Friday, January 30, 2009

Bond No. 9 Brooklyn

In all honesty, I've been to Manhattan and the Bronx and Queens, but I've never been to Brooklyn. I'm pretty sure it was the setting for "Welcome Back, Kotter." I also know that currently it's home to countless writers, actors, artists, and musicians. The Hold Steady hails from Brooklyn. Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicola Krauss live there, and Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams lived there at some point during their relationship. Pretty much, Brooklyn may turn out to be for the new century what Greenwich Village was to the last.

But how to bottle all of this and put it into a perfume? What's the scent of trendy (but, you know, hip, alternative) celebrity? Silver Factory painted a picture for me, of a person, time, and place, but I suppose I knew enough about Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick and the 1960s to be able to conjure up those images. Having never been to Brooklyn, living a life so far away from that scene, I have a hard time finding the appropriate metaphor, the vision to bring this to life for a reader.

Let's talk notes, shall we?

Top: grapefruit, cardamom
Heart: cypress wood, geranium leaves, juniper berries
Base: cedar wood, leather, guaiac wood

Citrus and I, we aren't really friends, but the hit of grapefruit suffused with cardamom at first hit make me wonder why I never thought to sprinkle my grapefruit with cardomom instead of sugar for all these years. As the scent mellows, the notes mingle, and nothing makes an overwhelming impression on its own. Instead, everything melds into an herbal woods, a soft, refreshing green, dry but warm. Bond No. 9 might have hoped to produce an edgy, hip scent, but they've done something else, in my opinion: they've created a classic.

This scent transcends the trendy and the unusual. I wouldn't call it traditional, but I do think it's timeless, and it's a true unisex. There's no hint of aftershave, and the woods are not too dry. The juniper lends a bit of a summery kick even, grounded by the cardamom. I've been wearing it for three days, and I cannot get my wrist away from my nose. I knew at first spray that something wonderful was about to hit my wrist. Even Bob cannot stop commenting on it.

Brooklyn launches in March, but I'd like to share some with two readers. If you're interested in trying Brooklyn (And you must be! You must try it!), let me know in the comments, and I'll do a drawing on Monday.

*image from Bond No. 9
**Full disclosure: I received my sample from the lovely people at Bond No. 9, and have given it a positive review without coercion. I always tell the truth...remember Union Square? Chinatown?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Sweet Smell of Success

In Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, Dana Thomas devotes an entire chapter to perfume. Next to handbags, perfume is the most successfully mass-marketed item for many luxury brands, bringing in around $15 billion a year. None of this is a surprise to people who read perfume blogs, or who’ve read Chandler Burr or any other of a handful of writers writing about perfume today. We know all too well how large the market is, how prolific the releases are each year. Businesses of all sorts have launched perfumes (Coach), and it’s de rigueur now for every designer with a collection to also have a fragrance (Stella, Narciso Rodriguez). Even the most obscure celebrities (Eau de Gary Coleman, anyone?) are launching fragrances, while decent department store brands are cannibalizing their own lines by launching flanker after flanker (Pleasures Most Super Intense Pleasure EVER).

Thomas begins briefly with a visit to La Petit Campadieu, the French flower farm that produces the Centifolia roses that go into Chanel No. 5. She offers a brief history of perfume, explains the differences in concentration between parfum/extract, eau de parfum, eau de cologne, and eau de toilette, and gives a short biography of Chanel and the development of No. 5. She interviews Jacques Polge and Jean Claude Ellena, talks about the large conglomerates and cosmetic companies that develop perfumes for designers, discusses briefly Givaudan and IFF and synthetics versus “naturals.”

