Milk and Honey

Title: Milk and Honey

Author: Rupi Kaur

Summary: this is the journey of
surviving through poetry
this is the blood sweat tears
of twenty-one years
this is my heart
this is my hands
this is
the hurting
the loving
the breaking
the healing

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I’ve had this book on my self for a while. I’d read a few of the short poems within it, and one in particular that I adore… but still I’ve hesitated to pick it up and fully dive in. I’ve been afraid, as poetry and I have a tumultuous relationship.

I want to love poetry, but i’m not sure it wants me to. A lot of the time, I just don’t get it. But this… this is poetry I get and poetry I love.

The poems are mostly short, two or four lines, but sum up so eloquently the emotions and importance of things that might so easily go overlooked. Love, lust, a kiss, self-love (both kinds), anger, heartbreak, pain, healing… it’s all here and more.

And it is more. Kaur has put words to specific feelings and fears that I hadn’t been able to pinpoint or articulate before. Not every poem resonated with me, but those that did hit hard. I’ve re-read several dozens of times now, and a couple even left me in tears.

These poems show a woman who is in touch with herself, her experiences, and her words. I envy that intensely, but am so glad I get to share Kaur’s words. I’m glad to have her put voice put to some of my own emotions and feel calm in the knowledge that I’m not alone in them.

Kaur’s illustrations, as simple and effective as her words, add so much to the poems as well. Line drawings of women, hands, objects, nature… They are a striking accompaniment to the poems, providing emphasis, insight, and a reason to pause—to breathe—between pieces.

I will certainly be picking up Kaur’s second book at the earliest opportunity. I’ve never experienced poetry speaking to me so clearly and meaningfully before, and I look forward to experiencing that again. And again, and again, and…

i am water
soft enough
to offer life
tough enough
to drown it away

you have sadness
living in places
sadness shouldn’t live

i do not want to have you
to fill the empty parts of me
i want to be full on my own
i want to be so complete
i could light a whole city
and then
i want to have you
cause the two of us combined
could set it on fire

you
are your own
soul mate

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Places in the Darkness

Title: Places in the Darkness

Author: Christopher Brookmyre

Summary: This is as close to a city without crime as mankind has ever seen.

There has never been a homicide on Ciudad de Cielo. It’s the “City in the Sky,” where hundreds of scientists and engineers live and work in Earth’s orbit, building the colony ship that will one day take humanity to the stars.

So when the mutilated body of a common criminal is found, the eyes of the world are watching. Nearly every government and corporation on Earth has a stake in catching humanity’s first space-bound killer.

One deadly crime threatens our future among the stars.

Rating: ★★★★★ 4.5/5

Review: One of my favourite authors, who usually writes crime/crime comedy, writing my favourite genre, science fiction? Of course I was all over this. I think this is the first time I’ve read a Brookmyre book before my partner (who discovered his books years ago and all but bullied me into reading them)! Now I can’t wait for him to read it too, so we can talk about it!

This book is, in many ways, quintessentially Brookmyre… but in space. I knew i was going to love it very, very early on. Spaceship, zero gravity, time zones, awesome characters, queer representation, suspense, drop of gore, bit of mystery and intrigue, hints at bigger things… and all in the first two chapters. I was invested.

The two main characters are Nikki and Alice. And if there’s one thing Brookmyre never fails on, it’s characters. I want him to do a masterclass on character creation, because he’s incredible at it. Nikki is self-assured and well-connected, helping to keep the seedy underbelly of this spaceship running smoothly and safely. Alice is the new straight-laced head honcho on the ship, looking to stamp out that underbelly. Working sort-of together on a murder case, things don’t go smoothly for either of them. I loved them both, yet they both frustrated me as well. I wanted them to team up from the get-go, but of course that wouldn’t have been as interesting for the plot.

And the plot. It is both a simple idea, and a many-layered beast. I loved it. There are a few things going on that don’t seem connected, but are all obviously important. A murderer, a gang war, some light civil unrest, string pulling, bribery, memory loss… I had no idea how it was all going to tie into the bigger picture, but Brookmyre makes it so simple by the end. And although I knew the general “twists” in the story (the clues are all there, if you’re playing attention), it was the details–the hows and whys–that I was looking forward to in the climax.

