Author Archives: Tara

Boujee Bougies – Mini Reviews

Nick and Pia of Olfiction launched their luxury scented candle brand Boujee Bougies this time last year. Lockdown turned out to be the perfect time as sales of scented candles went through the roof. I’m not surprised because after only buying a single candle in my life, I purchased four – one being a Boujee Bougie.

They were kind enough to send me all five mini candles recently so I got a chance to sample the whole line.

Queen Jam

Tart berries, purple roses, flashes of green

Named after a Finnish conserve, Queen Jam was exactly what I was expecting: a rich rose jam scent. I normally swerve gourmand fragrances but I found this hugely comforting and can quite imagine many finding it addictive. Juicy berries and rose petals are swirling in syrupy jam. The overall effect is that of a jammy, fruity rose edged with leaves and this greenery contrasts beautifully with the sweetness. Queen Jam is full of character and a great sense of fun. It also has a tremendous amount of throw, I could smell it at a distance even when unlit.

I burn it when I feel life is a little too austere and I’m craving a bit of guilt-free indulgence.

Cuir Culture

Old books, worn jackets, pup masks

Genius name alert! I love leather but wondered if this would be a little too much on the skanky side for my prim tastes. This was purely going on the description which talked of it being raw and raunchy. Up close it does smell like a tough, spicy leather. However when lit, I actually find it to be rather low-key with a subtly sensual quality. It’s quietly reassuring and perfect for a chilly winter’s evening.

Imagine being curled up in a worn leather chair in a dusty old library with a good – somewhat racy – book. That’s Cuir Culture.

Succulent

Houseplants, jungles, joy

The name says it all – the scent of cacti bursting with moisture. This is a bright green scent with a distinctive tomato leaf note. I don’t know how Pia managed to make this fragrance so dripping with sap. Underneath the the tangle of greens there is a fuzzy white musk which amps up its radiance. This is not a deep, dark green aroma (my usual preference) but one of plant stems full of vitality, straining towards the light.

Sales of houseplants also went up through the pandemic (again guilty – I’m so predictable) because they impart such a feeling of wellbeing. Succulent brings a riot of jungle palms and desert cacti into your own humble abode.

Gilt

Whispered confessions, incense smoke, gold leaf

Another inspired name. This incense is warm and woody rather than cool and mineralic. The enticing golden glow that veils the incense comes from amber and labdanum. The really clever thing about this scent though, is the surprising inclusion of aldehydes. I kept wondering what I was picking up on and that’s it. These cool, soapy notes give Gilt a nice amount of uplift and the feeling of calm you get from stepping inside the hallowed stone walls of a church. Brilliant.

This one always hits the mark for me.

Hellflower

Sulphur, burning flowers, brimstone

I was attracted to the idea of a smoky magnolia more than any of the other candles but was unsure about the presence of a sulphurous grapefruit note. Again, I needn’t have clutched my pearls. Hellflower is a sparkling, green grapefruit laced with lush white florals. There is a suggestion of brimstone smoldering in the background but if anything, it just serves to highlight the brightness of the citrus floral bouquet.

Hellflower is a luminous, stimulating scented candle that I like to burn on my desk while working.

I was impressed if not surprised by the quality and ingenuity of each and every candle, all having an inspired, playful twist on a familiar theme.

If you fancy treating yourself or someone else to a Boujee Bougie, there is currently 20% off everything on the website until November 28th with code Boujee20. Which one would you go for?

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Reading Diary

Apologies for absence. It was a rough summer because of family health issues and I didn’t feel like writing or reading much. However autumn is my favourite time of year for curling up with (mostly moody) historical fiction and this reignited my love of getting lost in a good book.

The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakroborty

I felt like escaping into some epic fantasy during the summer. After reading the wonderful The Golem and The Jinni I wanted to know more about djinn mythology and this very popular trilogy seemed just the ticket. Nahri is a street con-artist in 18th Century Cairo with a mysterious healing ability. One day she accidently summons a djinn and is transported to the mystical city of Daevabad. Here she finds out her true identity and is quickly caught up in local politics. She meets Ali, the prince who is trying to make life better for the downtrodden Shafit, who are part-human, part-djinn.

It was good to read a non-white, non-male fantasy author but sadly I didn’t think the djinn mythology was explained terribly well and it was waaaaay too long, with the final book unnecessarily nudging 800 pages. I only got through all three books because I wanted something un-taxing and I’d already paid for the set. It was fine but no more than that. 3/5

The Mercies by Kiran Millwoord Hargrave

“But now she knows she was foolish to believe that evil existed only out there. It was here, among them, walking on two legs, passing judgement with a human tongue.”