In the context of the book--when I was reading along and absorbed by the overall idea of mass-market luxury (oxymoron, anyone?)--this all seemed fine. She spends a great deal of time on Chanel No. 5, but that’s understandable: it’s been a symbol of luxury for generations. But when I re-read the chapter in the context of reviewing it here, I saw her treatment as a bit generic, and I thought I’d point out some other areas I wish Thomas had addressed:
  • First, she never talks about the importance of Estee Lauder in conjunction with the rise of an American fragrance market. After all, was it not Estee Lauder who was one of the first to market a perfume (okay, perfumed bath oil), Youth Dew, as something women should buy for themselves? Talk about the creation of a market! Through the 1950s and 1960s, French perfume may have continued as a “luxury” item, but ultimately the opening of the market would force them to compete.
  • Second, she goes on at great length about Chanel, but she never once mentions Chance, which was a great mainstream hit for them. She only gives the briefest mentions to Coco and Coco Mademoiselle, two other mainstream market big hitters. I think this is important because it does show how a luxury brand can do mainstream well, and without resorting to flankers and trends. She also says nothing about the Rue Cambon series.
  • Third, she talks with Jean Claude Ellena, primarily about the creation of Un Jardin Sur Le Nil, but she never mentions the Hermessences, which are not mass-marketed and are available only in Hermes boutiques, nor do they discuss Ellena’s own perfumery, The Different Company. I found this strange, because I think it’s interesting to have a nose working for a “mainstream” luxury brand who clearly sees the need for niche.
  • Fourth, she never talks about any niche (luxury) perfume houses, such as L’Artisan, Serge Lutens, Frederic Malle, or JAR--all of which could easily change our idea of luxury (or already have), displacing the traditional brands. What sort of new standard are they setting? How will the traditional houses compete? In the end, will they pander to the masses, or go back to being exclusive?
If you read this book, I’d love to hear your thoughts. The book overall is a great platform for discussion, and I recommend it thoroughly. And speaking of niche, visit me tomorrow. I'll be sampling Bond No. 9 Brooklyn.

*image from

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Inspector Handbag

Back in December, Bob and I decided we would go see the terracotta warriors exhibit at the High for our anniversary. Naively, we thought that because we'd bought our tickets online and we had a queue time early in the day on the Tuesday before Christmas, we wouldn't have any trouble with the crowds. Wrong. The place was packed, and we had to wait in a long line to get on the elevator that would take us up to the exhibit. The lobby area of the High is cavernous, with wood floors and glass everywhere, so the noise of the crowd, while not deafening, was challenging.

As we turned the last bend in the line, we passed a security guard. When I was next to her, she said to me, "Hello. I need to inspect your handbag." I obliged, unzipping and opening my handbag so she could see its contents. When we were closer to the elevator, Bob turned to me and said, "That's a weird name."

"What are you talking about?" I said. Around Bob, I say that a lot.

"That lady. 'Hello, I'm Inspector Handbag,'" he said.

"No," I said, shaking my head. "'I need to inspect your handbag' is what she said. She wanted to see what was in my purse."

"Yep," he said. "That's how I hear music."

Bob is famous (you know, with me) for mangling song lyrics. I've never heard anything like it. The first was the most memorable, when I heard him sing, "I Want to Be Sedated" and it came out, "I want a piece of candy." Really, I should keep a list. After almost nine years together, what generally happens now is a song comes on the radio, he starts to croon, and if I really like the song I yell, "Don't sing!"

My point for telling this story is that I was able to profit from said mangling (although it wasn't a song lyric, but that's a mere technicality). Fast forward a few weeks, when I see a contest post on the Emerging Writer's Network to win Michael Shilling's novel, Rock Bottom. To win the contest, I had to submit some fake band names (limit three), and the author himself would choose five winners out of all submissions. Fake band names are one of my geeky pastimes! Really, I should keep a list of these, too, but I don't. I could only think of my two favorites, the only ones I can ever remember: Frigid B*#ch (the obvious would be a punk band, but it would be great for alt-country) and Pedestrian Saints (which in all truth sounds like a band I probably wouldn't like). I thought about it for days, trying to come up with another entry. I didn't have to have three, but I wanted every chance. And it hit me: Inspector Handbag!

And wouldn't you know, when Michael Shilling picked the five winners, Inspector Handbag was on the list! I got my copy of the novel today, and I can't wait to read it. In college, practically every guy I knew was in a band. I loved live music, but what a hard life those people have (and a lot of fun too, I'm sure). Making it in the music industry is tough enough, but it's worse when the band can't get out of its own way. I can't wait to read this. I'll post my thoughts when I do.

