Cooking with Bones by Jess Richards

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Cooking with Bones by Jess Richards

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: In a world that's not quite our world, among people not completely like any we know Jess Richards treats us again to a story of strangeness and beauty that will take more than one reading to understand beyond the superficiality of a well-spun yarn. There again, reading a Jess Richards book more than once is no great hardship.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: April 2013
Publisher: Sceptre
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1444738032

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Sisters Amber and Maya run away from home, the city of Paradon, and arrive in a small village. Finding an old cottage, the girls settle in comfortably, hidden from the locals' sight while joining in with their customs as Amber bakes honey cakes each night from the ingredients left daily outside the cottage and the instructions of the former occupant's cookery books. Now they've moved away from their old life Amber tries to encourage Maya to stand on her own two feet which isn't easy. For Maya is a formwanderer, engineered to reflect other's wants; a role in which it's difficult to exist normally, let alone while trying to adjust to change… and, indeed, unexpected death.

This is Jess Richards' second novel (her debut being Snake Ropes) and once again it's a story enshrouded in a mist-like mystery. Everything about Cooking with Bones seems familiar from the sisterly relationship to the Cornwallesque seaside village in which they hide but little glimmers of difference appear every now and again to reassure us that this has been written by an author who shuns ordinary which, in this case, is a good thing.

How un-ordinary is this? As Jess gently leads us by the hand through lilting language we notice the recipes are oddly worded and Maya doesn't seem to have been born by any purely physical happenstance. As in Snake Ropes, this is a society that clings to ritual, in this case, the collection of food from some doorsteps to be deposited elsewhere. Also, we're once again shown a community that is disrupted by tragedy and watch its efforts to come to terms with the fall-out.

Please don't assume that strange is odd or unwelcoming though. Here it's intriguing and subtly scattered amongst the normal. For instance, Kip may be a villager but Kip's also a wonderfully typical child in many ways: charming, funny and a counterpoint of light against the darkness endured by the sisters. I felt guilty laughing aloud when Kip developed a disability but I still laughed because Kip has a wonderful naïve logic separating childhood from the later onset of adolescence. Indeed as each of the three young people speaks to us via alternating chapters they demonstrate the author's ability to translate on to paper minds that are still being formed.

This is normally the bit of the review in which I interpret some of the deeper meanings and undercurrents of a novel like this but to be honest at the moment I'm still working them out. Having read episodes like that between Maya and the passing teacher and having witnessed the interplay between the adults in the village, I know the philosophical nuggets are there waiting to be extracted from a story that works even without the deeper understanding I'm looking for. However, this does give me an excuse, if one were needed, to return to the surreal world that I enjoyed visiting so much the first time and to be subsumed by it once again.

If this appeals to you then so will Snake Ropes. If you've already read it and are looking for something as lyrically satisfying, try Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett. You might also like to have a look at City of Circles by Jess Richards.

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Buy Cooking with Bones by Jess Richards at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Cooking with Bones by Jess Richards at


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