This bleak historical fiction is set on an isolated island on the edge of the Arctic Circle and is grounded in real life events. On Christmas Eve, 1617, practically the entire male population of Vardo was killed in a freak storm while fishing. In this fictionalised account, we focus on Maren, whose brother and father as well as her betrothed are all lost at sea. Beset by grief, the women of the village try to carry on with life on this barren island where not even a single tree grows. Reports that the women have started to become threateningly independent and are fishing for themselves causes a noted Scottish witch hunter, Absalom Cornet, to be sent to the island to investigate. He takes a young wife, Ursa, from Norway who has no idea what kind of man he truly is. Ursa is ill-equipped to run a home, let alone one in such a harsh environment, so she employs Maren to help her. As Absalom’s investigations into the local women’s adherence to the Church esclates, the pair become dangerously close.

It’s hard to convey just how much I hated Absalom which shows just how well crafted this book was. After feeling lacklustre about reading, I sped through this in a week. It is both captivating and heart-wrenching. If you’ve read Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, this has a very similar feel. 4.5/5

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

“Words define us, they explain us, and, on occasion, they serve to control or isolate us.”

While I normally change genres with each book, I dove straight into another historical fiction, albeit one with a more gentle tone. Like The Mercies, this story is too based on fact.

Esme spends most of her childhood underneath the sorting table where her father works at The Scriptorium, which is essentially a garden shed in Oxford. This was a real place where the first Oxford English Dictionary was pieced together in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

Esme is as intrigued by words as her widowed lexicographer father and one day finds a slip with the word ‘bondmaid’ written on under the table and decides to keep it for herself. As she gets older she realises that there are many words used by women, particularly lower class women, that will never make it into the Dictionary.

This is a perfect book for anyone who loves words for their own sake, like Esme. It’s beautifully written and nicely evokes the Oxford of the time with its all too apparent class divisions. Esme and her Da are enormously likeable characters as is her godmother Ditte who is treading her own academic path through life. A wonderful feminist take on the origins of the OED. 4.75/5

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

“I was still all in a state of innocence, but that innocence once lost, is lost forever.”

This gothic tale from 1983 has been a stage play in the West End for many years (my Dad fell asleep in it).

The novella was rather spoilt for me by a review on Goodreads, not because the writer divulged any twists but because they said it was a horror novel that caused them to sleep with the light on. I read it constantly expecting to be terrified – wimp that I am – but this never happened. The Woman in Black is NOT a horror but a classic ghost story.

Young solicitor Arthur Kipps is sent to sort through the estate of a deceased recluse, Alice Drablow. During the funeral he sees a woman in black with ‘a wasted face’ and again at the Drablow house where he has several disturbing experiences. Whenever he mentions this woman or the Drablow house to the local villagers, they clam up.

This was an extremely readable and atmospheric creepy story and I think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d approached it as such. I did guess the mystery before the reveal as well as the ending, but it was good read for Halloween weekend. 3.75/5

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

“And, though there should be a world of difference between the smile of a man and the bared fangs of a wolf, with Joss Merlyn they were one and the same.

I felt a little nervous about this one because it sounded so dark. Set in the early 19th century, a young woman, Mary Yellan, goes to live with her Aunt Patience at Jamaica Inn after her mother dies. Her Aunt’s husband turns out to be a vile, abusive bully and no one but his cronies visit the Inn. Mary is isolated with her Aunt who is living in such fear of her husband’s moods, she is no company at all. Mary soon suspects her Uncle is involved with smuggling and probably dealings far more nefarious than that.

I really liked Mary as our heroine. She is strong and speaks her mind, even when confronted with her Uncle telling her he will break every bone in her body if she questions him. Oh man, Joss Merlyn is a truly awful and brilliantly written character.

Du Maurier creates a fantastic brooding air with an ideal setting on the treacherous moors during the autumn/winter. She really ramps up the suspense when Mary is put at risk and events unravel. However, I did not like the romance in the slightest and I wished it hadn’t ended the way it did. Enthralling but not as stunning as Rebecca. 4.25/5

How have you been? Which Daphne du Maurier novel should I read next?

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Paris-Deauville by Chanel

Notes: Basil, Sicilian Orange, Lime, Bergamot, Petitgrain, Lemon, Green Notes, Hedione, Jasmine, Rose and Patchouli

Paris-Deauville was the only one of Les Eaux de Chanel released in 2018 (composed by Olivier Polge), that caught my fancy. I have a fondness for green fragrances and this seemed like a good one to wear in warmer weather as opposed to the chypres I associate with spring.

The bottle with its rounded edges is just gorgeous and the sprayer is exceptionally good at misting the skin.

Bottle

Tart, zesty, citrus fizzes and sparkles in the opening. It’s uplifting but a brief introduction. This is rapidly followed by a herbaceous wash of green that is chiefly made up of basil interspersed with sprigs of fresh mint.

I wish leafy herbs were used more in modern perfumery so I’m pleased to experience them here. They make a welcome change from the usual suspects and have a depth of aroma I really appreciate.

