Author Archives: Tara

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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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?”

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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.”

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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.”

 

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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

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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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Lockdown Skincare Routine

It’s no surprise that my skin has been reacting to staying in as well as the rest of me. It’s normally combination but now it’s become more oily and more dry. I rarely get a spot but I had two in the first two weeks of lockdown. It’s no doubt a result of increased stress, more sugar and less fresh air.

It’s very tempting to skip my normal skincare routine, but for the most part I haven’t let it slip and I think that’s helped me feel better overall. (I was letting my hair revert back to its natural frizz-ball state but the psychological effect wasn’t worth it so I’m straightening it again).

I’m using very gentle cream cleansers that are kind to the skin. I heard lots of positive things about The Ordinary’s Squalane Cleanser and it’s as good as they say. Squalane is deeply nourishing and the cleanser has a white, balm-like consistency that breaks down easily. Although, my favourite at the moment is Superdrug’s Vitmain E Hot Cloth Cleanser as championed by The Guardian’s Sali Hughes. This has an incredibly soft feeling on the skin and like the Squalane, never leaves it the least bit tight. I always apply cleansers to dry skin and remove with a damp microfibre cloth (from Amazon). I can’t bear splashing my face with water and that isn’t very effective anyway.

In the morning, if I am suffering from dryness I may start with a face mist. I ordered La Roche Posay’s Toleriane Ultra 8 Soothing Daily Moisturising Concentrate after skin expert Caroline Hirons recommended it for stay home skin. As a result of this, it’s now hard to get hold of and my bottle is yet to arrive. It should be a nice way to boost moisture after cleansing. A face spritz isn’t a necessity but hey, I have the time.

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I don’t feel like I’ve done my routine properly without including an active and in the A.M. it’s Niacinamide Serum by The INKEY List. It has anti-ageing properties but the fact that it supports the skin’s barrier function is a bonus. Vitamin C feels too irritating at the moment.

I’ve tried to tackle flaky, dry skin, particularly around the eye area, with various lotions and creams. Nothing has worked for long. Then I kept hearing about a cheap as chips serum from Superdrug and for £2.99 thought I’d give it a try. It’s been game-changing and definitely my current hero product. It’s the Simply Pure Hydrating Serum for sensitive skin. I use it all over the face paying particular attention to the eye area. I haven’t had a single flake since.

I’m very skeptical of expensive eye creams and am currently using CeraVe Eye Repair Cream morning and evening. I tend to think my general skincare migrates to the eye area anyway and that it’s most important to keep it hydrated.

As I currently have access to a garden (hurrah!), I finish with Paula’s Choice Skin Restoring Moisturiser SPF 50. I agree with the adage that the best sunscreen is the one you’ll actually use. A cheaper alternative I’d love to get my hands on when this runs out is The Body Shop’s Skin Defence Multi-Protection Lotion SPF 50 which has had rave reviews for its light texture.

In the evening, I remove the SPF with the Vitamin E cleanser and follow with 0.05% tretinoin from Dermatica and my eye cream. I leave that to do its thing for a while and then may follow up later with the Super drug Simply Pure Hydrating Night Serum. (It was buy one get one half price so why not?) Sometimes, for extra comfort and to counteract the drying effect of the tret, I add a final layer of moisturiser which would normally be CeraVe PM Moisturising Lotion but I also use Natural Moisturising Factors by The Ordinary.

I feel like this routine is now really working for me and my skin is looking and feeling much better.

How is your skin doing during lockdown? Are you giving it a break from make-up and seeing the benefits or it is having a freakout all of its own?
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Staying Sane When Staying Home

If you’re not used to staying indoors day after day, how do you protect your sanity? I haven’t seen anyone face-to-face or stepped outside my front door for over a week now. What I have found that helps the most is forming some kind of routine. I can’t work remotely (properly) for another week so I don’t have that structure as yet. What I’ve done in the meantime is come up with a list of things to do each day that help to protect my mental health:

