Book Review: Catching Fire (second of the Hunger Games trilogy), by Suzanne Collins

As I mentioned before, I like to try to read what my teenage daughter’s reading, so I can keep up with her thoughts. I thought the the original novel was well worth reading, and was eager to continue with the rest of the series.  Review of The Hunger Games here.

I’ve realized that what I’m doing here with these Hunger Games book reviews is not so much reviewing them as analyzing them. I shoulda been an editor. I shoulda gone into publishing… I shoulda told my dad that no matter if he refused to pay for a useless bachelor’s degree in English, I’d get a loan and pay for it myself. I didn’t. (Oldest children tend to want to please their parents. I blame Dad a little, but I suppose at this point I blame myself more for not being willing to suffer for what I wanted, to the point of making him unhappy.)

Synopsis (Warning, contains spoilers. I don’t think this is a big deal, given that the book was released in 2009, but if you go ahead and read anything in blue and find out things you didn’t want to know before reading the book yourself, it’s your own fault.): Continue reading Book Review: Catching Fire (second of the Hunger Games trilogy), by Suzanne Collins

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Book and Perfume Review: The Perfume Lover by Denyse Beaulieu, and L’Artisan Seville a l’Aube

Oranges bénites / Blessed oranges

The subtitle for this book, by the author of one of the most long-running and influential/well-read perfume blogs, Grain de Musc, is “A Personal History of Scent,” and that’s a succinct description of what you’ll find inside its pages. We get all kinds of scented anecdotes, from perfume being banned from young Denyse’s home due to her father’s dislike of it, to her first exhilarating visit to a Paris perfume shop, to the shared bottle of “men’s” fragrance used by her university social group of young, intellectual punk-rockers as a sort of identity badge, right through descriptions of what she wore as a young freelance writer in Europe, what she wore at her wedding, and what scent became the symbol of a torrid love affair.

Perhaps more compelling to perfume fans than these stories is the story of how Seville a l’Aube came about, which is woven into the book. First there’s a chance meeting with Bertrand Duchaufour, then an invitation for her to come by his lab and learn more, followed by the story of how “the most beautiful night of [her] life” smelled and Duchaufour’s comment that it would make a terrific perfume. The seed – Ms. Beaulieu’s description of a Holy Week night spent in a Seville orange grove not far from the cathedral, standing with a Spanish boy and watching the religious festivities – fell on fertile ground, and much of the book is a step-by-step telling of how, exactly, a perfume is created. Continue reading Book and Perfume Review: The Perfume Lover by Denyse Beaulieu, and L’Artisan Seville a l’Aube

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Hot Fudge Sundae Cake recipe, and review of The Girl Who Chased the Moon

It’s another TBR!  Thursday Blogger Recipe or Thursday Book Review, and because I’m feeling generous today’s a twofer: you get one of each.

Taz and I made this cozy treat after dinner last night. Yum.

Hot Fudge Sundae Cake (from Betty Crocker) Continue reading Hot Fudge Sundae Cake recipe, and review of The Girl Who Chased the Moon

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No TBR post today…

After two weeks of TBR Thursday Blogger Recipes, I had this absolutely scathing book review ready to go, for a book my sister-in-law gave me for Christmas. (No, she hadn’t read it – just looked at the subject matter and thought it would be up my alley.  And it should have been.)

But I began to have qualms about publishing a nasty review without a good one to go along with it, and I hadn’t had time to write a good one, despite having read some pretty good books lately.

True, several of them were written for the YA market, because I like to keep tabs on what my kids are reading.  Also because the best fantasy stuff, according to me, continues to be written for young adults rather than for the adult fantasy fiction market.  (Feel free to disagree with me if you like – and give examples, please: I’m always looking for a good fantasy read.) 

So what have I been reading? Read Bookworm’s copies of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins and found them amazing; haven’t yet gotten to Mockingjay and am dreading it because I can tell that there’s no way the ending is going to be happy.  Finished up the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan – and those books are terrific for the preteen set, by the way.  Taz devoured them. Also, he’s been getting the Artemis Fowl books, by Eoin Colfer (how on earth do you pronounce that?? I’m dying to know), and we enjoy those as well.  Gaze is also reading through the Ranger’s Apprentice series and likes those; they’re not as fantasy-focused as a lot of things that Bookworm, Taz and I enjoy, and Gaze prefers realistic fiction. 