The chic French resort of Deauville is on the coast of Normandy and there is a waft of salt air here that I can imagine may not be to everyone’s taste. It mingles with the herbs to recreate the scent of foreshore foliage crusted with sea salt. Some people’s skin seems to play up the florals but it’s green all the way on me without any noticeable jasmine or rose except for a subtle sweetness.

It’s a classy cologne-style fragrance with complexity and recognisable Chanel D.N.A. I really appreciate its aromatic, citrusy radiance and find it to be a real mood-lifter.

It’s been a pleasure to feel it cutting through the heat of summer as well as on those dull, muggy days we’ve had too much of this August. I am determined not to be precious with it and instead spray it lavishly – it’s what it needs.

Paris-Deauville doesn’t last terribly long in its true form before scattering, to be replaced by a wispy, celadon-tinted musk. However this is when I have to remind myself it is an EdT and needs to be enjoyed for what it is.

Deauville resort

Do you have any Chanel Les Eaux in your collection? I’m looking forward to trying the latest, Paris-Edimbourg.

Photo credit: Loik_marras from unsplash

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June/July Reading Diary

I read about half the amount I normally do over the last couple of months with one thing and another my mind just felt too restless. Far easier to zone out in front of YouTube. However, I did read three non-fiction books which surprised no one more than me.

Breath by James Nestor

“The fix is easy: breathe less. But that’s harder than it sounds. We’ve become conditioned to breathe too much, just as we’ve been conditioned to eat too much. With some effort and training, however, breathing less can become an unconscious habit.”

I had an Audible credit to use up and had heard this book mentioned so much, I took a chance. Journalist Nestor spends ten years investigating the power of the breath after having a transformative experience at a community breathwork class recommended by his doctor. He discovers how the breath affects a multitude of physical and mental issues from asthma and anxiety to dental deformities and erectile dysfunction. He undergoes an arduous experiment to demonstrate the benefits of nasal breathing and meets people from around the world who work with the breath. He discovers that the optimal length of inward and outward breaths is a substantial 5.5 seconds each and that most of us are over-breathing. The great thing about the audiobook version is the breathing methods section at the end. It’s much easier to have someone talk you through the techniques as you do them rather than read them. I will be particularly focusing on the yogic alternate nostril breathing to reduce anxiety. 4/5

Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers 3) by Becky Chambers

In the first two books, the Exodan Fleet (32 spaceships that left a collapsing Earth for good) is mentioned regularly but we never got any real details. Therefore I was happy to find book 3 is set aboard the Fleet and we get the background to how and why it functions as it does. We learn how the ‘homesteader’ ships were designed to be places where generations of Humans would live and die in the hope of making alien contact. This happened eventually and now although many humans have left the Fleet to live ‘planetside’, many still remain.

It’s easy to think of Sci-fi books as being rather cold and inhuman but the amount of warmth and humanity Becky Chambers has infused into this series is quite extraordinary. In book 3 we follow a range of characters aboard the Fleet: Isabel, an elderly Archivist, Kip, a boy desperate for an exciting life away from the Fleet, Sawyer, a ‘grounder’ who wonders if the Fleet will provide the home he’s been missing, Eyas, a ‘caretaker’ who recycles bodies into compost and Tessa, sister of Ashby from the first book.

Like the first two books, there isn’t not much of an over-arching plot-line. We get to know these characters and their, hopes and dreams. We follow as most try and decide whether their futures lie with the Fleet. I wish I could convey how in Chambers’ hands, that is more than enough. She grew up in a scientific household so the background is there but these stories are all about people. I was certain I wouldn’t tear up as with the previous books but guess what? I was wrong. 4.5/5

The Barbizon by Paulina Bren

The Barbizon, through much of the twentieth century, had been a place where women felt safe, where they had a room of their own to plot and plan the rest of their lives. The hotel set them free. It freed up their ambition, tapping into their desires deemed off limits elsewhere, but imaginable, realizable, doable, in the City of Dreams.

I don’t often read non-fiction unless it’s personal development, but my friend bought me this e-book which is a slice of social history. It follows the inhabitants of the The Barbizon Residential Hotel for Women from its construction in the 1920s through to its closure in 2001. It was seen as a safe place to stay for middle/upper class young women moving to New York to pursue careers in the Arts. First came the New Women striking out in the workplace after being allowed to do as result of the First World War. We often think that women’s rights follow a linear progression but there was a definite step backwards in the 1950s as woman’s main goal seems to be marriage and children and at a young age at that.