*image link provided by

Support Short Story Collections

Wow, say that three times fast. Through Emerging Writers Network, I learned about the following "challenge" hosted by Andrew Scott at Andrew's Book Club. I'm posting the rules directly from his site:

"1) The first rule of Andrew’s Book Club is you should talk about Andrew’s Book Club.

2) The second rule of Andrew’s Book Club is you should talk about Andrew’s Book Club. Spread the word.

3) Each month I will select two short story collections to be released that month, give or take a few weeks. One will be from a NYC publisher, while a second selection will spotlight a book from an indie or university press. Buy at least one of these books each month. 12 books a year (24 if you buy both selections) is not too much to ask. It would be great if you also supported your local independent bookstore. But you may prefer Borders or Barnes & Noble, or maybe you live in the middle of nowhere and rely upon Amazon or Powell’s. But buy the story collections. If your bookstore doesn’t have the book, order it. Talk to the owner about the book, and about how much you love to read (and buy) story collections. Put your mouth where your money is.

4) Read beyond the Andrew’s Book Club selections. I will only select two books each month. In reality, there are likely dozens of worthwhile books for you to read and support each month. Buy one of my selections in order to bring the power of short story readers together and make our collective voice heard by publishers. Buy the books of your choice to quench your other readerly thirsts.

5) Stop by this blog [Andrew's] every so often and post your thoughts."

Andrew's picks for January are Lauren Groff's Delicate Edible Birds and Allison Amend's Things That Pass for Love. He'll be announcing his picks for February next Sunday, February 1. Myself, I'm going to have to use the library, as unemployment leaves me no room for purchasing extras. However, I pledge that when I can afford it, I'll buy the picks I can't get at the library. Hopefully that will be sooner, rather than later.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sad News

John Updike died today. What a great loss to the literary world.

Ten Random Tunes 1.27.09

Welcome to my new Tuesday feature, Ten Random Tunes, where I put the iTunes on shuffle and just let it go. It's a little like taking a personality quiz every time I do this, because I get bits of history with every song I hear, and it helps me see what's shaped not only my taste in music, but my sense of the world. Feel free to play along!

A-Ha, "Take On Me." Grosse Pointe Blank Soundtrack. This song was popular my junior year of high school, but was not one of my favorites. At that time I was all about Depeche Mode and Tears for Fears, if I remember correctly. I like this song better as part of this soundtrack, and I love this movie. And, oh yes, the video is still pretty amazing.

The Ramones, "Judy Is A Punk." The Royal Tenenbaums Soundtrack. I owned two Ramones albums only, in my time (on vinyl, thank you very much): Rocket to Russia and Rock N' Roll High School. At the time (1980) I was sure I was the only person in Odessa, Texas who owned a Ramones album. I "discovered" them through the magic of HBO, which seemed to run Rock N' Roll High School (no, the album was not the soundtrack...the movie is named after the album) on an endless loop the summer before seventh grade. I was an early, secret punk, in my head of not in my dress.

Frou Frou, "Let Go." Garden State Soundtrack. I swear, I own lots of music that's not part of a soundtrack. Soundtracks are easy, though, because they are like playlists you don't have to exert any effort to create. I listened to this one a lot when I first bought it, even though I wasn't nuts about the movie. (*Spoiler alert, although surely you've seen this by now*: I think he should have gotten on the plane.) This track is okay, but my favorite is Zero 7, "In The Waiting Line."

Madonna, "Justify My Love." Immaculate Collection. I selected all the songs in my iTunes, to be fair, and this one comes up. I don't care for this song, but I bought the album for the handful of songs I do like. I haven't gotten used to the idea that you can buy one song at a time it's okay. Call me old-fashioned. Is it cheating that I clicked through and didn't listen to the whole thing?

Elvis Costello & the Attractions, "Watching the Detectives." The Best of Elvis Costello & the Attractions. A couple "Best of" Elvis Costello albums exist out there, but this is the first one, from the 1980s, with Elvis's face in profile on the cover. I own it on vinyl and CD. I listened to this album over and over in college. I still listen to it over and over. Never get tired of it.

Modest Mouse, "Bury Me with It." Good News for People Who Love Bad News. I've never gotten as deeply into Modest Mouse as I should have, is my opinion. Back in the 90s I bought their first album, This Is A Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About because I loved the title, but I listened to it once and sold it. I don't remember why!

