Category Archives: Book Review

Books I’ve Been Reading Lately

The last couple of months have contained two books with harrowing but ultimately feminist themes.  I read both because they are so well known and each had its own impetus, as you will see. I also checked in with a couple of my favourite authors. I feel like I’m on a roll and I hope it continues. Having a good supply of new reading material is important but not always possible. If I were scoring the books, all of these would get a solid four starts.

 

 

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I have always meant to read this dystopian classic but never got round to it. The excellent TV adaptation gave me the push I needed. It’s different in a few notable ways to the TV show and much slower paced, but it was good to get extra insights and read the original book. Like a feminist 1984, it resonates decades after it was written in 1985.  I’m intrigued to see where the next season of the TV show takes it from here.

 

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

After something so dark it was good to dive into a easy-to-read fantasy. I got Caraval for 99p in a Kindle Daily Deal. It’s fast-paced and full of magic, which I love. If you liked the premise of The Night Circus but found it a bit heavy-going you might like this. Caraval is an immersive game that’s a cross between a circus performance and a treasure hunt, but with much higher stakes. The two sisters at the centre of the tale irritated me at times but didn’t spoil my enjoyment.

 

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A Perfect Storm by Jodi Taylor

Another riotous short story e-book from the time-travelling series, The Chronicles of St. Mary’s. It was like catching up with old friends and I read it in one sitting. Can’t wait for the next (10th?) full length novel.

I never re-read books but when Jodi stops writing these – *shudders* – I shall start again from Book 1, Just One Damned Thing After Another.

 

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I got this free in an Amazon offer which was great as it’s another book I’ve been meaning to read forever but never did because I’m not a fan of thrillers. At first I wondered what all the fuss was about after wading through pages of financial double-dealing. Then Lisbeth, the troubled girl with the titular tattoo, came on the scene and l was hooked.

As the mystery at the centre of the book developed, I got more and more engrossed. With one big reveal I even exclaimed out loud and that doesn’t happen often. However, I don’t feel compelled to read the rest of the series. Let me know if you think I should.

 

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The Break by Marian Keyes

I know a new book from Marian is going to be a treat and I couldn’t wait to get stuck into this after the grim storyline of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. In The Break, Amy’s lovely husband reacts badly to two bereavements and decides the only solution is to put their marriage on hold while he goes travelling for six months as a single man.

It’s an enticing premise and waiting to see how Amy will cope and how she might even take advantage of the situation herself, makes it a great read. Not to mention the array of often comical supporting characters you always get in a Marian Keyes novel. Loved it.

 

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What have you been reading lately? Anything you’d recommend?

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Read Any Good Books Lately?

 

During the spring I went on a mini detour into Greek Mythology. Of course, it all started with a book…

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

This is such a gorgeous book in terms of both the writing and the story. Miller re-imagines the story of Achilles from the point of view of his childhood friend. Exiled and awkward, Patroclus is mesmerised with the beautiful golden boy and half-God, Achilles. He finds his feelings are reciprocated when he follows him to Mount Pellion and then into the Trojan War. This is first and foremost an uncommon love story.

 

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Greek Myths by Kathryn Waterfield and Robin Waterfield

The Song of Achilles made me curious to learn more about the Greek myths. This book appeared to be pretty accessible which is what I was after. It’s not too difficult to follow at first, but my goodness, the Greek myths contain a cast of thousands.  I found it impossible to keep track, not least because many of the names are a mouthful to non-Greek speakers. However, it gave me a good idea of the main protagonists and stories.

 

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (Canongate Myths Series Book 2)

Reading the Greek myths often feels like a never-ending succession of sex and violence (and not in a good way). Needless to say, women tend to get a raw deal, so it was good to find a book that gives voice to the women who are used and abused.

Much is made of Odysseus’s wily character but what happened to his wife Penelope while he was off fighting the Trojan War and undertaking his legendary odyssey? Here Penelope looks back from her place in the underworld during the present and tells her side of the story.

I enjoyed it and liked the wry asides about modern life.

 

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For The Most Beautiful by Emily Hauser

I started a sample of this take on the Trojan War/Helen of Troy story with once again, a female slant, but didn’t go as far as to download the book. Please let me know below if you’ve read it or any of the original Classical literature such as The Iliad.