The winners of the Guest Editors competition run by Madomoiselle magazine stayed at The Barbizon and these bright young things included Sylvia Plath, Joan Didion and Ali McGraw. Plath based her book The Bell Jar on her time at The Barbizon which she renamed The Amazon. Many models stayed there as well as actresses – Grace Kelly lived there for three years. While it did allow women to live independently in New York it was not without its restrictions. Men were not allowed past the lobby and there was not an African American resident until Barbara Chase in 1956. Of just as much interest to me were the ‘Lone Women’ who were the ones without dates on Saturday nights and who never made it in their chosen career. Some of these morphed into ‘The Women’ , elderly ladies who had lived there since the 30s and 40s and who could not be evicted thanks for rent control laws. They were still tucked away behind secret doorways in the corridors as it was turned into luxury condos and the likes of Ricky Gervais and P Diddy moved in during the 2000s. 4/5

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

“There’s more at stake here than just slavery, my brother. It’s a question of who will own the land, the people, the power. You cannot stick a knife in a goat and then say, Now I will remove my knife slowly, so let things be easy and clean, let there be no mess. There will always be blood.”

This book has a huge scope but manages to cover around three hundred years of history in around 300 pages. It starts with two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, in Ghana, Africa in the 1700s. Effia is married off to a British slave trader while Esi is sold by him to an American plantation owner. We then follow their descendants down the generations in Africa and America up to the early 21st century. It personalises the history of the slave trade and shows how the effects reverberate through the centuries. It shows the sickening treatment of slaves but lets the facts speak for themselves. With so much time to cover, it moves on at a swift rate with a time jump accompanying the introduction of each new descendent. However I really engaged with each of the characters and was entirely caught up in their lives. It didn’t read like a history lesson although I learnt a lot. Above all, it’s a well written, absorbing story. 4.25/5

Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday

“We are restless because deep in our hearts we know now that our happiness is found elsewhere, and our work, no matter how valuable it is to us or to others, cannot take its place. But we hurry on anyway, and attend to our business because we need to matter, and we don’t always realize we already do.”

This non-fiction book is a series of short essays focusing on the benefits of stillness. I recently learnt Transcendental Meditation and thought it would help cement the practice but it’s broader than that, covering the varied ways we can find a sense of stillness. That might be through exercise, getting enough sleep or putting boundaries around work. Holiday uses a wide range of stories about various people throughout history, some as examples of what to do and some of what not to do. He has a strong interest in Stoic philosophy so Seneca and his ilk are here but so are Bill Gates, Leonardo di Vinci, Tiger Woods and artist Marina Abramovic who for her performance piece ‘The Artist is Present’, sat in a chair and locked eyes with visitors to MoMA for nearly three months. The benefits of stillness range from making better decisions to simply not missing out on your own life. 4/5

How has your reading been over the summer months? Any book you’d like to share?

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Vetiver by Hiram Green

Notes: Citrus, Ginger, Vetiver, Cedarwood and Ambrette Seed

I tend to approach vetiver fragrances with some trepidation. While I admire a few, a little vetiver goes a long way for me. I have always appreciated the depth and earthiness it can bring to a perfume but when that swampy facet is amplified, it’s a hard no from me. However, I do have confidence in Hiram Green as a perfumer. He approaches natural materials in a unique way, always bringing something new to the fore – and so it proved with his latest release, Vetiver.

I spray Vetiver for the first time and smile instantly. Instead of being swampy, it is the exact opposite: a buoyant blend that makes me feel alert and uplifted. The ginger is pitched just right, adding an aromatic, zesty brightness as opposed to a curried spiciness. The overall effect is joyously luminous.

Vetiver is known for its smokiness and here it is toned down and acts more as a kind of musty grey backwash with its presence being a constant throughout. It is used in such a way that it acts to complement and highlight the other notes in the composition. The citrus seems fresher, the ginger extra zingy and the base notes more sophisticated.

When I read that Vetiver was inspired by the heartthrobs of Hollywood’s Golden Age I thought it might lean heavily masculine with a kind of rugged, square-jawed feel. However, I see it as less Clark Gable/Burt Lancaster and more Gene Kelly/Marlene Dietrich. It possesses confidence and charm but also nuance and ambiguity.

When it comes to the base, the vetiver is prominent along with softly sweet resins and bone-dry woods. The ambrette lends a subtle vegetal, musky quality. Up close, it has a very pleasant balsamic stickiness. Vetiver perfumes tend to go towards clean or murky and while Vetiver leans more towards the former, it strikes a good balance being more sparkling than clean and having a base with darker, warmer depths that retains its smoothness.

I experienced very good longevity and moderate throw.

I admire Hiram Green’s deft touch with the eponymous material. He has managed to illuminate a perfume ingredient that in some hands, can make my stomach churn.

Vetiver has shedloads of light and shade. It has the feel of morning sunlight filtering through the curtains into a gloomy room, waking you up to the possibilities for the day ahead.

How do you feel about vetiver fragrances? Do you think you might get on with this version by Hiram Green?

NB. Perfume sample received from Hiram Green.

