Books From The Pantry: Dressing Up by Giles. L. Turnbull: Reviewed by Claire Faulkner

On reading the collection Dressing Up by Giles L. Turnbull, published by Cinnamon Press, the first thing you notice is the beautiful use of language. The imagery is beautiful, and colours are used expertly throughout the collection to vividly describe situations and experiences. This kind of skilful writing allows the reader to experience each poem much more intensely, and to enjoy the collection as a whole, to a greater depth.

The poems all appear to be about getting ready, or the perception of getting ready for something. Time also seems to be a running theme throughout, clocks are mentioned repeatedly. The poem ‘Alarm’, which is a stunning start to the collection, contains both themes, and the language around the colour orange captured my imagination immediately.

The bands of wasps / sandwiched recurringly between black / more electric than the shock.

And the last line,

as we set the clocks / to wake us with a morning slap / for juice.

I read ‘Tomorrow’s Dancers’, a poem talking about the future over and over. It starts:

The future / flapping / like a flag in the metaphysical breeze.

This particular poem struck a cord with me, and with each new reading I found and saw something new within it.

The next step / hovering beneath the feet / of tomorrow’s dancers.

So clear and precise, but also inventive and thought provoking. The language is quite stunning.

I love to read powerful lines of poetry. We all know that type of line, the one that stays with you, and if you’re honest, you wish you’d written yourself. Giles spoils us by giving us line after line of wonderful verse.

‘Sharp’, one of my favourites from this collection is a surreal poem with a distinctive rhythm, especially when read aloud.

Underneath the blackness / in every day and every year / leaving me as Pharaoh of a thousand secrets / in the seizure of a collapsing star.

Followed by:

Beyond this blanket shrouded world / smothered sometimes suffocating / leaking light like a dripping tap / through puncture marks that say / this is where it stops.

This is a wonderful collection of verse. It has a strong contemporary style, and the first time I read it, I did find it slightly heavy going, but please stay with it. If you do, I’m sure like I did, you’ll find something amazing that you’ll read over and over again.

Giles’ Twitter

 

Books From The Pantry: The Night Brother by Rosie Garland: Reviewed by Giles Turnbull

I always find the most enjoyable reviews to write are when I know nothing of the plot, have not read anybody else’s reviews, and I turn the pages and find myself being sucked into the story. That was my experience of Rosie Garland’s novel, The Night Brother, published by The Borough Press.

The Night Brother is alive with a selection of curious characters and the sights and sounds of turn of the 20th century Manchester. Right from the start we meet the two main characters, Edie and Gnome, as they slip out of the bedroom window to head to a late night fireworks display. ‘I sit up and it sets off a yawn so wide it could swallow the mattress. He presses my lips together, shutting me up as tight as the bubbles in a crate of ginger beer.’

The novel is written from the first person perspective, with chapters alternating between Edie and Gnome. As the story progresses, the distinction becomes more and more blurred. This is a story about searching for identity, exploring gender identity, and gender rights battles.

Edie and Gnome are brother and sister. They live with their Ma and Nana above a pub called The Comet of which their Ma is landlord.

Edie: ‘Stroll through Hulme of an evening and you will be forgiven for imagining it a den of drunkards. Brave the labyrinth of streets, row upon row of brick-built dwellings black as burned toast, and there, upon each and every corner, you will find it: haven for the weary traveller, fountain for the thirsty man … The Comet, Sparkling Ales is etched upon one frosted window, Fine Stouts and Porter upon the other. A board stretches the width of our wall, announcing Empress Mild and Bitter Beer. Above the door and brightest of all, the gilt scroll of my mother’s name: Cecily Margaret Latchford, Licensed to sell Beers and Stouts. Come, it beckons. Enter, and be refreshed.’

Every scene springs to life through the descriptions and mannerisms of the characters. At the market you can almost reach in and help yourself from the jars of wine gums, slab toffee, liquorice, Pontefract cakes and coltsfoot rock on the confectionery stand. The narrative is colourfully described without being overwritten. Dropped into the scene you can experience the ground crunching with sugar and see the girl weighing out the sweets has a starved look: chewed-down nails and hair draggled in sticky ringlets; ‘You buying, or wasting my time?’ the girl trills pertly. ‘No money, no service.’