Sebastian Tellier, "Fantino." Lost in Translation Soundtrack. Seriously, I am more than the sum of my soundtracks. This is probably in the running for my favorite soundtrack, though (Rushmore might be the only one that can beat it), and I love the movie. This is the song that plays when she visits Kyoto. I always think about her tying her wish to the branch of the tree.

JTQ, "Spirit of the Sun." This Is Acid Jazz. In the early 90s I worked as a receptionist at a hair salon, and we listened to this album constantly. This is great driving music.

Aretha Franklin, "Chain of Fools." The Best of Aretha Franklin. Dear Everybody, Please lay off Aretha about the hat she wore to the inauguration. She is The Queen of Soul, and you are a Nobody. Sincerely, Me.

Nico, "These Days." The Royal Tenenbaums Soundtrack. Before I lose street cred (ya, book and perfume blog street cred), I own actual Velvet Underground albums. CDs. Whatever the kids are calling them these days. This popped up randomly, but makes me think there are no accidents because it's just too fitting: "Please don't confront me with my failures/I had not forgotten them..."

*images from

Monday, January 26, 2009

Reader's Journal: Deluxe

*Note: I'm planning a separate post on the chapter in Deluxe about perfume, "The Sweet Smell of Success."

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, by Dana Thomas, was on my reading list since it hit bookstore shelves back in 2007. What a time for me to decide to pick it up! When I bought my copy last summer, everything seemed on the surface to be okay, with the exception of the slowing housing market. Strange to think I waited not only until the country was in crisis to read this book, but also until I was facing my own challenge with trying to find a job as the unemployment rate climbs steadily toward ten percent.

But this book is about luxury, and one thing is certain: the luxury market will obtain. What Ms. Thomas does an excellent job of making perfectly clear is the difference between luxury and perceived luxury, between the real thing and the image. We are citizens in the cave, casting our eyes upon the shadow of luxury goods, believing in the market, pouring our hard-earned money into it. The premise of this book follows along the same lines as the discussions of the beleaguered housing market. Who is at fault here? Is it the people who’ve grown the industry, created the desire, and put the goods in reach of consumers who want or need to afford these luxury goods, or is it the fault of common consumers for reaching too far beyond their financial capabilities?

Too many people believe that credit is money. While credit companies have filled people’s mail boxes willy nilly with outlandish offers for even people with the worst credit ratings, these companies are not responsible for picking up the pen and filling out the application. If you know how much money you make, if you know how much money is in your bank account and how much money you owe for rent or mortgage and so on and so forth, then you have some idea of whether or not you can really afford that credit card. The problem is, we want stuff. And when we fill out the applications, we’re not thinking about our bank account balance and our credit limit, but about the stuff we can buy when we get the card. Possibility. That’s the name of the game.

Don’t get me wrong--I am as easily seduced by possibility as the next person. While I do a fair job of keeping spending in check and adding to my savings, I still understand what it means to want something, not for the thing itself but for the possibilities it represents. Anyone who says she’s above such desire is most likely lying, for the things we buy are as much items to satisfy ourselves as to persuade those around us that we are a certain kind of someone. You are as guilty of pandering to your own image if you proudly announce you only buy clothes at WalMart or Goodwill (assuming you do so by choice rather than necessity, of course) as you are if you’re showing off your new Louboutins from Neiman’s. On the one hand, you advertise yourself as a person of thrift, and on the other, as a person of luxury.

Thomas covers the luxury market from several angles, including the formation of luxury conglomerates and global luxury markets, “it” products--bags, perfumes--marketed (or “produced” by) celebrities and their stylists, and the demand for and damage brought by an ever-expanding market for fakes. All throughout the book, a dichotomy presents itself: luxury versus status, summed up nicely by Miuccia Prada: “…To fake luxury today is easy. You put some details from the brand’s past, you put a little bit of gold, and that’s it. I can’t bear that…Real luxurious people hate status. You don’t look rich because you have rich dress. When you look at a person, do you see the spirit or the sexiness or the creativity? Just to see a big diamond, what does it mean? It’s all about satisfaction. I think it’s horrible, this judgment based on money. It’s all an illusion that you look better because you have a symbol of luxury. Really, it doesn’t bring you anything. It’s so banal.”