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Spell 125 by Papillon Perfumes

Notes: Siberian Pine, Black Hemlock, Ylang-Ylang, Green Sacra and White Ambergris.

In line with its superstitious inspiration, this seventh anniversary Papillon perfume will be launched on the 7th day of the 7th month of this year. So just one week to wait.

Liz Moores has created a carefully curated collection of fragrances. Each earns its place by being her own take on a classic theme from a green chypre to a furry vanilla.

Spell 125 particularly intrigued me because it circles back to Liz’s first work, Anubis, albeit spinning off in a different direction.

Truth be told, while I admired Anubis, its sticky, tarry leather was not really my style. Therefore I was intensely interested to see how Spell 125 would work for me.

In the Book of the Dead, Spell 125 details ‘the weighing of the human heart’ ceremony overseen by the god Anubis. The perfume incarnation of Spell 125 represents this by creating tension between its contrasting facets; mirroring the weighing of the heart’s sins against its purity. Ethereal Green Sacra frankincense and Siberian pine are pulled downwards by the earthbound black hemlock and white ambergris.

The opening is a whoosh of pine needles and citrus peel. I love pine but the accents of lime and mandarin should assuage anyone who is less of a fan. In any case, it recedes quickly after that first jolt to the system. What’s revealed is a stark olfactory vista of smoldering ash with an undercurrent of something distinctly feral – the pine trees still visible, but at a distance.

The billowy smoke is like that released by a booklet of incense papers slowly being devoured by a stealthy flame, one page at a time, releasing its vapor into the air.  It has a mineral quality that is much quieter and more reverent than many incense fragrances but because of its weighty base, it also has more depth.

I find Spell 125’s palette of grey ash, green pine and white ambergris to be  striking in its sparseness. The coniferous, smoky and musky tones meld together effortlessly bringing together vegetable, mineral and animal.

The base however, is all about the animal with the musky aroma of ambergris taking over now the spirit has broken free. This is a perfume without extraneous ornamentation so there is no sweet amber or soft woods to make it more obliging.

It’s hard to convey just how atmospheric this perfume is. There is a hushed tone to it that adds to the transporting, ceremonial mood. Where Anubis is thick and oily, Spell 125 is airy and resinous.

It veers away from the traditional perfumery territory inhabited by previous Papillon releases and leads the wearer to a place seemingly outside of time and space, as if forged in a primordial soup of earth, water, wind and fire, it is arrestingly elemental.

It also feels deeply personal, the kind of fragrance you wear for yourself, entering its sacred space. It adheres to the skin and doesn’t budge, remaining close.

Spell 125 is an experience more than any of your typical spritz-and-go perfumes. One that can only be fully appreciated by trying it for yourself.

Are you tempted to order a sample when Spell 125 becomes available?

N.B. Sample gifted to me by Liz Moores with no expectation of review.

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April/May Reading Diary

What is the novel that made the biggest impact on you? I was reminded of mine by one of the books I read this month.

I read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro well over a decade ago but it has stayed with me and I have thought about it on and off ever since. It revolves around three characters that grow up in an unusual boarding school together and explores what it means to be human. It’s best not to know more about than that going in. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it but know that you may never fully recover from it. Well, I didn’t.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

“We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”

I’ve been trying to read more sci-fi since the pandemic derailed that resolution last year. I just wasn’t in the mood for it. Now I’ve been enjoying it a lot. Portia inspired me to pick up this particular classic of the genre. It’s amazing to me that it was written in 1953 although I always smile when these old sci-fi books are set well into the future but still use names of the time they were written, for example, here the main character’s wife is called Mildred.

Anyway, this has such a brilliant central concept. In this America of the future, fireman are used to start fires rather than put them out and their job is specifically to burn books. No one is allowed to own them and you may get your entire house burnt down if you do. People are kept compliant by mind numbing leisure activities such as the huge TV-like screens taking up whole walls of their homes. When away from them, they can plug ‘seashells’ into their ears for constant distraction. Not a million miles from us today. Our protagonist, Guy, is a fireman who starts to question his life after meeting a young woman who has not succumbed to the brainwashing.

Not as good as 1984 but much better than Brave New World. 4/5

Revelation by Russell Brand

“There is no end or separation, merely new notes played in the ongoing symphony of existence in which we all play our part.”

This is an Audible Original audiobook that Russell wrote during lockdown. The pandemic does crop up throughout the book but it is concerned with spirituality. Russell has been heading this way for a while now but here he goes Full God. This was a bit of a surprise as it’s quite a risk for a public figure to talk so explicitly on this topic, purely because it so polarising. I was up for it but was more interested in his personal revelation than the esoteric. For someone to change their life as dramatically as he has is quite something and I’d like to hear about that in detail but maybe he felt he covered that in his book Recovery. In Revelation we get a lot of meandering around Jungian psychology, Indian mysticism, the 12-steps programme and – yawn – politics. It just felt a bit muddled for the most part although he’s always engaging. Its best bits were towards the end where he shares his experiences at shelters for addicts and homeless families. 3/5

A Close and Common Circuit (Wayfarers 2) by Becky Chambers

“Owl had been good to her. She stayed on the screen by the bed all day, and she taught Jane about something called music, which was a weird bunch of sounds that had no point but made things feel a little better.”

