Tag Archives: Books

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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Mood Scent 4 – Rainy Day Perfumes

Welcome to the first joint blogging project by Mood Scent 4! We are four perfume bloggers from France, Holland, England and Wales who will be posting on a different joint subject every couple of months.  Each time we will all pick a selection of five or so fragrances to fit a particular mood or occasion. You’ll find links to the other blogs at the end of the post.

We hope you have fun reading our different choices and adding your own in the comments.

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I love it when it’s raining outside and I’m cosy indoors with little to do but listen to the raindrops patter against the window pane. Generally I don’t wear perfume on days like these unless I’m testing out a sample, but it’s fun to imagine what would be rainy day appropriate.

Silences by Jacomo

Notes: Orange blossom, Galbanum, Bergamot, Lemon, Green notes, Cassia;  Iris, Jasmine, Narcissus, Hyacinth, Rose, Lily-of-the-Valley,  Vetiver, Musk, Sandalwood, Oakmoss, Cedar and Ambrette.

This one feels just right for a rainy day in spring, both by name and scent. While most people have retreated indoors, you might want to take a peaceful walk in the rain. A soaking from an April shower seems to amplify the green aroma of vegetation in the air. Silences is a verdant green with a few flower petals and a little powder, that has a calming effect. It is also a bargain if you can find it online.

Celtic Fire by Union

Notes: Pine needles, Fir balsam, Marmite, Birch Tar, Peat and Bog Myrtle.

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My dream rainy day scenario would be eating toast by a roaring fire inside a cabin up in the Highlands of Scotland. The next best thing is Celtic Fire with its peaty, smoky aroma and quirky use of a salty Marmite accord. It’s a statement perfume with a certain meaty substance to it. There’s nothing quite like it.

Dzing! by L’Artisan Parfumeur

Notes: Leather, Ginger, Tonka Bean, Musk, White Woods, Caramel, Saffron, Toffee, Candy Apple and Cotton Candy

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If you do choose to spend your rainy day with a good book and it’s not the digital kind, then Dzing! would be a good accompaniment. It may recreate the smell of the circus but there’s also a whiff of old paperbacks in there, which have started to curl at the edges and smell of musty vanilla. It’s also a clever, completely unique scent and you don’t have to worry about the soupçon of skank if it’s just going to be you and your novel of choice.

L’Eau Froide by Serge Lutens

Notes: Olibanum, Sea Water, Musk, Vetiver, Mint, Incense, Pepper and Ginger.

I know there’s not a lot of love for the Serge Lutens L’Eau line but I like this one. I can’t handle big incense perfumes like the mighty Avignon by Commes des Garcons, so a gentle watery incense with aromatic touches suits me just fine. L’Eau Froide is a softly refreshing fragrance that wouldn’t be too distracting and could match a contemplative mood on a wet day.

Vanilla Smoke by Aftelier Perfumes

Notes: Yellow Mandarin, Siam Wood, Saffron Absolute, Vanillin, Vanilla Absolute, Lapsang Souchong, Ambergris and Coumarin

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Here you get gorgeous, soothing vanilla wrapped up in lovely, rubbery leather. Vanilla Smoke is my ideal comfort scent and will be particularly perfect when autumn rolls around and it starts to get cold and rainy. Enjoy it while taking a rain check – put your feet up and sip one of Mandy’s fabulous Fragranced Teas.

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Make sure you check out the other posts at Megan In Sainte Maxime, I Scent You A Day and L’Esperessence.

What are your own Rainy Day Perfumes?

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Fragrant Fictions – Perfume Lovers London, 29th September 2016

I loved Odette Toilette’s Imbibliotheque event earlier in the year, so I was really looking forward to another evening of perfume and literature.

This time, Lizzie (Odette) told us we would be looking at perfume in movies and TV as well as books. She mentioned that two perfumes seem to come up more than others; Chanel No.5 and Guerlain’s Shalimar. No.5 seems to feature in tales of coming-of-age while Shalimar is worn by the seductress. Natalie Portman’s ballerina-on-the-rise in the film Black  Swan takes the fading prima ballerina’s bottle of No.5 from her dressing room. While in the British film The Education, a 1960s schoolgirl dates an older man who brings her back a bottle of No.5 from Paris.

