Author Archives: Tara

My Perfume Collection – Top 15

Vanessa of Bonkers about Perfume recently did a blog post about the re-organisation of her perfume collection in which she set an initial target of selecting 15 perfumes from her stash as a ‘capsule collection’. In the end she managed to cut it down to 20 from 63 which is no mean feat.

In response to Vanessa’s question about her readers’ own capsule collections, I decided to see if I could pick 15 based on just one of her selection methodologies ie. ‘The burning building speed grab method’. I did a quick sweep and managed it without much fuss. I ‘only’ have 27 bottles in total. I included those which are 30ml or larger but also two smaller bottles which are parfum concentration. In short, travel sprays and decants don’t count.

The 27 include 3 back-ups and 3 perfumes I have in both EDT and parfum. After knocking those out it was only a matter of choosing 15 from 21. The Chosen Ones are below in no particular order. I’ve linked to fuller reviews where I have them.

 

Vol de Nuit by Guerlain

This oriental chypre is the most ‘me’ of all the perfumes I own. It would be my Desert Island perfume if push came to shove. These days I can’t analyse it more than that. I have a vintage parfum, an old-ish parfum back up and a vintage EDT.

La Fille de Berlin by Serge Lutens

Actually this perfume also feels very me (I sense a recurring theme). It is my ideal retro rose/violet. The sensual yet light amber drydown is a bonus. It’s simply a lovely perfume in all its parts.

Vaara by Penhaligons

While I love rose paired with violet I also love it paired with saffron. If I could justify the cost, I’d trade Vaara for the infinitely more chic riff on this pairing trimmed with suede, Galop d’Hermes.

Naja by Vero Profumo

This is my most loved of Vero’s exquisite collection and a reminder of the unique and inspiring woman herself. The sparkling lime over blond tobacco is autumnal bliss.

Miss Dior by Dior

The vintage parfum is something I can wear when nothing else feels right. It’s not a skin scent but I feel so at home in it it feels like a second skin to me. I also have the EDT as do for the next fragrance on the list.

Chanel No.19

Again the vintage parfum is sublime. Galbanum can be astringent and off-putting but here it’s green nectar paired with powdery iris. No.19 has strength and elegance in bucketloads.

Nuxe Prodigieux Le Parfum

I’d take this as I feel the need to have a beachy/tropical perfume but I’d much rather exchange it for swoon-worthy Frangipani by Ormond Jayne which I only own a travel spray of.

 

 

Dryad by Papillon Perfumes

If Vent Vert and Vol de Nuit had a baby maybe it would smell something like Dryad. I’m drawn more and more to the centring power of green perfumes and this one gives me all those ancient woodland vibes.

Iris Silver Mist by Serge Lutens

The iris to end them all. Rooty, chilly and evocative. A rare example of a reformulation improving on the original in MHO. It’s more wearable now, sans the aroma of metallic carrots.

Passage d’Enfer by L’Artisan Parfumeur

Instead of calming me, incense perfumes are often so strident they overwhelm me. Of course Olivia Giacobetti would compose one that is as smooth as it is enigmatic. The combination of woody resins and waxy littles works every time. I have a back up.

Cuir de Lancome

I also have a back up of this sadly discontinued gem. The saffron studded smoky suede has not been surpassed by another leather for me.

Fleur de Oranger by L’Artisan Parfumeur

This is summer sunshine in a bottle. The perfect orange blossom which makes me smile just to spray it.

Eau de Rochas by Rochas

I got this cheapie in a swap meet-up and it’s my favourite cologne. The combination of tart lime and raspy patchouli is uncommonly beautiful in an Eau.

Ormonde Woman by Ormonde Jayne

I adore atmospheric books set in dark forests and this perfume captures that feeling in a scent.

Diorella by Dior

Coming full circle, this was one of the very first perfumes I fell for in a big way when I fell down the fragrant rabbit-hole. The old formulation is a glorious fruity chypre with tender spring florals. I feel very nostalgic about it and enjoy it hugely still.

What do you make of my list? Any there any that would make a similar list of your own?

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August/September Reading Diary

When the calendar ticked over to September I had to restrain myself from binging all the atmospheric dark/magical books I’d been saving for autumn. I’ve read one (which is featured below) but the rest I’m keeping for when it’s a bit colder. As with perfume, it turns out my book choices are seasonal. 

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

“Kneeling before me, he lays his head on my lap and says, ‘I’m going to ruin you.”

I bought this book for Our Bonkers Vanessa when it was first released with quite a stir at the start of lockdown. Its narrator is Vanessa, who is thirty-two at the height of the Me Too movement. Her old schoolteacher has been accused of sexual abuse and the present day plot is interspersed with the story of how, at fifteen, she was groomed by the same teacher. Back then she was an extremely promising student who had gained a scholarship to a private boarding school In the present, she’s working as a hotel concierge and getting through the days in a haze of drink and drugs. She is desperately clinging on to the idea that the ‘relationship’ she had with fortysomething Strane was a romance and not what we see in the re-telling – serious abuse.

