Author Archives: Tara

Reading Diary – August 2019

I didn’t quite reach my Goodreads reading challenge to get through 30 books last year. This was largely because I didn’t read at all during the month of my trip to Australia. This year I set it at 25 so I wouldn’t become idiotically feel under pressure in the run-up to 31st December. Guess what? I reached 25 books in August.

I felt pretty anxious all month and my reading choices reflect this: humorous, adventurous romps to take my mind off things, self-help books to try and find solutions, and a couple of novels that I hoped would calming my nerves.

 

Hope for the Best (Chronicles of St Mary’s Book 10) by Jodi Taylor

‘Let us all think carefully. Who here has the least value? Who has annoyed me the most?’ He turned to face me. ‘Who is in need of a much-deserved lesson?’
‘No idea,’ I said.
‘Oh, I think you do.’
‘Well, yes, I do, but I thought it would be rude to point out it’s you. Not in front of your men. Although it would be good to stop you talking before everyone dies of boredom.’

 

hope for the best

This, the 10th book in the series, came out in April but I’ve been saving it. So when I didn’t know what I wanted to read next and felt a bit low, it was there waiting for me. St. Mary’s is my literary happy place however much of this book is spent with the Time Police who are soon to have their own spin-off series. In any case, the action is still led by our indomitable hero Max and as per usual, misfortune abounds as she travels back to the Cretaceous period to try and finish her nemesis once and for all. But first she must fix an anomaly in the Time Map and make sure Mary Tudor fulfils her destiny in the 16th century.  (I have already pre-ordered Book 11 which will be released in April next year.)  5/5

 

Happy: Why Just About Everything Is Absolutely Fine by Derren Brown

“We do not have the control over events that we like to imagine would allow us to succeed through self-belief. In truth, we aim in one direction, events pull us in the other, and the line of our life is drawn along the middle.”

 

happy

I’ve long been a fan of illusionist Derren Brown. I’ve watched the TV shows and seen his stage show a couple of times. It was always clear that he was an extremely clever guy but now he’s written a self-help book based on Stoic philosophy: a must-read for me then. People in the field of personal development are always talking about goal-setting but this has long been a source of anxiety for me. It was incredibly reassuring and a huge relief to have Derren acknowledge this in the first fifth of the book. Latter sections show you how you can apply Stoic philosophy to everyday life.  I lost interest during a couple of chapters covering anger and fame but those covering death were as well thought-out as they were thought-provoking.  4/5

 

 

The Summer Book by Tove Jannsen

“Smell is important. It reminds a person of all the things he’s been through; it is a sheath of memories and security.”

summer-book

Unfortunately, I read this book for adults by the author of the Moomntroll series at the wrong time. It needs patience and a calm mind so you can settle into its gentle pace. With my anxiety in full swing it was a bad fit.  It’s not a novel where you can get lost in the narrative (which I needed) but a series of vignettes mainly set in the summer but not necessarily in the same year.  They revolve around a grandmother and her granddaughter Sophia who spend their summers on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland. The father is there too but he’s a shadowy figure in the background. I enjoyed some of the stories a lot but grew distracted with those where very little happens. Sophia is precocious and volatile and the fact that her mother has died coloured everything for me. Her interactions with her grandmother are often humorous and charming but sometimes felt a little surreal.  I did have to laugh when she stuck a note under the door saying something like ‘I hate you, With warmest personal wishes, Sophia’. The passages about the island’s flora, landscape and weather were beautiful and I found the atmosphere unique. It’s clearly a special book, I just wasn’t in the right mindset to fully appreciate it. 3/5

 

 

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

“My heart started racing, not the bad kind of heart racing, like I’m going to die. But the good kind of heart racing, like, Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I’m about to kick the shit out of life.”

Whered-You-Go-Bernadette

I struggled with this book a little at first because I found Bernadette hard to like. She is somtimes ignorant, always judgemental and usually ranting about everything from Seattle’s road system to Canadians and homeless people. That made it hard to care that she went missing but as the story evolves we find out more about Bernadette’s past and that made it easier to empathise. Her main redeeming features however, is her relationship with her bright and engaging teenage daughter, Bee. Events unfold via various letters, emails and documents as Bee tries to piece together what happened in the run up to her disappearance. This format was highly enjoyable and worked really well. It’s touted as a satire of Microsoft (where Bee’s hapless father works) and private school parents, and while it’s often very funny, it also has heart. It was pretty outlandish but a great distraction. 4/5 (Now a film starring Cate Blanchett)

 

 