The point seems to be, status can be bought, or we like to believe it can. I kept thinking about the Sex And The City episode “The Caste System,” where Miranda invites Steve to her law firm’s annual shindig and offers to buy him a new suit. She loves Steve and doesn’t care that he’s a bartender who makes far less money than she does. She would like to be able to spend her hard-earned money to buy him nice things and fails to understand his discomfort at the inequities in their salaries. When she discusses the problem with the girls, it’s Charlotte who gives voice to the actual problem at hand: “You’re talking about more than a difference in income. You’re talking about a difference in background and education. This guy is working class…[You’re] trying to pretend we live in a classless society, and we don’t.”

Even though Carrie calls Charlotte “Marie Antoinette” for making such a comment, I think it’s true, and I think it’s at the heart of what’s presented in Deluxe. The mass market for “luxury” goods has not grown so much as the market for “status” goods. And although Americans make up one of the largest groups of consumers of status goods, we are not alone, and we are not the largest group. According to Thomas’s figures, the Japanese make up half of the luxury or status goods market, and while they claim “durability” is the greatest factor in their decision to purchase branded luxury items over anything else, Thomas posits this theory, based on sociologists’ research: “According to the polls, Japanese consider themselves to be a classless society--in one study, 85 percent stated they were middle class. At the same time, in Japan, conformity is prized. By wearing and carrying luxury goods covered with logos, the Japanese are able to identify themselves in socioeconomic terms as well as conform to social mores.” In other words, to pretend class does not exist, but at the same time to clearly define oneself as a certain type of person belonging to a certain class.

Not surprisingly, the Chinese are rising quickly through the consumer ranks for much the same reason. Thomas reports that Vogue China editor Angelica Cheung told her, “ ‘Most Chinese buy luxury as a status symbol rather than taste. They want people to know they are carrying around something expensive…They can’t pronounce the names and they don’t know where it comes from. They just want it because it’s expensive.’” It seems that so many burgeoning economies are taking their cues about luxury and status from the West. No chance exists for new entries into these markets, because they are dominated by Western brands. But are we selling them the lie?

And what about the lies we sell ourselves? The most disturbing chapter in the book is the one concerning the rise of the counterfeit luxury goods market. Thomas explains, “When the luxury goods market went democratic, they thought they could satisfy the middle market with lower-priced handbags and perfume. What they didn’t count on was middle-market consumers satisfying their craving for higher-end items by buying fake versions that they could pass of as real.” She goes on to describe the ways in which these counterfeit goods are produced, touring factories that employ people working literally around the clock until they pass out from exhaustion, or children who’ve been sold to factories because their parents are so poor they believe they are actually giving their kids a chance at a better life. And for what? So we can carry our fake bags to Target? So we can fool ourselves into believing we are better off than we really are?

What I like about this book is that I keep going back over things in my head, and I could write at far greater length about my thoughts if I had space and time and didn't want to be a tiresome windbag. The premise is about so much more than logo-ed handbags or couture fashion--it’s about all the ways we trick ourselves into believing in dreams, in mobility. The real rich--the true purveyors of luxury--stay hidden. They don’t shop in stores; they don’t attend fashion shows; they don‘t walk the red carpet. They are from many countries, and they are beyond reach. And as one South American woman tells Thomas at the end of the book, “We buy from luxury brands, but not ordinary products. Special items. There’s always something special. You can see what is mass and what is special. Luxury is not how much you can buy. Luxury is the knowledge of how to do it right, how to take the time to understand and choose well. Luxury is buying the right thing. [Thomas‘s emphasis]” What then, we must ask ourselves, are we really reaching for?

*images from,,,, and

Friday, January 23, 2009

2008: Fragrance Year in Review

Looking back, 2008 was a strange year, rocky and difficult not only personally, but for so many people in so many ways. I had big goals for the blog and sampling, and they didn't quite pan out. I got off to a strong start with Estee Lauder, but I could not seem to keep the momentum with any of the other houses. I was too distracted to keep a plan together. I remember distinctly trying many of the Penhaligon perfumes, but only managing to produce a review for Bluebell. I made it through the Le Labo samples as well, but only after I stopped writing longer reviews, which was a shame because they deserved more time than I was able to give them, and now the samples are mostly gone.

