Book Review by Sapphire Ng
Just the Essentials: How Essential Oils Can Heal Your Skin, Improve Your Health, and Detox Your Life
by Adina Grigore
Copyright March 2017
Hardcover, 240 Pages
An introductory book on essential oils ideal for DIY enthusiasts eager to embark upon the journey of incorporating essential oils into their lives and revel in their own essential oil concoctions. This reasonably informative book conspicuously and commendably presents the basics of essential oils, a potentially daunting and complex subject matter, in a highly accessible, easily understandable and effortlessly readable way.
The assortment of interesting recipes and their easy-to-follow instructions included make the book most useful to DIY lovers. The reader primarily seeking an informational text on essential oils without the intention of necessarily applying the DIY projects furnished in the book however might potentially find the book to be less of a valuable purchase. Intriguing pieces of information and excellent content are certainly presented in distinctly digestible and relevant ways to the consumer, including the restructuring of fundamental information of for example, the constituents of essential oils. The free availability of huge amounts of information on the internet on this subject matter—though requiring more targeted research in certain cases—in addition to the retail price of this book however make it seem rather costly for one not intending to utilize the recipes.
Arguably the most interesting chapters in the book are chapters 7 “The Beginner’s Top Ten” and 8 “It’s Time to DIY.” The practicable content and creative ideas make these chapters particularly outstanding. In chapter 8 for example, brief but interesting descriptions accompanied each carrier oil discussed, namely jojoba oil, sweet almond oil, coconut oil, avocado oil and more. Fun DIY ideas included are also segmented into categories of skincare, perfume, personal care, home care, and aromatherapy.
The reader could choose to concoct a Choco-Mint Dry Shampoo if she or he would absolutely love to “smell like a mint chocolate bar all day!” Or create formulations by the names of Marvin Gaye Massage Oil or Sweet-and-Spicy Body Scrub. One could learn to make Candles for the Four Seasons, such as Vanilla Citronella for the summer. A rather visually appealing and easy-to-reference chart informs the reader on essential oils as allocated to the different categories of fragrance scents—floral, herbal, spicy, woodsy, or citrus. One would also get the opportunity to utilize recipes for essential oil projects which the author assigned eccentric names such as “Dude” Perfume, or I-Gotta-Barf Blend, and re-create the exotic-sounding Mediterranean Cuticle Soak, or the Non-Greasy Beard Oil.
The book laudably includes pieces of information likely deemed to be highly interesting to its readers. One is warned to check a DIY perfume for signs of molding, and was informed that “you would need to drink more than twenty-eight cups of peppermint tea to match the potency of one drop of peppermint oil.” One learns of the potency of French green clay in clearing pores, and the aromatherapeutic potential of eucalyptus oil and peppermint oil. One is also very fittingly warned of the superficiality of essential oil “grades” in their indication, if at all, of actual quality, and informed of distinctions that could clear up confusion between clary sage and sage oil, or sweet orange oil and bitter orange oil.
“Mommy[s]-To-Be” are gifted with a dedicated and brief table listing “Safe Oils” for them, and general advice is also given pertaining to using essential oils on or diffusing them around a baby. Some other especially practicable content in the book relate to terms to look out for whilst browsing essential oils, the likes of “steam-distilled” or “cold-pressed,” and a brief mention of unsafe “oils that shouldn’t really be part of anyone’s routine”—sassafras, elecampane, cassia and more.
The author’s freehanded and seemingly unrestrained expression of her quirkiness especially in part I of the book is potentially problematic. The bountiful insertions of personal, and possibly unnecessary, commentary in parentheses is especially irritating for those who might expect a more professional approach adopted in the book. Example instances include “Young Living, one of the companies at the top of the essential oil food chain, reported sales of over $1 billion in 2015. (That’s buh-billion.);” “Why did the Taylor Swift of the oil kingdom make it onto my top ten list?…it’s impossible to deny how amazing lavender oil is. (Just like it’s impossible to deny the amazingness that is TayTay. Or is that just me?);” “So while we’ll never know if [frankincense] cures the bubonic plague (or if Harry Potter could have used it against Dementors), we do know those doctors were definitely onto something;” “In one story, Jesus forgives a woman her sins after she gives him a foot massage with essential oil. (Who wouldn’t have?)”
