Author Archives: Tara

Reading Diary

Since December I’ve been on a self-development/spirituality audiobook kick which shows no immediate signs of abating. Therefore my fiction reading has slowed down but here are the books that I have got to.

The Galaxy, And The Ground Within (Wayfarers 4) by Becky Chambers

“She definitely looked to be the sort who would love a good exclamation point (or twelve).”

I’ve loved this Sci-Fi series so much I was a bit apprehensive about how it would be concluded. I had hoped it would circle back to the characters in the first book but instead once again we have a new cast (except for one) and this time they are all aliens. I say aliens, really they all talk and act in such human ways it doesn’t feel like reading about beings from other planets. The plot is that three spaceships are grounded at a kind of planetary rest stop when the satellite system goes down. The pilots are three different species and their host and her young child do their best to make them all feel welcome while stranded.

Like the other books it’s all about the characters and their interactions rather than an action-packed storyline. Prejudices are expressed and overcome and it leaves you feeling uplifted and hopeful. I can see how some would find the Wayfarers series too ‘woke’ with its themes about gender and race but I’ve loved it. 4.25/5

The Other Bennett Sister by Janice Hadlow

“There are times when happiness must be fought for, if we are to have any chance at all of achieving it.”

If like me, you’re a fan of Pride and Prejudice in any of its forms, I highly recommend this book. It starts off as a kind of retelling of the Austen novel but from the perspective of the overlooked, middle sister, Mary. In the many versions of the story, Mary comes across as dull, priggish and lacking in self-awareness. The Other Bennett shows how she may have become this way with a critical mother, a distant father and sisters who eclipsed her in varying ways.

It was fun to see Lizzy and Mr Darcy enjoying married life and the marriage of Mr Collins and Charlotte Lucas up close. However, it then carries on after the events of Pride and Prejudice as Mary sets out on her own quest to find a place for herself in a society where a single woman without money is in a precarious and piteous position. She aims to live only by cold rationality but finds this is challenged as we see Mary has feelings that she has tried her hardest to push down.

The plot is often unlikely and unsurprising in equal measure but it’s also a delight. The writing is seamlessly in the Austen style and Mary proves a compelling heroine in her own right. 4.25/5

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

“It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy.”

Hmm, I have many thoughts and feelings about this book which has been hugely popular and won Best Fiction in the Goodreads Awards last year.

I gained a lot from Haig’s memoir about depression Reasons to Stay Alive but this is the first fiction work of his I’ve read. At the start of the book, Nora becomes depressed after a series of tough live events, eventually becoming suicidal and taking an overdose. She finds out the place between life and death is The Midnight Library where each of the infinite number of books on its shelves represents an alternate life she could have lived had she made minutely different decisions. This way, she gets to go down various roads not travelled – the lives where she was an Olympic swimmer, a glaciologist, an academic, a rock star etc – to see if there is one she would like to stay in.

I can see that if you struggle with regret this book could be comforting but I would strongly advise against reading it if you’re actually depressed. The opening chapters are hard to read if you’ve been in that place and really, it offers no real solace if you’re in that situation (you’re far better off reading his non-fiction such as Reasons to Stay Alive or The Comfort Book). I found it overly simplistic and sentimental as well as boringly predictable. I knew exactly how these often daft parallel lives would turn out and how the story would end. It was all pretty trite and irritating. 2/5

Again, Rachel by Marian Keyes

“My personal brand was, ‘In recovery, but still great fun’.”

Marian Keyes is one of my favourite people. For me, the world is a better place for having her in it. She comes across as warm, funny, kind and compassionate. She is an addict in recovery and knows the depths of prolonged suicidal despair. I had a chance to meet her once but chickened out because I felt too emotional at the time.

A friend lent me a copy of Rachel’s Holiday when it was published in 1997. It was about an addict going to rehab in Ireland; an experience Marian went through herself. It’s beloved by Marian’s fans and Luke is definitely her best loved (lusted) male character. There was much excitement at the thought that there would be a sequel set two decades later. I re-read Rachel’s Holiday before I started Again, Rachel.

It was good to catch up with Rachel in her late 40s but obviously everything is not rosy. She is dealing with past trauma and life as an addict in long-term recovery. About half way through I guessed how the rest of the story would unfold but I still hugely enjoyed reading it. It was also a lot of fun to re-visit the raucous dynamics of the Walsh family – and to get more Luke! 4.5/5

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

“I would not let a man who knew the value of nothing make me doubt the value of myself.”

I was a narrator in a play about Ariadne and the Minotaur in middle school so I was particularly drawn to this, though I have a love of Greek myth re-tellings generally. This version focuses on Ariadne and her sister Phaedra, princesses of Crete who lives are overshadowed by the existence of their minotaur brother living in the labyrinth under the palace. Everything changes for them when Theseus arrives from Athens with the other tributes to be fed to the half-bull, half-human.