The Night Brother is a tale of two halves: day and night, men and women, acceptance and rejection, dependence and independence, contrasts and similarities, all underpinned by the tensions of the suffragette movement, and sexual suppression of desires and freedoms. It’s an uneasy atmosphere, Edie, Ma and Nana afraid of whatever gifts they possess, Gnome rash with the spirit of adventure and the urgent desire to prove himself a man.

Gnome: ‘It matters not what I’m racing from or to; all I know is that I am alive. I am a mucker, a chancer, a chavvy, a cove. I grab life by the neck and squeeze every drop into my cup. If it’s good, I’ll take it by the barrel. If it’s bad I’ll do the same. I take it all: the world and his wife, the moon on a stick and the stars to sprinkle like salt on my potatoes.’

The events become darker with violent confrontations between police and the suffragettes. Edie falls in love with a suffragette called Abigail and so does Gnome.

Part 2 brings the rebellion — Gnome increasingly masculine ‘Why shouldn’t I be the prince to scale her castle walls?’ and Edie more strongly feminine. Emboldened Edie heads to a library where she is greeted warmly by the librarian, who hands her a book of Greek and Roman mythology. ‘The library is refuge and escape rolled into one. A generous world that asks nothing of me save attentiveness and rewards me with gifts beyond measure. My self-education is intoxicating and sweet.’

It is only as the story draws to a close that we find out how the difficult decisions resolve. Will Edie and Gnome find a way to co-exist; can Ma and Nana accept themselves and their children? Will Abigail favour Gnome or Edie? How much does a quarter-pound of cough candy cost?

Rosie Garland’s Website

The Night Brother

Books From The Pantry: Dear You by Tessa Broad: Reviewed by Berenice Smith

 

I was delighted to be asked to review Dear You by Tessa and her publishers Red Door Publishing. I read many books and in my life outside Walk In Our Shoes, work with authors and publishers for many years. My story of trying to be a mum is similar to Tessa’s and I was a little concerned that it would bring back memories I had tried to lay to rest.

So with trepidation I began to read Dear You, curled up on the sofa as the rain fell, quietly conscious that I’d picked it up a few days after the anniversary of a late miscarriage. It’s testimony to Tessa’s compassion and warmth which carries through every page, that I carried on reading. She opens the book with these words:

I’m writing to you simply because I feel that I know you, that I love you; and I’d like you to get to know me. I want this letter to feel like you have spent time with me and me with you.

Dear You is a letter to her unborn children. Her daughter Lily, and her siblings are written so vividly that it’s easy to forget that Tessa didn’t meet them. One cannot help feeling deeply sad when one remembers the context of the book and what a great mum she would have made.

That’s not to say that Dear You doesn’t lack grit. The details of the treatment isn’t easy reading if you’ve been through it or if you know someone who has. But the painful memories felt easier because Tessa’s narrative is accessible. At various points I wanted to give her a hug and say ‘yes me too’. Her feelings of bewilderment in a world of complex abbreviations is palpable and real. I too spent meetings scribbling down phrases, worrying about phone calls in open plan offices – all practical problems that are identifiable with any illness but arguably more powerful when ones hopes and dreams for a family depend on it.

Tessa doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the procedures either. Having been there and done most, I don’t know that I’d want to read this before I began IVF but then again, perhaps I should have? With the benefit of Tessa’s observations, I may have known the questions I should have asked and the signs that I should have looked out for. This includes medical staff like Mr Pink, the tardy gynae with a people problem.

I appreciated the time Tessa took to speak about her relationships with honesty, detailing the struggles that treatment has on not just her, both those around her from friends to loved ones. From this comes the story of moving on. Tessa shares her advice which is incredibly sensible, accessible and based on the real world. I’ve read several books on life with involuntary childless that end with the author moving continents or taking dramatic lifestyle changes that can feel beyond the emotional and/or financial reach of many readers. Tessa’s wisdom is truthful and reflect the narrative of her story and her emotive journey.