Of course, it’s science fiction, so this new and exciting aspect of Brookmyre’s writing was what truly shone for me. This new space-society, the reasons people would want to live there and the reasons they would leave Earth. The three simultaneous timezones meaning it’s morning, day, and night at the same time, for different people. The technological advancements, including lenses and wrist discs, allowing facial recognition, communication, and news feeds to be displayed and interacted with wherever you’re looking. Even down to the small things, such as weapon safety on a spaceship leaving darts and glorified glue guns as the deadliest force available. And most notably–as any decent sci-fi must–it explores ethics, sociology, philosophy, and more. And damn it if that shit doesn’t fascinate me.

There’s just… a lot to love about this book, okay? If you love crime and science fiction, this one is for you. It’s a crime drama, set in a not-to-distance science fiction future, and I’ve not read that very interesting combo before. (Though maybe Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? counts…) It is a genre crossover I will be looking for more of, though. I really, really want Brookmyre to write more of them, and if Nikki and Alice make an appearance, I wouldn’t be too upset.

French Exit

Title: French Exit

Author: Patrick deWitt

Summary: Frances Price – tart widow, possessive mother and Upper East Side force of nature – is in dire straits, beset by scandal. Her adult son Malcolm is no help, mired in a permanent state of arrested development. And then there’s their cat, who Frances believes houses the spirit of her late husband, an infamously immoral world-class cad whose gruesome tabloid death rendered Frances and Malcolm social outcasts.

The curious trio head for the exit, escape pariahdom and land in Paris – a backdrop for self-destruction and economic ruin, and peopled by a number of singular characters: a bashful private investigator, an aimless psychic and Mme. Reynard, aggressive houseguest and friendly American expat.

Brimming with pathos and wit, French Exit is a one-of-a-kind tragedy of manners, a riotous send-up of high society and a moving story of mothers and sons.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4.5/5

Review: I am, by this point, a deWitt fan girl. He is one of my few auto-buy authors who are currently still alive and writing. When i found this book available on NetGalley I hit request faster than you can blink. When my request was approved i started reading immediately.

Every deWitt novel is different and new. Observations on life from a barman, crime- and money-focused brothers in a western, love and friendship set in a bizarre fairytale. This time it’s family and loss amongst a comedy of manners. And i loved it.

Our main character is Frances, a rich and hard woman, she has few friends but is generous and affable with unlikely folk. She lives with her son, Malcolm, who often comes across as simple and easily led, but who grew on me immensely throughout the book. They are, at various and increasingly frequent points, joined by an array of characters. I couldn’t help but like them all, really. Joan, Frances’ oldest and dearest friend; Susan, Malcolm’s sweet and patient fiancée; as well as Madeline, Mme Reynard, Julian, and of course Small Frank.

After blowing through all of their money, Frances and Malcolm are faced with selling all their worldly possessions and fleeing to France… where Frances is set on spending the last of their money quick sharpish. There isn’t a huge amount of plot to speak of (in fact i’ve just spoken of it), but it is the characters and that carry the book. Their interactions, their thoughts and feelings, and what they choose to share (and hide) with those around them. I loved how unabashedly these characters just are. They might not talk to each other about important things or share much about themselves, but they are always being themselves.

The writing is wonderful and hilarious. I laughed aloud enough to feel satisfaction and joy, and had to share a few choice extracts with my partner (who humoured me kindly). This might be my favourite deWitt novel yet. Maybe. Just thinking about certain parts and quotes now have me huffing more laughter. But for all its humour, there was depth and emotion to the story and the characters. They throw money around and live it up, but it’s very much at the expense of thinking about things and allowing themselves to feel too much.

I’m certain i can’t recommend this book enough, and deWitt certainly can’t write his next book quick enough.

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Face

Title: Face

Author: Rosario Villajos

Summary: Face is a magical autobiography about identity, the escape of oneself towards love and the fight to fit in and be “normal” in our society.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: The cover of this book, and the short blurb on the back, caught my attention very quickly. I couldn’t help but pick it up at my local comic book shop and bring it home. And like most random purchases of this manner, it did not disappoint.

The premise is simple enough: the book is about a young woman with no face. It follows her as she struggles to build relationships and explores how she feels that she doesn’t fit in with everyone else. Sound familiar? It should. I’m sure everyone has gone through similar struggles. Because the concept isn’t about looks–it’s about identity. Face (as the character is known) studies the faces of the people around her and tries to emulate them, she begins a relationship and finds herself becoming them. She looks to external sources to find herself, with poor results.

It was the end of the book that stood out for me, when she begins to notice just how many other people around her also have no faces–as also struggling with their own identity and place in the world. That we’re all just stumbling through life trying to figure things out.