This book is sold as ‘gripping’ and while I thoroughly enjoyed the first half, the second half was indeed a real-page turner. As usual women are the pawns of men and gods in these tales but both Ariadne and Phaedra endeavour to make the best of their situations and the story is told from both of their perspectives. I highly recommend it but especially for fans of Circe by Madeline Miller. 5/5

Please let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of these or if you have any other books to recommend.

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Last Minute Change of Heart by Freddie Albrighton 

By Val

A Floral Woody Musk.  Rolls eyes. 

It’s the sweet floury coating on the long pack of Bazooka Joe – the one that divided into 5 chunks making it easier to break off the pieces.  I would shove it into my gob all in one go, chew until my jaw ached, and then blow thick bubbles, big enough to cover my whole face including bangs. 


As the blast of Hubba Bubba divineness softens – luckily it takes a long time, YUM – I get a gorgeous artificial blackcurrant creeping in through the gumpowder.  There’s a foamy pink sweet shrimp note somewhere in there. Fabulous.  (Do you get foamy pink shrimps outside of The Commonwealth, please stand up).

You can really spray it like a Bro.  Like all of Albrighton’s perfumes, it fades out beautifully until it disappears, leaving no long term chemical burn. 

It’s a brilliant fun wear (read that as joyful) because the last thing it is, is cheap or nasty.  It’s sweet, but kept from being thick and sticky, with a soft base of cashmere, spiced cedar, a sandalwood and musk. 


Freddie Albrighton will go far, you mark my unhinged words. 

Last Minute Change of Heart is expected mid-May 2022. There are a number of stockists. Check his website.

VAL

PSA. This is an experimental blog post.  I am still MIA – due to a trauma in my life that resulted in a nervous breakdown.  I will not answer questions but will accept all prayers.  It’s rough. 

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Hera by Papillon Perfumes

Notes: Jasmine, Orange Blossom, Ambrette, Rose de Mai, Turkish Rose, Orris, Narcissus, Ylang, Heliotrope, Clary Sage, Bergamot, Vanilla, Labdanum and Musk

I have a love of Papillon’s perfumes and the Greek myths, so while I feel the will to write about fragrance ebbing, the forthcoming release of the artisan brand’s eighth perfume, Hera, pulled me back.

All the fragrances created and hand-crafted by Liz Moores have a distinctive character. While being unmistakably modern there is usually a nod to the past. My personal favourite is Dryad which I have been wearing consistently this spring and have now used up half my bottle. If you are reading this blog, you’ll know that says a lot.

Hera was composed by Liz specially for her daughter Jasmine to wear on her wedding day. In Greek mythology, Hera is the Queen of the Olympians, protector of women and goddess of marriage and birth. Jasmine has now kindly agreed for her very personal perfume to be shared with the rest of us. It will be released in the U.K. on 16th May.

On spraying, I initially get a mix of shimmering bergamot and fizzing ambrette seed, which makes for a fittingly celebratory opening. The bergamot swiftly dissipates but the ambrette is immediately joined by a cloud of creamy orris butter. With the association of a wedding scent, I can’t help picturing layer upon layer of airy white tulle.

From looking at the notes, I had expected a lush white floral with orange blossom – the traditional wedding flower – front and centre, along with prominent jasmine and ylang. Instead, the flowers combine with a touch of heliotope to create a haze of abstract floral sweetness. This brings levity and prettiness to the orris which is the core of Hera, setting it off beautifully. This is a sophisticated bride but she also has wildflowers threaded through her hair.

The base is clean, velvety musk with traces of what has gone before. Happily, the orris is present throughout.

The retro side of Hera comes in the form of a ‘boudoir’ facet. One of my favourite types of fragrance, boudoir scents are evocative of 1940s dressing rooms with a mélange of waxy lipstick, face powder and a hint of warm skin. This aspect adds an element of sensuality and self-possession to the composition.

Hera feels like a glimpse behind the scenes as the bride is getting ready for her big day, rather than the public spectacle of her walking down the aisle. It has an intimacy that makes it much more alluring as a result.

This is the kind of perfume that unfurls on the skin rather than one that develops in a distinctly linear fashion. It is seamlessly blended with a rounded feel and a lovely soft, downy texture.

Being Extrait de Parfum strength, it wears extremely well while staying relatively close to the body.

I very much appreciate (though am not surprised) that Liz hasn’t gone down the road of a completely naive bridal bouquet. Hera is an elegant balance between refinement and free-spiritedness.

Let me know if you are eager to try Hera in the comments.

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Skincare Mini Reviews

I have been feeling like the blogging muse has left me. When I mentioned this to my friend Undina, she encouraged me to try a post about skincare, especially as she enjoys reading them. As you will see from this post, Undina is unlikely to be reading frivolous blog posts at the moment, but I wanted to write this for her. Even if she doesn’t read it right now, the thought is there.

As it happens, I have had the chance to try a range of high-end products over the last few months thanks to a Caroline Hirons Hall of Fame kit and the SpaceNK Beauty Advent Calendar. Below are my thoughts on some of them.