Who should read Dear You? If you’re a survivor, I think you’ll find the book cathartic and you’ll feel like you’ve made a new friend. If you haven’t had treatment but want some help to move on, then read this book. If you’ve never been through IVF or endured infertility then I absolutely urge you to pick Dear You up and read it today. It’ll tell you so much and dispel so many myths. In short, please read this book.

I hope that it’s been an ultimately cathartic process for Tessa, despite having to dig deep as I’m sure she must have done and I applaud her fortitude. I know that I’ll be going out, buying more copies of Dear You to share with people and encouraging that it sits at the top of every reading list. I hope all book groups do, the world will be a much easier place for me, Tessa and all our communities too.

This review by Berenice Smith was originally published on Walk In Our Shoes  

Books From The Pantry: The Green Sky series by Kate Coe: Reviewed by Isha Crowe

At the writing of this review, the Green Sky series consists of five novellas, of which I have read the first four.

The novellas are set in a fantasy world, which, like most great fantasy worlds, contains magic. Unlike most great fantasy worlds, this magic is regarded as just another skill, and it’s even a tad mundane compared to the exciting new technologies of ‘spark’- the Green-Sky world’s version of electricity, which is harvested when lightning strikes the purpose-built copper-clad towers of the city of Meton – and of ‘fliyers’, airplanes engineered to be flown by air mages.

On her blog, Kate Coe, the author, quite accurately describes this series as Sparkpunk – a play on the popular genre of Steampunk.

Each novella tells a story, which is part of the greater storyline of the series. The same characters feature in every book, but the focus is another person every time, and new characters are introduced in every story. The result of this structure is that as the reader, you get to experience different aspects of this fantasy world seen from a variety of perspectives, and you fairly quickly feel quite at home under those green skies.

A downside is that the first novella Green Sky and Sparks is a bit hard to get into – since it is setup for a long story, set in a large and complicated world, there is simply too much information. Although Green Sky and Sparks can be read as a stand-alone, it is best viewed and appreciated as the start of a much greater tale.

The story and world were interesting enough to hold my attention, but I found the ending not quite satisfying. I also felt that the characters could’ve used more fleshing out. I shouldn’t have worried: the next volumes address all this.

In spite of, or perhaps because of this dissatisfaction, I purchased the next novella, read it, was hooked and went on to rapidly buy and read the third and fourth books.

Books number two Grey Stone and Steel and three High Flight and Flames tell about the war that commences when ships from Ziricon attack the coastal town of Aleric in a bid to reach Meton.

These two novellas offer an exciting read, convincingly portraying the merged technological and magical background that makes this series so exceptional. The emphasis is on action, and yet it is also in this two-volume war story that the characters really become well-rounded, relatable individuals.

Especially fascinating was the depiction of the soul-bond between Toru Idalin and S’ian. This soul- bond made its debut in the first novel, but is further developed in these subsequent volumes. As a consequence of their soul-bond, Toru and S’ian have a telepathic and empathic connection, and the author uses this to construct a highly unusual and yet perfectly smoothly worked out double point of view.

The fourth instalment Salt Winds and Wanderings is utterly different from its predecessors and so far, this is my favourite. I could barely put it down.

Featuring a new character, Obak, this novella is a poetic depiction of personal development and quiet contemplation where the sea and the wind almost become characters themselves. It is a great contrast with the previous action-focused books, and an enchanting read. Of course, it is also set in the Green Sky world, and as such, is part of the greater storyline. Familiar characters from the earlier books also return in Salt Winds and Wanderings.

I have purchased book five Empty Skies and Sunlight. I’ve had no time to read it yet, but I’m very much looking forward to once again wander under the green skies of this sparkling (pardon the pun) world.

I warmly recommend this series to everyone, but in particular, to lovers of fantasy who are ready for something refreshing and new.

