Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Coming to My Senses by Alyssa Harad

Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride
by Alyssa Harad

Author Alyssa Harad is a perfumista and a contributor to Perfume-Smellin' Things, one of the perfume blogs I regularly read. In Coming to My Senses, Harad recounts her first year of perfume obsession, which just so happens to be the year leading up to her wedding.

I like perfume. I'm not fluent in the language, nor am I confident in my taste, but I'm interested in moving beyond blog-reading and effortless sampling. So I really am an ideal reader for this book.

Coming to My Senses begins with Harad's awakening to first the language of perfume lovers and then to the perfumes themselves. I enjoyed following Harad on her voyage of olfactory discovery. I loved the details, her openness, her descriptions. Harad begins to write about being a bride about a third of the way through the book. It's at that point that I worry that I'll lose interest in the narrative. As much as I like Harad by this point, I'm not sure that I want to know about her wedding-planning. I worry that it will take away from what I think is the real focus of the memoir. Luckily, Harad manages to remain true to the theme of discovery and perfume both reflecting and enhancing life despite discussing wedding preparation (and a friend's sex change). Strangely enough, though, one of my favorite parts of Coming to My Senses revolves around Harad's bridal shower.

When Harad writes about a particular perfume she doesn't always mention it by name. I understand why (she explains why in her author's note1), but I can't help feeling a bit disappointed. Because I'm still learning about perfume and its myriad nuances, I'd find it so helpful to know exactly which perfume Harad was referencing at any given time. In any case, I enjoyed Harad's writing (especially the more contemplative passages) and her honesty. Coming to My Senses also inspired me to overcome my fear of snooty salespeople and visit a perfume boutique last time I went into New York City. I've also ordered a bunch of samples to try out at home.

One last not-directly-book-related comment -
Harad's author website, promoted in her author's note as where she'll give readers "the latest, updated scoop" (vii), is underwhelming. It has a blog with one post dated June 26, 2012 surrounded by an architecture with lots of intriguing, but empty rooms. Even the Upcoming Events page is out of date. The more I explored the site, the more disappointed I became. I wonder why the publisher's PR people would put together the site and not maintain it (the book only came out last month) and I wonder why Harad agreed to it. One nice, long blog post is worse than none.
  1. I have provided the names of the perfumes featured when I felt it was crucial to the telling of the story. However, in some cases I preferred to leave the names out and keep the emphasis on the description of their scents and the emotions they evoked at the moment. Doing so allowed me to avoid recommending perfumes that may be discontinued or reformulated by the time this book is published" (vii).
disclosure: I received a review copy of Coming to My Senses from Viking via NetGalley.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

sync this week:
Whale Rider & Call of the Wild

Sync's offerings this week (Thursday, August 16 through Wednesday, August 22, 2012) are:

The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera
The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Eight-year-old Kahu, a member of the Maori tribe of Whangara, New Zealand, fights to prove her love, her leadership, and her destiny. Her people claim descent from Kahutia Te Rangi, the legendary "whale rider." In every generation since Kahutia, a male heir has inherited the title of chief. But now there is no male heir, and the aging chief is desperate to find a successor. Kahu is his only great-grandchild--and Maori tradition has no use for a girl. But when hundreds of whales beach themselves and threaten the future of the Maori tribe, it is Kahu who saves the tribe when she reveals that she has the whale rider's ancient gift of communicating with whales.

A classic novel of adventure, drawn from London's own experiences as a Klondike adventurer, relating the story of a heroic dog, who, caught in the brutal life of the Alaska Gold Rush, ultimately faces a choice between living in man's world and returning to nature

Go here to get this week's downloads.
n.b. at the time I'm publishing this post (as when I checked the site earlier in the day), Sync has the following note posted (so you may not be able to download this week's titles right away):
Our apologies! Our host is having issues with the current downloads. The service will be up and running as soon as possible!

Remember, these books don't expire like the e-audiobooks you get from the library. So, be sure to download the books even if you don't think you'll get around to listening to them right away.

More information about Sync is available in this post.


This week I had one of those exceedingly frustrating days that make you want to pull all your hair out.  On days like those, I'm in desperate need of some serenity.1 Last year I bought myself this ring2 from Etsy seller donnaOdesigns. For me it is a perfect reminder to breathe and to focus on what I actually can control.

My hand, my photo.
There are much better images available if you follow the links above.

It features the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to
Accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.
While the prayer is often misattributed to St. Francis of Assisi, I understand that is was actually written by an early 20th century theologian named Reinhold Niebuhr though the current, popular formula deviates from the original.3
  1. Serenity: the state or quality of being serene, calm, or tranquil; not agitated.
  2. The price has gone up about $15 since then, but I love it so much that I'd still buy it at the current price.
    If you want one for yourself, I'd recommend ordering a full size larger than the size you'd normally wear on your preferred finger. I had to send mine back to get resized because it didn't occur to me that I needed to size the finger near the first joint rather than at its base.  In any case, the donnaOdesigns was very accommodating.
  3. "Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other."