This is the second book in the sci-fi Wayfarers series. I did miss the main characters from the The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet but I knew they wouldn’t feature in it before I began which stopped me from being disappointed. The first book wasn’t plot filled but this is an even slower burn, focusing on just two main characters as they both try and navigate new environments and come to terms with who they are. About a third of the way in I felt it wasn’t really going anywhere but I connected with the characters and their struggle with being displaced. It also helped that I find the ethical issues around advanced Artificial Intelligence interesting (anyone else captivated by the series Westworld?). I was completely invested by the last quarter of the book when the plot speeds up and it was emotional towards the end. It’s an added bonus that Val the Cookie Queen is hooked by the series too. I will be reading the last two books in the series before long. 4.25/5

Six of Crows (Book 1) by Leigh Bardugo

Well this was a mistake: I really should have known as I’d previously DNFed it. However I’d enjoyed the fantasy fun that was the Netflix show Shadow and Bone and thought this connected novel would be a light read after a bit of a stressful time when I didn’t read for almost 2 weeks. It’s a YA fantasy with good characters and an Amsterdam-style setting, but it based around a heist plot which I could care less about. The characters are all around 17 years old (as seems to be the law with YA) however they act at least 10 years older. Everyone fancies someone else but no one talks about it which got tiresome. To be fair I am 30+ years older than the target audience. Needless to say, I won’t be continuing with the second part of the duology. 2.5/5

Child of the Prophecy (Sevenwaters Book 3) by Juliet Marillier

“Good and bad; shade and sunlight, there’s but a hair’s breath between them. It’s all one in the end.”

Try not to judge this book by its cover

I took another stab at a comfort read and this one hit home. Returning to a fantastical medieval Ireland with familiar places and characters was soothing. This third book (and end of the first plot arc) follows the granddaughter of the heroine of the first book. Fainne is interesting because she is also the granddaughter of the evil sorceress of the Daughter of the Forest. Therefore she is torn between dark and light as she is coerced into bringing down not just the inhabitants of Sevenwaters but the Fair Folk themselves. At times it got frustrating when she was about the tell someone the truth and ask for their help but then didn’t, several times over. She’s also not the most likeable protagonist and this instalment features much less of the Fae and forest than the previous books. However, I loved the writing, enjoyed seeing familiar characters again, and it became gripping as events drew to a conclusion. 4.25/5

Please share the book or books that have stayed with you in the comments as well as any other recent finds you’d like to recommend.

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Current Skincare and Body Favourites

I’ve fallen for a few amazing products over the course of the last few months so I thought it would be fun to share.

OSKIA Renaissance Cleanser

I avoided this cult cleanser for ages thinking it was a gel formulation for oilier skin types. It’s actually suitable for all including dry skin and comes out as a pink emulsion that feels lovely on the face.

Let’s be honest though: perhaps the main reason I love it is the smell. It’s a soft rose scent accented with chamomile. I like it so much I can’t imagine the pleasure I get from it wearing off. I usually change my cleanser every time one runs out but I can see this one being a keeper. It has a pump but oh how I wish it had a flip top. Taking the lid off irritates me every use. Maybe I should leave it off.

C.E.O. Serum by Sunday Riley

I’ve tried many vitamin C serums but this is hands down my favourite. It used to be that I’d go for the highest percentage of the strongest form (say 30% L-Ascorbic acid). This meant they were often unpleasantly grainy and stung my skin over time, if not immediately.

I’ve now learnt my lesson. Using a lower concen tration on a regular basis can be just as effective and doesn’t punish your skin barrier.

C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum contains THD Ascorbate which converts to L-Ascorbic acid on contact with the skin and doesn’t oxidise. It also smells like oranges and has a pump dispenser, not a dropper. The search is officially over.

OSKIA Renaissance Mask

This British skincare brand is knocking it out the park. Along with the cleanser, I’ve fallen hard for this award winning mask.

Skincare gurus don’t usually bother with masks because they say it’s what they do day-to-day that counts. However, I enjoy a face mask on a Sunday while soaking in the bath. This one has resurfacing properties with 9 active ingredients. I don’t have an acid in my daily routine, partly because I use tretinoin and partly because I can’t be bothered with another step.

This thick pink gel turns white when properly massaged onto the skin, which I get a kick out of (hey it’s the little things). It gently exfoliates but never leaves my skin feeling tight or irritated, even if it’s feeling fragile. It simoly leaves me with super soft, radiant skin.