Anxiety Rebalance by Carl Vernon

It’s a terrible admission but in my weaker moments I envy people who have high anxiety and don’t have a clue about what they should be doing in order to manage it. Those people, like the many testimonials in the latest edition of Anxiety Rebalance, can read a book like this and totally transform their lives in 3 months as it suggests. They can implement the ’10 actions’ to create a healthy lifestyle with a supportive daily routine and experience a dramatic turnaround. It’s as if they have been reborn and their past life is like a bad dream. This book is perfect for those people. However, if you’ve long been aware you suffer from anxiety and gradually worked out how to function with it on a daily basis, reading this book isn’t going to make a difference. One day I’ll realise no one has all the answers.  2/5

anxiety rebalance

Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa

All experience adds up to a life lived as only you could. I feel sure the day will come when you can say: this is my life.

In my very limited experience, I’ve found contemporary Japanese fiction can be very soothing. I was picking up and putting down book after book until I started this and read over a quarter in one sitting. There’s a spaciousness about the writing style that calms me.  The plots may seem simplistic but there is usually an existential theme just beneath the surface. They also tend to include pleasing descriptions of Japanese food. Sweet Bean Paste is set in a confectionery shop in Tokyo that sells dorayaki (sweet pancakes). Sentaro wants to be a writer but is running the shop to pay off a debt her owes the owner. He has no passion for the job and buys in the sweet bean paste. Then he agrees to let an elderly woman, Tokue, work in the kitchen making her exceptional sweet bean paste, despite his reservations over her deformed fingers. A friendship slowly develops which is put to the test when Tokue’s secret is revealed. It’s a touching quietly gorgeous book. 5/5

Sweet-Bean-Paste-by-Durian-Sukegawa

 

How was your August, reading or otherwise?

 

 

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Douleur by Bogue Profumo x Freddie Albrighton

Notes: Mint, Flesh, Rose, Candyfloss, Seaweed and Benzoin

I know tattoo artist and fragrance aficionado Freddie Albrighton through various meet-ups over the years and his (sadly defunct) perfume blog. I think it’s true to say that he has been drawn to maverick artisan perfumers and that they in turn, have been drawn to him. I imagine they share a similar sensibility. He did the marketing artwork for Vero Kern’s masterwork Rozy and now he has collaborated on a perfume with Antonio Gardoni of Bogue Profumo. How cool is that?

No doubt the project worked in part because they both have a love of novel aromas that not everyone would expect to find in a perfume. I mean, just look at that note list. It made me smile and reminded me of when my then 5 year-old niece said her pretend perfume was made of ‘Lavender, raspberries, rainbows, strawberries and peppermint’. Douleur isn’t child’s play, though it encompasses a similar level of blue-sky thinking.

 

I’ve seen the opening described a few times as ‘piercing’ and on spraying that is exactly the word. It’s a penetrating combination of everything that is to come but at the highest possible pitch and all at once. It’s as if the contents of the sample which seemed to be pulsating in my bag had been squirming to be set free and once the sprayer is depressed, every note hurtles for freedom.

Once it settles after a couple of minutes, the core of Douleur is revealed as rose oxide which is a material both Freddie and Antonio are fond of. You usually hear it referred to as a metallic rose but while I get that almost camphoric steeliness, my nose reads it more as a rose surrounded by bitter greens. This red bloom wrapped in vines is counterbalanced by wisps of candyfloss and a hint of dried seaweed saltiness.,
Over tume it softens and rounds out considerably as the comforting presence of benzoin in the base comes throigh. The various contrasts knit together and it smells like a ‘proper’, if uncommon, perfume with a mix of hot/cold, hard/soft and bitter/sweet facets.

It does indeed stick to the skin like a tattoo and billows out in waves, ensuring a devastating scent trail.

Antoni says “experiencing odours should be challenging and playful” and that’s exactly what trying Douleur is like. It takes me back to the time when I first got into perfume and inhaling something new was always exciting and interesting, even if it wasn’t to my usual taste.

We can get trapped in our comfort zones. Douleur has come to shake things up.

 

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Do you find yourself only sampling perfumes that are in line with what you know you already like? Would you give Douleur a try?

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Los Angeles by Gallivant

“Drive fast, I can almost taste it now
LA, I don’t even have to fake it now”

– ‘American’ by Lana Del Rey

Notes: Eucalyptus, Clary Sage, Mandarin and Pineapple, Narcissus, Tuberose, Cade, Guaiac, Nagarmotha, Musks and Heliotrope.