 

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

I enjoyed The Hobbit and felt prepared to tackle The Lord of Rings trilogy. I enjoyed the chapters I read but I was going at a snail’s pace. I concluded this was because it didn’t seem to fit the hot, sunny, summer weather. After barely progressing over the course of a month, I decided to shelve it until the autumn.

 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

This book proved I wasn’t in a reading slump because I whizzed through it. Admittedly it’s a quick YA read with short chapters, but I loved the characters. It’s the tale of two teenage friends, Dante and Ari, growing up in El Paso during the late 1980s. Although it’s a simple story, I found it beautiful.

 

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We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie    

This is a slightly extended version of Chimamanda’s wonderful TEDx Talk. It’s only 65 pages and available on Kindle for 99p. I must read one of her novels soon. Please let me know below if you have a favourite or can suggest the best one to start with.

 

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What have you been reading lately? Any good reads to recommend?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Read Any Good Books Lately?

I’ve been making a concerted effort to read more this year and I feel I’ve really benefited from it so far. I know a lot of perfume people love a good book so here’s a run-down of what I added to my Kindle during the first couple of months of 2017.

 

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer

Big Magic is great for anyone who wants to inject more creativity into their life. It’s hugely motivating and not exclusively for those engaged in “The Arts”. It’s more about expressing yourself in whatever way excites you.

The Untethered Soul is a book I go back to whenever my negative thoughts are getting the better of me.

 

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Making It Up As I Go Along by Marian Keyes

January needed some humour and this collection of non-fiction writing is nothing but a hoot. Many of us have a compulsive streak and we can see that taken to comic extremes in Marian.

My Name is Markham by Jodi Taylor

The New Year saw the release of another fun short story from The Chronicles of St Mary’s series. These keep fans like me going between the release of the full length of books, which now number seven. I know most perfume lovers are thriller fans, but fantasy is my poison. I love to escape to another world, however, this isn’t “high fantasy” as it’s very much rooted in England as we know it.

St. Mary’s is an academic institution where historians time-travel in order to investigate past historic events as they happen, often with disastrous consequences. The short stories are more light-hearted escapades, like this one.

A Darker Shade of Magic trilogy by V.E. Schwab and the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness

Both these fantasy trilogies exhibit writing that is a considerable cut above the norm for this genre. The series A Darker Shade of Magic centres around Kell who can travel between several very different Londons. It’s a suspenseful adventure and also features a younger female character, Lila, who for once is far from saintly.

The All Souls trilogy revolves around the relationship between two Oxford academics, Diana and Matthew, who just happen to be a witch and a vampire.  The plot centres on a mysterious lost manuscript and I found the historical aspects really interesting (Harkness is an historian). It was an enjoyable guilty pleasure which is definitely allowed in grim February.

Funnily enough, both Schwab and Harkness use olfactory signatures to help characterise people and places.

The Martian by Andy Weir

I’m not into Sci-Fi but 3,515 five-star reviews on Amazon can’t be wrong, can they? Hmmm. There were many passages working through solutions to problems faced by this astronaut stranded on Mars which involved a lot of science and maths.  While the humour lightened the mood, it was rather juvenile for someone who appeared to be a particularly ingenious genius. I generally found it kept my attention, but overall found it a bit odd. No doubt it’s perfect if you’re a science geek. I’d give it a solid three stars.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

I’m trying to inject more classic literature into my reading. I have a fondness for the 1920s Jazz Age so Gatsby was great from that point of view and the writing really made an impression on me.  I thought I’d struggle more with The Hobbit but it was a pleasant trip to a land of dwarves and other magical creatures, where I’m always at home. I’m steeling myself to attempt The Lord of The Rings series at some point this year.

 

 

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What books have you been reading? Any you’d recommend? 

 

 

 

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In Rotation

After enduring bad news across the world for the best part of a year, I’ve been feeling the need to retreat. I’ve always been a homebody but I’m craving time indoors even more than usual. After reading a lot of “improving” books this year, I’ve now escaped into the His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy by Philip Pullman. On these cold, dark evenings, it’s wonderful to get lost in this multi-universe adventure populated by witches, armoured bears and fearless 12 year-olds .

 

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A small thing that I’ve found to be very soothing on trying days, is painting my nails. The colours I’m alternating at the moment are the sophisticated berry of Butter London’s Queen Vic and the glossy dark navy of Chanel’s Marinière.