Since August, I've primarily worn my own perfumes. A strange thing happened: when I felt things starting to careen downhill at work, I became very sensitive to what perfume I wore. I'm not a superstitious person, and I don't believe in talismans or good luck charms or lucky items of clothing, but I do tend to hang on to fragrance associations, and no matter how good something smells in an "objective" sense, if I associate it with a negative event, it's ruined for me, if not forever, then for a long, long time.

So what does one wear for the trip down the rabbit hole? First I tried something to keep my attitude positive, alternating between Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess (beachy, summery) and Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb (rosy, robust). Didn't work. I felt increasingly agitated and unhappy at work, despite my aromatheraputic attempts, so rather than have Flowerbomb associated with a bad time and ruined for me forever, I put it away. As for Bronze Goddess, I unfortunately purchased that in "celebration" of the new job last spring, so it seems tainted and unrecoverable. Next I tried something to keep me calm and centered, and for that I chose Andy Tauer's L'Air du Desert Marocain, which I wore through September and October. I admit it brought me a sense of peace, and while I always admired this perfume from the beginning (which I won from sweet Andy, way, way back in the beginning), I don't think it's overstatement to say I grew to love it so much as to believe I can never be without a bottle--which is why, as things got even worse, I put that away as well. For several weeks during November, I didn't wear any perfume at all. When the holidays rolled around, I settled on Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir. I have to say, that perfume did a wonderful job of both lifting and comforting my low spirits. On the day I was "resource actioned," it was warm (for January) and humid, and because it was my first day back at work in the New Year, I wore L'Artisan La Chasse aux Papillon. I hate that such a pretty fragrance is associated with such a negative experience, but the good news is, I wore so little of it (I'm always careful with the white florals) that I don't think it suffered any permanent damage. And finally, to recover my spirits? Iris Poudre.

But what about the first half of the year? I found much to love in the year 2008, in the way of fragrance. As I said before, not everything got the treatment it deserved: the Le Labo fragrances, the Hermessences (if I ever buy one, the race is on between Vetiver Tonka and Osmanthe Yunnan), and several from L'Artisan (Timbuktu, in particular) would have definitely made the list, but I decided to discuss only scents for which I wrote full posts. So, without further delay, here are my picks:

1. Estee Lauder Estee. "The floral aspect of this is quite deep, and it dangles just at the edge of a chypre, with slightly detectable aldehydes to keep the wearer from feeling smothered by flowers. The jasmine and muguet make the rose slightly crisp, and the heart is golden with a touch of spice. I keep thinking of a picture I saw once of Natalie Wood from the early 1960's wearing a fur hat, with a coat and matching fur stole. She looks both poised and poised for adventure, ready for excitement and change. How little she knew what would happen next."

2. Tann Rokka Aki. "After about thirty minutes, Aki begins to lose some of its sweetness, and it feels like night coming on, the patchouli moving across the amber twilight like a darkening sky, the vetiver lighting it up softly here and there like stars. This phase is decidedly more grown-up than the opening, and easier to wear overall, even though I did enjoy the trip down memory lane that the opening notes provided. Aki is pretty and uncomplicated, like youth is or should be..."

3. Hermes Elixir des Merveilles. "This perfume is most definitely not a strict gourmand scent. If you were worried about all the vanilla and orange and chocolate, don't be. The opening is the most gourmand part of the scent, with a dark, dark chocolate note that almost translates as pepper on my skin. The orange is not sparkling or sweet, but a bit bitter, more like the rind than the fruit inside. The tonka bean lends to the spice as the scent develops, bringing out the dark heart which gets rounded rather than sweetened by the vanilla. It has a slight booziness, which is approprite because it's absolutely intoxicating. In the dry down the scent truly does get drier; the woods take away the booze and the cedar, frankincense and patchouli take over."

