Review: Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan

26804769A startling and evocative novel, harkening to both One Day and Gravity, a man and a woman revisit memories of their love affair on a utopian Earth while they are trapped in the vast void of space with only ninety minutes of oxygen left.

After the catastrophic destruction of the Middle East and the United States, Europe has become a utopia and, every three years, the European population must rotate into different multicultural communities, living as individuals responsible for their own actions. While living in this paradise, Max meets Carys and immediately feels a spark of attraction. He quickly realizes, however, that Carys is someone he might want to stay with long-term, which is impossible in this new world.

As their relationship plays out, the connections between their time on Earth and their present dilemma in space become clear. When their air ticks dangerously low, one is offered the chance of salvation—but who will take it? An original and daring exploration of the impact of first love and how the choices we make can change the fate of everyone around us, this is an unforgettable read.

Before I say anything: look at that cover, take it in. It is gorgeous. The hardback is beautifully produced, with some of the stars spot varnished it really looks like a shining space scene. I bloomin’ love well-designed books.

I will admit, this was a cover buy – well, it was a birthday present but it was a cover wishlist add. It looks beautiful and it has stars on it.

But it’s so much more than a pretty book. I really didn’t know what to expect but the whole thing was poignant and heartbreaking. I cannot recommend it enough, it’s a beautiful, beautiful book.

At its heart,  Hold Back the Stars is a love story. It follows Carys and Max. It is the last moments of their lives, and how they each got to be there. It is their journey and their tragedy and it is breathtaking. The characters are so well-written, I really felt for them which is so important for a book which is so deeply character-led.  The supporting cast was also wonderful and I really don’t have any complaints.

The world-building was excellent, it was unlike anything I’ve seen before. In fact, the whole book was unlike anything I’ve ever read. Due to the nature of the story, it was very much about the little details and the details soared in this book, every question I had about the world was answered on the page, it’s like the book was reading my mind.

I just loved it. I am so happy when a book I know little about turns into a book I love and this definitely happened with this one. It is as beautiful inside as it is out and I want everyone to read it.

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Twenty-Six

Today is March twenty-sixth. In 1824 Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis was performed for the first time (though Wikipedia says this happened in April), in 1827 he died. Britain, 1934, driving tests were introduced for the first time. In 1953 Dr Jonas Salk announced the vaccine for polio. The first royal email was sent from the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment by Queen Elizabeth II in 1976. These are all things that happened on March twenty-sixth.

There are twenty-six letters in the alphabet. A rhombicuboctahedron has twenty-six faces. There are twenty-six black and twenty-six red cards in a deck. A normal human foot and ankle have twenty-six bones. Twenty-six is the only number between a square number and a cube number, and it takes twenty-six moves or less to solve a Rubik’s Cube.

I have been alive for twenty-six years.

I’ve decided that my twenty-sixth year is the year I get things done. I will reach my target, I will take the first steps to achieving my dream (which I have been avoiding for a while now because I’ve been scared – taxes are scary), I will continue this trend of unashamed self-love I have going on at the moment (we all have our bad days but I am determined to have more good days).

I have big dreams, and more determination than I ever expected to have, and big things are coming. Twenty-six? I am ready for you.

Photography: Baby Meadows (Annoucement)

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Back in January, I had the absolute honour of taking the announcement photos for my friends’ pregnancy. I am so glad they chose to involve me and the photos still make me grin like a loon every time I look at them. The shoot itself wasn’t hugely planned, we agreed on where we would shoot, and I prepared a chalkboard. The chalkboard turned out to not be a chalkboard at all and instead was a block of wood painted black that once drawn on would never be the same again. I only had two so it was very nerve-wracking trying to get it right on the first try. I managed it, with my limited hand-lettering skills and I am so glad they liked it. I did my prep the night before and was practically fizzing with excitement.

The morning of the shoot came. It was cold, drizzly and, best of all, misty. I’ve long been shouting about my love of mist so I was incredibly excited to do my first photo shoot of the year in my favourite conditions.

To put the amount of mist into perspective, there is rich countryside behind that windmill, you can see for miles (it is on the top of a hill overlooking fields and wonder). We couldn’t see a thing. Driving up the winding roads was like being in a completely different, and completely deserted world. I loved it.

Brill Hill was where their proposal happened, and where they took their announcement photo for that – I thought it would be perfect to stage another incredibly important announcement there. There’s definitely something beautiful about tracking the seasons in sentimental locations.

We didn’t count on it being misty but I am so happy it was. It allowed the focus to be on them and not the location, with the location becoming more like a stage. I hope I can coerce them into going back there and let me shove my camera in their faces when it’s not misty, probably when the baby is born so that we can get some richly colourful family shots and really show off the beauty of the location.

It was a quick, damp shoot but I am so happy with the results. They’re simple and beautiful and I am totally and completely in love with them.

Review: American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett

14781178Some places are too good to be true.

Under a pink moon, there is a perfect little town not found on any map.