I haven’t been to Los Angeles since my 21st birthday but I know it’s more of a collection of discrete neighbourhoods than somewhere with a distinct focal point. Despite this, we all have a strong idea of the place.  The recent launch from British indie brand Gallivant, mirrors the differing aspects that meld together to create an overall impression which is that of a ‘neon floral’.

Los Angeles is Gallivant’s eighth release. You can read my mini reviews of London, Tel Aviv, Istanbul and Brooklyn here.

los angeles

 

The fruit cocktail and herbal top notes bring to mind louche parties in the Hollywood Hills amidst eucalyptus trees and aromatic plants.  I remember Katie Puckrik saying that the scent of LA was something like a mash-up of air-conditioning and sweet white flowers. That’s not dissimilar to the heart of Los Angeles: lush tuberose with a bubblegum quality freshened by an ocean breeze and the suggestion of salty skin.

When the sun sets we head to Sunset Strip with the scent of burning rubber on asphalt from those loud, flashy cars out looking for attention. Leather and smoky woods fill the air as Hollywood’s underbelly is revealed.  It’s an unexpected base considering the lurid top half of the fragrance, although you get hints of it from the start – a slight seediness  that is always lurking just beneath the surface, even in broad daylight.

It made sense when I found out the perfumer for Los Angeles, Karine Chevallier. also did Gallivant’s London which was shortlisted for an Art and Olfaction Award. It has the same eclectic mix that manages to intrigue rather than jar. An amped up fruity floral with a smoky, tarry base sounds unlikely on paper but it works and works well.

The Eau de Parfum has very good lasting power and low to moderate throw.

Los Angeles is a fun ride. It’s up for a good time but a sense of melancholy creeps in towards the end of night once the party’s over. It’s like one of those cinematic songs by Lana del Rey; sultry, hypnotic and just the right amount of trashy.

 

lana del

 

Do you have a favourite ‘destination perfume’? Let me know in the comments.

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Reading Diary June/July 2019

I read a fair amount of books and so I try to do what I can to keep the cost down. I only read via my Kindle and there are a lot of ebook offers on Amazon if you can spend the time to trawl through them. I’m constantly buying books for 99p through the Kindle Daily Deal promotion but there are various other offers whether these are monthly, seasonal or ‘Kindle Firsts’. The problem is, I buy them so regularly they tend to pile up.

I decided to try  to read only books I’d bought for 99p for a couple of months. I managed it with all of the books in this blog post. What’s surprising is that a couple were recent releases I thought I’d have to wait to come down in price before I could justify the purchase.

 

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“I had absolutely no interest in being somebody else’s muse. I am not a muse.
I am the somebody. End of fucking story.”

Reid had a huge hit with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo a couple of years ago. This 2019 release is based on a Fleetwood Mac type band in the Seventies and again, it has received rave reviews.  It’s told in the form of interview transcripts with the band members and associates looking at back at the past and I know some have seen this as a drawback. I wondered at first if it would prevent me becoming absorbed in the story: it didn’t but it did keep it rather surface level so I didn’t fall for it the ways others have. It was a light, quick read with several strong female characters and all the complicated inter-band relationships you’d expect, along with the mandatory sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.  I’m sure it would make a good beach read, particularly as an audiobook given the format. It’s extremely filmic so expect it to be a film or TV show in the not too distant future. 3.5/5

daisy jones

 

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

“To be kin to a dragon, you must not only have a soul of water. You must have the blood of the sea, and the sea is not always pure. It is not any one thing. There is darkness in it, and danger, and cruelty….To be a Miduchi is not to be pure, Tané. It is to be the living sea. That is why I chose you. You have a dragon’s heart.”

I was apprehensive about starting this chunker of an adult epic fantasy.  It was incredibly hyped before its release earlier this year and now a minor backlash has occurred. For 99p I was able to make up my own mind.  This is a Game of Thrones type-universe (with a feminist twist) where the East and West have been at a stand-off for a thousand years. Much misunderstanding and suspicion has grown in the intervening centuries but when the ultimate threat of the return of The Nameless One arises, things need to change. There’s a lot of political intrigue and adventure and I enjoyed the way we change perspectives across the world.  I don’t have the dragon fetish that a lot of fantasy readers possess but these can talk which makes them much more interesting. What really stood out for me was that the story revolves largely around three very driven women and the diversity of characters in terms of both sexuality and ethnicity is excellent.  Not everyone’s cup of tea but it was mine. I just have to knock off a star because, like most books, it doesn’t need to be over 800 pages long.  4/5

priory of

 

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

“Well, child, you may do whatever you like with your suffering,” Hanneke said mildly. “It belongs to you. But I shall tell you what I do with mine. I grasp it by the small hairs, I cast it to the ground, and I grind it under the heel of my boot. I suggest you learn to do the same.”