I had thought the book would show Vanessa coming to terms with the truth. However this is more of an exploration of the dynamics between the predator and the victim. It shows the extreme manipulation that leads to the victim feeling responsible and protective towards their abuser, no matter what it costs them. This was handled incredibly well and I’ve never felt anger towards a character the way I did towards Strane. If you are very plot-driven or not interested in the subject, you may find it slow. 4.25/5

SPOILER

I didn’t get the satisfaction of Vanessa accepting the reality of what he did to her and speaking out. It ends pretty abruptly, as she is just beginning to face what really happened. However, I still found it compelling and didn’t feel cheated in any way. 

The Surrender Experiment by Michael A. Singer

“Each of us actually believes that things should be the way we want them, instead of being the natural result of all the forces of creation.”

I read Singer’s The Untethered Soul at a tough time in my life and it really helped. The Surrender Experiment is more of a memoir exemplifying what living by the principles in that book can look like. Singer has a spiritual awakening in 1972 at the age of 22 and lives the rest of his life surrendering to whatever life brings him. We watch as events flow in such a way that the perfect people and opportunities arise at exactly the right time for the next forty years. This involves him inadvertently becoming a tech multimillionaire (though he ploughs the money back into his spiritual  organisation). It is an amazing testament to his dedication to his spiritual path but it is also near impossible to relate to. It’s hard not to feel that he was at least in part, unbelievably lucky and highly predisposed to be able to access a transcendental meditative state. For decades everything falls into place perfectly just by him accepting whatever comes along and not acting on his personal preferences or fears. It’s not until the 2000s that he is tested and even then he never really struggles. Maybe I’m just jealous.  3/5

The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa

“He treated Root exactly as he treated prime numbers. For him, primes were the base on which all other natural numbers relied; and children were the foundation of everything worthwhile in the adult world”

This gentle Japanese novel is about a housekeeper who goes to care for an elderly Maths genius whose short-term memory only lasts for eighty minutes. He has notes all over his suit which act as reminders and numbers soothe his anxiety. At first the two of them don’t gel but when her young son starts to come to the house after school, a bond begins to form between the three of them. There was more Maths than I could follow – or wanted to – and a fair bit about baseball. However, overall it’s a short, sweet book about a chosen family. 3/5

Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri

‘Through the lens of hair texture, Dabiri leads us on a historical and cultural investigation of the global history of racism.’

Emma Dabiri is an academic who writes for The Guardian.  This is her first book which focuses on the personal and political aspects  of Black hair. Dabiri is the daughter of a white Irish mother and a Nigerian father. She grew up in Ireland in a time and place with few other Black people. She was implicitly and explicitly made aware that she was unlucky to be mixed race yet not born with the ‘good hair’ that normally comes with. Her mother first took her to England to get her hair relaxed at the age of  12. The harsh chemicals would cause her scalp to burn and scab over but this made her happy because it meant the process had worked. She now embraces her type 4 coils but this book is much more than a memoir. It goes back into the history of hair-styling in Africa, the effect slavery had on hair grooming, the emergence of relaxing in America and modern day cultural appropriation. 

I’ve decided not rate my enjoyment of anti-racism works as it just doesn’t sit right. 

The Golem and The Djinni by Helene Wecker

“On a cloudless night, inky dark, with only a rind of a moon above, the Golem and the Jinni went walking together along the Prince Street rooftops.”

This book had my name written all over it: mythical creatures, a historical setting and lyrical writing. A golem – a woman made of clay using Kabbalistic magic – is adrift in the Jewish quarter of New York City, 1899. At the same time, a djinni made of fire is released from a flask in the Little Syria district across the city. The golem, Chava, is taken in by an understanding rabbi while Ahmad is given a job by a local tinsmith. When their paths cross they recognise that the other is also different from the people around them. They strike up an unlikely friendship, with Ahmad being angry at his confinement to human form while Chava has a strong sense of responsibility towards others (whose needs she can sense).

The characters are beautifully rendered and the atmosphere of NYC at the turn of the 19th century is wonderful. If I had to criticise it, it is slow-paced and the two main characters don’t meet until over a third of the way into the book. However, I was in no rush. It won’t be for everyone but it was just my kind of novel. 4.5/5

Are there any books you’re looking forward to reading this autumn?

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Going Curly

One of the unexpected things that changed for me during lockdown was my hair. I have straightened it on and off since my teens (more on that off).I haven’t worn it curly for the last ten years or so and for the last several of those I’ve been chemically straightening it using Brazilian Blowdry keratin treatments. Even so, I’d still need to blow dry my hair and then run through it with straightening irons.It’s not that I disliked curly hair, rather I didn’t think I had the kind of curly hair that looked good. Now I think it was more a matter of not being able to manage it.

This is my (dyed red) curly hair about 12 years ago after putting A LOT of effort into it for a special event. It did not look like this day-to-day. Unsurprisingly I have not kept the photos of it looking a state.

