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.

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

Luke Arnold’s debut novel The Last Smile in Sunder City – the first installment in the Fetch Phillips Archives – is the type of noir fairy-tale so immersive and vivid, you can almost smell the scent of whiskey (or in this case Milkwood, a sugary drink favoured by our protagonist) smothered on the page. Its heady blend of fairy-tale fantasy characters are mixed with the teeming seedy metropolis that is Sunder City, making for a unique, highly enjoyable blend of genres.

We are introduced to a city whose heart has been bloodily ripped out of its chest; a shambolic, zombified cityscape, shuffling through and struggling to come to terms with the “Coda” (the term for the ruinous period of time the world now finds itself in, where magic has simply stopped working – and a piece of naming lore I really enjoyed).

“So you’re a Man for Hire?”
“That’s right”
“Why don’t you just call yourself a detective?”
“I was worried that might make me sound intelligent”

Because, of course, this is a book that starts at the end. We are thrown into the wake of a magical disaster, and as we fall into this pit of grey, grim despair we find our protagonist, through whose first person perspective we see. A “recluse, recruit, soldier and a criminal”, Fetch Phillips is possessed of the perfect blend of dry humour, gruff likeability, and emotional depth. A perpetual underdog and barely functioning alcoholic trying to make up for the mistakes of his past, Arnold creates a surprisingly emotionally nuanced character, who you want to see do better. Tasked to find a disappeared vampire teacher, we follow Phillips on a journey as he uncovers more and more mysterious, tangled threads, all the while trying to atone for his past as the person who caused this magical catastrophe.

Whilst admittedly cliched in parts, The Last Smile in Sunder City feeds into classic noir tropes with gleeful, reckless abandon, done in such a way that it comes across as enthralling rather than off-putting. Tangled up with this fantasy element, in some ways this novel reminded me of the premise of Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us (an RPG where you play as the enigmatic Bigby Wolf in the suburb of Fable – a place for lost fairy tale creatures), but also in a way that is delightfully unique as the opening scene in which we see children of different races watch a film about coping with life after the Coda proves.

“All that was left were the sparks, petrol, and pistons of the Human factories. The Human Army had won the war, but their victory had destroyed the spoils.”

The effects of this magical “castration” is vibrantly evidenced in the people who inhabit this decaying world. Elves are no longer beautiful, but aged, ancient creatures. Vampires are walking skeletons, rendered inert by their inability to feed, and Sirens have lost their voice. Humans are the only ones left untouched – both a blessing and a curse. It is under this hazy, drug and alcohol induced cloud that we follow Fetch, the weight of what he’s done sitting like stones in his shoes and culminating in a thrilling scene where we find out exactly what took place to make the magic disappear and Fetch’s role in the destruction of a city he is now trying to piece back together.

Indeed, there is something to be said for Arnold’s worldbuilding, and the cleverness and poignancy with which he presents to us the beauty and life of the world that had come before, only to shatter it over and over again before our very eyes in the present day. The exposition and stories that intermingle with the plot are pitched as sad, bitterly remembered memories as we delve more and more into Fetch’s backstory, the people he cared for and knew, and find out more of exactly what happened in this ‘Coda’. 

Not only did I wish to find out more of the world and the people that had come before the Coda – of the majesty of elves, and dragons, and angels that are hinted at in the present or are shown in brief flashbacks – but to see what happened as Fetch’s search for his vampire charge led him into deeper, darker waters as mysteries tangle on top of the other. Phillips’ regret is palpable, and as his past relationships – with past friends and mentors and lovers – are brought up, we see just how heavy the burden of responsibility lies.

With a bunch of intriguing characters, rich backstory, and vivid world-building, I for one cannot wait to see what is next in store in the Fetch Phillips Archive. This book is a wonderful addition to those who love gritty, grim novels that pack a surprisingly strong emotional left hook.

[*Thank you for the lovely people at Orbit Books for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review!]

This book is now out in paperback, and can be purchased from all good book shops.

Buy it here.