In that town, there are quiet streets lined with pretty houses, houses that conceal the strangest things.

After a couple years of hard traveling, ex-cop Mona Bright inherits her long-dead mother’s home in Wink, New Mexico. And the closer Mona gets to her mother’s past, the more she understands that the people of Wink are very, very different …

This book is weird. Not quirky-weird, weird-weird.

My best friend read this book and then decided I should too, and mentioned it constantly until I ended up buying it. She knew I was currently very into Welcome to Night Vale, and this book is similar in that it takes place in a fictional town somewhere in the desert (well, near the desert) where everything is a bit strange and at its heart lies a conspiracy. As soon as I read the second line of the blurb above, I knew I wanted this book. I knew I needed this book. It was exactly the kind of weird I was looking for.

It follows Mona, an ex-cop with a complex relationship with her past, as she travels to Wink to find out more about her mother who died when she was young. Her mother left behind a house, and Mona thinks there might be answers there. What she stumbles into is not the quaint little town it seems.

There is a lot to uncover in American Elsewhere, around every corner is something new and it takes a while for it to all click into place. The novel jumps around from person to person in a fashion that I absolutely love. I love the little glimpses of the lives and thoughts of other characters, especially when those characters are not quite normal. I fell in love with these not quite normals, Parson and Mr First especially.

My favourite character, however, was Gracie, sweet, sweet Gracie. She’s a tiny cinnamon bun who needs to be protected, and smothered with love. I can’t really reveal much about her without giant spoilers, so I won’t. Just know that she is precious, and she speaks to my awkward little heart.

American Elsewhere is immediate. Written in the present tense, we are always in the action. I love the present tense, and I know how difficult it is to do well, so it always makes me incredibly happy when I find a book that does just that.

It’s a hefty book but, because of the present tense narration, it’s quite a quick read. It’s definitely a page turner and it’s hard to put down once you start!

If you like Welcome to Night Vale, you’re going to love this. If you like weird, you’re going to love this. What are you waiting for?

Review: The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

296349312In The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe we witness a totalitarian takeover of Night Vale that threatens to forever change the town and everyone living in it.

The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe features a foreword by co-writer Jeffrey Cranor, behind-the-scenes commentary and guest introductions by performers from the podcast and notable fans, including Cecil Baldwin (Cecil), Mara Wilson (The Faceless Old Woman), Hal Lublin (Steve Carlsberg) among others. Also included is the full script from the Welcome to Night Vale live show, The Debate.  Beautiful illustrations by series artist Jessica Hayworth accompany each episode.

If you’re not read Mostly Void, Partially Stars, you should go and read that before you continue with this review.

It’s fine. I’ll wait.

Finished? Excellent. We’ll get on with it shall we?

I love this book more than I loved the first, and that’s saying something. Everything about The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe is wonderful, from the sweeping storylines that you think might have ended only to come back in some grand, dramatic fashion. Everything in the second book is a lot more interconnected and cohesive. Well, as cohesive as anything in Night Vale can be anyway.

With the second book of scripts (and the second year of the podcast) we are granted confirmation of Night Vale’s favourite ship, Carlos and Cecil. It’s great that not only is it a LGBTQ*-inclusive relationship but a multi-cultural one, Carlos being a person of colour and Cecil being, well Cecil.

Cecil is such an endearing character. There’s just something about him that is easy to love. I want to protect him at all costs.

The characters in Night Vale are so easy to like and connect with. They are normal without being normal and abnormal without being entirely incomprehensible. That may not make any sense but I am sure that if you’ve listened to or read anything of Night Vale, you get what I mean. There are so many diverse characters to love, and love them I do. (Except you, Steve Carlsberg, you’re the worst.)

(Did you see what I did there?)

My favourite, other than Cecil, has to be Tamika Flynn who led the resistance against StrexCorp after triumphing over the Librarians in the Summer Reading Programme of 2013. Tamika is fab. She is strong, a hero and she likes to read, what more could you want? The only thing I can think of is: more of her. But then again, too much Tamika might spoil her magic.

It’s hard to talk about these books because of just how wonderfully random they are but rest assured. They’re fantastic and well worth the read.

All in all, it’s wonderful. I can’t wait for the next installment (a review of the novel is also on the way, so you have that to look forward to).

Hello world! (WordPress summed it up well, I think.)

Hello World, hello WordPress.

This is my first blog here and it will definitely not be my last. No, you’re not seeing things. They are really there. The posts below were  imported from my old Blogger account – I didn’t want to leave them there, abandoned, as I embarked on a new blogging journey. (This also explains why they are horribly formatted, and shall be fixed in the coming weeks.) I have since deleted the posts from my old blog, these will be replaced/updated in time.

Here you will find, as below, blogs about publishing, photography and life at the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies and beyond. While I may do the occasional blog like those below, I don’t think I quite have the time to keep up three entries a week (as is evident by the huge gap between the last post and this one; dear future-followers, I apologise).

So, without further ado, I proclaim this blog open for business.