Early on in lockdown I tried washing it as normal and diffusing it. It was a mess and I continued straightening. Then in early June I let it dry naturally after deep conditioning and it was much better. For reasons I can’t quite recall, I decided to investigate The Curly Girl Method – and got totally hooked.The method originated from Lorraine Massey’s 2011 book The Curly Girl Handbook in which she sets out a whole regime that curlies should follow to achieve their best and healthiest hair. Some bullet points are:

  • Cowashing (washing hair with conditioner, not shampoo),
  • Avoiding a whole list of ingredients in hair products (including sulfates, silicones, waxes, phthalates and drying alcohols).
  • No heat styling except for diffusing (I’ve been air-drying over the summer).
  • Stop colouring (no chance!),
  • Do not dry brush hair.

There is a lot more to it and I did a deep dive into the whole CG world. I’m happy to report it is about as friendly as the perfume community with just as much jargon such as ‘squish to condish’ and ‘SOTC’ (scrunch out the crunch).My wash day routine is: cowash, squish to condish, apply curl cream then gel with praying hands, scrunch, ‘plop’ hair in a towel for 15 minutes, diffuse roots, air dry and finally, scrunch out the crunch.As you can imagine, there is a wealth of information on YouTube and Instagram as well as Facebook support groups. You can laugh at the latter, but this method involves big changes in how you treat and view your hair and the transiton period can be rough, with a massive amount of trial and error in terms of products and technique.At this point I want to note that’s it’s nowhere near as rough as what many Black women go through when they decide to go natural. Invariably they have to go for ‘The Big Chop’ which involves cutting off the entirety of their relaxed lengths and starting again from scratch. This is a hugely significant and emotional moment. Much of the Curly Girl Method is derived from the Natural Hair Movement which dates back to the 1960s.I got off lightly. Despite ten years of heat and chemical damage, my hair didn’t take too long to begin to regain its curl pattern (some never get this back completely).

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This is my natural hair just before I started the CG Method in June. Basically fluffy and frizzy.

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A few weeks into the method and it’s become wavy with more definition.

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Two months CGM and a traumatic haircut later, the curl pattern is getting stronger and hair is healthier.

One of the of nicest things about embracing the hair you were born with is a feeling of self-acceptance. I still struggle with whether it suits me but I already feel some of that from not fighting it anymore.I don’t know how long I’ll keep it curly or follow the method, but right now it’s benefiting my hair. Cowashing has actually made my hair less dry as well as less oily at the roots. To prevent build-up, I wash with a sulfate-free shampoo about once a month. It’s the healthiest it’s been since I started straightening and dying it at age eighteen.Do you straighten your hair? Are you happy with natural your hair type? What is your dream hair?

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Reading Diary – July 2020

A typically broad selection in this reading diary, from skincare and sci-fi to anti-racism and mythology. Please let me know what you’ve been reading in the comments.

Skincare by Caroline Hirons

Avoid anything ‘mattifying’ — a promise often made on products for oily skin. Skin is not designed to be ‘matte’. Your skin has plenty of time to be matte when you’re dead.

I’ve followed Caroline’s blog for around 7 years and in that time she’s become ‘The most powerful woman in beauty’. She is a brand consultant and skincare expert and has finally put all that knowledge into book form. Aside from her expertise, it’s full of her personality which is a huge plus. Expect straight-talking and swearing along with myth busting and a breakdown of the routine you need to follow at all ages. As a skincare junkie there wasn’t much I didn’t already know in terms of my own skin but it was a lot of fun and I love the subject. There is a fair amount of repetition but that’s important for newbies in order to get the mass of information across. It’s essentially a training manual for your skin. 4/5

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Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad

“Remember, white supremacy is not just about individual acts of racism, but rather it is a system of oppression that seeps into and often forms the foundation of many of the regular spaces where you spend your time—school, work, spiritual spaces, health and wellness spaces, and so on.”

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Boy, did I learn a lot from this. If you want to be an anti-racist you have to do the work and IT IS work. You have to dig deep and confront the fact that growing up in Western society today means you will have absorbed unconscious beliefs that perpetuate racism. Me and White Supremacy is a 28 day programme that tackles a different topic each day – White Silence, White Exceptionalism, Anti-Blackness etc.

You are given journal prompts to reflect on your own experiences and complicity at the end of each chapter. It is only by doing this that we will build up the resilience that counteracts White Fragility (extreme defensiveness in discussions around racism) and enables us to be true allies to Black people. I may be mixed-race but still benefit from white privilege and I appreciated the author had notes specifically aimed at non-Black people of colour. I did crave more depth, history and context but I can fill those gaps for myself elsewhere.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

“If this isn’t hell, the devil is surely taking notes.”

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This is a sci-fi take on an Agatha Christie whodunnit. Evelyn Hardcastle is murdered at 11pm at a party held at the family’s dilapidated country pile, Blackheath. Our protagonist relives the day eight times, waking up each time in the body of a different guest at the party. It is his job to work out who killed Evelyn by the end of the day in order to escape his memories being wiped and the process starting over.

