Cherry Cake And Ginger Beer : Jane Brocket

Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer: A Golden Treasury of Classic TreatsCherry Cake and Ginger Beer: A Golden Treasury of Classic Treats by Jane Brocket

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It was when I saw the recipe for ‘St Clare’s Eclairs’ that I knew something very clear about this book. I am going to marry it. I am in such love with Cherry Cake And Ginger Beer that I can scarcely cope with reviewing it. I shall try though, but do forgive me if every now and then I punctuate a sentence with an increasingly breathless cry of – Chalet School Apple Cake!

I’ve heard about Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer for a long time and had it recommended to me several times on Twitter. Thank you if you’re one of the people who mentioned it to me. I love it. God, I love this book – Amy’s Pickled Lines!

Brocket’s approach is simple, rich and heartfelt (The Borrowers’ Potted Shrimps!). She works her way through a range of chapters which loosely group the recipes together under headings such as Picnic Treats, School Food and Proper Elevenses. And oh, God, they’re brilliant. Every page reveals something new. Something delicious. I want to make St Clare’s Eclairs. I don’t even like Eclairs. I want to make Pollyanna’s Calf’s Foot Jelly even though I don’t think I’ve ever seen a calf’s foot in the shop. I want to make Miss Heliotrope’s Preferred Nice Plain Junket even though I’m still not 100% certain on what Junket is. I love this book. I love the thick, fat love that Brocket has for her subject, and the way she pulls references from all of the right books: The Little White Horse, Ballet Shoes (Doctor Jakes’ Heavenly Hot Ginger Drink!) , The Faraway Tree and so many more.

This book and I were meant to be. I’m in love.

Bad Harry’s Birthday Trifle!

View all my reviews

Mockingjay and the bruised, bruising love


I cried.

It took me a while to find myself back in Panem; to understand the threads of plot and the shapes of life there once more, but once I did, I cried. Oh how I cried.

But even as I lost myself in this, I thought about love and how at the heart of this film, this series, there is a core of harsh, bruised love.

I thought about the honesty of this complex, hard, exhausted relationship (this fought for thing) between Katniss and Peeta, and I thought about the truth of their love.

Love and truth and pain and hurt and wholeness, wholeness, the finding and the losing and the finding once more.

This isn’t a review of the film, but rather a review of Katniss. If such a thing is not impossible, improbably. To review a character? Yes. Perhaps. Rather, this should be a review of what she means. What she is.

Katniss is is truth.

She is angry, sad, pained, brave, foolish, stupid, naive, brilliant, inspiring, wonderful. She’s a thousand other adjectives all at once.

(And with Jennifer Lawrence playing her, she is eyes and stillness and the fragility of self).

I love stories. I love that these stories exist. I love that they exist with such complex, such wonderful, such challenging, characters as these. I love that she isn’t happy, that she doesn’t compromise, how she isn’t – fake.

How’s she’s truth, she’s truth, all along.


Here’s to those characters who let the truth be who they are.

(And here’s to the writers, the readers, and the people who let them fly. Here’s to us. We’re doing okay at this.)

All the books I’ve never told you about

I thought about this post today as I stood in a local charity bookshop and gazed upon the shelves. I’ve done this a lot in my life; I know the shapes of bookshops, their feel, their patterns, and I love them. I love the way titles are grouped together, the slim multitudes of the picture books and the way they’re stared down by the stately hardbacks up above. I love the way the Brent-Dyer’s and the Brazil’s and the Oxenham’s lurk somewhere a little closer to the desk, wrapped in their plastic wrappes, gleamingly smug in their collectability.

And I thought that, for somebody who talks a lot about books, there are so many books out there that I haven’t told you about. That’s so fascinating to me; this idea of a writer who writes about books and yet – doesn’t. It’s the truth though; for every book I share here, there are a multitude that don’t get their time in the bloggish sun.

A little of this thought process inevitably touches upon my PhD research and the ideas of Franco Moretti and distant reading, but I think here, maybe, in this moment, it touches upon the idea of selfishness.

It touches upon love.

(Sometimes, the worst of our emotions and the best of them, they are so close. Love is hate and hate is love and fear is hope and terror is laughter and everything is everything else, all at once, all along).

I met somebody once who knew that I liked Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He told me, almost instantly, his five favourite episodes and asked me mine and I did not know what to say. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t share this love of mine with him because –

I didn’t want to.

Buffy was the show that taught me about fear and darkness and love and family and writing. God, how it taught me about writing. But I didn’t really want to talk about it.

I think I loved it too much. I don’t think I wanted to share it with people.

I don’t think I knew how.

(How to talk about the great loves? How to bring something so perfect, so transcendent, so – mindblowing – to words? To the fixed, precision of words?)

And so, as I stood there in the bookshop, and I stared at Misty of Chiconteague and I thought of A Taste of Chlorine and I caught sight of a pile of Unwritten comics, I thought –

there is so much here  –

so much.

And I thought –

that even the silent, furious –

unspeakable –

passions will make themselves known –

And I wrote this.

It is not an ending. But – rather –

a beginning.



The Motherless Oven : Rob Davis

The Motherless OvenThe Motherless Oven by Rob Davis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s hard to review this twisting, dark labyrinth of a book because reading it felt less like reading, and more like a theatrical experience. I’m conscious that that’s such a loose way to talk about reading for every text is full of theatre and experience, but something about The Motherless Oven leaves me a little bit lost for words. And so, because of this, I focus rather on the experience of reading it; of those sharp, acute panels and those moments where I really didn’t understand what was going on but could feel it somewhere within the pages, a lifeless heart, a contradiction, words pushing against each other with a story to be told but a story told in language that I did not and do not yet wholly understand.

