Perfumes: The Guide is a wonderful tribute to the art of perfumery written with humor and passion. The authors write about scent like others write aboPerfumes: The Guide is a wonderful tribute to the art of perfumery written with humor and passion. The authors write about scent like others write about food or wine and, just like a good food or wine writer will have you seeking out food and drink, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez will have you running for the perfume counter to start sniffing away for that smell that will send you to nirvana.
The book begins with several essays followed by almost fifteen hundred fragrance reviews. A nifty glossary of materials and terms (aldehydes anyone?) is located toward the back of the book for those of us who can appreciate nice smells but are otherwise clueless as to the fascinating art of perfumery.
I'll leave you with a quote by Tania Sanchez from her essay "Beauty and the Bees":
"[Perfume should:] engage our attention to a satisfying end, first creating an expectation and then satisfying it in a way different and better than you hoped."
In the Company of Ogres is another comedy of the supernatural featuring a goblin who insists he's an orc, ogres who like to play a game called goblin crush, "a walking tree with a chip on its shoulder" (from the back cover), a feminist Amazon, a daredevil goblin pilot named Ace, and a human named Never Dead Ned. Of course, Never Dead Ned can die ... he just never stays dead.
Never Dead Ned is sent to a military outpost to command an undisciplined company of ogres and others. He has six months to whip them into shape or face having the company dismantled. It takes the threat of waking the Mad Void and bringing about The End of the Universe to pull this unruly group together into any semblance of an army. Of course, you'll have to read the book to find out if this group of misfits will indeed save the universe ... or not.
I don't give a lot of "5 out of 5" ratings, but this book made me LAUGH OUT LOUD on multiple occasions (which I rarely do when reading) hence the nifty 5 star rating....more
This beautifully written novel tells the story of one woman's journey of self-discovery. The novel doesn't only contend with Ana Howland's increasingThis beautifully written novel tells the story of one woman's journey of self-discovery. The novel doesn't only contend with Ana Howland's increasing sense of being smothered by a domineering and controlling husband, but also shows her growing realization that she has always lived under the overbearing weight of an oppressive relationship. Neither her authoritarian mother nor her dictatorial husband can accept her as a separate and imperfect person.
The Road from La Cueva is full of metaphor and in the hands of Sheila Ortego, the use of this device brings a richness and poetry to a topic that might seem trite in other hands. We are given a deeper glimpse into Ana's struggles through the images of the hostile road from La Cueva, the stubborn clay shaped by the potter, and the Changing Woman Ceremony (sometimes called the Sunrise Ceremony).
The road to and from Ana's home is a very tangible representation of those oppressive relationships in her life. When this dirt road is dry, it is as hard and unyielding as rock ... ready to tear up and break what dares to pass over it. Wet, the road is even worse. It oozes over and sucks everything into it with "a satisfied, brown belch."
The beauty of the imperfect is gorgeously represented through the craft of pottery. As Ana learns this craft from Michael, a co-worker, she notices that one of his creations has an uneven rim.
He ran his fingers around the rim of the cup. "See how this isn't even? The Japanese call this shibui, the flaw that makes something beautiful. The shape has to have some room, some freedom." ... "Like with people," he said, and she nodded.
It is this very room and freedom that is lacking in Ana's life. She has allowed the oppressive behaviors of others to weigh down her very being and she knows that it is something only she can change.
One of the most beautiful chapters in the book is the one describing the Changing Woman Ceremony, a Native American ceremony celebrating the change from girlhood to womanhood. Ana already knows that the means to change her life is within reach. It becomes more apparent as she watches the ceremony and recognizes her own internal strength and power as a woman. No longer will she be passively shaped by others. Ana already has the ability to gain command over her weaknesses, to be physically and emotionally strong, and to endure and suffer with dignity. Before the readers' eyes, "[she is shaped:] ... into the woman she [is:] to become." Her deep compassion and resilience form a strong core around which to emerge.
The Road from La Cueva is an encouraging look at the power we all have to shape our own lives. The passion and beauty of the writing is something that will draw me back to this story repeatedly....more
The Graveyard Book is a wonderful coming of age story ... with a bit of a twist. This is the story of Nobody "Bod" Owens as he grows from a toddler toThe Graveyard Book is a wonderful coming of age story ... with a bit of a twist. This is the story of Nobody "Bod" Owens as he grows from a toddler to a young man. He has a family and the usual ups and downs of childhood as he struggles to grow up. Bod is like any other child, in many ways, except his mom and dad are ghosts, his guardian is undead, and he lives in a graveyard that he may not leave without placing himself in mortal danger.
Silas, Bod's guardian, is a rather endearing figure considering his nature as a creature of the night. He is protective of Bod and, unknown to us throughout most of the story, he strives to right the great wrong that took Bod's natural family from him and placed him in the arms of the graveyard. Silas is every child's dream of that adult who, unlike parents, understands you and will be truthful in explaining the mysteries of the grown-up world.