This is a hugely popular book and has won a couple of awards. Unfortunately it just wasn’t for me. I have no interest in murder mysteries and I’ve come to realise I strongly dislike the sci-fi ‘Groundhog Day’ trope of the same day/life being lived over and over again. I find it convoluted and dull. By the time the big twist is revealed I was long over it. I admire Turton for writing it though; the complexity is mind-boggling. 2.5/5

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

Warbreaker UK

I now felt like some reliable epic fantasy and Sanderson is arguably the best in the business right now. This is one of his earlier – at that time -standalone novels. It revolves around the rival kingdoms of Idris and Hallandran. For twenty years, the eldest princess of Idris has been promised to the much-feared God King of Hallandran. At the last minute, the Idris King changes the plan and sends his youngest – and much more naive -daughter instead. As usual with Sanderson the magic is a well thought out system involving colour and the awakening of objects, to put it briefly.

The most interesting characters of the book however were The Returned who are worshipped as Gods. Only one of The Returned, by the name of Lightsong, doesn’t actually believe in the religion that idolises him and this makes for some comic moments. The intrigue picks up pace as war is on the cards but it’s hard not to compare it to the later series he is most known for. Compared to the Mistborn trilogy the ending fell a bit flat but it was an enjoyable enough time and it seems it’s been left open for a sequel eventually. 3.5/5

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

“This is what free people never understand. A slave isn’t a person who’s being treated as a thing. A slave is a thing, as much in her own estimation as in anybody else’s.”

I don’t seem to tire of Greek myth retellings and this one published in 2018 had been on my radar for a while. It centres on the Trojan War from the perspective of Briseis, a young queen who is given to Achilles as a prize of honour when her city is sacked and all the men killed. The surviving women are taken as slaves to the Greeks compound on the beach from which they have laid siege to Troy for nine years. Seeing the well known story through the eyes of Briseis gives us a much more intimate idea of what the women were subjected to in this tale which makes it more interesting but also more brutal. Where the lines are blurred for some of the women, Briseis keeps her boundaries strong, if only in her mind. I really liked her and I can never get enough about the relationship between Achilles and Petroclus, although this novel is in part a rebuttal of the romanticisation of a ruthless warrior. It’s extremely readable but for me, it’s not on the same level as The Song of Achilles or Circe, but well worth a read if you fancy a fresh female take on the Trojan War myth. 3.75/5

silence of the girls

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Vivacious by Hiram Green

Notes: Bergamot, Violet, Carnation, Orris and Amber

 

I’ve long been drawn to violet scents. Along with roses, they evoke that vintage glamour I so admire. However, I usually have issues with the violet perfumes I try. They are either too sweet or too powdery, too green or too metallic. Their characters strike me as being quite child-like or rather staid. Maybe I am unduly fussy (well there’s no ‘maybe’ about it) but I couldn’t seem to find the right violet for me.

Therefore I was understandably excited at the thought of a forthcoming violet done the Hiram Green way. I knew this indie perfumer would bring something unique to the genre, as he has done with all of his fragrances.

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Hiram describes Vivacious as a ‘violet-themed’ fragrance and it is indeed that. He riffs off the central idea of a traditional violet perfume but expands it with gauzy layers of carnation and orris. In doing so, he transforms it into something much more interesting than a violet soliflore.

The first time I tried Vivacious I got a lot of carnation; a note we rarely see in perfumes these days. This spicy floral aroma is full-bodied with the clove-like scent of eugenol. The subsequent times I’ve tried it on my inner forearm, I’ve got something considerably more nuanced.

After a joyful opening of parma violets and sparkling bergamot, it settles down into what I imagine as a purple-hued haze.. There is powder but nowhere near an overwhelming amount. It’s just enough to add a delicate aura of prettiness. The proportions of violet, orris and carnation are beautifully balanced.

Its character is supremely graceful. I thought it might be a boudoir fragrance but no. I’d put Vivacious in the category of what I think of as ‘ballet slipper perfumes’. Those that are less about vintage cosmetics and more about satin, tulle and crushed rosin. There is a distinctly romantic, nostalgic air about it but this never veers into melancholia. 

The base is a gentle glowing amber with the texture of suede. This makes for a fittingly smooth finish.

While it wears in a sheer manner, this Eau de Parfum lacks neither presence nor longevity.

In short, Vivacious is Hiram Green’s most complex and accomplished fragrance to date – and my new favourite violet-centric scent.

It is full of buoyancy and flair. Its wistful yet hopeful attitude expressed in a poised, glorious, grand jeté.

 

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Do you already have a favourite violet perfume? Do you like the sound of Vivacious?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reading Diary – June 2020

May was the month I gave in and signed up to Audible. I have a strange reltaiotnship with audiobooks. I don’t feel like I absorb them so well because \I am such a daydreamer. However I’ve found they work well for non-ficton. I’ll try a novel this month and see how I get on.