Happily, I’m still getting a kick out of my new found love of bold lipstick. I’ve even graduated from red to purple. MAC’s Rebel feels perfect for autumn and easy to wear because it isn’t as intense or blue toned as most in that shade range. The satin formula is also kinder to the lips in this chilly weather than my usual matt lipsticks.

 

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Chanel Mariniere, MAC Rebel and Butter London Queen Vic

 

One comfort food that is also healthy is homemade soup. Last weekend I made spicy cauliflower soup based on the recipe by Alice Waters (who incidentally is a friend and neighbour of Mandy Aftel). I found out about it from former perfume blogger Lavanya, who now runs the brilliant subscription box service Boxwalla.

Again, taking pleasure in the little things, I’ve been enjoying the aromas of autumn; bonfires, dry leaves, damp earth, misty mornings. It might also be my favourite time of year for perfume. Here’s what I’ve been wearing a lot lately:

Passage d’Enfer, L’Artisan Parfumeur

I recently got a back-up bottle of this one because it’s my favourite incense. Passage d’Enfer is woody, lightly resinous and has a hint of waxy white lilies which it gives it luminosity. It smells fantastic on a scarf and mingles well with the autumnal wisps of smoke in the air. Passage d’Enfer helps me feel calm and centred in this crazy world but it also has that touch of wanton florals. I adore this stuff.

Coromandel EdT, Chanel

This is one classy patchouli with lots of warmth and depth. It’s not super earthy but it’s not a dull, super clean patch either. It’s beautifully sophisticated and I enjoy it most at a bit of distance, so I tend to spray it on my wrists rather than around my neck. I particularly enjoy the touch of incense that comes out most in the base.

Tobacco Rose, Papillon Perfumes

Of course I love roses and this one is perfect for autumn thanks to its earthiness. Tobacco Rose is a rose bush firmly planted in the soil, not a sterile, disembodied bloom. There’s a reason patchouli is paired so often with rose and it’s exemplified here in the way it grounds the beautiful, rich red flower. I can’t wait for the next release from Papillon Perfumes which is coming in the New Year.

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What’s bringing you comfort this season?

 

 

 

 

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Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent by Mandy Aftel plus Ancient Resins Body Oil & Hair Elixir By Aftelier Perfumes

 

Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent

Mandy Aftel’s 2001 book Essence and Alchemy had a profound effect on me, as I know it did on many others in the perfume community. It cast a spell that seems to have enchanted me for life and even led to short-lived experiments with my own  oil-based perfumes.

While Essence and Alchemy intended to  give people interested in a perfume a grounding in natural perfumery, Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent  is aimed at everyone.  Mandy was moved and inspired by witnessing the effect re-connecting with scent has on people who didn’t think they liked perfume.

 

 “Watching them discover authentic aromas and their sensual pleasure is profoundly thrilling, like watching a starving person feast on a delicious smell.”

 

That’s not to say that those already addicted to fragrance won’t find plenty to love and learn in this meticulously researched book.  Mandy has collected a large array of antique books and we get to benefit from the knowledge she has accumulated over the years.

 “Indeed entering the world of fragrance is like falling through the looking glass and finding on the other side an everyday miracle, a mystery, a source of wonder. It is truly a transformative experience and one I am passionate to share”.

 

Mandy is beguiled by natural materials and she transmits that feeling so well. You don’t just get the facts in Fragrant but an intimate explanation of why these materials matter to us as human beings; how they connect with us on a deep level and have the potential to transform us. The fact that Mandy has not lost that sense of wonder or passion comes across on every page.

 

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Fragrant goes into much more depth than Essence and Alchemy and cleverly uses a different fragrant material to tell the multi-layered story of perfume and approach it from a number of interesting angles. “Cinnamon” tells the history of the spice trade which is entwined with that of perfume, while “Mint” goes into the use of remedies within the home and the intriguing Books of Secrets. “Frankincense” explores incense and spirituality,  “Ambergris”  focuses on animal derived essences and finally “Jasmine” is a thoughtful meditation on perfume and beauty.

There are recipes at the end of each chapter for very simple oil and alcohol based perfumes and I shall definitely be trying out a few for body oils as I’m mildly obsessed with those.

Aside from the content, the writing is beautiful.  Each sentence has its own gentle rhythm, which makes reading Fragrant an almost meditative experience.