4. Guerlain Mahora. "One whiff of this scent, and I long to be on vacation somewhere. Permanently. Just after winning the lottery. What I enjoy so much about Mahora, which goes from bright and tropical to creamy to powdery and comforting--think a long day basking in the sun, followed by an evening on a patio with a warm breeze off the ocean--is the sophisticated yet quiet approach it takes. There's no mistaking the tuberose, to be sure, but it's as though she's donned a sun hat and picked up a book to retire to a poolside chaise."

5. Ineke Evening Edged in Gold. "Evening Edged in Gold begins with ripened, honeyed fruit, a deep but not overly sweet nectar, lightened considerably by the osmanthus, which, for lack of a better word, is dappled through the top, a whiff here and there...the scent ripens on my wrist, the fruit becoming deeper, the cinnamon bark and floral notes mulled in among the top notes. I find it almost a miracle that I didn't have wasps thrumming around me as soon as I stepped out the door wearing it. This has terrific lasting power, and the longer I have it on, I feel like it actually gets lighter, sweeter."

What were your favorite discoveries from 2008?

*images credited in original posts

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Good evening friends! I've been making some changes, signing up for challenges and listing book reviews and whatnot. As I add reviews for challenge books, you'll be able to access them from the sidebar on the right, or to refer back to the other few reviews I've had here. I've started my first reading challenge book (see sidebar)!

I'll have a review up for Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster in the next couple of days, and for now I'm planning to have perfume reviews on Fridays, so if you are a friend of this blog for the perfume, I hope you'll at least visit at the end of the week.

Have a lovely evening, everyone!

Reader's Journal: Nonfiction

Works of nonfiction (alphabetical by author) I've reviewed:

Baumann, Leslie - The Skin Type Solution
Branch, Shelley and Sue Coleman - What Would Jackie Do? (mini review)
Colt, George Howe - The Big House
Garcia, Nina - The Little Black Book of Style (mini review)
Kimmel, Haven - A Girl Named Zippy
Nelson, Sara - So Many Books, So Little Time
Ollivier, Debra - Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl (mini review)
Thomas, Dana - Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster
Valentine, Helen and Alice Thompson - Better Than Beauty: A Guide to Charm (mini review)

Reader's Journal: Fiction

Works of fiction (alphabetical by author) I've reviewed:

Grimes, Martha - The Old Wine Shades
Groff, Lauren - Delicate Edible Birds
July, Miranda - No One Belongs Here More Than You
Martin, Lee - The Bright Forever
Mason, Bobbie Ann - Shiloh and Other Stories
Ng, Faye Myenne - Bone
Patchett, Ann - Run
Prose, Francine - Goldengrove
Shields, Carol - The Stone Diaries
Smith, Dodie - I Capture the Castle
Waters, Mary Yukari - The Laws of Evening
Wilcox, James - Heavenly Days

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Reading Challenge: 9 for '09

The second challenge I decided to enter this year should also help me attack my to-be-read (TBR) pile, and that's the 9 for '09 Challenge. I chose this one because the categories seemed fun, and nine books didn't seem too overwhelming (even though I generally read many more books than that in a year, committing to more just sounds overwhelming). This challenge is hosted by Isabel from Books and Other Stuff, and I found her challenge through A Novel Challenge, which lists just about any and every reading challenge you can possibly imagine. If you're looking for one to join, that site lists them all.

For this challenge, you pick nine books from your TBR stack, one from each category. I've listed the categories and my selections below:

Long. A book that's longer than the books you usually read. I've chosen Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, coming in at a whopping 800 pages. I'm pretty sure that counts as long.
Free. A book recieved as a gift or through a swap or mooch. I chose Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, by ZZ Packer, which was originally on my Short Story Challenge list last year. My mother swapped for it and then sent it to me, so it was, uh, double-free, in a sense.
Dusty. A book that's been on your shelf for three years or more. I have plenty of these, but I chose The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant. I borrowed this book from my mother-in-law about four years ago. *cringe*
Used. A book you bought used. I buy a lot of used books, so I had plenty to choose from here. I'm going with The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon (purchased from Powell's), because I am the last "well-read" person in the world who hasn't read it, and may lose my self-appointed status if I don't.
Letter. A letter from your name, matched to a letter in a book's title. I went with the first letter of my first name, which is "P," and decided to read Postcards from The Edge, by Carrie Fisher.
Strange. A book from an unfamiliar genre. I am trying to branch out, and my mother loves to read mysteries, so she's sharing some of her books with me. I chose one she loaned me, Haunted Ground, by Erin Hart. I've read the first few pages, and it looks great.
Distance. A book by an author whose birthplace is more than 1000 miles away from where you live. I am going to read Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami. He was born in Kyoto, and I live in Atlanta.
Alive or Not. This is a funny one: read a book by any living author who has won or been nominated for a literary prize, or read something by a dead author. I just got a copy of Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, which was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize (so the cover tells me), so that's my pick here.
Cover. This was a tough one: pick a book based on its cover--ugliest or prettiest--and explain how the book does or does not live up to its cover. I went through my stacks of books, and while some covers were more compelling than others, nothing was strikingly pretty or horribly ugly. I chose the memoir Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart because its cover is Tiffany blue and it seems to promise a sweet, carefree story of another time. We'll see!

As with the other challenge, I'll be posting my reviews here, so stay tuned.

*image from the 9 for '09 site, courtesy of Isabel

Reading Challenge: World Citizen Challenge

Last year, I tried a couple of reading challenges, but I petered out sometime in the late spring. That's not going to stop me from trying again! The first challenge I decided to sign up for this year is the World Citizen Challenge, hosted by Eva from A Striped Armchair, and I chose this one to get outside my comfort zone. I buy a lot of non-fiction books, but I don't necessarily read them, so this will also help me attack my to-be-read pile.

For this challenge, I'm joining at the Major level, which means I must read five books from three different categories. The categories are: politics, economics, history, culture/anthropology/sociology, world issues, and memoir/autobiography. I've settled on the following books from my shelves (I think I have the correct categories):

History - Mary Queen of Scots, by Antonia Fraser
World Issues - The World Is Flat, by Thomas Friedman
Memoir - Falling Leaves, by Adeline Yen Mah
Culture/Sociology/Anthro - A History of God, by Karen Armstrong; A Perfect Summer, by Juliet Nicholson; How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill

I'll be posting my reviews here, so stay tuned!

*image/challenge button provided by Eva at A Striped Armchair

So. Many. Books.

If you were overwhelmed at the thought of reading, say, the New York Times's best American novels of the last twenty-five years, or the Modern Library's 100 best novels, then this may throw you for a complete loop. The Guardian has listed 1000 novels everyone must read.

Yep. Going to get right on that. Just as soon as I figure out this whole world peace thing.

*image from The Guardian, and shows Steve Coogan in the film version of Tristram Shandy

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yes We Can!

Today is an historic and amazing day.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Doing My Part

Hello? Hello? Is anybody out there? (Besides you, Mom.) Happy New Year! Long time, no post. If any of you are out there, I'd like for you to know that I've missed you all terribly. I've been thinking about getting back into this blogging game for a while now.

If you're out there, how are you? What are you doing these days? Me, I'm doing my part to raise the country's unemployment numbers. Yes, as of a few weeks ago, I was--ahem--"resource actioned." Honestly, I thought that was the stupidest term I'd ever heard, until a colleague (also recently, uh, released from duty) told me that her company used the term "redeployment." Way to remove the humanity! I am writing, or trying to write, and also trying to figure out what the heck I am going to do with myself now. One thing I've learned: trust your gut. If you sense something is wrong from the get-go, then get out, otherwise you may end up out of the frying pan and into the mouth of the volcano.

But you all know me. I don't like to dwell on the negative much. I'd rather think of this as a new beginning, an opportunity to change, at least for a little while. Perspective is key in this economy, as is creativity. With the extra time on my hands, I thought I should do something productive, like getting back in touch with old friends. Of course, I must make a few changes, given the circumstances. While I have enough samples left, still, to eke out a perfume review now and again, I'll mostly be focusing on my first love, books and writing. I thought about starting a "new" blog, but I could not abandon Sweet Diva. Somehow, it just didn't feel right. I hope you'll continue to visit, from time to time, just to say hello...if you're out there, that is.