Category Archives: Book Review

Reading Diary

 

When I occasionally read Young Adult fiction, I stick with fantasy or LBGTQ+. I read one of each last month. Unfortunately there is a lot of dross in YA so I try and be picky. One thing I’ll say about the genre though, is that the books are well paced and usually fun to read. They can be a good choice if you’re in a reading slump.

 

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Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

I really loved the main character of the first instalment of this YA fantasy duology. Lazlo Strange is a librarian who spends all his spare time researching the lost city of Weep. He’s a dreamer with a big heart and we follow him as his life takes a huge twist. It’s a well written tale with fantastic characters, great world-building and a well-paced plot. Looking forward to the release of The Muse of Nightmares in October. 4/5

 

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

I felt like I was cheating a bit by reading a children’s book for my monthly classic. Even though I already knew the story, it was lovely to read it for myself and enjoy the little details, such as how Lucy loves the smell and feel of fur; rubbing her face in it when alone in the wardrobe. The concept is as good as it gets and beautifully realised. 5/5

 

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The Name of the Rose by Emberto Eco

I put this down after only about 60 pages. The writing was so dense I couldn’t get into the flow.  This book is extremely highly rated so clearly the issue is with me. If you think I should persevere please let me know in the comments.  I did like the idea of a Medieval murder mystery set in a monastery.

 

The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy 2) by Katherine Arden

I loved the immersive, magical experience of The Bear and the Nightingale and was happy to find that atmosphere continued in the second instalment of the trilogy. The focus of the story moves from the Russian wilderness to the city, but continues to revolve around Vasya, who has been branded a witch by her village. I had loved the rural setting of the first book but there is still a fair amount of that to start with and I was intrigued to read about Medieval Moscow. My only mild criticism of the first instalment was that it was rather slow paced. The Girl in the Tower moves along nicely and the last fifth or so is positively action packed. I’m not quite sure how I will wait until January 2019 for the final part of the story but I’ve already got it on pre-order. 5/5

 

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Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

This YA book has been recently turned into a film re-named Love, Simon. The story follows a 17 year-old boy in Georgia who hasn’t told anyone he’s gay and charts his anonymous online relationship with another closeted boy at his high school, known only as Blue. I wondered if I’d find Simon irritating at the start of the book but I grew to love him. He’s funny and his email exchanges with Blue are as endearing as they are entertaining. I stayed up much later than I should have one night because I was genuinely dying to find out the identity of Blue. I’m rubbish at working out any kind of mystery and true to form, I guessed wrong. I also enjoyed his interactions with his friends and family, who are all great. It doesn’t topple my favourite book in this sub-genre (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe) but it comes close. 4/5

 

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

This was my first novel by Murakami and it proved a good place to start (thanks for the tip Ana-Maria). It’s set in Tokyo in 1969 and while I see it described as a love story, it’s MUCH deeper than that.  While the subject matter is tragic, the narrator – 19 year-old Toru Watanabe – is wonderful and the writing is beautiful. It had a spare, melancholy feel and kept reminding me of Catcher in the Rye. I felt validated when one of the characters asks Toru if he’s trying to talk like Holden Caulfield. Ah, Toru. He is such a sensitive, kind soul who wears his heart on his sleeve. This makes him painfully vulnerable but incredibly empathetic. I’m concerned about how I will get on with the magical realism of Murakami’s other novels but I definitely going to give them a try. 5/5

 

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Should I read the rest of The Chronicles of Narnia? Can you recommend which Murakami novel I should try next?

 

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Books I’ve Been Reading Lately

I decided to set some reading goals after all. I’m aiming for a total of 40 books this year which will be a real stretch. I’m also going to try and read one classic a month. I’m currently 2 books ahead of schedule and some great books over the last couple of months has certainly helped.

 

This Savage Song by V.E. Schwab

Victoria Schwab is a masterful fantasy writer and one of my favourites. She creates great worlds, characters and plots. This Savage Song is set in a dystopian America where people’s violent deeds have taken shape and formed monsters.  Most are the stuff of nightmares but August is a rare ‘Sunai’ who looks like a teenage boy and only feeds on the souls of sinners.  He becomes an unlikely ally of Kate, a girl who is trying very hard to be something she’s not in order to gain the approval of her Kingpin father. I enjoyed This Savage Song despite usually find dystopians too distressing. However, I’m reticient about reading the second part of the duology, His Dark Duet because I hear it’s absolutely heart-breaking. We’ll see if I can brave it at some point soon. 4/5

 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted won a number of awards when it came out in 2014 but I was mainly drawn to it because it has a dark fairy-tale theme.  The plot revolves around a valley where a seventeen year-old girl is taken by the Dragon every ten years. It’s not a spoiler to reveal that the Dragon is actually a wizard. He is tasked with the duty of holding back the evil wood which threatens to swallow every village in the valley and beyond. The latest girl he has taken to his tower, Agnieszka, turns out to have gifts of her own and might just remind the Dragon of his humanity after centuries of detachment. I enjoyed it but it wasn’t the 5 star read I thought It’d be. The Dragon annoyed me immensely at the start and his character wasn’t really developed. Beautifully written and a gorgeous setting though. 3.75/5

 

Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire

This a strange and beguiling little book at just 173 pages. Eleanor West (whose perfume incidentally smells of dandelions and ginger snaps) runs a home for teenagers who’ve stumbled through doorways to other worlds but aren’t believed by their families. These places can be anywhere from Fairyland to the Underworld, but none of the children want to return, so when they do, they long to find a way back “home”.  It sounds dark and creepy – which it is – but it’s also quirky, humorous in parts and nicely written. Most of all though, I loved the idea of these doors appearing for the children out of need and sympathy. 4/5

 

The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The writing here is stunning to the point of hypnotic. It’s a gently moving plot but whenever I picked it up, I didn’t want to put it down again. I’ve rarely come across such beautiful, lyrical prose that is pitched just right, never overdone. The Bear and the Nightingale is the tale of a girl in medieval Rus’ with “second sight” who can see the old spirits living in the house and forest, but which the new Priest has made the rest of the villagers turn their backs on, with potentially disastrous consequences.