Mandy manages to reignite the passion I felt when I first discovered the world of essential  oils and then perfumery. She has reconnected me to the visceral reason why perfume captivates me so much.

Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent is a gorgeous treasure trove of a book.

 

Ancient Resins Body Oil & Hair Elixir

Ancient Resins Body Oil & Hair Elixir is something I’ve wanted to try for ages so I reverently tipped some of the sample onto my fresh-from-the-bath skin.  I was intrigued to read that Mandy created it as an ode to singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen.

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It’s built around resins that have been prized since ancient times for their spiritual and healing properties. Ancient Resins contains frankincense, Balm of Gilead (poplar buds). benzoin, elemi and labdanum in a base of jojoba and fractionated coconut oil.

Frankincense is a distinctive material and I expected it to dominate but in Mandy’s seasoned hands it practically purrs on the skin, taking a back-seat to the balsams.

Ancient Resins is a seductively balsamic body oil with a subtle vanilla undertone.

What I was particularly pleased about was how quickly it was absorbed by the skin. The oil is not at all greasy so you don’t have to linger for long before dressing. It leaves the skin thoroughly moisturised and softly fragranced. 

Ancient Resins Body Oil & Hair Elixir is a real sensual pleasure both to apply and wear.

 

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Have you read Fragrant or tried any of the Aftelier body products?

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Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances by Michael Edwards

Michael Edwards is the author of Fragrances of the World, the ultimate industry reference book, now in its 32nd Edition. To put it simply, he is an authority on the subject.

Published in 1996, his book Perfume Legends:French Feminine Fragrances sought to chart the evolution of French perfumery chiefly from the perfumers’ perspective and is the result of 150 in-depth interviews. In 164 pages, it takes us chronologically through 44 French perfumes starting with Jicky in 1889 and ending with Angel in 1992.

 

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He used the following criteria for choosing the fragrances that feature in the book; firstly, that they inspired other perfume compositions, secondly, that they started a new trend and thirdly, that they have an enduring appeal which surpasses fashion.

I loved reading The Foreword which was written by Edmond Roudnitska, the great perfumer who created many of Dior’s classics including Eau Sauvage and Diorissimo as well as Rochas’s Femme. Funnily enough, he mentions that when he visited Sydney (Edwards is Australian) he was stuck by its similarity to his own Côte d’Azur.

I was particularly interested to see what Roudnitska had to say  about a favourite (if not my very favourite) perfume, “Jacques Guerlain’s most modern composition was probably Vol de Nuit which was not given the full appreciation it merited from the public or from the House.” He also states that Chanel’s best composition is not Chanel No.5 (which he feels benefited from clever marketing) but in fact “the magnificent” Bois des lles

After The Foreward there is an introduction entitled “The dawn of modern perfumery” which leads up to the creation of Fourgére Royale by Houbigant in 1882. Then we get to the perfumes…

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Each individual entry starts with a brief summary of the time and gives the context for how the perfume came into being. This is followed by a piece about the specific fragrance explaining how the perfume was developed, usually with quotes from the perfumer, his relatives or associates.

These aren’t reviews but offer up what are usually fascinating tales which try to get to the facts about how the perfume came about and why it became so great. The chemical components aren’t shied away from but aren’t overwhelming for the non-scientifically minded, like me. It’s a nice mix of anecdotes and technical information.

Before ending with a section about the bottle, there is a pyramid diagram detailing the “Head, Heart and Soul” accords and epithets for each. In the case of Miss Dior these are “Spicy, Flowery and Clinging”.

Here are a selection of the perfumes featured in the book from across the  20th Century: L’Origan (1905), Mitsouko (1919), Tabu (1932), L’Air du Temps (1948), Cabochard (1959), Calandre (1969), First (1976), Loulou (1987) and Tresor (1990).

I really like how Michael Edwards gets to the root of the story behind the perfumes by going back to the source. Iconic fragrances are often surrounded by myths but you feel that Edwards gets to the truth wherever possible. It’s a large, beautiful, coffee table-style book but unlike most in that genre, it is full of content.  Perfume Legends really is a wealth  of insider information, facts and stories from the relevant protagonists or those closest to them.

Unfortunately it’s a spendy purchase with the hardcover currently on Amazon UK for £149.01.

Many thanks to Lila for lending me her copy.

Do you have any non-fiction books about perfume to share?

 

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