The art work is mostly black and white, with colour used rarely, but to good effect. The style of the art changes throughout, too. The general panels are fairly simply, while the portraits of people the character takes note of and are important to her are rendered with such careful precision. It all blends and works beautifully together, giving so much life and texture to the pages and the story.

My favourite pages were the chapter markers–1, 2, and 3. Their simplicity, but careful detail were stunning, and how they capture the essence of each chapter is perfect. I particularly love the heart of chapter one. That’s frame-worthy.

Edinburgh Bookshops

Whenever I travel, one of the most important things I do is research and plan a little bookshop itinerary. Earlier this year I wrote about all the bookshops I visited while I was on holiday in Brighton. When I spent a few days in Edinburgh at the end of July, it was only inevitable that i’d do the same thing again.

Edinburgh was lovely, with some (very welcome!) rain and cooler weather, delicious vegan food, great craft beer, and wonderful old buildings and architecture. There were also a boat load of bookshops! So many, that I couldn’t get to them all in the three full days I was there. But here’s a run down of the ones I did get to.

My first stop, and one of the few I really wanted to get to, was Lighthouse Bookshop. This is a radical bookshop selling all sorts including politics, history, fiction, travel, and more. The shop is light, bright, and airy. All the books were fascinating to browse and I could have spent a while there. I left feeling motivated and upbeat—with three new books!

Next door to Lighthouse is Deadhead Comics, which on the day we stopped by didn’t open on time. Talking to the person in Lighthouse, we were told the owner is actually who the character Bernard Black is based on. We decided to photo and run, not waiting for it to open—I didn’t want to meet him and ruin the illusion.

Next up was Till’s Bookshop. This is a one-room secondhand bookshop and it’s just lovely. That perfect old-and-friendly vibe, with so many great books packed into one room. I thought I was done, but managed to swiftly snatch up another book on my way to the till!

I thought I was going to miss Main Point Books, as google has the wrong opening hours, but thankfully I made it. Another single room, this time with piles of books all higgledy piggledy. It felt like a treasure hunt, searching through all the books. I didn’t get anything here, but enjoyed the rummage all the same.

Edinburgh Books (not to be mistaken for The Edinburgh Bookshop) is around the corner from Main Point. I loved this one a lot. There were old and new books, side-by-side on shelves reaching all the way up to the very high ceilings—this shop has step ladders. There were also several beautiful special edition hardbacks that tempted me, but I resisted. If there’d been any of my most favourite books i’d’ve snapped them up without hesitation. There was also the intimidating presence of a large bull’s head…

Across the road and down the street from Edinburgh Books is Armchair Books. This one was, for me, the quintessential bookshop. Narrow aisles, crammed bookshelves, weaving up and down the entire space of the shop. I had to limit myself to only properly looking at the sci-fi section, or I literally would have been there all day. There was a disappointing lack of armchairs, though.

The single bookshop I didn’t want to miss out on was Transreal. (Though I very nearly did; thankfully google was once again wrong on the opening hours.) Transreal specialises in science fiction and fantasy books, and it was wondrous. I looked at every book on every shelf, and then did another lap of the whole shop. I had expected it to be dark and claustrophobic—moody and eerie. Instead, it was as light, airy, and welcoming as Lighthouse. I loved it. I limited myself to a single book, though I was tempted with many!

I find all Oxfam bookshops have a similar vibe, and Edinburgh’s one was no exception. I love a good Oxfam bookshop—they never fail to have something of interest. I left with a couple of books.

I haven’t been in many Amnesty bookshops, but this one was large and well-stocked. Spacious, it was lovely to wander and browse the books lying face up on tables and filed neatly on the large shelves. After turning down a gorgeous copy of Vonnegut’s Siren’s of Titan in Armchair because I already have a copy, I saw the same beautiful edition here—in better condition and at a lower price. I felt it was the universe telling me I should definitely buy it, and who am I to say no to the universe?

Being a cat guardian I couldn’t not poke my head into the Cat’s Protection charity shop, and while not exclusively a bookshop, I did find an interesting-sounding Margaret Atwood book for a measly £2!

There was also a Barnardos bookshop, which i’d never come across before. Of course I popped in, though didn’t find anything to bring home.

There were at least three or four bookshops a little further from the city centre that I didn’t manage to get to, so i’ll definitely have to have a trip back in the future to tick them off my list. But all told, between my partner and I, we came home with 21 books. Not too shabby.