Such commentary seemed more suited for conversational contexts. Whilst such stream of consciousness comments could be considered to be merely harmlessly out of place, these unwarranted comments however unfortunately undermine the author’s credibility. And especially so when slipped into chapters supposedly elucidating for example, the history of essential oils or that which aim to deliver scientific and/or factual information. Along with the use of colloquial expressions such as “what the eff”—in the sentence “So what the eff are essential oils anyway?”—, “uh” and “you know,” part I of the book seems set on imprinting on the reader a lasting bad impression.
The tone employed by the author in part I of the book also seemed to be almost too self-promotional. Apart from shamelessly referring to her own book as “this kickass book” and making conspicuous promises— “By the end of this book, I promise you that you’ll be in awe of the magic of plant extracts;” “So, basically, no matter who you are, you’re also going to find this book really fun. I promise”—, the author tawdrily said the following, “Consider me the new PR person for essential oils, because I want to give them a makeover and turn them into stars. If essential oils were a baby Justin Bieber, I would be their Usher.”
Whilst mentions of her own company could certainly be appropriate, the coupling however with overly overt positioning of herself as the be-all and end-all solution to the reader’s concerns and problems seemed too reminiscent of sales pitching in business settings. The author said, “But that doesn’t mean the research [on essential oils] doesn’t exist. It’s just been waiting for me to come along and tell you all about it.” Such a self-promotional stance and tone adopted by the author early on in the book only persuades the reader, though potentially false, that this book is merely another vehicle to promote her company and gain new customers. The self-laudatory comments in the introduction to chapter 8 of the book was also rather appalling. In addressing “DIY junkies” who “skipped the first seven chapters and are just now joining us,” the author proclaimed the presence of “hilarious jokes!” and “pretty amazing” chapters that these readers might have missed.
The author appeared to commit an earnest mistake for assuming the following, “For me, if it’s not easy, I’m probably not gonna do it, and I’m going to take a leap of faith and assume the same rule applies to you.” It seemed rather unprofessional on the part of the author, who positioned herself as an authority of the subject matter, and not to mention in addition to the exaggerated claims and promises she made, to make such a sweeping statement and potentially alienate a demographic of readers interested in learning slightly more elaborate or more challenging concoctions. In the context of a book, as opposed to for example during daily interactions with clients, such a generalization seemed even less justifiable.
The abundant inclusion of mostly decorative and sometimes exemplifying illustrations in the book invites interpretation. The unmistakably reassuring tone of address employed particularly in part I of the book and the book’s contents reinforce the impression that the book primarily targets mothers, working women, and females in general, some of whom possibly exhibit signs of stress and anxiety. The plentiful illustrations in the book seem to hint at the book doubling as entertainment and distraction to relieve the reader of stress. The illustrations also very noticeably beautify the book and help keep the reader engaged and interested.
On the other hand, the fact that a majority of the illustrations in the book are primarily ornamental and not particularly necessary might be a subtle acknowledgement of an uncomfortable truth. A particularly revealing question was included in the Essential Oil FAQs section right at the end of the book, “Can you please just tell me where to start? This book is too long and I skipped to this section.” Also as previously mentioned, the author conceded to the possibility of “DIY junkies” skipping the “first seven chapters” and heading straight to chapter 8 which contains the bulk of DIY projects. As such, this seems to imply the acceptance of the potential primary value and functionality of the book as a resource for DIY recipes despite the dedication of a sizable number of chapters to foundational information about essential oils, thereby indicating that extra incentives might be required in the form of visually appealing distractions—the illustrations—just to motivate its target audience to trudge through the predominantly informational chapters preceding the holy grail.
Considering that this is an uncorrected proof, the book unsurprisingly contains editing errors. Instances including a duplicated subsection, a disjointed table, and typical errors are expected to be resolved by the book’s official release. It is however confusing to the reviewer that this book seemed to be composed of two distinct writing styles and tone, with part I of the book hugely contrasting with the rest of the book. The reviewer is left speculating whether it is the case or not that the entire book, except for part I, has gone through an additional round of editing.
In the event of the official published version, especially part I, of the book containing chiefly proofread corrections without addressing potential problematic areas as mentioned above, it might be safe to say that part I of the book indeed does not do justice to the quality content delivered in the rest of the book. At its worst, the reader might form a premature perception of the entire book as similarly flawed as part I, thereby bypassing this book and opting instead for a competing title.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours for this review.