January Reading Diary

I’ve decided to read more sci-fi in 2020 – hopefully about one a month. I know little about the genre and want to learn more about the various sub-genres and what I like and dislike. You can only find this out by reading a range of different books. It makes sense for me considering some of the most memorable books I’ve read come under sci-fi, including Never Let Me Go, Station Eleven, Flowers for Algernon and The Chronicles of St. Mary’s. But do I prefer soft sci-fi, first contact with aliens, space operas (what even are space operas?) or dystopians? I hope to find out.

 

Where The Forest Meets The Stars by Glendy Vanderah

“Sometimes bad things happen to make good things happen.”

where the forest

At the start of January, I picked up and put down maybe 5 or 6 books. It turned out what I needed was something I rarely read: light contemporary fiction with a bit of romance. This story is about a little girl who brings together two neighbours who have become fearful of a relationship for different reasons. The child turns up at night in rural Illonois showing signs of abuse. Ursa claims her home is in the stars and will go back once she has seen five miracles. She’s a bright kid and worms her way into the affections of Phd student Joanna and gruff, Gabe. It’s a sweet, hopeful tale which stops short of cutesy. Joanna is a field biologist and I especially liked the sections out in nature. I was In the mood for something undemanding and heart-warming and this fit the bill perfectly. 4/5

 

Recovery by Russell Brand

“The instinct that drives compulsion is universal. It is an attempt to solve the problem of disconnection, alienation, tepid despair… the problem is ultimately ‘being human’ in an environment that is curiously ill-equipped to deal with the challenges that entails.”

This book explains the 12-step recovery programme used in AA, NA etc. You’ll get the most out of it you have an addiction or any kind of compulsive behaviour from overeating to excessive retail therapy.  I have more generalised issues but I still found the book interesting and benefited from doing steps 4 and 5 which involve facing and releasing your past resentments. 4/5

 

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Eight different scents and eau-de-cologne were laid on in little taps over the washbasin. She turned on the third from the left and dabbed herself with chypre and, carrying her shoes and stockings in her hand, went out to see if one of the vibro-vacuum machines were free.

brave new world

 

I’ve heard that if you really like either 1984, Brave New World or The Handmaid’s Tale you are likely to struggle with the other two. This certainly rings true for me. I loved 1984 but found the writing in the other two dry with a plodding pace. In Brave New World, babies are born in hatcheries so no one has a family. Children are conditioned to consume and not to form emotional attachments.

The ideas are extremely interesting but I had trouble getting invested in the characters. Bernard sees the system’s flaws and is aware of the effects of the conditioning but is full of his own self-importance. ‘John the Savage’ acts as a contrast but this white man brought up on a Native American reservation never feels quite right. The final quarter where we learn more about rationalisation behind this brave new world is riveting but it’s all told by one of the World Controllers rather than shown.  I know it’s a monumental work of sci-fi literature but I base my ratings purely on my level of enjoyment so it’s a 3.5/5

 

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

“But I care, deeply. I find humans dull except in grief. There are very few in health, disaster, famine, atrocity, splendour or normality that interest me (interest ME!) but the motherless children do. Motherless children are pure crow. For a sentimental bird it is ripe, rich and delicious to raid such a nest.”

grief is the

I loved Lanny so much I thought I’d give this author’s debut book a try. It’s a novella dealing with grief as the title suggests.  We hear the different points of view of a bereaved family who have lost their wife and mother: ‘Dad’ and ‘The Boys’.

Dad is a Ted Hughes scholar and the third character we hear from is Crow (the title of a Ted Hughes book). He tells them he is there until they no longer need him and his parts are more in a form of prose poetry. Crow is a trickster and the most raw, brutal caregiver they could have. But then, what is more raw and brutal than grief?

They all react in both expected and unexpected ways, trying to deal with that which they have lost. The portrayal of a grieving family is touching and visceral. However, Crow is a pretty scary persona and it didn’t capture my heart in the way Lanny did.  3.75/5

 

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

dark matter

“I’ve always known, on a purely intellectual level, that our separateness and isolation are an illusion. We’re all made of the same thing—the blown-out pieces of matter formed in the fires of dead stars.”

Dark Matter has glowing reviews almost across the board. I’d classify it as a sci-fi thriller. Jason, a college lecturer with a wife and child, is abducted and drugged. When he wakes up, nearly everything has changed. People tell him he is a genius physicist but he’s also a single man without a family. It’s pretty obvious to the reader what has happens but it takes a while for him to catch up with us. I was inpatient for him to start solving the mystery and take action. When he does, the plot speeds up and it becomes gripping. I had questions about the logic of the science which meant I found it a bit frustrating. It’s a mind-binding read about identity and the turns we take and don’t take in life. 3.5/5

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

 

spinning silver

“Of course I was afraid. But I had learned to fear other things more: being despised, whittled down one small piece of myself at a time, smirked at and taken advantage of. I put my chin up and said, as cold as I could be in answer, “And what will you give me in return?”