Have you been to any of these bookshops? Do you know of any towns or cities with a great selection of independent bookshops? I need ideas for my next bookish holiday destination!

Prince of Fools

Title: Prince of Fools

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: I’m a liar and a cheat and a coward, but I will never, ever, let a friend down. Unless of course not letting them down requires honesty, fair play or bravery.

The Red Queen is dreaded by the kings of the Broken Empire as they dread no other.

Her grandson Jalan Kendreth–womaniser, gambler and all-out cad–is tenth in line to the thrown. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched pleasures.

Until, that is, he gets entangled with Snorri ver Snagason, a huge Norse axeman, and dragged against his will to the icy north…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: After loving Lawrence’s first series set in The Broken Empire, of course i was going to read the second. I’m just surprised it took me so long.

I just really love this setting. This is a fantasy story, with necromancers, magic, and horse riding… but it’s set in a Europe that’s 1000 years post a nuclear war. There’s a trusty map at the start of the book, but the shapes and names are recognisable and familiar. I get so much more into the world of this book, knowing it’s this world–or at least, what this would could become. It has fantasy themes and tropes, but when they are set in a foundation of speculative science (pseudo as it is), it excites and interests me infinitely more that straight fantasy.

Almost immediately i was reminded just how brilliant Lawrence’s writing is. It reads as if it was effortlessly written (though was no doubt anything but), with quick wit and turns of phrase dropped is so smoothly it might slip past without you noticing. But i loved to notice. At least once in every page or two was a sentence or a paragraph that stood out as just damn good writing. I underlined and posted to tumblr so many quotes. Also had to stop and read several out to my partner, who didn’t really care but indulged me anyway.

So okay, the characters. There are two main characters: Jalan and Snorri. I adored them both. Snorri the affable and imposing Norseman, making friends just as easily as he breaks bones. He’s both the more serious and the more light-hearted of the two. And Jal, our anti-hero of sorts. I found him fascinating. A self-proclaimed coward and damn proud of it. He gets himself into the stickiest of situations but always finds a way to slip himself right out of them. He constantly tells himself he needs to find a way to get out of the mission he finds himself on, to get home to his creature comforts, but never seems to try very hard at all. He’s an excellent liar, and the most successful of his lies is convincing himself he’s a coward.

“I’m a good liar. A great one. And to be a great liar you have to live your lies, to believe them, to the point that when you tell them to yourself enough times even what’s right before your eyes will bend itself to the falsehood.”

The plot itself is simple enough. A journey across land and across sea, with a few highs, lows, and adventures along the way. The more important journeys are the personal ones, the ones that see the characters develop and bond and bloom. Considering the scope of this world and aspects of the plot, this is very much a character-driven story. And i’m totally on board with that.

There is are a couple of chapters that have a direct overlap with The Broken Empire series. These books are set at the same time, and here we meet Jorg and his brothers returning home to Ancrath. As much as i loved seeing these characters again–and from a completely new point of view–it seemed to drag a little. Jal and Snorri’s stop over in Ancrath felt a little too contrived, just so the crossover could happen. In the end it added little to either timeline, and i’d’ve much preferred a fleeting and memorable encounter with the Brothers on the road.

But yes, love. I loved it. I want to start the second book in the series immediately, but i’m going to hold off for a few books. Long enough to build some excitement and suspense, but not so long that i’ve forgotten all the details. I would really love more people to read these books, but i fear not enough people enjoy fantasy, or would enjoy this fantasy for the same reasons i do. Alas, i will love them all to myself.

Firefly: Back from the Black

Title: Firefly: Back from the Black

Author: Joey Spiotto (Illustrator)

Summary: Ever wondered how the crew of Serenity would fare if they landed back on Earth-That-Was? Would we see etiquette classes by Inara? Remedial math lessons from Jayne? Could River make it as a psychic poker champ? And what kind of carnage could Saffron cause with a charity kissing booth?

Buckle up, Browncoats! Because it’s time to find out…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I was given this book as a present for my birthday earlier this year. I hadn’t even known of its existence, but almost anything Firefly related is a welcome gift! This book is a fine addition to my moderate merchandise collection.

A short book of single-panel comic art work, i’ll start off by saying: if you haven’t seen and enjoyed Firefly the TV show, don’t bother picking this book up. Every page is a reference or an in-joke to the programme, and is bound to be lost on those unfamiliar with it.