Books From The Pantry: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman: Reviewed by Natalie Denny

His Dark Materials is my favourite story. I was twelve when I was first invited into Philip Pullman’s magical and macabre world with the first book in the trilogy, Northern Lights. I remember hiding from my friends so they would not make me do something as arbitrary as talk to them or run around the playground. I was hooked from the first page, having discovered the book in my school library.

Lyra is a young, wild little girl living in her beloved Jordan college, raised by scholars and belonging to the streets she runs free in. Oxford is her world, one different from our own; most noticeably is that each person here comes in a pair. A daemon, Pantalaimon, is Lyra’s lifelong companion that shifts in animal shapes depending on their mood.

Lyra’s only familial contact is her mysterious and stern uncle whom she is in equal parts terrified and enthralled by. When children start disappearing from her neighbourhood, Lyra gleefully embraces the story of the GOBBLERS, a group that capture children for a purpose that surpasses her worst nightmare. When her best friend Roger is taken, it ceases to become a game.

Lyra meets the beautiful sophisticated Mrs Coulter, a friend of the college, and one of the only glamorous women Lyra has ever seen. Lyra knows something isn’t quite right when she starts living with Miss Coulter as her assistant, and decides to run away. Armed with a truth telling device known as an alethiometer, Lyra is inducted into multiple worlds of armoured bears, witches, aeronauts and relentless adventure in pursuit of her dear friend, Roger, and her uncle, who she believes is key to everything

The writing in this book paints pictures. Every sentence is carefully crafted to convey the wonder of the worlds they inhabit. The book deals with issues of religion, friendship, love and destiny. We follow Lyra as she takes on enemies that should crush her. She is, after all, just a child. There is something very special about Lyra, and the friends she makes along the way will stop at nothing to protect her.

This is a young adult book but the themes are very mature and transcend the age spectrum. The Book of Dust was released this week and there is a reason I have cleared my diary to read it. Philip Pullman is a master of his genre and Northern Lights, the first book of the fantastic trilogy, is certainly one I recommend.

Books from the Pantry: The Curtain Twitchers of Oakley Place by Deborah Hodgetts: reviewed by Shirley Milsom

In this quaint idyllic village lurked the watchers, perched in their places of safety looking out into the bleakness of the day. Their eyes pierced the depths of my soul, clawing and drawing my safety from within. I had just moved to this leafy village in the depths of the Buckinghamshire countryside, from the chaos of the big smoke. I thought I had escaped those Curtain Twitchers; those beings of solitude entrapped and entrapping like thieves of your sanity. To the visitors who were just passing through this village, everything was blissful and most delightful; all curtains perfectly still and no sign of this eerie presence or its destructively dark drawing fear.

So begins the debut novel The Curtain Twitchers of Oakley Place by Deborah M Hodgetts, a writer more used to poetry, and published on both sides of the Atlantic. The novel follows the main character, Barney Lumsden, as he moves from the chaos of day-to-day living in London, to what he hopes is a much quieter pace of life, in a village called Oakley Place, set in the heart of Buckinghamshire. Unfortunately, Barney’s hope for a peaceful existence are dashed when he finds himself enmeshed in a web of intrigue and confusion when a travelling circus and funfair arrive in the village.

Oakley Place was a pleasant enough place but as you may expect there was quite an eclectic mix of individuals living here. It was a cross between those born and bred here and, as we were known, the interlopers. In certain places in the village I had sensed that there was a love-hate divide between the two categories of villagers. Generally, the main of the village folk were the salt of the earth and just as you would expect. However, as predictable as you may assume, you also had to contend with a minority of the high and mighty or the downright lost in the gene pool.

From personal experience, the shift from writing poetry and taking on the mighty challenges of constructing mystery novels are daunting. In her first foray into this difficult genre, Deborah shows literary promise, her descriptions and use of prose allow images to spring from the pages, especially when describing locations. It is clear to see from her particular writing style that Deborah’s foundation has been in poetry, and she uses this to her advantage.

