How I Made You by Javier Goode

“Explore science, nature, hopes and dreams with your little one in this sweet tale of becoming.”

*Thank you to Ghost and Ribbon for sending me this copy in exchange for an honest review! #Ad

The first thing that struck me about this book, aimed at inquisitive young children about the facts of life and where they come from, was how it seamlessly combined science and nature in such a tender, soft way. Whilst there are no storks or pumpkin patches, fantastical images which children might better imagine, there is something magical about how science is softened and shaped in this story.

The cutesy layout with its soft pastel colours and sketched drawings of buttons – standing in for human beings – is particularly wonderful and easy to grasp. It sets out an important topic for children to learn about – how people are made – in an accessible, fun and unique way, combining the topic of science and nature with rhyme and story.

As I read, I was particularly impressed with the inclusivity shown in this book. It shows children that families can be “knit in different patterns, colours and styles”, an important learning point and one I was thrilled to see (the images of the buttons lent itself particularly well to this). The smooth prose skips between and around the illustrations, and whilst whimsical, it also very clearly aims to educate. 

“20,000 chromosomes, 46 chromosomes, 23 pairs, in our genome.”

This is certainly a children’s book that stirs up more questions – “what’s a chromosome? what’s DNA?”. My initial impression was “isn’t that too detailed for such a young audience?” as I remember learning this sort of information in secondary school. But then, teaching children at such a young age about scientific fact in such an easy to read format is a rarity amongst children’s books, and one that it can only be good to see more of. 

I suppose the question should have been “why shouldn’t they know?”. It is “nature in measure with just a bit extra” – the ‘bit extra’ being the a bonding experience between parent and child that comes from this whimsical read.

How to buy this book:

To be released on 28th August 2020, How I Made You by Javier Goode is soon to hit the shelves. You can preorder from the Ghost & Ribbon shop.

Rose’s Gold: A Comfort Food Cookbook by R.Shepherd

*Thank you to Ghost and Ribbon for sending me an advanced copy to review! #Ad 

There’s something historically poignant and rich about this book. As stated in the preface, this is a book that aims to share the “magic” of food, written to honour the life of Elma Rose Francis whose memory and inspiration lives on through this compilation of vibrant recipes. However, it is not just that. This book is a unique piece of history. After all, food is something very much tied to our culture and these dishes perfectly encapsulate the relationship the UK has with Jamaica through its cuisine (a topic woefully underrepresented and one I am thrilled to see explored).

A blend of Jamaican-British fusion recipes, this book offers a truly wonderful series of dishes to salivate over, whilst still being in the bracket of comfort food. I have no doubt that these dishes will be ones to be enjoyed by all, however adventurous your palate. 

The book itself is one that is split up into the three main meals – breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a hint of sweetness in desserts (unashamedly, my favourite section to flip through!). The recipes are simple to follow, and easy enough to adapt depending on your tastebuds, giving general guidelines rather than strict instructions. The pictures too, are attractive and well thought out, the minimalist style really adding a sophisticated pop to the litany of home-cooked meals.

Food recipes are, after all, better when you can adapt and experiment, and the hallmark of a good cookbook is recognising this. I particularly loved the addition of a plantain recipe, and the Jamaican ginger cake – two recipes I could easily follow and really get stuck into. I look forward to reading and making more from this book, and perhaps getting brave enough to really add those scotch bonnet chillies in certain meals!

Final verdict:

Rose’s Gold is a book that exudes passion and warmth, with every recipe selected with care and insight. It is a wonderful way to honour the memory of a woman who clearly put heart and soul into dishes like these, with each one easy enough to experiment with or follow to the letter. You can purchase it from the Ghost & Ribbon shop.

Good Grace’s: A Rainy Day Cookbook by Grace Millard

*Thank you to Ghost & Ribbon for sending me this book, in exchange for an honest review! #ad

As we find ourselves in increasingly strange circumstances, largely advised to stay indoors with little human contact, more and more of us have turned to the comforts of cooking to see us through the long stretches of lockdown. Whether it’s experimenting with a sourdough loaf, mashing together another banana for your 5th attempt at a cake, or trying to learn how to poach the perfect egg, there is nothing quite like cooking.