  • I subscribe to the Calm app and do their daily meditation, which isn’t easy to focus on when you’re anxious but it helps. I also listen to one of the excellent Sleep Stories at night. A free meditation app is Insight Timer.
  • Everyone and their granny seems to be doing Yoga With Adriene on YouTube and for good reason. She’s very down to earth and has a nice chilled, slightly quirky way with her. I’m currently doing her 30 Day of Yoga which is suitable for anyone of any level but particularly beginners and those who have slipped since the gyms/yoga studios shut.
  • It’s tempting to treat every day like a pajama day (what day is it again?) but acting like this is one long weekend only adds to the sense of this being never-ending. Getting up on weekdays, making my bed and getting dressed makes me feel like I’m in the land of the living.
  • Linked to the above is carrying on with my skincare routine. Staying inside with central heating, stress and comfort food has played havoc with my skin and it’s part of self-care. I may do a separate post on what I’m using.
  • Regular Housepartys!!! This video chat app has taken off during the pandemic – it seems everyone I have ever known is now on it. Phone calls are great but video chat makes a real difference. I have been doing this every day with my sister and it’s the highlight of my day. (We mostly talk about what we’re going to have for dinner and watch on Netflix).
  • Lastly, I do something productive. This could be cleaning out a cupboard, finally washing that throw or even putting a treatment on my hair. I use the word ‘productive’ loosely. Feeling like you should be using this time to learn a new language or how to play an instrument will only add to your anxiety if you don’t feel up to it. If we just get through this with our bodies and minds intact, that is more than enough.

 

yoga

If you have anything that’s helping you get through this strange and difficult time please let us know in the comments.

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Mxxx. by Eris Parfums

Gentle Reader, I hope all is well with you and yours at this strange and anxious time. Val the Cookie Queen will be starting a weekly coronavirus lockdown journal this Saturday. In the meantime, let’s try and distract ourselves with  perfume. 

Notes: Blue Ginger, Mace, Saffron, Olibanum, Pink Peppercorn,  Cacao, Cedarwood, Sandalwood, Vetiver, Patchouli, Benzoin, Castoreum, 7% Natural Ambergris, Pierre d’Afrique (Hyraceum), Green Vanilla.

I feel like Mxxx. is winking at me. It is knowingly playing with a few perfume tropes but you need to be in on the joke to appreciate it fully.

The original Mx. was a warm and inviting comfort scent with accords of gingerbread and saffron over light woods and cosy musks. With this 2019 Extrait de Parfum reboot, perfumer Antoine Lie has added an animalic twist as well as increased strength.

 

 

mxxx

Mxxx. starts out sweet: a swirl of vanilla and chocolate with a nice sprinkling of saffron still present. At this stage you might feel you already know everything about this perfume – yet another sugary confection. But no.

It mellows and darkens from creamy yellow/orange to deep brown. It transforms into dark chocolate praline with a background of salty feline fur. It matures and becomes a more grown-up affair in a matter of minutes. This effect is achieved by taking a cacao note and undercutting it with ambergris (the real deal no less). The result is a deceptively simple on the surface but on closer inspection, a seductive underbelly is revealed. This is my favourite part of the scent’s evolution. The moreish combination of cacao and ambergris shows just why salted caramel has become so popular.

Featuring the unholy trinity of castoreum, hyraceum and ambergris, you’d be forgiven for thinking this would be eye-wateringly sexual. It’s not quite. Somehow Lie has kept these beasts on a leash. It is more slinky and overtly suggestive than outright skanky. I am irritatingly squeamish but find it wearable.

The base is more familiar territory. It’s like one of those robust Middle Eastern sandalwood fragrances studded with spice, incense and oud. (Anyone remember Tom Ford’s Sahara Noir?) Its voice drops several octaves and in contrast with the first half of the perfume, now reads as more traditionally masculine.

Mxxx. has a good amount of throw and excellent longevity. It left a lovely sheen on my skin which shows the high content of perfume oil.

Maybe you’d like to appear as if butter wouldn’t melt but also hint at a saucy side.

Maybe you’d like a fluffy, cosy scent that flips the script later on.

Or maybe you’d like a fluid fragrance that covers the spectrum from feminine to masculine in one seamless flow.

You’ll find Mxxx. works on a number of levels.

 

damian

 

Were you a fan of the original Mx? Have you tried Mxxx?