 

Hope for the Best by Jodi Taylor

This is the 11th book in the Chronicles of St. Mary’s and for most of it I thought maybe the series was finally starting to dip. Stories about time-travelling historians are never going to be logical but sometimes characters’ actions didn’t make a lot of sense and there were threads that weren’t tied-up. There is a jump to ancient Crete during the Minoan empire and one to 15th Century London to observe the two Princes at the Tower of London just before their disappearance. What saves it is a revelation about a favourite character in the last 50 pages that left me (as a long-time reader) absolutely gob-smacked, it was so good. That upped it considerably. 4/5

Resistance by Tori Amos

“The sense of loss is such a tricky one, because we always feel like our worth is tied up into stuff that we have, not that our worth can grow with things we are willing to lose.”

I’ve been a Tori fan for, oh Lord, nearly 30 years now. ‘Piece by Piece’ was a memoir but this book looks at her songs and career through a political lens. I always knew that she had a few songs  which dealt with issues but didn’t realise there were quite so many. Tori goes through the songs and talks about the events that inspired them. She covers everything from sexual assault and FGM to 9/11 and racism. Although perhaps incongruous, the section of the book I found most affecting was that exploring her grief after her recent death of her mother. There is also a lot of valuable advice for creative people of all types. One for fans and those embarking on an artistic vocation. A highly biased 4/5

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Queenie by Candace Carty-Williams

“Is this what growing into an adult woman is—having to predict and accordingly arrange for the avoidance of sexual harassment?”

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I raced through this book in a day and a half but it was really hard to read a lot of the time. Queenie is a young Londoner whose self-esteem is in the gutter thanks to her abusive childhood. After her boyfriend says they should take a break, she simply can’t cope. She uses casual sex to try and fill the void but it’s with vile men who fetishise her Blackness. She works at a magazine where her boss constantly turns down her ideas about articles covering the Black Lives Matter movement. The gentrification of Brixton is also a theme of the book.

It was published last year but feels acutely relevant to right now. It sounds heavy but the author manages to write in an incredibly light, readable way and infuses the narrative with humour. Queenie is hugely likeable and I kept rooting for her to deal with her issues and ditch the self-destructive behaviour. I was very pleased it recently made Carty-Williams the first Black author to win Book of the Year at the British Book Awards (if not before time). I only marked it down because I found it personally painful to witness her allowing men to treat so appallingly.  4/5

 

Love Is Not Enough by Mark Manson

I was a member of Mark’s website years before ‘The Sublte Art...’ blew up and he becaome a megastar in the field of no-nonsense personal development. It couldn’t have happened to  a better person. He is free of any kind of magical thinking or easy answers. This exclusive audiobook for Audible goes back to his roots as a dating expert. He has separate dialogues with five men and women who have issues with relationships and coaches them over a period of time. We hear those interviews and the results of the homework and advice Mark gives them. Basically they are all suffering from some kind of issues around boundaries and vulnerability but in very different ways. It would be hard not to identify with at least one of them. As a nosy curious person, I found it fascinating. 4/5

 

Gravity is the Thing by Jaclyn Moriarty

“Popular self-help teaches you to ask for help, accept help, set boundaries, say no. So you ask for help and the person you ask politely refuses. Because he or she has learned to set boundaries and say no.”

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This was a quirky read which could have gone either way. Reviewers on Amazon seemed to really like or really dislike this debut novel for adults by the sister of author Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies). It’s contemporary fiction set in Sydney which was a bonus for me having friends in the city. Abigail has been recieving chapters from ‘The Guidebook’, a mysterious self-help book, since she was fifteen; the same time her brother went missing. She is now in her thirties and running a Happiness Café (despite being far from happy herself) when she gets an invitation to attend a retreat where all will be revealed about The Guidebook. We follow her as she attends the retreat and the new course this sets her on.  There are a lot of references to self-help and it’s a slow-paced read but I liked Abi a lot and was up for the weirdness of ‘the truth’ of The Guidebook. I enjoyed seeing where the relationships formed at the retreat would go, not to mention the possible resolution of her brother’s disappearance. 3.5/6

 

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

“Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land who caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seeped away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.”

This is the first book that has made me cry in a very long time (I can’t remember the last one). It was everywhere last year and finally reading it during a mini heatwave was perfect. It tells the story of a Kya who was abandoned as a child in the 1960s by her family and has to fend for herself in a shack nestled deep in the North Carolina marshlands. She is ostracised by the people in the nearest village with a couple of notable exceptions. When there is a murder, all eyes turn to the ‘Marsh Girl’. Delia Owens is an award-winning nature writer and it really shows in this, her first novel. Her lush descriptions of the flora and fauna of the marsh were wonderful and made it hugely atmospheric. I could picture everything, as wall as feel Kya’s intense connection with her home – and her equally intense loneliness. 5/5

 

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How has your last reading month gone?

 

 

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Jorum Studio – Mini Reviews

This post has been on hold since lockdown. We’re not out of the woods yet but it feels right for me to start talking about perfume again. 