I loved Liz Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic  but have been reticent about her fiction which appears to be rather hit or miss. I took a small 99p chance on The Signature of All Things because it sounded like it could be my kind of thing. It’s a 600 page historical fiction spanning the late 1700s to the late 1800s. It traverses the globe from England to Tahiti, the Americas, Amsterdam – and back again. It starts out with impoverished yet enterprising Englishman Henry Whittaker, who secures a place on Captain Cook’s final expedition as an assistant to a botanist. He makes his fortune through a plant cure for malaria and takes his new Dutch wife to America where he becomes the richest man in Phillidelphia. For the most part however, the novel follows his fiercely clever, if blinkered, daughter Alma, who follows in his naturalist footsteps, eventually quite literally. I think to enjoy this sprawling book you have to like spending time in the 19th century (a passing interest in plants also helps). It’s not about a riveting plot but about watching this well-intentioned woman try to find her way through life despite crushing disappointments and devastating mistakes. 3.75/5

signature

 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

“In everyone’s life there are people who stay and people who go and people who are taken against their will.”

This novel made quite the splash when it was released and was shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize. Despite that (haha) it’s a highly engaging read which I raced through. Our narrator Rosemary is quirky and humorous with a great love of words (keep a dictionary handy). The story revolves around her unconventional upbringing in Indiana and the consequences It has on the rest of her life. The timeline jumps around so the mystery surrounding the disappearance of her sister Fern isn’t revealed until almost around a quarter of the way in. Strangely, it seems the publishers encourage people to disclose the twist when recommending the book to others. I disagree. It would spoil the reveal which is really something. Unfortunately, I can’t say any more without spoiling it but the cover quote ‘Hilarious and heartbreaking’ sums it up nicely.  4.5/5

 

we are all

 

How To Be Human: The Manual by Ruby Wax

It’s this sense of unrest, this nagging feeling we should be finding some meaning (especially existentialists) that makes us very, very unhappy. Baboons are still going round having the time of their lives while we’re tearing out what little hair we have (compared to the baboons) trying to suss out why we don’t feel good enough.

I read and thought a lot of Frazzled and Sane New World so I snatched it up How to Be Human when it came up for a song. All three books have mindfulness at their core but take different approaches. It’s good to keep hearing the message because it encourages me in my own practice. This book focuses on the fact that our lives have changed radically over millennia have but our brains haven’t. There is input in each chapter from her friends, the neuroscientist and the Buddhist monk which makes for an entertaining and insightful read. There is also a host of mindfulness exercises for tackling a whole range of issues.  Ruby’s experience tracing her family’s roots in Austria towards the end of the book was particularly moving. 4/5

How-to-be-Human-The-Manual-by-Ruby-Wax

 

Do you have any summer reading recommendations?

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Most Worn – Summer 2019

I don’t plan on posting perfume reviews during August and Strange Tales From The Cookie Queen will be taking a break until the end of the month. However, Portia will be joining ABR on a monthly basis (yay) and inspired by her own excellent Summer List, I thought I’d share my own most worn perfumes this season.

The U.K. has experienced another heatwave this year with temps hitting an all-time high for July last Thursday of 38.1 degrees Celsius (about 101F). No joke when you don’t have aircon. Thank goodness for the cooling, distracting powers of perfume.

 

Eau de Rochas by Rochas

I love this cheapie from 1970 so much. You may not envisage it from the wide-ranging notes list but Eau de Rochas is all about lime and patchouli on me The tart lime against the raspy patch is bliss and has been perfect for muggy (overcast, humid) days. It makes a pleasant change from the white flowers or clean citrus. The bottle fits in well with my home décor too which is a bonus, haha.

Frangipani by Ormond Jayne

A dear friend in Sydney gave me a travel spray of this swoon-inducing fragrance when I stayed with her last summer. It reminds me of her every time I wear it. Frangipani is my favourite of the OJ white florals. It’s all creamy petals and tropical langour with zero screechiness. A squeeze of lime cuts through the buttery flowers like an ocean breeze.  The carefree, barefoot feeling it gives me is priceless: carrying me off to the Polynesian islands which I hope to visit for real one fine day.

 

 

Eau de Mandarine Ambrée by Hermes

The Hermes Eau de Cologne collection is top-notch and in an ideal world I’d own all of them. Eau de Mandarine Ambrée takes the fruity note that makes me the most happy – mandarin – and combines it with a lightweight, sunlit amber to extend its lasting power. My friend was disappointed that the mandarin didn’t last longer and gifted me her bottle but it doesn’t bother me. It can be a little syrupy so I wear it when the heat is in the low to mid twenties.