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Romantic Reading Diary – February 2020

I thought I’d try reading romance novels for the ‘month of love’. Afterall, it is the most popular genre of fiction, so I looked up a list of the top romance books on Goodreads. Oh dear, I couldn’t get past the covers. They either looked like bodice-rippers (so many Dukes…), 50 Shades knock-offs (featuring topless men) or fluffy rom-coms (showing cartoon couples). Maybe if someone can recommend a good one I’d give it go but instead I decided to pick books in genres I already read but that featured a prominent love story as part of the plot.

Son of the Shadows (Sevenwaters #2) by Juliet Marillier

“You bound him to you with your courage and your tales. You hold him to you now. You captured a wild creature when you had no place you could keep him.”

I thoroughly enjoyed Daughter of the Forest, the first instalment in this series. Like that book, Son of the Shadows features a romance, but aside from that there is political intrigue, the Fair Folk and the dramas of the next generation of the family.  Liadan, has ‘the Sight’ and her path as a home-loving healer takes a turn when she is abducted.  The setting is one of the best things about these historical fantasy books. The ancient forest in Medieval Ireland is brought vividly and beautifully to life brimming with Irish folklore.  This was very much up to the standard of the first book and I will read on because I love this world and those that dwell at Sevenwaters. 4.75/5

This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

“Red rarely sleeps, but when she does, she lies still, eyes closed in the dark, and lets herself see lapis, taste iris petals and ice, hear a blue jay’s shriek. She collects blues and keeps them.”

time war

This one is out there guys. It’s a sci-fi novella where two female agents (codenamed Red and Blue) battle on opposing sides of a war over the future, travelling up and down the time-line trying to make changes that thwart each other and give their side an advantage. This can be anything from a swift assassination to being deep undercover for decades in order to subtly nudge events in a certain direction. They start exchanging missives first as a taunt but these letters become increasingly elaborate and heartfelt as they fall for one another. The messages come in the form of anything from a bee-sting to the rings of a tree. The imagination on display is immense and the writing often dense and poetic as you can see from the above quote. You are thrown in at the deep-end and need to concentrate on every word: there is no ‘info dumping’ here but roll with it and you’ll be rewarded by the end. It would be a good one to re-read once you have the full picture. 4/5

Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness

“War is such a waste of women’s time.”

times converty
I thoroughly enjoyed the All Souls Trilogy which is a fantasy romance between a vampire and a witch. It was written by historian Deboarh Harkness and had a great section where they time travelled to Elizabethan London in order to escape the danger they were in. Time’s Convert comes after the events of those books and I was led to believe it centred around the relationship between two side characters, vampire Marcus and Sotherby’s art expert, Phoebe. However, the couple are apart for the vast majority of the book as Phoebe is not allowed to see Marcus for several months after becoming reborn as a vampire. We spend a far bit of the story following Marcus during the American and French Revolutions. I love historical fiction but these sections felt like they were taking me away from the current day plot (such as it was) and didn’t have a lot of relevance. It was nice to spend time with Matthew and Diana again and see their children but unlike the original trilogy, there were no stakes, no peril. It just felt like not much was really happening and sadly, I just wanted to be done with it towards the end. 2.75/5

 

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

“If he knew, if he only knew that I was giving him every chance to put two and two together and come up with a number bigger than infinity.”

call me

The narrator of this book is Elio, a man looking back on a summer romance he had when he was seventeen with twenty-four year old college lecturer Oliver, who comes to stay at Elio’s family holiday home on the Italian Riveria. I say romance, while he eventually finds his feelings are reciprocated, this is very much a study in infatuation. Elio is idolising Oliver and the introspective detail did grate on me at the start. We come to see that Oliver is almost equally taken with the idea of Elio. While Elio covets Oliver’s self-assuredness and popularity, Oliver covets Elio’s youth and musical/intellectual accomplishments. That’s why it’s less a love affair and more about wanting to possess the other person in order to get close to the experience of being them. Hence why they call each other by their own name. It works on that level but I didn’t see it as the great love story others seem to connect with so intensely. Perhaps it’s best read when you’re closer to Elio’s age.  3/5

Do you have any romantic books to recommend?

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