I got to try Scottish perfumer Euan McCall’s work for the first time when up in Edinburgh last year and then Val the Cookie Queen sent me some samples. I’m pleased to finally be able to talk about them here, although they have been established for a decade now.

The Jorum Studio website has a beautiful aesthetic and – joy of joys – 15ml bottles are available.

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Here are my impressions of the six fragrances in the Progressive Botany Vol. 1 collection which is split into Progressive and Botany.

These first three Progressive fragrances below are more unconventional.

Arborist

Quince, Honey, Saffron, Osmanthus Absolute, Magnolia, Burdock, Papyrus, Mugwort, Rose Absolute, Tuberose, Myrrh Absolute, Spruce Resin, Douglas Fir, Labdanum, Jatamansi, Malt, Lichen

As the name suggests, Arborist is inspired by woods however, it is also deeply spicy and musky. Rather than green and leafy, the scent is as earthy as if we are down and dirty in the soil covered roots. There’s Indian spice (which reads as a very smooth cumin to my nose) and vegetal musks which lend it a sensuous feel.  It’s all a bit too husky to suit my winsome style but cohesive and nicely done.

Carduus

Chamomile, Bengal Pepper, Honey, Clary Sage, Sea-holly, Marjoram Tea, Myrtle, Rose Absolute, Vetch, Clove Bud, Hart’s Tongue, Tuberose, Musk-thistle, Heliotrope, Tormentil, Mahogany, Cocoa Absolute, Tobacco, Meum, Deertongue, Cherrywood

Carduus has a bracing, slightly medicinal flush with a bouquet garnet of fresh, leafy herbs. It has the feeling of being out on Scottish heathland with the wind blowing a hooley under a rapidly changing sky. It’s aromatic with a breath of aniseed; the antithesis to Swarovski-studded nouveau niche. While Carduus may not be to everyone’s taste, it rewards the wearer with the sense of windswept wellbeing you get from braving the wilds of nature. In short, it’ll put colour in your cheeks.

Phloem

Passion Fruit, Rhubarb, Mulberry, Nasturtium, Honeysuckle, Blaeberry, Camellia, Oysterplant, Meadowsweet, Gorse, Ambrette, Sesame, Amyris, Tonka Bean Absolute

Phloem is not one of those candied berry bombs we are used to encountering across the high street, but I find the combination of curry spices and boiled fruit challenging in its own way. It’s pungent and plummy, with a lot of depth. Phloem feels well-rounded but never thick and cloying. In the drydown there is nice salty skin effect which works well as a counterpoint to the spiced compote effect.

 

The next three fragrances are in the Botany category and are more traditional in style.

Trimerous

Carrot Seed, Bergamot, Nectarine, Thyme, Cicely, Pink Pepper, Juniper, Cloudberry, Angelica Root, Orris Butter, Kombucha, Centaury, Suede, Oud, Musk, Ambergris, Styrax, Vanilla, Incense

This iris perfume was the one I was most eager to get on better terms with. Trimerous is one of those lovely, innocent irises which forms a fluffy cloud. Rather than being grey and rooty, it feels white and powder-soft. It has a gentle presence with a musky, vanilla sweetness. I found it the most easy to wear of the six though I prefer my irises a little less naive. Good for those that usually find iris too austere and unapproachable.

Medullary-ray

Fig-leaf, Cardamom, Olive, Juniper, Frankincense, Orris Butter, Rose Absolute, Pomegranate, Myrrh, Vetiver, Guaicwood, Papyrus, Hay, Birch, Cedarwood, Castoreum, Valerian, Sandalwood Oil

Medullary-ray are the lines that radiate out from the centre of a tree, cutting across the rings. While this collection is linked to botany and the flora of Scotland in particular, this fragrance is inspired by the woods and fruits of Tuscany. What I get is fig teamed with  smoke. This combination really surprised me and I had to check that it’s not one of the experimental fragrances. The milky fig against the bone dry smoke (not the tarry kind) with accents of ripe pomegranate and herbal valerian, is unlike anything I’ve tried before.

Nectary

Bramble, Cranberry, Peach, Rose Absolute, Oud, Ambergris, Roseroot, Olibanum, Selfheal, Castoreum, Civet, Labdanum Absolute, Musk

The name says it all: this is a lush nectar filled with golden light. I have issues with sugary perfumes but this has a natural sweetness that makes me swoon. To my nose, it is chiefly a peachy rose with the dreamy quality of a lazy summer’s day. It’s filled out by white musk which I find a little heady but I hugely enjoy the overall melting feeling Nectary gives me. I don’t get anything as animalic as castoreum or civet.

 

I found all the above Eau de Parfums have moderate throw and very good longevity.

When sampling these handmade fragrances what really stood out to me was the clarity and quality. The materials smell top-notch and the compositions are distinctive.  I can see what all the fuss has been about. Jorum Studio have carved out a niche that is all their own.

jorum thistles

Have you tried anything from Jorum Studio? If not, do any of the above appeal?