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

PSA: audiobook giveaway

My friend Jessica alerted me to this great giveaway going on at Publishers Weekly's audiobook blog, Listen Up -

The 30+ book prize pack includes:
All you need to do to enter is post a comment on the relevant blog post, preferably about your favorite audio book or narrator. That's it. They say that the winner will be announced on 31 August, so I assume it closes on the 10th. Good luck.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James

Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James

I mentioned last week that I'd started reading Death Comes to Pemberley. I borrowed the book from a Jane Austen purist who'd unwilling received a copy as a gift. While I do love Austen and Pride and Prejudice in particular, I'm open to adaptations and spin-offs1 and I started Death Comes to Pemberley with an open mind. Actually I was quite optimistic considering that that this particular spin-off was written by an author of some note. While I don't recall having read James' work before, I know her by reputation.

Death Comes to Pemberley takes place in 1803 and 1804 (Elizabeth and Darcy have been married for six years). The day before Lady Anne's ball, now an annual event at Pemberley, Mrs. Wickham arrives unexpectedly and in a state of great distress. In the course of that night it becomes clear that Captain Martin Denny has been murdered in the woods surrounding Pemberley and Wickham is the chief suspect.

James is quite obviously an Austen fan. In addition to her apologetic author's note, there's one passage that makes her feelings abundantly clear. When Elizabeth is recounting the time of her life put down in Pride and Prejudice, she speculates: "If this were fiction, could even the most brilliant novelist contrive to make credible so short a period in which pride had been subdued and prejudice overcome?" (47, emphasis mine).

I do feel that James tried to be true to Austen. She tries, successfully I think, to mimic Austen's style and language including the deliberate use of words that are now obsolete.2 Death Comes to Pemberley is clearly written by an Austen lover for other Austen lovers. And I'd recommend a quick reread of Pride and Prejudice before starting Death Comes to Pemberley because some of Pride and Prejudice's less memorable secondary characters play significant roles in Death Comes to Pemberley.

Death Comes to Pemberley was a surprisingly slow read for me (especially considering that it is only 291 and a mystery). I appreciated a different take on a Pride and Prejudice sequel, but I really wasn't crazy about the story. I didn't have the entire mystery figured out before the reveal, but I was definitely looking in the right direction. My strongest feeling about the book has to do with Darcy. I think one of the reasons Darcy is such a beloved romantic hero is because he is so horribly enigmatic. In Death Comes to Pemberley much of the narrative is being told from Darcy's perspective. We learn much about his thoughts and actions during the course of the novel and, worse, more of the wheres, whys, and hows of everything that happened during Pride and Prejudice. Precious little left to the imagination.
  1. I even read that atrocious, zombies-added one.
  2. I should have kept track of them to feature them on the blog, but I didn't have writing materials close to hand as I was reading and it would have been unforgivably rude to dogear someone else's book.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent by Veronica Roth
series: Divergent Trilogy, 2

Considering how much I liked Divergent (see post), it's no surprise that I enjoyed its sequel, Insurgent.

Insurgent continues the overarching storyline begun in Divergent. During the course of the novel readers learn more about the other factions (and the factionless) and how the groups relate to each other. We also get a better idea of how five-faction society functions as a whole and how and why it came into being.

Beatrice and her love interest from Divergent maintain their relationship1 and it continues to be complex and somewhat complicated.

On a side note, I love Insurgent's cover art. It's beautiful and compelling with great movement. It also echoes Divergent's cover in a nice way while still standing on its own legs.
  1. Good. I dislike nothing more than series that follow the new-installment-new-love-interest modus operandi.

sync this week: Skulduggery Pleasant & Dead Men Kill

Sync's offerings this week (Thursday, August 9 through Wednesday August 15, 2012) are:

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
Dead Men Kill by L. Ron Hubbard

Meet Skulduggery Pleasant: ace detective, snappy dresser, razor-tongued wit, crackerjack sorcerer, and walking, talking, fire-throwing Skeleton — as well as ally, protector, and mentor of Stephanie Edgley, a very unusual and darkly talented 12-year-old. These two alone must defeat an all-consuming ancient evil. The end of the world? Over Skulduggery Pleasant's dead body.

When several of the city's most respected citizens are inexplicably killed by what appear to be zombies, all Detective Terry Lane has to go on is a blue grey glove, a Haitian pharmacy bill for some very unusual drugs and a death threat from a mysterious stranger. Matters are soon complicated when a beautiful nightclub singer shows up who claims to have information that could solve the case, but whose motives are plainly suspect. Against his better judgment, Terry investigates her lead only to find himself sealed in a coffin en route to the next zombie murder—his own.

Go here to get this week's downloads.

Note: these books don't expire like the e-audiobooks you get from the library. So, be sure to download the books even if you don't think you'll get around to listening to them right away.