Most of those who live in the graveyard are protective of Bod, but there are those who would cause him harm. The indigo man, the sleer, and the ghouls are sufficiently creepy, but creepiest of all is Jack the assassin. Jack is a shadowy figure who seems to ooze evil. He reminded me a bit of the child catcher in the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang**. Remember him? He could sniff out children with his long ugly nose in order to capture and cage them. Similarly, Jack can find Bod by following his scent. Shiver.
Several of the chapters in The Graveyard Book could stand on their own as short stories and perhaps, unknown to me, they have been published as such. My favorite chapter is the enchanting "Danse Macabre." It sparkles with some of the Gaiman magic found in Stardust and is a bit of a treatise on the idea that there is more to this life than what we see and that "being" is more than the corporeal.
The ending was bittersweet, as are most coming of age stories. There was a palpable sadness and excitement as Bod left the safety of his graveyard home and family in order to venture into a largely unknown and living world. Bod captures this well when he says:
"I want to see life. I want to hold it in my hands. I want to leave a footprint on the sand of a desert island. I want to play football with people. I want,” he said, and then he paused and he thought. “I want everything."
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 - Weightier and with more depth than Coraline.
This piece swept me up just like it did during my university days. I appreciated the etchings by Gustave Dore. The included etchings were created forThis piece swept me up just like it did during my university days. I appreciated the etchings by Gustave Dore. The included etchings were created for this specific work and lend the poem a visual otherworldliness....more
I wanted to read this book quickly, but I forced myself to slow down and savor this beautiful novel. The Gargoyle is an unusual love story that capturI wanted to read this book quickly, but I forced myself to slow down and savor this beautiful novel. The Gargoyle is an unusual love story that captures the nature of true, lasting and redeeming love. Davidson weaves several tales of love within his own tale and creates what I think is a beautiful tapestry with unexpected connections. After reading The Gargoyle, I'm even more convinced that love really is something that endures beyond the life we know.
A slightly expanded version of my review can be found here....more
"...twice someone asked Jerry if I was tame, and he answered the same both times, 'No, man, he's not tame--he's civilized.'"
Firmin is born in the base"...twice someone asked Jerry if I was tame, and he answered the same both times, 'No, man, he's not tame--he's civilized.'"
Firmin is born in the basement of a Boston bookshop to a drunken, carousing mother. He is the runt of the rat litter, which means that he eats only after his larger and stronger siblings have satiated themselves. Firmin finds that he can fill the void in his stomach by chewing the pages of books that lay about his abode so abundantly. He literally devours books.
As he realizes that the very books he has been chewing contain words that tell stories, the little rat with an over sized head becomes a book devourer of a different sort. He reads voraciously. He thinks deeply. He is a philosopher. Yes, Firmin is a civilized rat.
Firmin spends his days living vicariously through literature. The stories he reads become his reality, providing a sense of adventure and meaning into which he can escape his desperate isolation. Over time, Firmin realizes that he doesn't really fit into the worlds of his reading and, though surrounded by words, he is unable to express himself using them. Firmin's "otherness" and difficulty using language is, perhaps, an echo of the sometimes thoughts of a writer.
It is through such human emotions that the author draws us to his rather uncomely character and makes us think about our own illusions, both literary and other.
I had not heard of this book until seeing it laying on a table at my local bookstore. I was drawn immediately by the charming cover, "gnawed" edge, and inside illustrations. A quick glance at the cover might lead you to think that this is a book for children. Do not be deceived. Firmin is a book for the adult book lover and philosopher....more
Jance is doing a fine job developing her latest character, Ali Reynolds. I enjoy the regional setting of Sedona, Arizona and appreciate Jance's use ofJance is doing a fine job developing her latest character, Ali Reynolds. I enjoy the regional setting of Sedona, Arizona and appreciate Jance's use of current issues regarding online activity and how it can be used to both benefit and harm....more
The Uncommon Reader is a satire that pokes fun at the British monarchy while celebrating literature. The book opens as the Queen chases her irascibleThe Uncommon Reader is a satire that pokes fun at the British monarchy while celebrating literature. The book opens as the Queen chases her irascible corgis right up to a bookmobile parked outside the kitchen at Windsor. Entering to apologize for the ruckus, the Queen feels obligated to check out a book. Palace life changes as the Queen discovers reading and the variety of life presented between book covers. She loses interest in her day-to-day obligations and is even late to the opening of Parliament as she pursues her new interest. The Queen confuses those around her by no longer following standard conversational protocol and instead broaching more literary and thoughtful discussions. After a year of such "common" behavior, the Prime Minister takes action in order to restore the more comfortable and understandable status quo.