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Amplifying Black Voices

I had a post about perfume lined-up but it’s not what’s been occupying my mind for the last two weeks and it didn’t feel right to post about anything else.

While it shouldn’t have taken the murder of George Floyd for the world to wake up to what Black people have been suffering, it has lead to a mass realisation that it is not enough to be un-racist, White people (and me) need to educate themselves and become actively anti-racist. I have justified avoiding difficult material featuring racism with the excuse that I need to protect my mental health from anything anxiety-inducing. This is a luxury Black people don’t have. It is a privilege to learn about racism through education rather than through experience.

This may be a tiny platform but it is a platform nonetheless and so I’m using it to share a few resources I’ve found over the past fortnight.

allhousesmatter-krisstraub-600x593

By Kris Straub

An easy place to start is with diversifying your social media feed. I’ve been following Black female (mostly UK based) activists on Instagram. The first stage is just to listen. Some accounts I’d recommend are @laylafsaad, @rachel.cargle, @candicebrathwaite and @emmadabiri.

These women have also written books, many of which are climbing the Amazon non-fiction charts. Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad, I Am Not Your Baby Mother by Candice Brathwaite and Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri.

Another two books to look at if you want to do the work of unlearning racial biases are How To Be An AntiRacist by Ibram X. Kendi and Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge.

“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”  – Reni Eddo-Lodge

it’s pretty normal for White people to feel defensive about the idea that they may be harbouring racist beliefs. I recommend this excellent interview with the author of White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo. This isn’t about guilt, it’s about greater awareness and doing better.

Of course there are Black women covering every area you can think of. If you love beauty, check out the fabulous UK journalist @ateh_jewel, for skincare follow London esthetician/facialist @dija_ayodele and for fashion @karenbritchick is one of a multitude.

Obviously, these are just jumping-off points from which you can discover the many melanated voices on social media.

I’m currently reading the much-nomiated novel Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams and will no longer shy away from potentially upsetting books by Black writers (which will be reflected in my Reading Diary). It’s hard enough for these authors to get published, without people like me being too soft to read them. If you have any recommendations, please leave them in the comments.

Sadly we can’t rely on the schools in this country to provide anything more than a watered down version of Black history. I’ve ordered this book for my eleven year-old niece:

black history

In the same way homophobia isn’t a gay problem, racism isn’t a Black problem. Having these discussions isn’t easy: we’re afraid of getting things wrong. But giving-in to that fear isn’t going to get us anywhere. That’s why I’m pressing ‘Publish’ on this post despite still having a lot more to do.

I’m hopeful that we have at least reached a tipping point where having these uncomfortable conversations en masse and doing the work will lead to real, lasting change.

black lives matter

 

 

 

 

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C-19 Reading Diary

The book I enjoyed reading the most last year (Station Eleven) was about a global pandemic. Turned out when I actually experienced a global pandemic, reading suddenly became less enjoyable.

I found it near impossible to read when things got serious in the U.K. The difference between the world in the book and the real world feel too jarring. For a full two and a bit weeks I didn’t read at all, which was very strange for someone who reads for several hours a day. I couldn’t work it out. I’d gone through anxiety as severe as I’d ever had not so long ago and reading was a blessed escape. So why not now?

I gradually realised that this was a different kind of anxiety which had triggered a state of hyper-vigilance. I was on red alert, as if constantly scanning the horizon for signs of danger. This meant I couldn’t focus on a book because my sympathetic nervous system didn’t feel it was safe to switch off.

I’ve managed to adjust enough to the ongoing situation to start reading again. However, I’ve had to experiment with what kind of books work for me at this time.

One Word Kill, Dispel Illusion and Limited Wish (Impossible Times Trilogy) by Mark Lawrence

If you’re a fan of Good Omens or Ready Player One, you’re likely to enjoy this fast and fun sci fi trilogy.  Author Mark Lawrence on GoodReads a long time. He’s an ex research scientist currently living in Bristol. I wondered how having grown up in America, he’d conjure up life as a teenager in suburban London in the late 1980s (which was my life). Aside from a couple of Americanisms, he did a great job. Teenager Nick is dealing with a cancer diagnosis when an unnervingly familiar looking stranger explains that there is a lot more at stake.  It was a rip roaring story of 4 nerdy boys and 1 cool girl trying to save the world. I was reading it as lockdown happened so maybe that’s why I didn’t love the way I might have done otherwise. 3/5

11.22.63 by Stephen King

“Yeah, but what if you went back and killed your own grandfather?”