Votary Rose Geranium & Apricot Cleansing Oil

This is a top quality product and smelled pleasantly of earthy geranium. However, I’ve decided cleansing oils just aren’t for me. It was nice to use during winter mornings because it felt nourishing but I didn’t particularly enjoy the feeling of it on my skin and I prefer something that feels more cleansing in the evening.

Japanfusion Pure Transforming Cleanser, Beauty Pie

I’d heard a lot of hype about this cleanser so when subscription service Beauty Pie did a month’s free trial it was top of my list. I must say it has a lovely creamy texture and feels very soft on the skin. It is the furthest thing from a harsh, stripping cleanser. It’s nice but I didn’t feel the love I expected. The scent is a bit too subtle for my taste. OSKIA Renaissance Cleansing Gel is still my favourite.

NMF Lactic Toner, Pestle & Mortar

Last summer when I was taking a break from tretinoin, I would use this exfoliating acid toner after cleansing. I love the dispenser which means you just have to press down your cotton wood pad on the top to saturate it. It left my skin increasingly glowy with regular use and did not irritate. Lactic acid is more hydrating than glycolic or salicylic acid. I’ll continue with this or the MediK8 Press and Glow Daily Exfoliating PHA Tonic each summer or whenever I have a stubborn dry patch of skin.

Hydrating Accelerator, Josh Rosebrook

Caroline Hirons calls this ‘Jesus Juice’ and it’s far and away the best mist I’ve tried. Nobody needs a facial spritz in their routine but I like them and tret dries out my skin. I use one every morning after cleansing but I particularly like using them after an acid (like the one above) as a kind of neutraliser. This has an aloe vera juice base infused with a range of vitamins and nutrients. It is hard to find a facial mist which isn’t like a fire hose but Hydrating Accelerator dispenses the finest mist I’ve come across. It also has a lovely vanillic natural fragrance. It’s expensive (£35) but I will repurchase when I run out and can get a discount.

Hyaluronic Serum, Dr Barbara Sturm

Talking of Caroline, if there is a brand that is likely to make her blood boil it’s the one by celebrity dermatologist Dr Barbara Sturm. I can see why. Charging £235 for a 35ml bottle of hyaluronic acid is eyebrow raising to say the least as HA is not a super expensive ingredient. I always apply a hyaluronic acid after my spritz to rehydrate the skin after cleansing. This one worked well and a little went a long way, but I would not dream of spending that much on a hydrating step. I’ll stick with Hada Labo.

CEO Glow Vitamin C and Tumeric Facial Oil, Sunday Riley

Once my hyaluronic acid has sunk in, I use a vitamin C serum. My holy grail is the CEO 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum by Sunday Riley but I got the oil version in the calendar. I think it’s a good option for sensitive, dull skin but I’ve come to the conclusion I’m just not a fan of facial oils generally.

The Rich Cream, Augustinus Bader

Another super spendy brand, the 15ml mini I got of this moisturiser was worth £69. I hate to say it, but it’s good. It’s not the overly heavy cream I expected it to be. It has a substantial texture but didn’t feel heavy on the skin and sank in pretty much straight away. I wouldn’t blame anyone who had the money for buying this, but it’s still ‘just’ a really nice moisturiser. I prefer to put most of my money into my actives. My current moisturiser of choice is Drunk Elephant’s Protini Polypeptide Cream.

The Blue Cocoon, May Lindstrom

Now this is my kind of luxury skincare product. Completely organic and made by hand, its quality and ethical production is unquestionable. What I love about it though is the sensorial experience. I adore the glorious blue colour, the chocolatey smell and the way it melts into a oil as I massage it into my skin. I use it on weekends when I take two nights off from tret and it’s a real treat. I’ve heard it can be a game-changer for all sorts of skin conditions but luckily I don’t currently have any those concerns. It gives me a nice glow in the morning but I can get that from an acid. If money were no object, I’d never be without a jar for the pure joy of it.

Have you tried any of these or found something new to add to your skincare routine? Please let us know in the comment.

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Boujee Bougies – Mini Reviews

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

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

Queen Jam

Tart berries, purple roses, flashes of green

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

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

Cuir Culture

Old books, worn jackets, pup masks

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

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

Succulent

Houseplants, jungles, joy

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

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

Gilt

Whispered confessions, incense smoke, gold leaf

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

This one always hits the mark for me.

Hellflower

Sulphur, burning flowers, brimstone

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

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

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

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

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Reading Diary

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

The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakroborty

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

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

The Mercies by Kiran Millwoord Hargrave

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

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

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

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

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

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

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

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

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

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

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

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

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

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

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

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

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

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

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

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

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

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Paris-Deauville by Chanel

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

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

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

Bottle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deauville resort

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

Photo credit: Loik_marras from unsplash

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June/July Reading Diary

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

Breath by James Nestor

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Barbizon by Paulina Bren

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

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

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

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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

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

Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday

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

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

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

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Vetiver by Hiram Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

I experienced very good longevity and moderate throw.

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

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

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

NB. Perfume sample received from Hiram Green.

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Spell 125 by Papillon Perfumes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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