Author Archives: Tara

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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February Reading Diary

I am a big proponent of qutting books you’re not enjoying because I think it’s an important factor in having a good reading life. However I know people find this hard (hey Portia). Maybe it’s a throwback from school or the way books are intellectualised that makes it feel like a failure if you ‘give up’ on a book. We don’t feel this way about turning off a TV show though and you wouldn’t force yourself to finish a film you were finding a chore so why do it with a book? Nothing kills the joy of reading faster. I DNF (Did Not Finish) quickly and often and I encourage you to do the same.

Obviously it helps that many of my ebooks are bought for 99p (as were 3 of the 5 below). Buying Kindle offers, secondhand paperbacks or borrowing via the Libby app is a good idea.

The only exception is ‘hate reading’. I hate read The Starless Star and that brought its own perverse pleasure.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

“Here she is a puppet, a vessel for others to pour their speech. And it is not a man she has married, but a world.”

I read this book at the same time as Vanessa and Undina. I read the ebook, Vanesssa the paperback and Undina the audibook.

It was very much my style being an atmospheric, slightly eerie, historical fiction set in Amsterdam in the 1600s. Eighteen year-old Nella marries the nearly forty year-old merchant, Johannes Brandt, and moves to the city. Marriage is far from what she expected as she rarely sees Joanne’s, while his haughty sister, Marin, runs the house as if Nella doesn’t exist. Her only solace is the replica house Johannes buys her as a wedding present. She contacts a mysterious miniaturist to make items for the house but soon finds the striking little models of items and people turn out to be prophetic.

I read the first half at a leisurely pace but raced through the second half as we are hit with one revelation after another. It was nearly a five star book except that the mystery of the fortune-telling miniatures is never resolved plus it made no sense to me to have the epilogue at the start of the book instead of the end. Still a very good read. 4/5

The Four Agreements by MIguel Ruis

“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.”

This is a modern self-help classic based on ancient Mexican Toltec wisdom. It’s a quick read and pretty simple in concept. The Four Agreements we are encouraged to make with ourselves are: Be Impeccable with your Word, Don’t Take Anything Personally, Don’t Make Assumptions and Do Your Best. All admirable and will make a real difference if you can implement them but you need to challenge your existing limiting beliefs first and that’s not so easy (probably more achievable with CBT). It did remind me of the Carlos Castenda books I read in my youth about the Toltec shaman Don Juan which was nice and I hope to remember not to take things personally more. 3.75/5

The Ten Thousands Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

“How fitting, that the most terrifying time in my life should require me to do what I do best: escape into a book.”

This book ticked so many of my boxes. It’s a portal fantasy with a historical setting and the most gorgeous writing. January, a girl with copper coloured skin, lives with her benefactor, Mr Locke, in Vermont during the early 1900s. Her father travels the world sending back rare artefacts for Mr Locke’s collection. At age 7, January writes in her notebook and a door opens up to another world that smells of salt and cedar. At the age of 17 she finds a book called The Ten Thousand Doors and her story is then interwoven with that of Adelaide Larson who sees a door open in a field and a strange boy walk through it. The two of them spend the following decade looking for one another again. Meanwhile, January learns that Mr Locke’s archaeological society is not as harmless as it seems and she is in fact, in grave danger.

The story is beautifully told and it was great to have a mixed race heroine in a fantasy book for once. There was also a strong olfactory element which I always enjoy. Just my thing. 5/5

A Cry in the Dark (Carly Moore #1) by Denise Grover Swank

Towards the end of February I found out shielding was extended to 31st March, so I only felt like reading something pulpy and undemanding. Years ago, I read the Rose Gardner Mysteries by this author and they were humorous with a good slug of romance, all set in the Deep South (which I love). Cry in the Dark is similar being a spin-off featuring a side character from the original series. By this point, I had zero recollection of her or her storyline but it didn’t matter. Carly is escaping a dangerous and powerful ex, with a new identity, when her car breaks down and she has to make a stop in a backwoods Smoky Mountain town. She gets a temporary job at Max Drummond’s tavern but is attracted to his seemingly hostile brother, Wyatt. On her first night in the town she witnesses the murder of a teenage boy by a drugs gang and the police are out to nail it on her.