Last year I read Naomi Novik’s novel Uprooted which had rave reviews but I rated 2/5. I loved the writing and setting but hated the way the male protagonist treated the female protagonist and their twisted relationship ruined it for me. I had the chance of reading Spinning Silver for 99p so thought I’d give Novik another try. Lucky I did, because this was just my cup of fairy-tale tea. There’s nothing I like more in January than an atmospheric, wintry read and this book is set in an imaginary realm called Lithvas (very like Russia) where the winters are getting longer and malevolent mythical creatures, the Staryk, are encroaching on the villagers more and more. One of the things I liked about the book the most is that the central family in the story are Jewish and it explores themes of anti-Semitism – not something I’ve seen in fantasy before. It revolves around three young women and the narrator switches many times without warning but it’s not difficult to work out who’s talking. I thought the way one of the women’s storylines was tied up was unnecessary but still had a great time with it. 4.75/5

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“What do you think, would not one tiny crime be wiped out by thousands of good deeds?”

Vanessa mentioned in a post on Bonkers About Perfume that I had read 50 books last year and a commenter said that it’s more about quality than quantity, citing two Dostoyevskys being worth more than 50 Mister Men books. My reading level is a little above Mister Men but I took his point and decided to give Dostoyevsky’s most famous tome a try. I think my first error was choosing a book with a theme I have little to no interest in. I don’t care for crime fiction or the motivations of criminals and this book is a philosophical examination of crime and its consequences on the psyche of the criminal. Raskolnikov is an impoverished ex-law student who kills and robs an elderly woman he pawned some valuables to. He kills more out of a feeling of superiority and an intellectual test of character than financial need. Though he suffers a spiritual crisis as a result, he never feels remorse for the woman he murdered. He’s deeply unlikeable as are most of the male characters in the book. The ‘romance’ came from nowhere and the police investigator was ludicrous. But what makes it arduous are the interminable internal and external dialogues that are either like lectures or delirious ramblings.  I will say however, that it’s easy to read, the female characters are a saving grace and learning about Petersburg in the 1860s was interesting. I was much more engaged by the final quarter but this Russian classic just wasn’t for me. I tried, Roger, really I did.  Next time, I’ll take a run at Tolstoy instead. 2.5/5

crime and punish

 

Do you feel that you should make an effort to read books that are challenging or is okay just to read what appeals to you?

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Frost by St. Clair Scents

Top Notes: Bergamot, Mandarin, Coriander, Petitgrain sur fleur, Meyer Lemon
Middle Notes: Honeysuckle, Rose Geranium, Elderflower, Petitgrain
Base Notes: Cistus, Labdanum, Vanilla, Vetiver, Cedar, Smoke, Clove

I went up to Edinburgh at the end of last year and had the pleasure of finally meeting up with crikey, whom I’ve known through the blogosphere for years now. In 2019 she set up the fabulous Instagram account @scentosaurs. Here, her model dinosaurs pose with perfume but paired with those joyous photos are heartfelt, literary snapshots sparked by the particular fragrance.

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From scentosaurs IG account

 

crikey loves indie perfumes and is much more adventurous than me. After sniffing a number of intriguing creations she kindly gave me a smaple of Frost released by American indie brand, St. Clair Scents in 2018. Perfumer Diane St. Clair produces artisanal, gourmet dairy products from her farm in Vermont and takes the same approach to perfumery, making small batches by hand influenced by the natural environment.

frost bottle

I had wrongly assumed that Frost was all about cold, icy weather. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s actually named after the poet Robert Frost whose summer writing cabin is located near the perfumer’s HQ. I was only going to include an extract from the particular poem that inspired Frost but I had to share it in its entirety:

‘To Earthward’

Love at the lips was touch
As sweet as I could bear;
And once that seemed too much;
I lived on air

That crossed me from sweet things,
The flow of—was it musk
From hidden grapevine springs
Downhill at dusk?

I had the swirl and ache
From sprays of honeysuckle
That when they’re gathered shake
Dew on the knuckle.

I craved strong sweets, but those
Seemed strong when I was young;
The petal of the rose
It was that stung.

Now no joy but lacks salt,
That is not dashed with pain
And weariness and fault;
I crave the stain

Of tears, the aftermark
Of almost too much love,
The sweet of bitter bark
And burning clove.

When stiff and sore and scarred
I take away my hand
From leaning on it hard
In grass and sand,

The hurt is not enough:
I long for weight and strength
To feel the earth as rough
To all my length.

The beginning of Frost is bright and zesty with the optimistic air of burgeoning love. Everything feels fresh, exhilarating and filled with a sense of boundless hope. Just below that are the sweet, tender florals of honeysuckle, elderflower and dewy roses. This is the stage where love has blossomed and all is well.

Beneath all that however, are circling wisps of smoke and spikes of spice; the foreshadowing of a heart that will eventually be charred and seasoned by the passing of a grand passion. This effect is softened greatly by a cloud of vanilla so the overall feeling is one of yearning rather than regret. The lovelorn is only focusing on the good times and longs to experience them all over again.