We’d also be getting a preview (or presniff?) of the forthcoming fragrance by Papillon Perfumes and hearing from Sarah McCartney about the new Four Mysteries collection by 4160 Tuesdays.

 

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Meticulous Murderers

Zagara, Santa Maria Novella

Notes: Bergamot, grapefruit, petit grain, lime, sweet orange, verbena, lavender, orange blossom, carnation, jasmine, geranium, oak moss.

Laurin read us an extract from Hannibal by Thomas Harris; the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs. Hannibal Lecter is at Santa Maria Novella in Italy where he buys an almond soap for Clarice. He is on the run and has undergone extensive cosmetic surgery to conceal his identity. However, he has not altered his nose to protect his much valued sense of smell. He really knows his perfumes and is quite the connoisseur.

The book doesn’t mention him wearing a particular scent but Laurin chose Zagara from Santa Maria Novella for him. It’s classy but not too flashy . As Laurin said “It’s probably a bad idea for a murderer to have a signature scent”. Lizzie commented that the manager of SMN told her “men in Armani suits like Zagara”.  She also quipped that “because of its laundry facet, the orange blossom is good for after you’ve done the murder”.

 

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Menthe Fraiche, Heeley

Notes: Mint leaves, Sicilian bergamot, mate, green tea, lotus leaves, white cedar

The second murderer was someone with no identify: Patrick Bateman from the novel American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. Laurin read an extract which details his very extensive grooming routine. However, he never reaches for fragrance because this would denote an identity and he doesn’t have one.

Lizzie told us that in the film version you see L’Occitane products and the now discontinued YSL Pour Homme.

For Patrick Bateman, Laurin chose Menthe Fraiche by Heeley. She could see him sipping green tea at a sushi restaurant and the minty toothpaste note fits in with his meticulous grooming. Callum said he always thought he’d wear Creed’s Aventus in order to fit in with what the other investment bankers were wearing.

 

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Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman

James Bond

Limes, Floris

Notes: Lemon, petitgrain, lily of the valley, lime blossom, neroli, musk

Lizzie told us Limes by Floris was a fragrance from the 1830s meant to cool the wearer down in the heat. However it’s unlikely to have stayed the same over the years. Bond is obsessed with British brands such as Floris and Limes is mentioned in the 1957 book, Doctor No. Bond is captured by Doctor No who has gone to great lengths to learn Bond’s tastes. Therefore when Bond is shown to a bathroom he finds Limes Bath Essence.

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Vent Vert, Balmain

Notes: Lime, orange blossom, green notes, asafoetida, peach, basil, lemon, bergamot, neroli, violet, freesia, jasmine, hyacinth, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley, rose, galbanum, marigold, spicy notes, iris, sandalwood, amber, musk, oakmoss, sage, vetiver, styrax, cedar

Lizzie: “Vent Vert is so tart it’s like being zapped. It used to be a lot more sappy with green stems but it’s still worth a buy at under £35 online”. It’s mentioned in Goldfinger and in Live and Let Die. In the 1973 film of the latter, Bond is investigating a Tarot reader, Solitaire. When he finds Vent Vert in her bathroom, he is reassured that she can be trusted. He seems to like fresh, green scents and finds them appropriate for women.

 

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Identity Theft

We then turned to the theme of perfume as a marker of identity. You can use it to try on enhance your personality or take on the identity of someone else.

Poison, Dior

Notes: Coriander, tuberose, opoponax

In the 1992 film The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, Rebecca de Mornay’s character takes the job of a nanny to get revenge on the mother of the family. She uses her perfume, Poison, to try and seduce her husband. Lizzie felt that Poison wasn’t a good choice to represent the nurturing housewife. She’d wear something more unthreatening. A suggestion from the audience was Estee Lauder’s White Linen. 