It was not in the least bit scary/stressful because the baddies are more like comic book characters. Truth be told, the plot was a load of twaddle and the writing is sub par. I did consider DNFing it, but sometimes it’s good to read something daft if you’re feeling fragile. 2.75/5

Eat, Drink, Run by Bryony Gordon

“I learn how to do something called a burpee, which seems to involve squatting down, throwing your legs back, and then jumping back up again. Burpees look simple, fun even, but do not be fooled. They have actually been sent from the third circle of hell to punish those of us who have committed the cardinal sin of gluttony.”

I’d previously read journalist Bryony Gordon’s mental health memoir, Mad Girl. I bought the audio book about running to listen to on my 30 minute trots around the local streets because I thought it might be motivating. Actually it’s less a book about how to run and more about how exercise can help your mental health. At age 36, 16 stone, a smoker and binge drinker, Bryony agrees to run the London Marathon for the Royals’ Heads Together charity. She goes to one of those ‘body camps’ in Ibiza that rich people go to train for the marathon and is told she has a biological age of 51. However, during one of my 30 minute stints, with some ups and downs, she goes from jogging to running 10km. Sadly I found this rather demotivating as after 2 months, I still feel like I’m about to collapse running 3.7km. Why can’t I improve?!

This is a very short, humorous book though and not intended as a guide for runners. The inclusion of the podcast she did with Prince Harry in which he opened up about his own struggles for the first time was a nice bonus. 3/5

How do you feel about giving up on books you’re not getting on with?

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REPLICA by Maison Margiela – Mini Reviews

I’ve noticed a couple of perfume brands seem to be particularly popular with UK social media influencers. One is Atelier Cologne and the other is Maison Margiela. So much so that my sister bought the Maison Margiela REPLICA Memory Box on the back of one of them raving about it.

She was enamored by the REPLICA concept of the ‘reproduction of familiar scents and moments from varying locations and periods’ like Coffee Break, Bubble Bath and At The Barber’s. Yes, it’s a cross between Demeter and CB I Hate Perfumes who pioneered this concept many years ago now.

The REPLICA Memory Box is a sample set with 10 x 2ml EdT spray vials. After testing, my sister gave two of the more masculine fragrances to her husband and the rest to me.

Under the Lemon Trees

This is a simple, bright, citrus fragrance. More like zesting a lemon than walking under lemon trees. It was fine until it all but disappeared after an hour. I suspect this is because after the citrus burst, it reverted to a white musk that I can’t smell.

Springtime in a Park

I thought this was going to be super dull but it’s actually a wistful, romantic lily of the valley with a fantastic pear note. It has a lovely, soft, hazy quality. Not my usual style but I enjoyed wearing it. Really pretty and mood-lifting and gives me a hit of the much needed hopefulness that Spring brings.

Lazy Sunday Morning

This is like a sweeter version of Springtime in a Park: mainly lily of the valley but this time paired with a syrupy orange blossom. There are musks to evoke clean bedding but they are subsumed by the flowers. It’s a pleasant floral but I liked Springtime’s airiness and originality more.

Beach Walk

I thought this would be a rugged coastal fragrance but it’s actually your classic tropical beachy scent. Beach Walk leaves you smelling like warm skin and coconut sun lotion with some glorious ylang-ylang thrown in. It’s not new but this style of perfume is hard not to like.

By The Fireplace

Ooh this is more like it. I’m trash for a smoky scent and this one has a great roasted nut accord over a smoky vanilla base. It reminds me of the caramelised nutty smokiness of Aomassai by Parfumerie Generale which I always had a soft spot for.

Flower Market

A fresh floral in that straight-from-the-florist’s-fridge kind of way. It’s freesia-forward with clean jasmine rounding it out. Nothing special but it’s perfectly pretty and the kind of fragrance a lot of civilians (including a friend of mind) love.