Reviving Pine Bath Milk by Weleda

I bought this after seeing it recommended by Lisa Eldridge in one of her videos. I love aromatic scented bath products and this has an unusual milky pine aroma that makes me feel like I’m bathing in a forest pool of tree sap. That may not be everyone’s idea of good time but it is mine.

Geranium Leaf Body Scrub by Aesop

No one needs to spend £27 on a body scrub but this was gifted to me for my birthday and it’s a real treat. It comes out as a transulcent gel but you really feel its exfoliating grains when applied to the skin. It contains milled pumice and micronised bamboo stem, fragranced with geranium leaf, mandarin and bergamot oils. Again, the scent is wonderful: the greenest leafiest geranium you can imagine.

Balance – Restoring Bath and Shower Gel by Cowshed

I can’t imagine there is a Cowshed bath and shower scent I wouldn’t like and intend on trying them all. This restoring blend features essential oils of rose geranium, linden blossom, frankincense and ylang-ylang. It smells lovely and completely natural.

Have you tried any of these? Do you have a recent discovery you’d like to share?

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March Reading Diary

 

How much do you push yourself out of your reading comfort zone? It’s a question I’ve been contemplating lately. I don’t want to constantly dwell in a genre fiction ghetto, but I also don’t want to spend a lot of time reading books I don’t enjoy. I did find in March that books dealing with real life issues aren’t confined to Booker Prize winners. I read a brilliant sci-fi book covering all the same topics but in a much more subtle and entertaining (for me) way. 

 

The Examined Life by Stephen Groz

“Closure is just as delusive-it is the false hope that we can deaden our living grief.”

This is a collection of stories from the couch of a London psychiatrist. Most end with some kind of twist or revalattion. Unsurprisingly, a lot of them show people in denial, consciously or unconsciously, about what is going on in their lives. I can’t say they gave me any insight into my own life, being more a diverting read than a tool for self-reflection. They do shine a light on psychoanalysis as well as human nature and shows what can be achieved with the process although these are short summaries and usually feature more extreme cases which is understandable. I found the child cases most interesting although there were only two of these. 2.75/5

A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Wayfarer 1) by Becky Chambers

“All you can do, Rosemary – all any of us can do – is work to be something positive instead. That is a choice that every sapient must make every day of their life. The universe is what we make of it. It’s up to you to decide what part you will play.”

If it’s possible for a sci-fi book to be cosy, then this is it. Set in a time when humans have left Earth for good, Rosemary gets a job aboard a spaceship called the Wayfarer. It has a small crew made up of humans and other species, who – with one exception – are more like family than colleagues. That’s what makes this novel so feel-good. It’s mainly character focused and the relationships between those characters – including the ship’s A.I. – are really special.

There was more than enough of a plot to keep me interested and it got tense towards the end. I’ve long been curious about the sci-fi sub-genre of space operas and apparently this falls under that category. To be honest, I’m still none the wiser but I loved it. 

Can’t wait to read the rest of the 4-part series, although I believe they can all be read as standalones 5/5.

Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins

“You are in danger of living a life so comfortable and soft, that you will die without ever realizing your true potential.”

I have so much love and respect for David Goggins. He is the most mentally tough person on the planet but he wasn’t born that way; he MADE himself that way. By the age of 8 he’d endured hundreds of beating by his pimp father. As a teen he cheated his way through school and was going nowhere fast. The racism he suffered in his small Indiana town didn’t help either.

He gradually began to turn his life around by realising that no one was coming to save him and he needed to be accountable to himself. Through strict accountability and self-discipline he ‘calloused his mind’ to the point where he no longer relied on motivation to achieve his goals. He became a Navy SEAL and went on to hold a number of endurance records. He has more than his fair share of haters for having such an extreme fitness regime but they are seriously missing the point. Goggins doesn’t expect others to do what he does. He is showing you that you can do better than you are doing now – immeasurably better. That if he can transform his life, you can too and begin to fulfill your potential. 

I knew his story well already but wanted to hear the Audible audiobook because I heard it has a unique format. It is narrated by the writer who worked on the book, but every few pages he breaks off and interviews David about what has just happened and where his head was at the time . This gives an incredible level of additional insight. There are also 10 challenger throughout the books which are intended to help you become the hero of you own life.  It was the bestselling audiobook on Audible last year for good reason. 5/5

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey

‘How does a man accept a woman, any woman into his house? Just like that, let alone a mermaid. Life changed quick, boy, I never plan it so. Later I saw that change came as change always comes, from a chain of events with a long history, too long to see from back to front, till it come.’

This was an odd one. It has been shortlisted for a number of prizes and won Costa Book of the Year 2020 so I expected it to be pretty accessible with relatively broad appeal. I think that’s what threw me and I might have enjoyed it more otherwise.