The art is simple, but cute. The most expressive and comical character is by far Jayne, with his icon hat and range of emotions he is stand out in this book. The colours are all bright and fun, with characters in familiar and new scenarios, usually with a twist or visualising something only referenced in the show (Wash juggling geese was particularly amusing). There are also more scenic panels, often with some glorious negative space (my weak spot–i love it), like Serenity parked up on a quiet suburban street or Jubal Early trying to hitch a ride while floating, unanchored, in space. Any page would look at home in a frame.

It’s a fun little book of adorable little Firefly cartoons. It’s not that deep, but it is that sweet. I loved it.

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The Boy on the Bridge

Title: The Boy on the Bridge

Author: M.R. Carey

Summary: Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy. The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.

To where the monsters lived.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I read The Girl with All the Gifts four years ago (where does the time go!?) and absolutely loved it. So when i heard Carey was releasing a prequel i was equal measures excited and apprehensive. Excited because yes, more! Apprehensive because, oh no, what if it’s shit?

As the five stars i’ve given it will indicate–it’s not shit.

I knew nothing going in, but had somehow assumed this book took place before the outbreak–that it would be about the outbreak. Instead, it’s several years after the outbreak, and several years before Gifts. It’s a nice spot, because we don’t know the details about what happened at the time of the outbreak, and we don’t know exactly how the discoveries made in this book lead to the things we see in Gifts. There are still plenty of gaps left in the story for speculation and interpretation, which is the kind of thing i love.

The book focuses on the crew of the Rosalind Franklin, an armoured military truck, on its research trek across the UK in search of a cure for Ophiocordyceps, which has infected the human race. The Rosalind Franklin is not unfamiliar–it is the armoured truck the characters of Gifts find in the latter part of the book. So i was very intrigued to find out more about how the truck had got there, what had happened before hand, and where all the crew had gone.

There are more characters in this book–12, compared to Gifts’ 4–though it’s fairly obvious who the red shirts are, as we don’t really ever get to know them. Our core characters are a group of seven. And it’s these characters that make the book, for me. I loved them. All of them–even the not so good ones. Which is good, because with this book being a prequel to an apocalyptic future–we know things don’t exactly work out perfectly for the plot. It has to be the characters that carry this story.

An eccentric genius, or just an ill-equipped explorer swaying on the rickety rope bridge between sanity and madness?

And the characters are all so well written and have such depth. None of them are stereotypes, and although a couple aren’t far off, they all have enough about them to make them more than the role they’re playing in the narrative. Stephen, the boy of the title, who at 15 is incredibly intelligent, on the autistic spectrum, and haunted by grief and trauma. He’s the linchpin of the whole book and logical to a fault, but not perfect and makes several errors in judgement that impact the plot. Samrina, a scientist and surrogate mother to Stephen–she has some personal cargo to worry about. Fournier, the lead scientist and closest stereotype of the book–he’s the obvious and easy bad guy. Carlisle, the military escort leader–his past and his internal struggles make him a wise but fallible leader. Foss, a female military sniper holding her own in a man’s world–she fights to make something of herself and earn the respect she deserves. Sixsmith, the driver and bright spark of this motley crew–she’s the heart and soul backing them all up.

And then there’s McQueen. He was the most surprising to me, because he quickly and inexplicably became my favourite character. Head strong, arrogant, and often going off-book in his military role of second in command–he has all the traits that should make me dislike him. But i didn’t. For me, all along, it was clear there was something else to him. His arrogance was a cover–a front he had to put on to fulfil the stereotype people expect of him. His issue with Carlisle was the most interesting thing to me. How they misunderstood and made assumptions of each other. I had all my hopes pinned on them working things through and working together. At times i think McQueen’s negative feelings towards Carlisle were a bit much, and definitely not resolved fully to my liking. But i’ve decided that it does all get properly concluded–it’s just not part of the book.

The plot is simple enough, with plenty of ups and downs along the way. Including glimpses of things we’re familiar with in Gifts and hints at how things come about between here and there. There is also a suitable climactic action scene which will look great if and when they make the film. And the ending, which is to say, the epilogue, was a little different and unexpected. I’ve seen some reviews claiming it completely undoes the ending of Gifts, and while i see where that’s coming from… i don’t wholly agree. I think it adds a layer–it adds to the possibilities of the future.

With how focused this book was, and how much scope there is in the world Carey has created here, I can see more books happening–prequels and sequels. And there are a few things, people, and places i’d like to see included in them. I’ll wait and see what Carey might have in store with eager anticipation.