Sailing Day

This opens like a traditional masculine but settles into something far more interesting. It’s a refreshing sea breeze over leafy aromatics lining the sand dunes. The combination of salt and herbs works well and makes it more striking than most others in the line.

Whispers in the Library

I saved this one for last as I love the name and idea of it. Sadly, it was just too sweet. Old books have a vanillic quality but this is overly sugary and smells more like a bakery. A vanilla perfume sprinkled lightly with black pepper and cedar shavings. Shame.

What’s good about these perfumes is that they are available as 10ml travel sprays which is probably ideal for these kind of ‘novelty’ fragrances. I guess my main criticism would be that the ones I tried are generally not quite novel enough.

Do you like the sound of any of these? Did you like the Demeter or CB I Hate Perfumes back in the day?

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January Reading Diary

I eased myself into January with several short books, most of which had a self-help slant and gave me a lot of comfort in a tough month.

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy

 

“What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said? asked the boy.
‘Help,’ said the horse.
‘Asking for help isn’t giving up,’ said the horse. ‘It’s refusing to give up.”

I’ve been waiting for this picture book to be released as an audiobook and it finally was at the end of last year. I decided to wait to listen to it on New Year’s Day and it was just perfect. It has been called ‘A book of hope for uncertain times.’ It’s hard to think of more uncertain times than now.  Last year I bought copies for my niece and a friend.

Charlie Mackesy has a lovely warm voice tinged with humour and fragility and the subtle musical touches are gorgeous. We follow the characters as they spend time wandering the countryside, playing, talking and saving each other literally and metaphorically.

This is a beautiful, comforting and touching tale about acceptance, kindness and hope. It’s full of gentle lessons for life. I’m happy I have it on hand to listen to whenever I need it.  5/5

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

“Suddenly I saw in front of me the Statue of the Faun, the Statue that I love above all others. There was his calm, faintly smiling face; there was his forefinger gently pressed to his lips. […] Hush! he told me. Be comforted!”

Unlike the rest of the world, I was underwhelmed by Clarke’s 2004 debut novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I found it chronically over-long and dry. I picked up her latest novel, Piranesi because of the effusive praise – The Times called it ‘Spectacular’ – and the fact that is less than 300 pages.

At first I wasn’t sure I’d be able to continue it considering I was shielding and the main character, Piranesi, is alone in an endless labyrinthine building consisting of massive halls lined by classical marble statues. Seas wash across the lower halls and the upper halls are draped in clouds. Piranesi spends his days appreciating the statues, leaving offerings for the 13 skeletons and collecting fresh water and seaweed for broth. He records everything in his journals which form the structure of the book. Apart from birds, the only other life Piranesi sees is a person he calls ‘The Other’ who he meets twice a week to discuss his research. The Other is determined to uncover the Great and Secret Knowledge he believes ‘the House’ possesses.

Unlike The Other, Piranesi is an endearing character, being guileless, trusting and grateful for everything within his world. The writing is atmospheric and the descriptions of the House are extraordinarily vivid. It’s one of those singular books that once read, you will never forget. The House will stay with you long after the plot has faded.

Piranesi’s isolation and the way The Other is so uncharitable towards him is unsettling. If I couldn’t have finished it in two sittings I might have put it aside. At around the halfway point, what is happening – and why -gradually starts to be revealed.

This is a multi-layered book with a myriad of grand themes including the solace found in religion and art and the corrupting nature of the pursuit of power. I imagine different people will see different things in it and no doubt some of the allegory went over my head.

For me, it was about trauma and the benefits and risks of finding ways to cope and escape from it. Sometimes you need to escape to survive but ultimately you risk living a life in unreality. No matter how scary the world is, it is at least real and there is beauty there if we can tune ourselves into it. It’s all about balance.

Objectively I can see why most people rate this is a 5 stars. It’s mysterious, gripping and evocative but I rate based on my enjoyment and because of it’s disquieting effect on me it’s 4.25/5

What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey

“Whether you flounder or flourish is always in your hands—you are the single biggest influence in your life. Your journey begins with a choice to get up, step out, and live fully.”