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Prodigieux le parfum by NUXE

I love the original NUXE multi-use oil – it has a sprayer and dries quickly, as well as smelling great. The scent reminds me of summer holidays sur le continent. Where others cite Bronze Goddess as their beach perfume of choice, I’m not so fond of the prominent coconut accord. Prodigieux le parfum is the perfect beachy scent for me with its notes of orange blossom, magnolia and vanilla. It brings me all those old school sun lotion vibes while I’m chained to the office desk. I only wear it when the temperature hits the high 20s. It doesn’t feel right to be laying on the sand – olfactory speaking –  otherwise.

 

 

 

Iris Silver Mist by Serge Lutens layered with Seville a L’Aube by L’Artisan Parfumeur

Here’s the curveball. EauMG recently posted a fantastic Instagram story about how she was standing next to an older lady who looked like an ex-model and smelt amazing. She screwed up her courage and asked what she was wearing. It turned out to be Chanel’s Paris-Venise (neroli, vanilla, tonka) layered with Iris Silver Mist. MIND BLOWN. I don’t own the Chanel so I improvised with the orange blossom oriental Seville a L’Aube instead. It it worked well. The Artisan can be a little ‘thick’ and sweet so ISM’s cool steeliness was a great counterbalance. I just need to use a bit less SaL’A or flip the order because I lost that stunning iris after a while.

 

How’s your summer coming along? Any perfumes you’ve been loving in the heat?

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Galop d’ Hermes

Notes: Saffron, Quince, Rose, Osmanthus, Leather and Musks

 

Christina Nagel’s Twilly was chic with just right amount of quirk and her additions to the Hermessence line have been stellar, with my particular favourite being the radiant jasmine, Cedre Sambac. The oils are exquisite and if I had the budget, I’d purchase Musc Pallida in a heartbeat. The 2016 release of Galop continued the trend and lies somewhere between the two in terms of availability and price point.

Val the Cookie Queen fell hard for Galop and kindly gifted me with a large decant last winter. I’ve nearly drained it.

Let’s start by taking a look at that fabulous stirrup bottle…

galop

Galop has a very striking olfactory colour palette. To my mind it’s petal pink and saffron orange.  It is only available in Parfum concentration which, of course, has excellent lasting power but also retains a transparency that is very much in the classic style of the previous in-house perfumer, Jean Claude Ellena.

I never tire of the saffron, quince and rose accord. It’s masterfully crafted with no facet being out of kilter. The tart quince counters the sweetness of the rose and the savoury saffron bathes the whole composition in golden light.  It just sings. The saffron has a substantial presence but it’s not as pungent as it can be. I’m generally fond of it as a note but can find it overwhelming. Here it is perfectly pitched, gloriously bright and full but not too spicy.

The rose heart is pure pink, softly sweet and very pretty. It’s poles apart from a dark, sultry red rose. There is also a mouth-watering, juicy fruitiness which I imagine is coming from peachy osmanthus.

Hermes started making riding acoutremonts and so there is often a nod to leather in their fragrances. It’s present here but to my nose it’s more like blush suede.

Galop has just the right amount of tension between sweet and sour and this makes it moreish.

One perfume that I constantly turn to during spring/summer is Vaara by Penhaligon’s. It has a similar saffron/quince/rose combination but a lot lighter (EdP strength) and lacks any leather. Where Vaara dries done to a soft rose, Galop’s development doesn’t have any clear demarcations. The saffron merely becomes calmer and creamier.

It’s a fragrance I pick up in a hurry with the confidence that it always feels right. I can see Galop being the same only on a whole other level of elegance, complexity and quality.

I’ll have to content myself with the Penhaligon’s fragrance until I have the funds for the Hermes.

 

galop horse

Do you like saffron in fragrances? Have you tried Galop?

 

 

 

 

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Reading Diary May/June 2019

I used to regularly read literary fiction, often reading books that had won prizes or were lauded by The Literary Review. My success rate wasn’t great. I DNFed The Line of Beauty and The Corrections. I was baffled as to the fuss over The Life of Pi and Captain Correlli’s Mandolin. The end of Atonement ended me. Then it dawned on me that these books are often written by – and to impress – literary types. They sometimes mess around with the form, can be snobby and tend to favour a depressing ending. It felt like they were more concerned with showing off than providing people (like me) with a good read. So I more or less gave up on them and retreated into genre fiction. I’m trying not to rule them out  anymore and gradually dipping my toe back in does make me appreciate the quality of their writing.