So what was that book that I just hatedContinue reading No TBR post today…

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Book Review: The Little Book of Perfumes: The Hundred Classics, by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

The first thing you need to know before you read this review is what I thought of the two earlier perfume-review books by these authors: I own both, frequently refer to them, and occasionally read them for fun and enjoyment, finding the snarky reviews as naughtily delightful as the lyrical ones are angelically so. My early forays into perfume sampling were in some cases guided by Perfumes: The Guide, with mixed results. I would never have ordered a sample of Parfums de Nicolai Le Temps d’une Fete – which has been on my Top Three All-Time list ever since – without reading Dr. Turin’s description of it as being “something close to perfection, rich, radiant, solid”. On the other hand, I’m not quite ready to forgive him for the rave review of S Perfumes 100% Love, which I hated. And I’m not even going to talk about Secretions Magnifiques, which positive review had any number of perfume fans preparing to come after him in a mob bearing torches and pitchforks.  Suffice it to say that as a strict guide to perfume choice, the earlier books were as controversial as they were helpful.  I’m writing this book review from the perspective of one familiar with the authors’ earlier works, as it’s my belief that most of my blog readers will also be familiar with them.

If, by some chance, readers are not familiar with the authors and/or their previously published fragrance review books, here are a few facts: Dr. Luca Turin has a PhD in biophysics, has spent many years studying olfactory science, and authored The Secret of Scent. Tania Sanchez is a writer and perfume aficionado well-known for her reviews on MakeupAlley. The two are married. For more information, please read this interview with the authors on Now Smell This, dating back to shortly after the first edition of Perfumes: The Guide was published in 2008.

The new, hardcover book is slender and handsome, measuring about 8 ¼” by 4 ¾”, with an attractive black dust jacket embellished with white. The endpapers are bright pink, an elegant 1950s-retro color combination that makes me, for one, smile. The book is 107 pages long, including indices, and includes the following features:

Acknowledgements

Authors’ Note states that they “judge formula changes based on side-by-side tests of previous years’ bottles and new samples, direct from the firms whenever possible.”

A new Foreword by Tania Sanchez points out that “the fragrances reviewed in this book are not the greatest of all time – instead, they are those that struck us as far above their peers in quality, inventiveness, or straightforward beauty when we surveyed nearly 1900 during the writing of Perfumes: The A-Z guide,” and also that this smaller book eliminates the one-line, snarky reviews for which the authors caught so much ire in earlier editions. (The two-word review for Paris Hilton’s Can Can comes to mind here: “Can it.”) I’m glad to see that the reviews that remain are all thoughtful, well-expressed, and darned helpful if you are trying to place a fragrance along the timeline of historical development, or trying to figure out its structure.

The bulk of the book is, of course, the Perfume Reviews. Essentially, this book is comprised of the five-star reviews from the earlier, lengthier editions, with updates for the 2011 version of those fragrances wherever e possible. Some of these fragrances – usually due to IFRA restrictions on raw materials – are no longer the works of magnificence that the authors felt that they were in 2007. Many of the reformulated scents, about 40%, have 2011 updates. I’ll list a few for you here: Guerlain Apres l’Ondee, Chanel Bois des Iles, Chanel Cristalle, Dior Diorella, Robert Piguet Fracas, Guerlain Habit Rouge, Jean Patou Joy parfum, Chanel No. 5 edt and parfum, Yves St. Laurent Opium, Dior Poison Guerlain Shalimar, Caron Le Troisieme Homme. Nearly all the reviews for fragrances known as “classics” do have updates. I was extremely pleased to see – finally! – a dissenting opinion from Ms. Sanchez following Dr. Turin’s rave review of Etat Libre d’Orange’s divisive scent Secretions Magnifiques. I’ll quote that one for you here (and only that one update, since I don’t want to discourage sales to curious people).

[Secretions Magnifiques] 2011: Smells exactly the same. For the record, there always should have been a dissenting view from me on this one: one star, absolutely revolting, like a drop of J’Adore on an oyster you know you shouldn’t eat. Whatever you do, do not allow any to touch your nose when you smell it off a paper strip. I know Luca is a convincing proselytizer, but trust me.

(Amen, sister. Not for nothing is this fragrance generally known among my perfumista friends as Secretions Gagnifiques…)

The authors also note that some of their chosen fragrances have now been discontinued, such as Theo Fennell Scent and L’Artisan Vanilia. Further, the few already-discontinued scents reviewed in the original, such as Le Feu d’Issey and Yohji Homme, are noted as still being discontinued.

