like them, I love my creature comforts. The problem came when they set off and it was an awful lot of describing their route traipsing across the countryside. I mean pages and pages. I found much of the first half of the book tedious and would have put it at 2 stars. I also admit to skipping through the verses of song unless it seemed they were integral to the plot (usually not). The second half picked up considerably though as they met new characters and visited more interesting places. By the end I was hooked to the point where I looked up a map of Middle Earth.   3.5/5.

The Two Towers (5/5) and The Return of the King (5/5) were both excellent with the adventure really taking off. I was totally taken with the love between Frodo and Sam. I didn’t know before starting, that it is, in part, a treatise against industrialisation but it’s very evident in the final section the novel which didn’t quit sit right. In any case that only dropped it down from a 6/5 to a 5/5.

From the first book I could see its huge influence on modern day fantasy writers like J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin. Very happy I’ve finally read it.

lord of the rings.png

 

La Belle Sauvage, The Book of Dust Volume One by Philip Pullman

“He was liked when noticed, but not noticed much, and that did him no harm either.”

la belle sauvage

I was dying to return to the world of my favourite trilogy His Dark Materials when the first volume of the second trilogy in the series was released in 2017. Sadly, La Belle Sauvage was slow to get going and I ended up putting it down only a little way in. Lyra is such a compelling character that having her present only as baby leaves a huge hole. What pushed me to pick it up again and finish it was the imminent release of Volume 2. Once I got into it, I enjoyed La Belle Sauvage but it felt more like a spin-off or a prequel to the rest of the series, which it is considering its set ten years before the start of His Dark Materials. It didn’t have quite the same feel of the original trilogy or the overarching mystery. It’s essentially a chase story as endearing eleven year-old Malcolm seeks to protect Lyra from the pursuers after a biblical-style flood. 3.75/5

 

The Secret Commonwealth, The Book of Dust Volume Two by Philip Pullman

“Has reason ever created a poem, or a symphony, or a painting? If rationality can’t see things like the secret commonwealth, it’s because rationality’s vision is limited … We need to imagine as well as measure …”

Lyra is now twenty years-old and man, is it good to catch up with her again. I wouldn’t say you absolutely must read La Belle Sauvage first (although it does fill in the background of a few characters, adding to the reading experience) but I would definitely recommend reading at least the last two chapters of The Amber Spyglass. We are plunged into a new intrigue but this one revolves around, guess what? Rose oil! Heartbreakingly, Lyra and Pan are estranged – showing the consequences of becoming a stranger to yourself. Other interesting themes of the book concern the demeaning of imagination and the manipulation of facts to serve an agenda (which feels very relevant in this ‘post-truth’ age). What did feel rather heavy-handed and jarring was the inclusion of a Syrian refugee crisis.  Another small criticism is that it was a tad too long and sprawling in scope. All the same, what am I going to do if I have to wait 2 YEARS for the conclusion? 4.75/5

On a side note, what frustrate me is that all these books are often categorised as ‘Children/Young Adult’ because they have a young protagonist. This might put adults off reading them. As I suspected, in an interview Philip Pullman said that he wrote them all with adults in mind. In both these recent books, aside from the ‘F-bomb’ being dropped a number of times, there are scenes of murder and sexual assault. In the first there is a character who is a paedophile and in the second there is a graphic suicide. Definitely not for younger readers.

 

secret 2

 

My Sister The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

“There is music blasting from Ayoola’s room, she’s listening to Whitney Housten’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. It would be more appropriate to play Brymo or Lorde, something solemn or yearning, rather than the musical equivalent of a pack of M&Ms”

This book set in Lagos, Nigeria, has been everywhere lately and so when it came up for a pound, I bought it despite rarely, if ever, reading thrillers. That stunning cover art also helped tip the balance (the reflection in the lenses!). As you can tell from the title, this book is about two sisters. Korede, a nurse, is the older sister and narrator while Ayoola is as beautiful as she is self-obsessed not to mention psychopathic. After an abusive childhood Korede has taken on the role of her sister’s protector to heart. This extends to cleaning up and disposing of the bodies of the three boyfriends Ayoola has killed by the time the book opens. The situation escalates when the latest man to become enthralled by her is the kind-hearted doctor who is the object of Korede’s affection.

I was nervous going in because some have said this book has horror elements but there is very little gore and it’s not frightening. I’ve also seen it referred to as darkly comic but while I found it entertaining I only really found it funny at one point – but that’s a personal thing. It’s a fast-paced page-turner that you can devour in a day. I did. 4/5

My-Sister-the-Serial-Killer

 

Have you read one of these or any other book you’d like to share? Do you find you read more in the autumn/fall?

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