Bennett does a fantastic job making the reader identify with the Queen. Through the commonality of reading, the Queen takes on an unusual warmth and human depth. It is a pleasant scenario, but clearly outside of reality. That said, you will wonder how Bennett plans to bring us all back to reality without spoiling the fun ... and he will surprise with a perfect ending....more
The Ibis is a two masted schooner that was used as a slave transport ship to run the coasts of Africa. The slave trade is no longer legal, under BritiThe Ibis is a two masted schooner that was used as a slave transport ship to run the coasts of Africa. The slave trade is no longer legal, under British law, in 1838 and this particular ship is unable to outrun the law ... so she must be repurposed. Purchasd by an Englishman with a lucrative business in the opium trade, Ibis is renovated. Her hold is cleared of those elements used to restrain human cargo and she is instead made ready to carry opium. It should not be lost on the reader that the Ibis, despite renovation, is still in service to slavery. She no longer carries saleable human cargo, but her new cargo is just as enslaving. The opium trade is very lucrative and those in charge of this business hold mastery over both the producers and consumers of this product.
Before her turn at transporting opium to China, Ibis is to take a trip across the Indian Ocean to Mauritius. She carries indentured migrants who can hardly be discerned from slaves. It is the prelude to and first part of this voyage that is the tale. Along the journey, the reader is privy to some very interesting conversations on freedom and just war. The arrogance of the British trade barons is such that freedom, to them, applies to their right to freely trade in whatever lucrative business is at hand.
'D'you mean to use [the Ibis:] as a slaver, sir? But have not your English laws outlawed that trade?' 'That is true,' Mr Burnham nodded. 'Yes indeed they have, Reid. It's sad but true that there are many who'll stop at nothing to halt the march of human freedom.' 'Freedom, sir?' said Zachary, wondering if he had misheard. His doubts were quickly put at rest. 'Freedom, yes, exactly,' said Mr. Burnham. 'Isn't that what the mastery of the white man means for the lesser races? As I see it, Reid, the Africa trade was the greatest exercise in freedom since God led the children of Israel out of Egypt. Consider, Reid, the situation of a so-called slave in the Carolinas - is he not more free than his brethren in Africa, groaning under the rule of some dark tyrant?'
A just war is one that will force China to legalize opium ... for the good of free trade, of course.
'...No one dislikes war more than I do - indeed I abhor it. But it cannot be denied that there are times when war is not merely just and necessary, but also humane. In China that time has come....' 'Quite right, sir!' said Mr. Doughty emphatically. 'There is no other recourse. Indeed, humanity demands it. We need only think of the poor Indian peasant - what will become of him if his opium can't be sold in China? Bloody hurremzads can hardly eat now: they'll perish by the crore.'
These British businessmen can not see that they are the source of poverty and starvation among the "Indian peasants." There are no fields with which to grow nourishing grains and vegetables due to the mandate to exclusively plant and harvest poppies, and the money collected by the peasants for their crops is not adequate to feed their families. The peasants get no help from their countrymen because of a caste system that declares them "unclean" and less than human.
Sea of Poppies is not just a sad tale that portrays the ugly history of British traders and a restrictive Indian caste system. The story is character driven and is, at heart, a story of transformation and changeability. Some of those who find themselves on the Ibis learn the veracity of the saying that they "are all on the same ship." They are, as one character claims, "ship siblings." Neither caste, nor skin color, nor gender really matters. These are worldly complexities that can be overcome.
Sea of Poppies is the first in a proposed trilogy. Though the author does not leave the reader with a cliffhanger ending, the journey is incomplete and at a point of transition and transformation. It promises to be an epic tale indeed....more
Inspector Darko Dawson is part of Criminal Investigations in the Ghanian capital of Accra. He is called to the small town of Ketanu to help solve theInspector Darko Dawson is part of Criminal Investigations in the Ghanian capital of Accra. He is called to the small town of Ketanu to help solve the murder of a young NGO volunteer and med student named Gladys. Gladys has previously clashed with a local fetish priest and a local healer, yet a young ruffian is targeted by Ketanu law enforcement as the "doer."
Inspector Dawson has a history with the town of Ketanu. His mother was last seen here before she mysteriously disappeared twenty-five years ago. So it is with some apprehension that he returns to work this case and reacquaint himself with his mother's sister and her family.
One of the best aspects of Wife of the Gods is the character of Darko Dawson. He is a family man with strong loyalties to his wife and young son. He also has quite a temper and a keen sense of justice, the combination of which sometimes gets him into trouble. Among his other foibles is a lusty admiration for the female form and the occasional consort with a known thief in order to obtain the weed he smokes to unwind. Regardless, Inspector Dawson is ultimately likeable in spite of, or perhaps because of, his flaws. I look forward to the author's development of this character in future novels.
Regional novels are a favorite of mine. They allow me an enjoyable opportunity to learn about places with which I am unfamiliar and to revisit places that I love. Wife of the Gods was a chance to learn something about the place, people and customs of Ghana. For instance, some "teenage girls are offered by their families to fetish priests as trokosi, or Wives of the Gods" (from the back cover). This practice is a form of slavery and is controversial amongst the Ghanians.
You may have heard this book compared to the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith. I don't really find Smith's and Quartey's books to be similar except that they are: a) both regional detective novels, b) both character driven, and c) both set in Africa. Smith's books are set in Botswana and Quartey's book is set in Ghana. Quartey has his own voice which I found much grittier than the charm that infuses Smith's books. They are both fantastic storytellers, but they are different.