 

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Bal a Versailles, Jean Duprez

Laurin informed us that apparently Bal a Versailles was worn by Michael Jackson. He’d send assistants out to buy up bottles of the stuff. However, we’d be focusing on its appearance in an American TV show form the 1980s, Dynasty.

Lizzie gave us a run-down of the perfume’s significance in terms of character and plot. Krystle Carrington, wife of Blake, receives a bottle of Bal a Versailles in the first series and exclaims “My favourite!”. Krystle is the good woman who is pitted against Blake’s ex-wife, Alexis (played by Joan Collins). In series two, Alexis sprays on Bal a Versailles and attempts to seduce Blake. She fails and can’t understand why because she doused herself in Krystle’s perfume. As far as she’s concerned, Krystle has no identity beyond her fragrance.

Lizzie felt it was a good choice for Krystle as it was very much a perfume of the time. Laurin described it as a sophisticated, complex perfume made of hundreds of ingredients although it’s hard to pick out anything other than the civet.

 

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Alexis, Blake and Krystle

Shagging and Seduction

Lizzie hosted a perfume event for The Jilly Cooper Book Club and found that although the books are set in the 1980s, Jilly usually mentioned perfumes from the 1940s-1960s.  She was very fond of peppering her prose with brands so specific perfumes are mentioned quite regularly.

Caléche, Hermes

Notes: Citrus fruits, aldehyde notes, ylang ylang, rose, jasmine, to wood chypre silage underscored by noble irises.

Lizzie described Caléche as a mossy, musky scent and summed it up as “outdoor sex”. Jilly Cooper uses it in scenes of seduction, “Caléche rose from her cleavage like morning mist from a ravine.

In Riders, on her way to an assignation, Helen puts on so much perfume in the taxi “it fights with the diesel fumes“.

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Fracas, Bobert Piguet

Notes: Tuberose, jasmine, violet, gardenia, orange blossom, sandalwood, vetiver, musk

According to Lizzie “Fracas is a monster of a perfume. It says I’m ready and open for business” . It’s the one she felt 75% of the members of The Jilly Cooper Book Club went out and bought after the event. Another perfume mentioned in the books a number of times was Jolie Madame, which one woman throws a bottle of at a cheating partner.

 

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Happy, Clinique

Notes: Fresh apple, plums, bergamot, fresh-air accord, freesia, lily, rose, morning orchid, musk, amber

 

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1997’s Happy was worn by Elle Woods in the 2001 comedy Legally Blonde. She is an eternal optimist so it’s a good match with her happy-go-lucky attitude. It’s also in the film Juno. The wife of the couple hoping to adopt Juno’s baby wears Happy and again, she is eternally optimistic, even in the face of adversity.

Lizzie views it as “uplifting – positivity in a bottle”. For Laurin, Elizabeth Arden’s Sunflowers has the same effect because it was worn by an upbeat friend when they were growing up.

Diorissimo, Dior

Notes: Lily of the Valley, jasmine, white musk

Laurin introduced us to the second Desperate Housewife – Betty from the TV show Mad Men. Betty Draper is a bland trophy wife who is supposed to be seen and not heard. She’s very prim and proper so Laurin picked a lily fragrance for her, namely Diorissimo. She saw it as a good fit with Betty’s coldness and rigidity.

Lizzie felt Betty wouldn’t seek out something different, she’d probably just wear what her mother wore. Unlike Don Draper’s hip next wife, Megan, she wouldn’t wear a fragrance of the time or a power perfume like the va-va-voom redhead Joan, who wears Shalimar.

 

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Mystery Fragrance from Papillon Perfumes

We were lucky enough to be treated to a preview of the upcoming fragrance by artisan perfumer Liz Moores. She has already had great success with her three inaugural releases, Anubis, Angelique and Tobacco Rose and recently won several Basenotes Reader Awards for her last release, Salome, which Lizzie described as “a filthy carnation leather”.