Through the passage of time his essence had merged with the earth‚ and like the roots of a mighty oak‚ it had spread across the whole village. It travelled through deep veins within the earth – leaching out like a poison, which filtered into the very rivers, streams and air. It polluted the lifeblood of Oakley Place.

At times the story follows a hectic trail involving a wide variety of colourful characters at a fast pace, to this end the reader will need to be on their toes at all times.

Life is just full of infinite possibilities, but LOVE always holds the key.

Books from the Pantry: Natural Colours by Mel Woodend: reviewed by Claire Faulkner

Mel Woodend’s fourth poetry collection is inspired by nature and the limitless rainbow of colours found within. It’s an interesting and refreshing theme for a collection of work. Emotions and colours are often linked, and this beautiful collection of deeply rich poems encompasses what we feel when we see natural colours all around us. Reading them has been a pure joy.

Comprised of four sections, reflecting the elements; air, earth, fire and water, Mel takes the reader on a journey through their five senses. The language used is evocative and beautiful throughout. A line describing a rainbow in ‘After the Rain’ stayed with me long after I first read it:

Nature’s apology for bleak downpour

a gift from the sun as it

shines brightly once more.

Beauty travelling miles

Included in the collection are two blackout poems, sometimes referred to as ‘found poetry’ or used as writing exercises, when the writer takes an article and discovers something new within it. ‘Pink Moon’ is a perfect example of when this style works well.

‘Autumn Leaves’ is both desperately beautiful and sad at the same time. Imagery and grief come flooding through through this poem, and the lines:

Autumn leaves litter an angry sky

and

October death scattered all around

were powerfully effective, and haunted my own imagination and memories.

A favourite of mine from this collection was ‘The Snow Carpet’. A delightful poem about the joy that crisp white snow can bring out in people:

Sparkling with a thousand tiny diamonds entwined in its fibres

The snow carpet invites sledgers and skiers to its smooth surface

And children shouting and playing and throwing snowballs…

 

Another line which struck me as simple, yet perfect was from ‘Kitchen Colours’:

I smell the warmth of home

in my Mother’s kitchen.

And describing her Mother’s cooking:

Loving hands carefully stirring a saucepan of something delicious.

Mel is an extremely talented writer who has developed a marvellous collection of work. The poems are full and deep, covering a range of topics, but keeping the theme of natural colours and emotion to the forefront. It’s a wonderful read. I urge you to go and get a copy of it, and add it to your book shelf.

Mel’s Website

Books From The Pantry: Forest Rain-Spiritual Learnings for a New Age: by Michael Forester: reviewed by Kev Milsom

It was in the summer of the millennium year that I began to write from the heart. For almost twenty years, I had written of profit and capital…but until that fateful year, I had now known what it was to bow my head to the calling of life contract and karma…I watched, incapable of acting to prevent it. I had nowhere to go then, but into the printed word. From that August onward, I poured the substance of my energy onto the page’.

Amongst the various forms of creative writing to choose from, one form can be invariably tough, as it crosses into the potentially dangerous waters of ‘this is what I think’; used primarily in internet blogs, autobiographies and ‘self-help’ books. The upside of this can be that we gain personal insights into the internal ‘machinery’ of the author, however, the downside can be that the writer comes across as someone insisting/demanding that we listen to their words, accompanied by a sense of superiority and egotistical arrogance.

Luckily, for all readers of fine words, the author Michael Forester is a superbly gifted writer; employing a precise set of joyous communicative skills – in his 2017 book Forest Rain – Spiritual Learnings For A New Age – as he seeks to relay some complex and detailed ideas towards his readers.

For Michael, this is a departure from his fictional work, such as Dragonsong & The Goblin Child and Other Stories (both released in 2016) but he traverses any potential ‘minefields’ attached to this writing genre with ease, relaying personal thoughts and philosophical foundations without any edge of pushiness or demand. As such, the reader never feels pressured into any form of ‘conversion’ and is kept at a safe, observational distance.