Good Grace’s: A Rainy Day Cookbook could not have come at a better time. Its pages promise to sweep us away into a furor of wonderful sights, tastes, and smells – the kind that only home cooking and the satisfaction of a job well done can bring. It is a book that prides itself on “symbolising the ease of cooking at home” and is perfect for even the most simply stocked of kitchens.

It is this sense of comfort and familiarity behind every recipe that makes A Rainy Day Cookbook a joy to read. It has also had its foreword updated with the pandemic in mind, as a note in its introduction nods towards this “common understanding of isolation and loneliness” and the “fond appreciation of family, friends, and home” – something I particularly appreciated.

Another point I immensely liked about this book is its simplicity. Cooking does not have to be complex to be good. If you are new to cooking, the way in which the recipes are very easy to follow and – for the few recipes I tried – produce good results! Far too often, I find myself annoyed at cooking books which are filled with more words than are needed, when all I really want to do is turn to the practical element of making the meal. Grace’s book deftly fills that need.

It is not only that the recipes given are comforting, quintessentially English dishes, borne from the soul and heart of a Gloucester local, but it is also delightfully versatile. Every dish can be adapted to suit the dietary requirements and tastes of a person, a rare find in cooking books that now wedge themselves firmly in particular sections. In an age where the importance of buying locally and seasonally is important, or where the art of cooking simple dishes is slowly being lost, this cooking book tells us what choice is available, and I really enjoyed the little details that are mentioned, like how best to use individual ingredients in certain dishes.

My favourite recipes in this book to read – and try – were, understandably, the desserts. I have fond memories of my mum’s summer fruit pavlova, so seeing such a simple recipe written that I could easily follow was wonderful. It not only helped to bring that joy back, but also impressed my family in the process!

Final verdict:
Grace’s Rainy Day Cookbook is a charming gem, capturing and distilling an array of tasty dishes between its pages. If you wish to experience the magical joy of home cooking, and the satisfaction of eating a meal you made yourself – whether you are a seasoned pro or a beginner in the kitchen! – you need look no further than this book. You can purchase it from the Ghost & Ribbon shop.

Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes

I know that you should never judge a book by its cover, but when Orbit sent me this in the post and I opened it to see tiny cats in space suits, I already knew that this was going to be a space opera that I would enjoy. 

“Kidnappers. Alien emperors. Psychic cats. And she’s out of coffee.” 

Valdes’ debut novel is one that teems with depth, colour and (extra-terrestrial) life. But despite the sprawling universe she depicts, the heart and core of the book is very much grounded in human (well, humanoid) emotion, centred around its protagonist Captain Eva Innocente and her crew onboard La Sirena Negra. When word is received that Eva’s sister is kidnapped by an intergalactic mob boss named The Fridge (yes, you read that right), she must go on a series of dangerous missions to get her back. But, as you might imagine in such a complex galaxy such as this, all is not as it seems and the Captain slowly uncovers more than she was blackmailed for.

Much like the novel’s protagonist finds, once you get into the thick of Chilling Effect there are so many twists and turns to follow, it is sometimes hard to keep up, but no less entertaining. From psychic cats, aliens who hunt anything without a bracelet marking it not to, to brainwashing monks, early on in the novel, Valdes introduces us to a particularly grotesque example of this “twist”in the form of an amorous space Emperor (aptly named the Glorious Apotheosis). A fish-man who won’t take no for an answer, he meets Eva and tries to get her to join his harem, only to set a bounty on her head when she says no and hunts her across the galaxy (and throughout the entire novel) popping up at inopportune moments to wreck her ship, rather like a bull in a china shop.

“Between psychic cats, and kidnapped sisters, and her own booze addled temper, she was ready to unload on someone. […] “My name is Captain Eva Innocente” she slurred. “You can call me Captain, which is safe, or you can shut up, which is safer.” 

Eva Innocente is vivacious and gusty, a protagonist whose escapades and personality make for an engaging read. This book is one that effortlessly slides between hilarity and seriousness as the plot demands (and for all the humour, there are some well-realised serious, if heart-warming moments). There is much to be said for the diversity of the crew too alongside its Cuban-descended, foul-mouthed Captain, and how well Valdes makes you engage with each of Eva’s found family as well as the biological one she seeks (reminding me rather fondly of Mass Effect).