I loved watching The Oprah Winfrey Show during my teens. As it evolved it fueled my interest in personal development and I read many books featured on the show.

What I Know For Sure is a collection of the short monthly articles Oprah wrote for her O Magazine. They are divided into several topics: Joy, Resilience, Connection, Gratitude etc. 

It’s a speedy, inspiring and comforting read. 4/5

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Tines by Katherine May

“We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.”

 

I came to this little non-fiction book via Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s about wintering both literally and metaphorically.  Katherine is a British writer who lives down on the Kent coast. A few years ago she went through her own personal winter and talks about how she got through it. We hear from various people about their own experiences and how they survived their tough times. These are interspersed with interviews with people in cold climates to learn how they cope with extreme winters. She covers her own trips to Iceland and Finland and cold water swimming. It’s an easy, personal read that focuses on how you may not be the same after your own winter but you can benefit from it and come out renewed. I also liked it’s focus on rest and retreat as I have a tendency to feel I need to be moving forward all the time. 4/5

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”

 

Apparently this 1922 novel was popular in the late 1960s with the Flower Power generation. It’s a short tale about the spiritual journey of a young man in India – named Siddhartha – at the time of the Buddha. He goes against his father to become samana (an ascetic seeker) living in the forest. He then meets a courtesan named Kamala (apparently a common name in India meaning ‘lotus’) and falls into a life of lust, business and gambling for many years before finally coming to a point of despair. This drives him back to a simple life working as a ferryman and returning to the spiritual path.  It’s an uncomplicated story with beautiful writing and a gorgeous sense of place but that was about it. 3/5

 

What kind of start did your new reading year get off to?

 

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Fleur de Peau by Diptyque

Top notes Aldehydes, Pink Pepper, Angelica and Bergamot; middle notes: Iris and Turkish Rose; base notes Musk, Ambrette, Carrot, Ambergris, Leather, Sandalwood and Amberwood

This perfume came up on my radar when beauty journalist Sali Hughes said it was the fragrance she has worn the most during lockdown. She described it as a musky, iris skin scent which really piqued my interest. I have a gaping hole in my collection where a skin scent should be and one based around iris sounded enticing.

As you may have heard, sales of scented candles have rocketed over the last year and I made my first Diptyque purchase before Christmas, which happily came with a sample of Fleur de Peau.

Released in 2018, it won in the categories Perfume Extraordinaire and Best New Women’s Fragrance at The Fragrance Foundation Awards London.

Rather than a blast of aldehydes as I had prepared – braced – myself for, Fleur de Peau opens with a very lovely iris; the kind that smells like a fresh ream of white paper. It’s crisp and airy, borne on a cloud of clean musks and silky aldehydes which manifest as a soft wash of glistening soap bubbles.

As it settles, powder puffs up and gently covers the perfume in a light dusting accompanied by just the softest blush of rose. The whole effect is romantic, low-key elegant and soothing. It doeesn’t quite stray into boudoir perfume territory, perhaps because it’s just a tad too minimal and subdued for that association.

Iris and ambrette are often paired and this union works once again. I think ambrette is best described as a vegetal, slighty fruity musk – not animalic and not dryer fresh. It adds another nuance to the composition and prevents the white musk from dominating.

The base is when it smells most like skin, in the purest way.

I can certainly see why Sali turned to this fragrance during lockdown. It is a subtle pastel perfume that doesn’t feel out of place worn around the home. I’ve really struggled to spray anything while staying in but this has been effortless to wear. It’s a perfume to relax with: undemanding yet elevated thanks to the iris.

While it is lovely in all its parts, on reflection I think I’m looking for more of a furry musk.

As you would expect, it stays close to the body but longevity is true to its EdP strength.

If you’re not a fan of wispy scents then this won’t be for you. It is not a perfume to set the world alight. On the other hand, if you are in search of a skin scent with an iris twist, it’s a good bet. Just be sure not to try it on paper if you want it to bloom.

Have you been able to wear perfume in lockdown? What have been your go-tos?

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