It was complicated. Complex. Can I deliver an idea of the plot? Yes. Approximately. Like writing words with sand, I make a semblance of what it was and in that process make it into what it is not.

The world of The Motherless Oven is a world populated by machines and human children and when it rains, knives fly down from the sky and spike the ground. Scarper is facing his deathday. There’s a girl. A boy. Parents locked up in the shed and lions at the school gates. When Scarper’s father escapes the shed, it’s up to Scarper to get him back.

Like sand, this book, like sand running through a cupped palm.

Read The Motherless Oven for the panels where the girl stands in a knife-storm; a patio table as her umbrella, for the panels where the mothers look after the children, and for the moments where the text aches at the edge of its speech bubble and palpably seeks to be somewhere elsewhere in that moment. Read it for the reading. There are elements of 1984 in this for me, and of the Clockwork Orange and of Stand By Me. The darkest of moments, and the brightest. So often the same.

This book is locked to me and yet, somehow, so very open, all at once.

View all my reviews

“Second to the left, and straight on ’til morning” : children’s literature and literary travels

Alongside this blog, I have another devoted specifically to my PhD research. What I want to do with this post here, is give you a little bit of a taster of that research as part of my contribution to #NNFN. NNFN is National Non-Fiction November and it’s a month spearheaded by the FCBG to explore the great world of non-fiction. If this is the first time you’ve heard of either, I’d urge you to explore those links in some depth – there’s some immense resources available on both.

My PhD centres on literary tourism and children’s literature. Sometimes I explain it, very glibly, as looking at sites connected to children’s books in real life: Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross Station for example, or Beatrix Potter’s books and the lake district. This description only really covers one part of my research as I’m also interested in the great systems of children’s literature and literary tourism; the way one text set in London calls and talks to another text in Bognor Regis which in its turn both calls back to that London set text, and on to another text set in Edinburgh. A Twilight Barking of books if you will.

Continue reading

Refuge : Anne Booth & Sam Usher

RefugeRefuge by Anne Booth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s hard to read ‘Refuge’ right now and yet, I think, this is perhaps one of the most vital books I’ve read this year. As I’ve watched the news over the past few days, weeks, I’ve become increasingly aware that there are moments in the world which cannot be expressed, somehow. There are times when the wordless horrors become formed, take flesh, when all it should be is nothing. Nothing.

And yet, there are somethings. All around us. Awfully so. Unfathomably so.

I think that literature does help us, sometimes, in starting to figure out where we are in the world. What we place ourselves against. What we lay the shape of our lives upon and see the gaps and the points where we connect with others. I think it’s vital for children who may not have the skills or abilities yet to verbalise how they feel. I think it’s equally vital for adults who don’t know how to even begin to rationalise some of the events in the world. Say something. Talk. But how to talk when you don’t even know where to begin?

I’ve spoken before about the great, fine grace of Anne Booth’s writing, her sympathetic and genuine tones. ‘Refuge’ is her retelling of the nativity story, but done with such a wide resonance that I ache at some of the layers in her text. It’s a slim, potent book full of nuance. Picture books are the strangest form of alchemy when they work well and this is such gold.

Illustrated throughout by Sam Usher’s warm and subtle work, ‘Refuge’ has some moments of utter perfection. Nosy Crow have a preview of the book here which shows some of his work. His endpapers are a delight to me; that blush-rich use of colour and light. That note of gold, that rich, evocative tone, is continued throughout the book and provides a note of visual continuity. It also contributes to some of the more stunning moments – the ‘entry into Egypt’ spread is just breathtaking.

I received a copy of this from Nosy Crow directly. It’s a book that many of those involved in have given their time for free. £5 from each copy goes straight towards War Child to help care for displace children. I have donated the cover price to War Child.

There’s a section in ‘Refuge’ I want to end with:

And we passed the shepherds in the fields,
and there were whispered blessings,
and the movement of sheep in the darkness,
and the clasp of rough hands,
and the love of warm hearts

That’s it, I think, right there in those lines. That echo, that note, that’s it.

View all my reviews

A Reckless Magick : Stephanie Burgis

A Reckless MagickA Reckless Magick by Stephanie Burgis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d heard a lot about Stephanie Burgis’ Kat series; a sort of magical spin on a Jane Austen-esque universe. I took a while to get to it, because it’s a premise which is very much out of my norm. I don’t really read magical books or fantasy. I loved, loved, loved Buffy but then got all twitchy when Willow started to talk about magic with a k. I’m not best friends with Jane Austen. The portents for me and this series weren’t great and then, because I’m pretty much a genius, I ended reading the penultimate novel in the series.

Which was great.

Seriously, there’s something rather intensely appealing about a book that simply won’t let you dislike it. Burgis’ style is so vividly dynamic; action crashes against action, with some deep emotional points, that I found myself reading it reluctantly as part of my studies and then totally forgetting that whole ‘reluctant’ part and just enjoying the story held here. It’s good writing this, pacy and quick and taut and tight all at once, covering a thousand different elements and at no points drowning in any of them. I loved it.

It’s also important for me to recognise the nature of characters involved. Kat’s family and the supporting cast are beautifully drawn. Sympathetically too; there’s some wild humour and some painfully beautiful comment on family, love and relationships. Certain of the more specific elements regarding the series went over my head but this is, I suspect, partially due to my having started at the end. Having said that though, it’s vital to note that this isn’t one of those ‘can’t be understood without having read all of the preceding novels beforehand’ sort of books. A Reckless Magick is something which delights in its premise, people and plot. There’s such love here, such wheeling, word-bound love.

View all my reviews