Following the reviews, there is a section written by Luca Turin on the Osmotheque, the only perfume museum in the world. It stores and displays discontinued fragrances of “artistic significance,” and allows visitors to smell samples of these otherwise-unavailable joys. The Osmotheque was founded by perfumer Jean Kerleo and is currently directed by Patricia de Nicolai (who created my dear darling Le Temps d’une Fete, included in The Hundred Classics). Dr. Turin suggests that the Osmotheque should sell their reconstructed beauties, with “no reference to the original name, compounded according to the proper formula. The aficion will know its own. Label each bottle with a skull and crossbones and the warning ‘Do not put on skin’ to avoid IFRA trouble. Maybe if they did this they would shame the brands into reintroducing classic fragrances. I’m not holding my breath, not least because I need to sniff my strip of Iris Gris.” I agree. I do love my 1970s Coty Emeraude parfum de toilette, but I’m sure the recreation of the original parfum would put it to shame.

The Osmotheque section includes reviews of four scents only smellable in original (recreated) form at the museum: Coty L’Origan, Coty Chypre, Coty Emeraude, and Jacques Fath Iris Gris. I’d love to compare the Osmotheque’s version of Coty Chypre (not, you understand, the 1980s eau de toilette rerelease, which is pleasant enough) to my DSH Perfumes version of Chypre, which takes my breath away. And Dr. Turin also touches on the reason I love Emeraude so much: “the two halves of the fragrance [minty-fresh topnotes and lavish oriental accord] are so carefully welded together that they form a single deep saturated, transparent hue, not so much an emerald as the name would suggest, more the green starboard light of a ship gliding by in the dark.” I’d have put it more simply: to me, Emeraude smells like itself, top to bottom, all the way through. You can remark on its similarity to Shalimar, but Emeraude does not smell like Shalimar, it smells like Emeraude – a warm, smiling, bosomy presence, plush but clear.

The section following discusses Sources used by the authors to obtain samples: the Osmotheque, samples sold online, major brands, niche firms, specialty retailers such as Lucky Scent and Aedes de Venustas, department stores, and independent decanters such as The Perfumed Court. The authors also recommend, for perfumery raw materials, exploratory kits from The Perfumer’s Apprentice.

The last few pages are made up of a Glossary, Top Ten Lists, and an Index of Brands (fragrances listed by perfume house). These should look familiar to you if you’ve read the earlier books, except that I don’t remember seeing the “Desert Island” lists of each author before, and that was a fun read.

As I mentioned before in the “book review coming” post, I very much doubt that anyone who owns either of the two previous books will find it necessary to own this one as well. The material in it that you haven’t read before is good stuff, from Foreword to updates to Desert Island lists.  However, if you haunt the perfume blogs as I do, you probably already know that, for example, Diorella has been messed with recently, as have most of the classic Dior fragrances – and not for the better (except perhaps Poison, which probably needed to go on a diet, at least by my standards). You probably already know that IFRA has forced changes to the classic Chanels, and although they seem thinner and lack the lovely sandalwood of yore, the reformulations are still in the spirit of the earlier fragrances. You probably already know that Guerlain’s reformulations of their classics are uneven, with a few smelling slightly better these days due to a rebalancing of the formula, a few fragrances noticeably different but still very good, and a few having had the soul stripped from them.

I’d love to keep this book, but I have plans for it: I’m giving it to my local library. That’s my advice for those of you who are still wondering whether you need a copy: buy one (or two, or four), skim it lightly for the new bits, and then give it as a gift to people who are completely nonplussed as to why you love perfume. Buy a copy for your local library – or for your favorite sales associate, if you are so lucky as to have one of those. It’s short enough to be a quick and entertaining read even for people who have little interest in fragrance, and compelling enough to, perhaps, change that.

Not to mention, I want to encourage supporting people who write about perfume for a living. The book is fairly inexpensive, at $18.00 retail and $12.24 at Amazon.   It will be released on October 27, 2011, exactly a week from today, and it is possible to preorder it.  (Please note, if you go to Amazon, the associated reviews are actually for Perfumes: the A-Z Guide, which confused me momentarily.) A publicity copy was provided to me for review from Viking, free of charge.  Please note: Reader Nina clarifies for us that authors receive better royalties when books are purchased from independent booksellers than they get when we order from Amazon (and, presumably, other online sellers).  Keep that in mind when making a decision to buy books.

Also see Dimitri’s review of The Little Book of Perfumes at Sorcery of Scent.  (I love his blog pictures.)  Book image from Viking.

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