 

Daughter of the Forest (Sevenwaters Trilogy Book One) by Juliet Marillier

“We draw our strength from the great oaks of the forest. As they take their nourishment from the soil, and from the rains that feed the soil, so we find our courage in the pattern of living things around us. They stand through storm and tempest. They grow and renew themselves. Like a grove of young oaks, we remain strong.”

daughter of the forest

When I told my friend about Daughter of the Forest she said she immediately knew it was my kind of book. The funny thing is that as I read it I kept thinking of Liz Moore of Papillon Perfumes to the point where I had to tell her about it. This was because the story is set 10th Century Ireland when many people still revered the nature spirits and honoured their festivals. The descritpions of the forest are lush and there re many references to flora and fauna. basically if Dryad were a book, it would Daugher of the Froest. As to the plot, it releved about young Sorcha who has a deep mystic connection to the forest. When her six brothers are cursed by a wicked stepmother the Fair Folk tell her what she must do to free them. This sets on her path that is more arduous than she could possible imainge but she is also finds kindess along the way. My only issue was it dragged a little towards the end of its 500+ pages and this put me off going straight on to Book Two in the trilogy but hopefully I’ll come to back it.  4/5 (Contains scenes of serious sexual assault.)

 

The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt

“Some of us are fated to live in a box from which there is only temporary release. We of the damned-up spirits, of the thwarted feelings, of the blocked hearts, and the pent-up thoughts, we who long to blast out, flood forth in a torrent of rage or joy or even madness, but there is nowhere for us to go, nowhere in the world because no one will have us as we are, and there is nothing to do except to embrace the secret pleasures of our sublimations…”

A couple of reading Diaries ago there was a lot of enthusiasm in the comments fo the nvels of Siri Hustvedt. I looked at her back catalogue and while not the highest rated, this was the one that appealed to me. It’s about a poet in her mid-fities who has an episode of psychosis after her husband puts there marriage on pause to pursue a relationship with a co-worker. We meet Mia after she’s left the hospital and retreated to her small home town for the summer. Here she takes on a summer poetry class for adolesecent girls at the local school and visits her mother daily at her retirement complex.  We follow the interactions between her mother’s friends “The Swans” and the group of girls who indulge in the all too familiar prepubescent pastime of singling out the most ‘different’ for subtle and not-so-subtle ridicule. It’s a study in female relationships (and to a lesser extent, relationships between men and women) but it’s also about the varied ways women are constrained. Hustvedt is clearly a fiercely intelligent woman and though I’m not keen on narrators who drop in phrases in a foreign languages and talk directly to the reader, it was an accessible literary read overall. The small town setting and limited time span kept it intimate. I warmed to Mia immediately and eventually managed to get in sync with the slow pace and just enjoy it for what it was.  3/5

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Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

“When something was strange, everyone thought they had the right to come stomping in all over your life to figure out why. I found that arrogant and infuriating, not to mention a pain in the neck. Sometimes I even wanted to hit them with a shovel to shut them up, like I did that time in elementary school. But I recalled how upset my sister had been when I’d casually mentioned this to her before and kept my mouth shut.”

There has been quite a buzz around this book with some even calling it the Japanese Eleanor Oliphant. Keiko like Eleanor, is socially inept but to a much greater degree. She has so little empathy, she appears to be sociopathic. At school she learns the best way to get by in life is to keep quiet. From there she gets a job at a convenience store and finds her true north. The store provides reassuring predictably and a role to perform. In fact she mimics the other employees in voice and dress to appear like ‘a normal person’. Keiko stays at the store for 18 years at which point she feels the pressure from those around her to make some kind of change in her life. Unlike Eleanor, there is no trauma beneath it all to make sense of her strangeness and allow the reader to empathise with her, but that’s kind of the point. No one is comfortable with her living an unconventional life even though she is perfectly content with it. A quick, quirky and engaging read. 4/5

convenience

 

Villette by Charlotte Bronte

“The negation of severe suffering was the nearest approach to happiness I expected to know. Besides, I seemed to hold two lives – the life of thought, and that of reality.”