Laurin said that autumn is her favourite season and the fragrance echoes the feeling that something good is going to happen as the leaves begin to fall. Lizzie shared that it made her think of a woman who was ready to turn her back on the finer things in life and retreat into the wilderness.

When Lizzie asked people to attach a fictional character to the scent one person said “A sprite from A Midsummer’s Night Dream” which is exactly what I thought. At the moment there is no release date for the perfume and the name has not been announced.

The Four Mysteries, 4160 Tuesdays

We finished the structured part of the evening with a reading by perfumer Sarah McCartney from two of the four short stories she is releasing in conjunction with four perfumes. Sarah is a fan of what she calls “1920s and 30s cosy crime”, where the details of the murder are totally glossed over.

We got to try two of the two perfumes . Flora Psychadelia is about two botanists in search of a rare flower which only blooms every couple of decades. It’s a psyhcotropic flower whose scent has the power to knock you out. She included lots of materials that are supposed to intoxicate including absinthe, hemp, black pepper and mushrooms, against a fleshy background.

Captured by Candlelight tells the story of two stage performers who perform at a Stately Home at Christmas and the scent is the rich aroma of Christmas pudding. The other two perfumes are Up The Apple & Pears and The Buddhawood Box.

 

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Thanks to the PLL team and everyone else involved for bringing us such a fabulous evening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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, Books and Booze -The Imbibliotheque at Libreria, London

I think it was Robin writing on Now Smell This that said the one thing that all people with a passion for perfume have in common, is a love of books.

Thanks to Esperanza, I got a last minute ticket to an evening imbibing scents, alcohol and literature. This was held at the brand new bookshop, Libreria, on Hanbury Street (incidentally the same road as niche perfumerie, Bloom) in East London.

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Libreria bookshop, 65 Hanbury Street, London

Independent bookshops are having a tough time these days but Libreria is offering something  a bit different. They provide an internet-free zone where you can attend events and of course, browse the books, but you can also take a course on how to use the printing press in the basement and even print your own work.

The Imbibliotheque event was hosted by drinks writer, Henry Jeffreys and Lizzie Ostrom, author of “Perfume : A Century of Scents“. Lizzie runs regular perfume-themed soirées in the capital under her excellent nom de plume, Odette Toilette.

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Looking around the room, it seemed to be more of a literary crowd than a fragrant one (I won’t presume that anyone was there primarily for the booze). We started with a small sherry (to be followed by Marsala and gin) and then Henry and Lizzie proceeded to regale us with tales of literary works that mention either alcohol or scent. As this is mostly a perfume blog, I’ll be concentrating on Lizzie’s contributions.

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Lizzie Ostrom a.k.a. Odette Toilette

Lizzie started by saying that whenever she tells anyone about her interest in fragrance they usually respond with “Have you read Perfume by Patrick Suskind?”. Being the well-brought-up woman she is, Lizzie merely tells them that she has, while admitting to us “I hate it”.

These are the books with fragrant motifs that she prefers.

Wise Children by Angela Carter

Wise Children is the magical tale of two identical twins, Nora and Dora Chance, who were both chorus girls in their youth. The only way you could tell them apart was by their scent: one wore Shalimar while the other wore Mitsouko.

Lizzie points out these are clever choices because like the twins, both perfumes come from the same mother; Guerlain.  In the novel the girls swap scents and so manage to deceive their lovers as to their identity. This is because their scent is their identity.

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In the 1930s, when the novel is set, Lizzie tells us that scent was sold as a way to portray an  “amped-up” version of yourself. Perfume was about role-play.

The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

Apparently perfume is mentioned quite regularly in detective novels, sometimes as a plot device. It’s referred to in a number of Raymond Chandler’s works in which it has the ability to betray someone. It literally leaves a scent trail.

In one story, a potential suspect is eliminated because the perfume found on a handkerchief at the crime scene is too vulgar for her to possibly wear.

In The Lady in the Lake, Philip Marlowe visits “The Gillerlain Company” (Hmm sounds familiar). Here’s an excerpt.

