Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Perfect Scent by Chandler Burr

"The final irony is that the naturals-only people don't know what the word natural means."

A non-fiction work to be sure, however this is a story that will delight your olfactory senses, increase your appreciation for Sarah Jessica Parker and crave a green mango.
The author, the New York Times  scent critic, weaves together two disparate tales of this billion dollar industry, documenting the creation of a new Hermes fragrance in Paris and a new celebrity scent in New York.
I had read a somewhat negative review of the book before I started which did not dissuade me from picking up a copy. The critic lambasted Burr’s familiarity with SJP, which I think was an unwarranted critique. Burr clearly finds the subject of the perfume, ‘Lovely’ to possess similar attributes to the name of the perfume and her passion for the project is infectious. I remember when that particular fragrance was released… I wasn’t a fan, now I’m eager to unlock the secrets of Un Jardin Sur Le Nil  the book’s other fragrance.
The year spent capturing the perfect scent reflects the cultural divide between France and America and markedly different approach to the alchemy which is scent creation.
The business side and the scientific angles are well covered and make for fascinating reading. The injection of a little glamour in the form of the premier super luxe brand, Hermes, coupled with the stellar SJP add further buzz without taking over from the real stars – the parfumiers.
Google helpfully reminded me what had prompted me to seek this book out in the first place – a recommendation from ABC TV’s Book Club, mystery solved.
It would be remiss of me not to mention how fascinating the work of Jean Claude Ellena, head perfumer of Hermes is; a modern magician cooking up fantastical sensations in his lab that replicate lived experiences - distilling life into a bottle.

5 out of 5 good perfumes don’t stink.

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

"Matthew was an ancient vampire, not a timewalking witch. But he was also a man, and he knew of one way to achieve this magical feat."

All good things come to an end, including great trilogies and last night I bid a sad farewell to my literary friends Diana and Matthew, the weaver and vampire that have captivated my attention since January 2013.

I fell in love with Diana as a character for a number of reasons: her historical research, her shroud of mystery, her love for Matthew (despite his scary circumstances and family issues) and last but not least, perhaps because she shares a first name with my mum. Out there in web-land, there are many who have derided the author’s protracted release of this final instalment of the trilogy, to those naysayers, I say – “well you try and write it”. All good things take time (yes this review is jam packed with and the anticipation has been worth it, particularly for a speed reader like myself who often lack

That is not to say this is a perfect novel, certainly there are flaws, but nothing major. I know this review is a little light on, but I feel you should delve into the world of the vampires and witches yourself.... go on.

5 out of 5 grimoires are full of surprises.

Monday, 18 August 2014

A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links between Leadership and Mental Illness by Nassir Ghaemi

“We will see that our greatest crisis leaders toil in sadness when society is happy, seeking help from friends and family and doctors. Sometimes they’re up, sometimes they’re down, but they’re never quite well. Yet when calamity occurs, if they are in a position to act, they can lift up the rest of us; they can give us the courage we may have temporarily lost, the fortitude that steadies us.”

 What makes a great book, well, a fantastic premise helps. Just reading the blurb was enough to capture my interest and certainly Ghaemi puts forward some truly intriguing notions, particularly about the different kinds of leadership and the extreme traits that can benefit or detract from hostile situations.

Discussing the potential mood disorders of historical luminaries and villains makes for a rich field of exploration. My only quibble - and for this I took a point off - was that  I wanted more meat around each example. There didn't seem to be sufficient information to really explore in depth any of the historical figures high-lighted and I felt this could develop into a much more detailed study. It felt a little like, behold a thrilling notion, oops, off to the next one.

I certainly would not hesitate to recommend this as a really interesting read and one that is particularly easy to knock over quickly. It gives a fresh perspective to some historical stalwarts and perhaps explains why so many in politics have a tendency to come across a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

4 out of 5 politicians might have more issues than just policy.

Midnight Alley by Rachel Caine

“Nice, the brutally honest part of her mocked. You’d sacrifice Shane’s life for what you want, because you know that’s what would happen. Eventually, the vampires would find an excuse to kill him. You’re not any better than the vampires if you don’t do everything you can to prevent that.”

This has been in my “currently reading” pile for what seems like a millenium – okay I’m a little prone to exaggeration. I wonder why it has taken so long to finish, possibly because I was tempted by so many other literary treats concurrently. Perhaps the reason has to do with a convoluted plot that I was continually diving in and out of, over a long period of time. Or possibly, red wine is winning the battle over my brain cells.

In any case we’re back in Morganville and, as per usual, Claire has gotten into more trouble than she bargained for, entering into a contract with Amelie that will see her spending some quality time with a deranged, sick, ancient vampire – well it beats watching tv. Throw in the usual love angle dillemas and I think we have the action covered.