I adored the setting at the edge of the wilderness where the winters are all encompassing. The atmosphere Arden conjures is so vivid and yet dream-like. I also loved the main character, Vasya, for her openness, free-spirit and kind heart. This is the perfect book to read wrapped up on a cold, dark night and I’ve just started the sequel, The Girl in the Tower. 4.6/5

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

This 2017 novel is a complete gem. It’s tragicomic in the best way. I would go from smiling broadly to being troubled as we get more and more dark glimpses into Eleanor’s past. Overall though it’s a life-affirming read with lots of little references to everyday life in Britain. Eleanor lives alone in Glasgow and although she works in an office, she avoids talking to anyone. She tells herself she likes it this way because most people are inane idiots. However, it soon becomes apparent that Eleanor is very far from fine. Then a chance event throws her regularly into the path of the affable IT guy, Raymond.  I have so much love for Eleanor and this book, I can’t do anything but give it 5/5.

 

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was no doubt a genius and it’s terrible that he was born into an era which essentially condemned him to death because of his sexuality. His cleverness radiates from the page.  I knew it was the story of man whose portrait ages while he stays youthful, but I didn’t realise the painting also reflects the state of his soul. The beautiful Dorian’s “friend” Lord Henry irritated me immensely with the way he constantly shows off his intellect and I started to think Wilde must have been the same. I enjoyed the book a lot more when I read that in his autobiography, Wilde said Lord Henry was what the world thought he was like, while in reality, he was akin to the much more reticent painter, Basil Hallward. The Picture of Dorian Gray is essentially a morality tale and watching an innocent become so thoroughly corrupted isn’t to my taste. Although I can appreciate it’s a great work, in terms of personal enjoyment I’m giving it 3.75/5

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Have you read a book you’d give five stars to this year? Can you recommend another book set in Russia?

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Books I’ve Been Reading Lately – October 17 to January 18

Do you set reading goals in the New Year? I thought about doing it but decided against it. I don’t think finally finishing Sapiens counts. I’m going to continue to make an effort to read consistently and fairly broadly and try not feel guilty about indulging my love of fantasy.

Here’s what I got through over the last few months.

 

All the Harry Potter books by J K Rowling

Encouraged by a couple of friends, I finally read the seven Harry Potter books. I had thought it was pointless as I didn’t get to read them as a child (being too old) and disliked the first film. However, hardly a week goes by without some reference to Harry Potter.  I enjoyed the first few books but got properly hooked about midway through the third. From there on in, they just got better and better as the kids grow up and the plots get darker and more complex.

The final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is nothing short of brilliant. If you’re a fan but haven’t checked it out already, J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore website is well worth a look. You can get sorted into your Hogwarts House and find out your Patronus. I dearly wanted the Sorting Hat to place me in Ravenclaw with the other dreamers – and it did!

 

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Christmas Past by Jodi Taylor

Another Christmas short story from the St. Mary’s Chronicles. What a treat. I especially enjoyed this one because it continues on from the last book in the series about a lovable bunch of time-travelling historians, rather than being a complete standalone. It amazes me how Jodi Taylor manages to mix humour in with dark themes so effortlessly. This quick read involves a journey back to Dickensian London to brighten the wretched lives of two young chimney sweeps on Christmas Eve.

 

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This book has recently been made into a film by Steven Spielberg. It’s set in a dystopian near-future where people spend most of their time plugged into a virtual reality programme called the OASIS. In his Will, its creator states his multi-billion fortune will go to the first person who completes a quest within that virtual universe. He was obsessed with the books, comics, films and most of all, videogames, that he grew up with in the 1980s and the “Easter Egg hunt” is based on knowledge of the pop culture of the time. Therefore if you don’t remember the 80s, the constant references are likely to become tedious. The nostalgia the writer obviously feels for that era is half the pleasure of the book.  Being a child of the 80s myself and a fan of fantasy novels, I loved it.

 

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Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Well this was a big mistake for the beginning of January. What a wretched tale of the cruel mistreatment of children and the horrors of the workhouse. Thank goodness Dickens brought awareness to this issue in the 19th Century but I did not need to read about it during a depressing start to the year. I picked it because after Ready Player One I wanted to swing back into the past. I have a weird tendency after finishing a book to want to read something that’s the polar opposite. I’d only read A Christmas Carol so wanted to try more Dickens and thought this one would be accessible. It wasn’t a difficult read and there was some justice and salvation, but overall the grimness didn’t make it worth my while.

 

Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff

I found this via self-improvement writer, Mark Manson’s recommendations of the 5 Best Books for Anxiety and Depression.

For those of us worrying we are not “winning at life”, self-compassion is the answer. You read a lot about self-care but fostering a kind, compassionate attitude to yourself is what really makes the difference. It can interupt the habit of regretting the past, beating yourself up in the present and fearing the future. People tend to pour scorn on self-help books but I have come across a handful that have totally shifted my perspective and changed my life for the better: this is one of them.

 

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Please share what you’ve been reading lately in the comments!

 

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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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