He stared at me, baffled. “Why the fuck would you do that?”

stephen king

Nothing on my Kindle felt right. Maybe now would be a good time to immerse myself in the Stephen King universe for the first time. I’m not up for his horror novels but was intrigued by the premise of this book: a guy time-travelling back (yes, again) to prevent the assination of JFK. One of the things that has put me off King is that his books are like door-stops. This isn’t as long as some but it did drag. We have to wait for over 300 pages before our protagonist even catches sight of Oswald. I have kept hearing how he’s a great writer but not very good at endings which made me nervous after investing so much time. A bad ending can ruin a book for me. Happily this was tied-up extraordinarily well so I did smile when in the Afterword he mentions that his writer son, Joe Hill, actually gave him a much better ending than the original one he had written. A friend has recommend I read Lisey’s Story by King next so I’l do that. 3.25/5

Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold by Stephen Fry

“Gaia visited her daughter Mnemosyne, who was busy being unpronounceable.”

mythos

The world of the Greek mythology populated with larger than life gods and monsters has proved a good place to get lost in.  Some books manage to make these stories full of sex, violence, humour and revenge decidedly dry and academic. It’s no surprise that Stephen Fry completely avoids this. I especially appreciated how he adds various examples of how many of the words we use today are derived from the myths (my favourite being the eternal punishment of Tantalus is where we get the word ‘tantalise’ from). Zeus and Hera are the ultimate dysfunctional couple and their endless dramas involving both mortals and gods, never fail to enthrall to me.  4/5

Grownups by Marian Keyes

“Her outline kept slipping, like a wonky contact lens that wouldn’t sit on the iris…  Intense feelings would surge through her, both good and not-so-good, then her outline would detach again. She was living her life a short distance from herself.”

 

grown ups

Story aside, this novel was fantastically easy to read which was a relief. I’m normally turned off by family dramas but my love of Marian’s combination of humour and darker themes made me give it a go. To be fair, the first three quarters was a 3 star read for me as breezy as it was. We are following three brothers and their wives, not to mention 7 kids, living in Dublin. We get to know the characters and their various issues (including overspendng and more seriously, bullimia) as they congregate for a number of family trips. I think I prefer to follow one main protagonist in this kind of book so that I feel more invested. Not a lot seems to develop until the 75% mark when it all starts kicking off. I was then riveted by the final quarter which was 5 stars. 3.75/5 overall.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

“…at some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time. After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.”

Now we’re talking. This was a fizzy cocktail of a historical fiction and it went down easy. I can’t think of much Id rather read about right now than wonderfully shameless showgirls in 1940s New York City. Nineteen year-old Vivian Morris moves into her aunt’s rundown theatre in Midtown. In very short order, she loses her naivete and is kicking up her heels at The Stork Club by night and sewing costumes by day.  We follow her misadventures with a fabulous cast of colourful characters which are all vividly rendered and hugely enjoyable. Despite making a near catastrophic mistake Vivian learns that learns you can be a good person even if society doesn’t deem you ‘a good girl’.  Fairly short chapters helped to prevent me feeling overwhelmed (which ihas been my main issue). Its structure of a single 450+ page letter rather bugged me but not enough to spoil it for me. 4.25/5

city of girls

Have you struggled to concentrate on reading during this time or have books become a valued distraction? Do you have any light novels to recommend?

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Lost Days – Lockdown Lethargy

I was chatting with friends in our WhatsApp group when I said how we are all having lost days now and again. We agreed it’s not something a lot of people are acknowledging in social media but is happening to many of us. While some are publically posting about their various projects, others are quietly having whole days either under the duvet or doing precisely nothing.

Sometimes I wake up and just feel down and/or lethargic and it stays with me all day. I don’t feel like working out, turning on the laptop or even getting dressed. This used to make me feel guilty which made me feel more depressed than I already was. Now I just put it down as a lost day and write it off, knowing that tomorrow is likely to be better (and it always is).

If you have empathy, it’s very hard to carry on in your own little bubble and not let what is happening around the world affect you. Sometimes it’s just too much, even though I’ve cut down on the news coverage. As for using this time to learn a new skill, that’s great if you feel up to it but this is not a sabbatical, it’s a global pandemic. Most of us are just in survival mode, living from day to day, coping the best way we can.

I experienced my first migraine preceded by an aura during my sixth week indoors. I suddenly found my vision was obscured with bright zig-zag patterns. A terrible headache followed around 20 minutes later. I concluded it was a combination of not sleeping well, anxiety and cabin fever. I’m immunosuppressed so am having to ‘shield’ myself inside for 12 weeks. I was bound to hit a wall. It’s nothing compared to actually having the virus or being on the frontline, but we are all affected in some way.

These lost days aren’t the norm though. Most are manageable and I do feel gratitude for the positive aspects of lockdown. I’m connecting even more with family than usual and I like working from home. It’s a chance to reflect on how I want things to be after this strange period comes to an end. As much as I miss my old life, it’s worth thinking about what I want to go back to and what I want to change. It’s rare that you get the opportunity to step back and assess the way you live for this long.

So, one day I’m over the moon that I can lay in the garden and enjoy the sunshine on a weekday, the next I’m down in the dumps even though nothing has changed. Life is a series of ups and downs and as we ride the ‘coronacoaster of uncertainty’ these emotional highs and lows are more pronounced than ever.

lost days

Are you experiencing highs and lows? Do you think about how you’re going to alter your life when we come out of this?

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