More information about Sync is available in this post.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

word: sardonic

Elizabeth had never been popular, indeed the more perceptive of the Meryton ladies occasionally suspected that Miss Lizzy was privately laughing at them. They also accused her of being sardonic, and although there was uncertainty about the meaning of the word, they knew that it was not a desirable quality in a woman, being one which gentlemen particularly disliked. (Death Comes to Pemberley, 9; emphasis mine)
I began (with cautious optimism) P.D. James' nod to Austen this evening. When I came across the passage above, I knew that I must share it in a featured-word post. 

From the OED (vol. 8, part 2, 1914) -
Sardonic, adj.
Of laughter, a smile: Bitter, scornful, mocking. Hence of a person, personal attribute, etc.: Characterized by or exhibiting bitterness, scorn or mockery. (111)

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
series: Lunar Chronicles, 1

work colleague: So, what are you reading now?
Karen: Oh, it's a retelling of Cinderella set in a dystopian future. She's a cyborg.

In Cinder we have a classic fairytale set in the (far distant) future. The moon, now a nation known as Luna, is populated by a race of mutant humans with mind-control powers (which most humans consider magic, but is described by the scientifically minded as the ability to manipulate bio-electric energy).1 After the devastation of World War IV, Earth's remaining nations signed a peace treaty. But, while there is peace on Earth, humans are threatened both by a worldwide pandemic, a plague called letumosis, and by the possibility of war with Luna.

Linh-mei (aka Cinder) is a teenage mechanic living in New Beijing, capitol of the Eastern Commonwealth. While Cinder survived the airship accident that killed both her parents, the surgeries that saved her left her less than 70% human. She is a cyborg, a second-class citizen. Her adoptive father contracted letumosis shortly after her assuming guardianship of Cinder, her care was left to his wife. Adri resents being burdened with Cinder, of whom she is ashamed and whom she only tolerates because of Cinder's ability to support the family.

When Prince Kaito, first in line to the throne, seeks Cinder out to repair his personal android, he is unaware that she is a cyborg...

I have to admit that I was a bit reticent to read Cinder. Given its premise,2 I figured that the novel would either be absolutely fantastic or perfectly horrendous depending on its execution. But I overcame my reluctance when I happened across Cinder among my library's e-audiobook offerings.

While it would have been easy for debut novelist Meyer to the overdo it with Cinder. There are a lot of different elements that she has to balance while still remaining true to the original story. But Meyer manages brilliantly. Cinder is true to the original while being something completely new. I still feel like the inclusion of the paranormal elements3 was a bit much and likely unnecessary, but they didn't bother me nearly as much as I would have expected them to. Cinder is a strong, sympathetic character. While she's still an unloved step-child with the ability to (unintentionally) beguile a prince, Cinder is so much more than that.  She is independent, brave, and a problem-solver who doesn't need a fairy godmother to get her to the ball.4 Prince Kai is much more nuanced than the traditional Prince Charming character and his decision about Cinder is more complicated than simply overcoming prejudice. Some of the secondary characters are a bit one-dimensional, which is almost to be expected in a fairytale considering that fairytales are full of stock characters, but others are perfectly crafted.

I will definitely be continuing on with this series. Per Meyer's website, the second installment Scarlet will be released in Feburary 2013 and will focus on a Little Red Riding Hood character.
  1. Shades of vampirism, not blood-sucking, but being able to glamour humans and an aversion to mirrors.
  2. Let's review how much is packed into this one story. We have a retelling, set in a dystopian future with a heavy emphasis on science fiction and a dash of the paranormal. I'm overwhelmed just setting that out.
  3. There's more than what is mentioned in footnote 1, but explication would involve spoilers.
  4. There is a fairy godmother character, but Cinder comes to her rescue rather than the other way around.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
series: Delirium Trilogy, book 2

Pandemonium is the sequel to Lauren Oliver's Delirium and the second in an expected trilogy. I was disappointed by Delirium when I read it last year (see post), but that didn't keep me from feeling like I needed to reread it before I sent my copy (along with a bunch of other books) off to live with Russell's voracious-reader sister. I hadn't been planning on continuing with the series, but given the fact that I was rereading Delirium, I decided to put myself on the library waiting list Pandemonium.

And, I'm glad that I did because I liked Pandemonium better than Delirium. Again in Pandemonium I was unhappy with how the romance played out.1 But, Oliver gives us a lot more information about the society in this second installment.  There's more menace and suffering and because of that Pandemonium works much better as a dystopian novel.
  1. This is vague and unspecific, but it's still a bit of a spoiler so continue with the footnotes at your own risk.

    SPOILER - And we have a love triangle to look forward to in book three, ugh.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

sync this week:
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
& A Tale of Two Cities

Sync's offerings this week (Thursday, August 2 through Wednesday, August 8, 2012) are:

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.
Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious errands; she speaks many languages--not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.
When one of the strangers--beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

* I listened to the audio version of Daughter of Smoke and Bone last month and loved it (see post).

"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the ageing Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of the two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of the guillotine.

Go here to get this week's downloads.

Note: these books don't expire like the e-audiobooks you get from the library. So, be sure to download the books even if you don't think you'll get around to listening to them right away.

More information about Sync is available in this post.