“The cream of the crop seemed to be something very small and simple in a squat amber bottle. It was in the middle at eye height, had a lot of space to itself, and was labeled Gillerlain Regal, The Champagne of Perfumes. It was definitely the stuff to get. One drop of that in the hollow of your throat and the matched pink pearls started falling on you like summer rain.”

Riders by Jilly Cooper

Lizzie had recently done an event for the Jilly Cooper Book Club and found that her bonkbusters are peppered with references to scent. Women are always pouring perfume over themselves in anticipation of meeting their lover. It gives the impression of “putting on the glitz”. It’s also used to show how extravagant a character is when another quips that she pours “God knows how many bottles of Diorissimo” into her swimming pool.

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When describing the character, Mrs Walters, Jilly Cooper writes “Caleche rises like morning mist from her ravine of a cleavage”. We tried some Caleche by Hermes on paper strips, which Lizzie says makes people treat her like a bitch whenever she wears it.

The Loved Ones by Evelyn Waugh

Published in 1948, The Loved Ones is a short novel set in Los Angeles. In it, Waugh satirises how perfume is being sold to women at that time.

“With a steady hand Aimee fulfilled the prescribed rites of an American girl preparing to meet her lover — dabbed herself under the arms with a preparation designed to seal the sweatglands, gargled another to sweeten the breath, and brushed into her hair some odorous drops from a bottle labelled: “Jungle Venom”- “From the depth of the fever-ridden swamp,” the advertisement had stated, “where juju drums throb for the human sacrifice, Jeannette’ s latest exclusive creation Jungle Venom comes to you with the remorseless stealth of the hunting cannibal.”

The Leopard by  Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

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For a book full of descriptions of scent and smell, Lizzie reckons you can’t do better than The Leopard. This novel is set in Scilly in the 1860s, during the upheaval caused by the unification of Italy. Its theme of a decaying way of life is reflected in the depiction of the aristocratic family’s garden with its “oily emanations of magnolias” and a multitude of other scents clamouring for attention.

The garden has beauty but it’s also squalid, with the body of a soldier buried within it. The scent descriptions intoxicate the reader but they also send them reeling from the olfactory cacophony.

Lizzie matched The Leopard with a roll-on jasmine scent from Hyderabad which was indeed both captivating and repulsive, being both fleshy and plastick-y.

Snowball by Brigid Brophy

Snowball is a comedy of manners set at a New Year’s Eve Ball in a fancy house in London. Lizzie read us a description of how a perfume’s presence disappears from a room – it “shrivels like a corpse entombed”. One of the characters also consumes peppermint creams so this was a nice excuse to pass a box around the audience. I have to say I didn’t do any much sniffing before I wolfed one down.

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Books, glorious books: The shelves at Libreria

Doting by Henry Green

The wife of an adulterer in Doting isn’t sure of what she saw, but when dismissed by her cheating husband during a confrontation, she says “I smelt you, Arthur”.  She was born with such a strong sense of smell that she has utmost confidence in it.

Set in post-war London, the writer lets the reader experience the novel’s environment solely through the senses of the characters.

Brighton Rock by Graeme Green

Graeme Green drops in various uninspiring aromas from dead fish to creosote in order to remind the reader of how dreary the setting is. It creates a shorthand for a whole environment in this classic 1930s murder thriller.

Lizzie obtained one of the scents from IFF’s “Living Portfolio” which uses headspace technology to recreate everyday smells. The one that we tried was “Living Motor Oil” and it was incredibly realistic.

Ghost Stories

In Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, the new Mrs De Winter is haunted by Rebecca’s perfume. There are also references to scent in the work of Edgar Allan Poe.

Fragrance can be used to represent the ethereal presence of someone long gone or inspire grief when encountering the scent associated with a lost loved one.

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Have you read any of these books? Do you have any novels with scent references to share?

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a favourite of mine with wonderful descriptions of various aromas sprinkled throughout.

 

 

 

 

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