The fragrance ties in with the progression of the poem: we start out floating on air, enjoying the ‘sweet things’ and ‘sprays of honeysuckle’ as we travel closer and closer to the ‘bitter bark’ and ‘burning clove’, inevitably coming back down to earth. Still, the overall mood of the perfume is one of light, warmth and dreaminess.

The combination of the sparkling citrus top, delicate floral heart and vanillic resinous base works well. It’s far from a dupe, but imagine a featherlight, naturals-heavy version of Shalimar EDT and you’ll be close to the general vibe of Frost.

Being able to discern all the various facets from the start is like entering into a romantic liaison having already glimpsed how it will end, but being helpless – and unwilling – to do otherwise.

 

frost final

 

Have you tried anything by St. Clair Scents?

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Strange Tales from the Cookie Kitchen.

“I traced my steps back through the night, Back through the day all the way to the light, Boats full of cargo ready to unload, Arms of the cranes all ready to hold —– And struck a match and watched it burn against the night —–”  The Weather Prophets.  I Almost Prayed.  

Before raves became commercially viable, and controlled, and the psychedelic entertainment laid on, they were underground, uncontrolled, and word-of-mouth.

One such rave was organized by a bunch of revelers, deep in the woods some eighteen kilometers outside of Amsterdam, 1987.   Our whole scene was going, and we knew most of them would be tripping.  Obviously.  Chris and I told everyone that we would not be going.   We hatched ourselves a cunning plan.  We were gonna dress up and disguise ourselves and mingle in with the dancing crowd.  And at an the right moment whip off our masks.

Chris had a Frankenstein mask, a rubber one which you pulled onto your head.  And I had a huge white afro-wig with built in earrings.  And sunglasses.

Around eight on the night of the party we put everything int a small rucksack, got onto our bikes and headed out.  No acid for us of course, we needed to keep our heads clear. This had taken some serious planning.  So we took an ecstasy instead.  It did take a couple of hours to find the spot, but we eventually did, and if memory serves me correctly, and I have correlated, we did have to carry our bikes through a field full of sheep (not to be confused with the Welsh sheep of a previous Strange Tale) which bordered the woodland.  We hid our bikes in amongst the trees, masked ourselves up, took another ecstasy, and slipped into the in full-swing rave.

iI you are high on LSD or mushrooms, everything is distorted, and there are a wide variety of effects.  Mostly visual, but with other senses altered as well.  It is lengthy process, somewhere between eight and twelve hours.  And because you know that things continually move round and change shape you kind of just accept things for what they appear to be in your head, albeit that you know it is not real.   (Unless you have no idea what you are doing and think it IS all real and have no carer with you, then you might have a bit of a wobbler, and have no business taking it.)  So seeing us in our masks would not have phased anyone, we would just have been incorporated into their trip.  Yes, even Frankenstein.  Because even if you wonder for a second who the Frankenstein person was, that thought is gone before you have finished thinking it.

We joined the colourful bunch of hippies and punks turned ravers, and started to dance around, and with, several of our good friends.  Tripping makes your pupils huge, and you could see how high everyone was.  Except us, because we had only taken ecstasy and obviously had everything under total control.   So we took another one.  Music blasting out.

eyes

Ecstasy is different to acid, and you are hyper-aware of what you are doing.  With just a look at one another we took our masks off in unison.  A moment of stunned silence enveloped us all,  the music seemingly disappearing.  Everything in slow motion —- “Chris/Val , is that you?  Is that you?  Really?  Is that you, is that you, is that you?.”   There were no irises, only pupils turned silver from the reflected light, as their eyes came out on stalks.   The dancing Frankenstein and woman with the white hair and sunglasses faded into the trip remnants and now we were just there, as though we always had been. Which was true anyway.   It became a legend.

As the dawn appeared, and the chill-out began, we took our bikes, and put on our masks again so that no one would see our faces as we rode back into Amsterdam.   We were totally trashed and the drug had worn off and the only way back was to take one more. We could see now, and avoided the sheep field.  Trusting the speedy effect would be enough for us to pedal the eighteen kilometers.  Frankenstein and a woman in a white wig pedaling like mad through the Dutch countryside.

We stopped at the corner shop at the end of our road to grab some bread and milk.  It was early morning.  Chris walked into the shop, bought and paid for everything in his Frankenstein mask, and no one batted an eyelid.  That is Amsterdam.

val E

Val, circa 1987

We learned something interesting that morning once we got home and sat down, from having taken rather a lot of MDMA.   It does cause hallucinations too, but unlike acid they don’t move.  There was a netting that completely covered our hands and arms, and it was made up of thousands of tiny hexagons, each firing tiny darts of light.  The hexagonal effect must be something to do with the chemical formula.   Not only do the hallucinations not move, you can pick them up and hand them to another person, who sees exactly the same thing as you.   “Hey, wanna hold this hallucination?”  Wild.  Not recommended for anyone under the age of 99.

This Strange Tale might be a total figment of my imagination.

CQ of APJ.                                                     

 

 

 

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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.

tret

 

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.’-”

familars

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.”

lanny.jpg

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.”

winter ali

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

merry xmas.jpg

 

 

 

 

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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.”

once

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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