The budding, and at times incredibly awkward, alien romance between Vakar, the ship’s engineer, and Eva is adorable, and whose interactions are some of my favourite moments in the book. (It’s also beset with some hilarious scenes that had me hiding my face in my hands. I hope you like liquorice because it gets mentioned a lot…). 

However, whilst there is much to enjoy about this offbeat space opera, I felt that at times, the overarching storyline (Eva’s quest to locate her sister) and the ensuing twists that happen afterwards with The Fridge and “Proarkhe technology” – which is only loosely explained – were rushed. For a book that really puts its all into its vibrant world-building, and a heart-warming and funny main character, the pacing of the book especially towards the end was the main hindrance to me enjoying it as much as I could have.

Scenes that I felt should have had more emotional impact – like the ending with what it reveals and the (slight spoilers!) time-skip explanation – were rushed, whilst other parts which seemingly had little relevance to the overarching plot dragged on. Like a rollercoaster that speeds up and ends too quickly, I only wish that Valdes had made this novel longer or at least elaborated a bit more on some of the intriguing plot points and lore that she drops into conversation between characters or details in any exposition.

Overall view:
Chilling Effect is a quirky, fun-fuelled, space opera that doesn’t take itself too seriously. If you like sci-fi wacky and offbeat, with alien romances, a human heart pumping away at its centre, and a protagonist with more charismatic gravitational pull than a black hole, you should definitely give this a try.

Chilling Effect can be bought all good book shops + online. 

*Thank you Orbit Books for posting me this copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Manuscripts of the Mind by Jessie J’ng

*Thank you Ghost and Ribbon for this gifted copy of Jessie J’ng’s poetry collection. #Ad

Poetry is a genre of literature which has the unique quality of needing so few words to affect us profoundly. Or as Edgar Allen Poe puts it, “poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words”. That idea is precisely what Jessie J’ng’s poetry collection Manuscripts of the Mind aims to do, writing with ‘innate rhythm’, to explore bi-polar disorder, and the meaning of life more broadly, in a different light.

As she states in her foreword, her words are carefully chosen, each syllable and word placed like steps to a dance, poised and written down with such precise forethought and meaning, you cannot help but be impressed.

It has been a while since I read poetry, and so the opportunity to read a flourishing new poet and her collection was a joy. J’ng’s poems are largely freeform, and short, although that is not to say they are simplistic by any means.

Her attempts to explore bi-polar through the written word in such a unique context is an interesting one, and whilst I thought certain poems didn’t quite offer up any particular meaning, the rhyming couplets were too forced, or there was no apparent connecting thread that I could follow between certain lines, perhaps that is the point. As she states in her poem ‘Mind of Mine’ halfway through this collection ‘Yet mine / a mind / uncategorised’ putting her poems in a box to understand them better is precisely what we shouldn’t be doing.

My favourite poems were the ones which contained vivid metaphors or description, such as ‘Sinking Voyager’ or ‘Paralysis’ – the latter poem one which I felt really struck to the core of this collection’s exploration of bi-polar.

However, it should be said that poetry is a very polarising genre, and so the poems might not be to everyone’s taste, depending on what your opinion of what “good” poetry looks like. People who prefer a more modern twist – J’ng is not unlike Rupi Kaur in that sense – will undoubtedly like this. Indeed, the poetry evident in this collection, is as much about the highly aesthetic structure as it is about the words.

Her poem, ‘Consequence’, is one such example of a concrete poem (a poem that takes a shape, where the shape itself has meaning). Here, the words at the start symbolise raindrops, which form into block sentences towards the end. Just as the raindrops form a shape, so do smaller actions build up to larger consequences. It is this precise attention to detail in her work that I especially liked about this collection.

J’ng ends with a poem named (I think aptly so) ‘The Sound of Metamorphosis’. Metamorphosis, she says, ‘sounds like / Movement in silence / a moving stillness / a juxtaposition’ – and through this process and her work, the author herself has grown, distilling her unique sound and mind in one final symphonic note that lingers on the page.

About Manuscripts of the Mind:
This poetry collection can be bought in the Ghost and Ribbon online shop.