Nicola King is used to pressure. As the lead chemist for her family’s cosmetics brand, Queen Couture, she’s the genius behind the brand’s biggest hits and a leading figure in the perfume world that has her rubbing elbows with the elite of the fashion and entertainment industry. At least, that’s the image Nicola likes to project. In reality, Nicola is racked by doubts—about her relationship with her sometimes volatile influencer sister Quinn, her lack of a life outside of work and most especially about her ability to deliver on the company’s biggest opportunity yet—a perfume for superstar R&B Desiree. So when Desiree points out that her signature scent is missing something and she might move on to a different cosmetics company, Nicola faces the very real possibility of failure in front of her entire industry and her family. But in Nita Brooks’ latest The Essence of Perfection, Nicola learns—the hard way—that getting to that perfect scent is going to require making a lot of mistakes on the way.
When a promotion for the new perfume accidentally reveals Nicola’s list of regrets, she has no choice but to face up to getting a life. Petting a tiger? On the list. Dating her college crush? Done. Getting to know the hot pottery teacher she’s been drooling over for months? Definitely on the list. But Nicola continues to be haunted by one thing that isn’t on the list and that she’s never divulged to anyone—a very deep belief that she has wronged someone close to her and that everything Nicola has accomplished is a fraud. In order to figure out the missing ingredient, though, Nicola will have to be honest, with herself and with others in her life.
Brooks mixes her story with a touch of the fantasy (jetting off to LA for an impromptu party with A-list celebrities) and the realities of hard work in a cutthroat industry. Nicola is very relatable and well characterized, and the supporting characters are portrayed convincingly. The Essence of Perfection is light enough for a breezy weekend read, but Brooks doesn’t stint on some darker realities, like infidelity and the pressures of social media fame in her story. The Essence of Perfection is a great read for fans of authors such as Terry McMillan, Jennifer Weiner, Lauren Weisberger (for the fashion industry elements) or anyone who enjoys a story centered on women and their relationships in general and African-American women in particular.