I really loved the previous forays into the series, this one left me a little cold, yet eager to see if things heat up. So, I guess I'll give the series the benefit of the doubt and keep progressing through it, I just don't think this is the best of the bunch.

3 out of 5 vampires need their teeth whet.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Skin Trade by Laurell K Hamilton

Shapeshifters rode that edge of pain and plea­sure, but this power was just warm, al­most com­fort­ing."

It is a truth not universally acknowledged that someone with a non existent love life like yours truly might be tempted back to some paranormal hanky panky courtesy of Anita Blake. This being the 17th outing of the series, it appears that I have not, as I previously thought, given up on reading these little tit bits and that this one is a bit of a return to form.
Finally, Blake makes it out of bed long enough to get back to her detective roots and sure, she still does that "I'm not slutty, honest, its just the ardeur I have to feed" shtick, however it's far more entertaining than some of the previous outings. Either that or it has just been way too long between drinks and I've missed her man-agerie of supernatural lovers. Throw in psychopath Olaf and old favourite Ed/Ted and off we go to Vegas for some life threatening adventures, with lions and tigers and werebeasts oh my!
If Anita discovers the ability to call any more animals, she will have to open a zoo! Hope she gets home to my favourite vampire Jean-Claude, but I'll be sated with a little Wicked Truth on the side.

3 out of 5 fangs very much.

Monday, 11 August 2014

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin

“But the chief cause of our natural unwillingness to admit that one species has given birth to other and distinct species, is that we are always slow in admitting any great change of which we do not see the intermediate steps.“

It has taken me seemingly forever to finish this book - yes I've had numerous distractions en route. Nevertheless, I was determined to finish this classic of science. One thing that certainly stood out is how wordy it is. It is a far cry from the academic tract that I had anticipated.

Perhaps that is why this has stood the test of time, the language is florid, yet comprehensible, although possibly requiring a little tenacity from the modern reader who is used to gratification in 140 characters.

 Despite the meanderings of the text, it helpfully summarises in the last chapter, leaving the reader far more certain of what has gone on before. This was helpful, since I read it in short spurts over half a year.

When I consider that this book was first published in 1859, the same year Dickens released (in instalments) , A Tale of Two Cities, I'm struck by the  linguistic aptitude of the times and I wonder what modern writing will  similarly retain its relevancy over the years to come.

Back to the book - well clearly a novel it isn't, yet for the time, its ideas were both novel and revolutionary. I suppose those same ideas remain revolutionary today to certain people who subscribe to the mythological. It is, however, people like Charles Darwin who  demonstrate the importance of challenging ideas in the discovery of knowledge and for that I applaud him. Let's hope that the insanity of political correctness does not prevent similarly gifted individuals from rocking the intellectual boat and discovering new wonders.
 That being said, I'm afraid I won't be re-reading this. The geek in me says I've done a good thing by completing it and now I can move on to less heavy, more flippant flights of fancy. So it comes as no surprise that the book I'm starting has something to do  with birds

3 out of 5 stars and a few bragging rights.

Espedair Street by Iain Banks

“Two days ago I decided to kill myself”

I was sitting in a cafĂ© reading this book at breakfast the other day and found myself completely engrossed. Perhaps it was the hangover that was giving me a little insight into the world of a guilt ridden ex rock star with a penchant for blowing his money and living like a hobo, or maybe it was my Doc Marten knock offs speaking to me. I can’t say for sure, this is a novel that draws you in slowly and then builds like a memorable song.
Aspects of the plot drift in and out, almost in the fashion of a mystery. How did Daniel Weir get here, who is he, what went wrong? So many questions and my interest was piqued. The rock star lifestyle of private air travel and Greek beaches is greatly at odds with Daniel’s grubby existence that reeks of someone who has given up and has nothing to live for. So, it is not surprising that the novel begins with him explaining how he had decided to end it all.
The Frozen Gold reminiscences seem so otherworldly, as the band skyrockets through the seventies, high on the charts and anything they can lay their hands on. The ending was ultimately one of hope, that Daniel’s shallow existence, his act first, think later, impetuous behaviour had come to a close, just as his life, in some ways, had come full circle. I was surprised by how poignantly the story played out.
Another surprise was that Iain Banks is the same author as the Science Fiction author Iain M Banks – a point of confusion for many on line (and for myself), this interview sorted it out for me.
On a side note, and quite possibly a little narcissistic of me; my favourite character was Christine (well, we spell it differently).

5 out of 5 hotel rooms trashed.