villette

Jane Eyre is one of my favourite classics and so it makes me sad that Millenials often dislike it because they focus on the ‘problematic’ relationship with Mr Rochester rather than Jane’s incredible strength of character. When looking to get back into reading classics, I chose this much lesser known work which was Charlotte’s final novel. There are echoes of Jane Eyre with Lucy Snowe being a friendless introvert who is trying to survive in the world after a history of tragedy. Jane Eyre isn’t especially likeable but Miss Snowe is hard to warm to. I grew to understand and empathise with her however. She is the way she is as the result of her past and her circumstances. She is fearful that the rug could be pulled from under her at any point and is constantly steeling herself for disappointment. It’s a bleak book but that was Charlotte’s experience of life and I feel a kind of kinship with her. It isn’t an easy read, not least because I don’t speak French and there is untranslated dialogue throughout. 3/5

 

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

“Your parents warn you about the monsters you might encounter in dark alleyways, but they never warn you about the monsters you might find in your own mind, the ones that taunt and trouble you, and make you question yourself to your very core.”

Bryony Gordon is a journalist who wrote a best-selling memoir The Wrong Knickers about her wild twenties . What she never mentioned in that book and what she explores here, is her longstanding mental health issues.  She battles an eating disorder, depression and OCD – not the ‘tidy sock drawer’ type of OCD but the kind which makes her believe she is a serial killing paedophile.  While it’s hard going through the world feeling you are not enough, it’s equally hard feeling you’re too much: too loud, too open, too greedy, too sexual, too much. Her story is sometimes heart-breaking but often hilarious. She can appreciate the absurdity and selfishness of her younger self and acknowledges that she was often simultaneously having a great time as a columnist for The Telegraph. 3/5

 

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How has your reading been this last month or two?

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Boxwalla Perfume Box

I’ve mentioned before that my friend and ex-perfume blogger, Lavanya, started the hugely successful box subscription service, Boxwalla. There are Book, Film, Food and (green) Beauty Boxes. It had to only be a matter of time, but there is now a one-off Perfume Box.

The perfumes are from LA-based Sigil Scent and are inspired by alchemy and nature. They are all-natural EDPs composed by perfumer Patrick Kelly.

Sigil is a revival of old magic—a primal mysticism that transcends traditional gendered fragrances to cultivate both the masculine and feminine within you.

The two-phase concept is a great idea. The first box contains four 2ml samples which gives you time to test and decide which one you’d like to receive a full bottle of in the second box.

Lavanya kindly gifted me the first box and here are my impressions: –

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Solutio

Key notes: Cypriol, labdanum, chaparral tincture, cypress

‘Solutio’ is the alchemical practice of purification and dissolution. The perfume is a fizzy herbal green with a bracing, almost menthol feel at first. It settles down to a citrus aromatic blend which feels like strolling on a Greek island in the sunshine. The resinous, woody base prolongs its longevity.
Anima Mundi

Key notes: Immortelle, hinoki, rose, jasmine

Anima Mundi ‘world soul’ combines creamy, heady florals with smooth hinoki wood and caramelised smokiness. It’s an uncommon scent with a lot of contrast and texture: A deep throated, spicy floral with a substantial immortelle base. I struggle with that final note but if you love it, this could be the one for you.

Amor Fati

Key notes: Oud, galbanum, palo santo, opoponax

‘Amor Fati’ represents the belief that all the highs and lows of life are essential to the cyclical beauty of our existence. What a reassuring philosophy. The perfume is an unusual mix of smoky opoponax and resinous galbanum. The oud definitely doesn’t dominate. It‘s grounding and head-clearing with the scent of incense in the air and pine needles underfoot.

Prima Materia

Key notes: Vetiver, Oakmoss, Neroli, White Sage

In ancient times, ‘prima materia’ referred to the formless root of all matter—a blend of stars and soil, from which all things emerge. This fragrance unites bright neroli and white sage to represent the stars, and oakmoss and vetiver to represent the earth. It’s a cleansing, herbal-tinged chypre with a bright, tart edge and a murky vetiver base.

Before sampling them all I thought Prima Materia would be my favourite but in the end I’d choose Amor Fati for my full bottle which shows the system works. Not everyone is drawn to natural perfumery but there are no worries of poor lasting power here. Those that have a love of essential oils and aromatherapy blends are likely to find them immensely soothing to the senses.

If you’re based in the US and are interested in the Perfume Box you can find out more here.

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Bengale Rouge by Papillon Perfumes

Notes: Turkish Rose, Orris, Sandalwood, Tonka, Oakmoss, Honey, Vanilla, Labdanum, Benzoin and Sweet Myrrh

All of the Papillon perfumes handmade by Liz Moores are a product of her loves, life and home. Take her last fragrance Dryad released in 2017, which was a homage to the ancient forest she lives in.