This is a deeply strange tale set on the fictional Caribbean island of Black Conch where a mermaid is caught by white American tourists in 1976. She is treated brutally by the tourists (and some of the locals) when she is strung up on the shore. This beginning was unpleasant to read. However she is rescued by a local fisherman, David, and they fall in love.

It is written in the local parlance and partly in verse but readable for the most part, plus it’s only short. I came to like the characters that helped the mermaid but wasn’t captivated by it. Maybe I am too skewed towards gentle fairytales and myth re-tellings so one set in the in the 1970s was a bit too jarring for me.. I can appreciate how inventive it was though and it is much praised so go for it if it sounds intriguing to you. 3.25/5

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

“You see, Megan, I learnt first hand how women are discriminated against, which is why I became a feminist after I’d transitioned, an intersectional feminist, because it’s not just about gender but race, sexuality, class and other intersections which we mostly unthinkingly live anyway”

I usually avoid winners of the Booker Prize but I’d heard so much about this one and my sister really enjoyed it so I gave it a go. I also liked the fact it was structured as a series of stories about the lives of 12 girls, women and one non-binary ‘other’. They span the twentieth century and follow a broad range of Black people from a suburban teacher, to a feminist lesbian playwright, to a high-flying banker. Some were more likeable than others, all were interesting and I liked the way the stories interconnected; the best friend of the main character in one story, became the protagonist in the next and so on. The writing is exemplary and I liked the way most of the characters came together at the end.

I still prefer to escape into the distant past or future or a fantasy land, but it’s good to spend some time in the real world. It dealt with a range of issues including race, gender and sexuality. I’ll just always struggle with literary fiction, particularly when the ‘political’ issues are upfront and centre. 3/5

Do you tend to stick with the genres of fiction you love? Do you see any problem with this?

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Vintage Magie Noire by Lancome

Top notes: Galbanum, Cassis, Cassia, Hiacynth, Bulgarian Rose, Raspberry and Bergamot.

Middle notes: Honey, Narcissus, Cedar, Orris Root, Ylang-Ylang, Tuberose, Jasmine and Lily-of-the-Valley.

Base notes: Oakmoss, Spices, Civet, Incense, Patchouli, Amber, Sandalwood, Myrrh, Vetiver and Musk

I’ve long lusted after vintage Magie Noire and been filled with regret that I didn’t buy a bottle when I first encountered it over ten years ago. Therefore, last year when Vanessa mentioned in Part 1 of her perfume collection reorg that she no longer felt any attachment to her vintage bottle, I asked if I could buy it from her. After sending me a sample, she generously gifted me the remains of her bottle. When it arrived I was thrilled to find that it was the Darth Vadar version.

I’ve found myself increasingly drawn to green chypres in recent times. There’s something about their mix of forest wildness and stern self-possession that seems to cut through any anxiety.

Magie Noire was launched in 1978 and I can’t help but wonder if a brand released a fragrance today with the name ‘Black Magic’ whether it would be in the same genre. I think it would more likely be some kind of amber oriental. It is the antithesis of Lancome’s current smash hit La Vie Est Belle with its overwhelming iris-drowning-in-caramel accord.

Magie Noire is magnificently eerie. It opens with tart, lip-staining, blackcurrants and bitter stems with a scattering of white flowers. But what gets me is the depth. I’ve read that it starts off with the base notes first and I can see where that comes from. You can pick up on the deeper, darker notes straight away. There is also just a tinge of honied, fruity sweetness but it doesn’t quite manage to blunt its thorns.

I sense I’m experiencing something greater than the sum of its parts. Its fully formed personality materialises before me. It’s every dream of a beguiling witchy scent I’ve ever had.

Vol de Nuit captured my attention because of the way it sits at the intersection of chypre and oriental. Magie Noire does something similar being half green chypre and half sultry oriental. I find the complexity and contrast between the two utterly enthralling.

Unlike most green chypres, it has the slinky texture of fur. The throw is moderate and I find its longevity to be excellent.

It possesses a maturity that is perfectly in keeping with the fragrances of its era. Magie Noire does not pander. On the face of it, it’s all wildflowers, fresh shoots and berries but they lie in the shadow of intoxicating leather, civet and musk.

I see Magie Noire as the mythological crone; a mature woman at the height of her powers. Before the patriarchy took over, discrediting and burning these astute women as witches, the ancient crone was associated with attributes of ‘wisdom, compassion, transformation, healing laughter, and bawdiness’*. This is a woman who has grown comfortable in her own skin and feels able to speak her mind because she could care less what others think of her. She rejoices in her esoteric interests and values her coven. If you look closely, you can see a wry sparkle in her eye.

Is Magie Noire a favourite of yours? Do you love the vintage version? I understand old bottles are prone to turning.

*from http://www.cronecounsel.org

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