It seems fitting therefore that her next launch is inspired by her beloved Bengal cat, Mimi. These leopard-coated felines are incredibly striking and have a quirky nature all their own. Have you noticed how many perfume people are also cat people? A lot.

The first thing I thought of when encountering the opening of Bengale Rouge was Guerlain’s classic Shalimar with a strong orange citrus edge. I picked up that same grown-up vanilla only with more of a whipped texture and a rosy bloom, permeated by resins.

It stops short of being an edible gourmand. Sweet perfumes are something I struggle with these days but here the honeyed tones are undercut with plenty of doughy iris, tree resins and rambling roses.

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Bengale Rouge isn’t just about a cat but a combination of the cat and its perfume-wearing human. Have no doubt, this is a fully fleshed out fragrance and a million miles away from a novelty ‘Cat Fur’ scent. The presence of orris butter adds a fantastic skin-like property and a cosmetic/boudoir facet. I don’t find it overtly sexy but it has a ‘back of the neck’ warmth: a kind of intimate vulnerability. I think this is the key to Bengale Rouge. It manages to calm the nerves while feeling subtly sensual.
The base is chiefly labdanum which has an amber aroma and a cosy, furry feel.

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The fine balance achieved here can’t have been easy but the vanilla has been leavened enough for it to work effortlessly within this multi-faceted structure that is refined while exuding a pleasing amount of langour.

Bengale Rouge doesn’t have an animalic growl but purrs ever so softly. Liz tells me that this Eau de Parfum actually verges on Extrait strength so that it clings to the skin like a caress and doesn’t let go. Unreserved spraying is a must to enjoy the full effect.

I tend to wear Dryad in the spring and Tobacco Rose in the autumn (or the evening). Bengale Rouge is Papillon’s most versatile and accessible fragrance to date. It would wear comfortably at any time without feeling in the least bit sloppy. Unlike most vanilla-forward fragrances, it is beautifully constructed with plenty of interest.

Liz felt that Bengale Rouge was the kind of perfume we needed to counteract the bleakness that exists in the world right now. It gives us something soothing to hold close while we hope for better times further down the road.

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Do you feel the need for a comforting scent like this to wrap yourself up in?

First two photo credits: Liz Moores

Last photo: Gemma Ward/Vogue Paris

N.B. Liz was kind enough to send me an advance sample of Bengale Rouge. Fingers crossed they will be available to order by July.

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Lustre by Hiram Green

“Life is golden” – Hiram Green

 

Notes: Bulgarian Rose, Citrus, Orris and Olibanum

 

Hiram Green’s strikingly dark and moody Hyde recently won the Artisan Perfume Award at the Art & Olfaction Awards in Amsterdam. It was the worthiest of winners. Hiram is an uncommon talent using naturals to create compositions of great sophistication and complexity.

At Esxence this year he surprised everyone by unveiling a brand new rose soliflore: Lustre.

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However stunning a rose perfume may be, it rarely smells like the real thing. Lustre does. It’s the pure perfume you get when you poke your nose into the heart of the open flower. We had a rose garden when I was growing up and it’s a joy to find this scent captured so beautifully: A true bottled rose.  Not to say that this is a simplistic natural concoction. It is an expertly crafted, well-rounded, fine fragrance.

The sweet scent of the Bulgarian rose is there (of course) but it is edged with citrus tartness. There is something lemony about the scent of real roses and it’s present here, most notably in the opening.

From looking at the notes you may expect to find prominent iris and incense.  I can clearly pick up on the resinous tones of olibanum if I get in close and sometimes I sense iris powder. However, the supporting accords are chiefly working together behind the scenes to create this vivid illusion of a rose in full bloom. Somehow Hiram found a way to do this without relying heavily on tried and tested  materials like patchouli, geranium or vetiver. 

Where Hyde is night, Lustre is day. It is a fresh summer rose bathed in golden sunlight, as heat begins to warm the petals and releases its scent.  Its radiance is a pleasure in itself and it takes a considerable amount of time to die down completely. It encompasses the flower’s multi-faceted aroma and makes it seem as if one has suddenly bloomed somewhere close by.

Lustre proves how a linear soliflore can retain your attention. It’s captivating when a fragrance unfolds on the skin and develops in distinct stages, moving through head, heart and base. But then a perfume will come along to remind me that blanket preferences can’t be set in stone. Lustre is rose, rose, rose and I don’t tire of it because of its depth and beauty. The intrigue is vertical, rather than horizontal. You can reach down, layer after layer, petal after petal and experience a world of rose in a single inhalation.

 

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Do you like the idea of a sunlit garden rose?

 

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