Michael’s writing style is simplistically beautiful – a combination of life writing chapters, separated by heartfelt poems that add texture and depth to his prose. Often emotionally charged and highly personal, again it is Michael’s polished skill as a writer that allows us into his world for a ‘peek’, yet never do we feel as if we are nosing. For example, from a chapter entitled ‘Lessons From The Death of a Marriage’:

We did not see it at first. It came as to a tree in canker. The discolouration of our love took time to become visible, for the branches to lose their sap and harden…those around us, then and now, tell us that our union wore that autumnal look for years…we, ourselves, were the last to see it, for neither of us would acknowledge the impending death of love. So tightly had the cords been wound, that to cease to love, to cease to be together, was inconceivable to either of us.’

Forest Rain is riddled with excellent writing, beautifully communicated and luxuriously gift-wrapped for our senses. Again, as with the above quotation, it would be easy to overburden, or inflict the reader with a sense of personal intrusion, but Michael keeps us just at arm’s-length throughout the 148 pages of this book, as he relays a combination of monologues pertaining to his life events & thoughts, alongside a varied example of exquisite and pertinent poetry; some longer pieces and others only a few lines in totality, such as ‘Flying Fish’:

And we are but flying fish

breaking the surface for a moment

to bask in the reflected glory

of a transient elevation.

In many ways, this resembles an autobiography, yet the reader is taken on a far deeper journey, as if the author is inviting us deeper into his own personal world, opening up doors that few writers would dare to reveal to their literary audience. Again, the key is balance…too much insight and we may feel that we are intruding into Michael’s personal world. Too little insight and we may feel that the project has been both pointless and unnecessary. Because the nature of the topics covered by Michael hold such fascinating human interest, we remain keen to hear his voice.

Of course, it is also vitally important with this genre that we like Michael; else we are covering 148 pages of words without remotely caring about the source. If he gets on a ‘soap box’, do we hang in there? If he comes over as selfish and overbearing, where’s the motivation not to put the book down and turn the television on? Thankfully, Michael comes across as a lovely, warm, genuine man and not just because of his chosen words that he places down upon paper. This is not a sales job…we are not being asked to buy into anything, merely to listen and attempt to understand his personal journey through life and the lessons he has learned from his journey, both positive and negative, so that we may gain understanding and growth.

As such, we start page one as a stranger and become a trusted friend long before the final line is done. This is not a book saying ‘Listen to me!’…it’s two people chatting about life in front of a pub log fire, safe and secure in the knowledge that we are in the finest company and all is well with the world…able to broach any subject, such as dealing with oncoming deafness, how angry humans can be, the mysteries of love, and even the impending death of a father suffering with Parkinson’s Disease.

I know that soon you will go gently. It has never been your way to rage and you will not rage now at the dying of the light…then, when the rituals are done, when they have fussed over your shell to their hearts’ content, when they have cried their tears…then it is you and I that shall rise from the table and take our leave. We shall walk within the forest. For we never did. We shall stand in the storms together. For we never did…We shall each hold the heart of the other. For we never did. We shall, each of us, see the soul of the other. For we never did. And once, just once, we shall each of us say unto the other, ‘I love you’. For we never did.’

This book is an absolute gem and I feel honoured to have read it. I sincerely wish that I’d written it.

Get your copy of Forest Rain 🙂

Book From The Pantry: A Murder of Crowe: Something Wicked by Tom Barter: reviewed by Shirley Milsom

Gravel sprayed across the highway beneath the wheels of Maximus Crowe’s motorbike as it sped, far over the legal speed-limit down the London roads.

In Peckham, police cars surrounded a terraced house. The upstairs window was open. Police had set up a perimeter at both ends of the street to prevent any members of the press from getting in. DS Ambrose Rookwood’s calm, measured tones were projected through a megaphone to the upstairs room.

‘Julian, I want you to remain calm’ said Rookwood soothingly. ‘If you just put down the gun and come with us, we can get you help. This doesn’t have to end badly. We can make sure your wife and kids get the care they need. Look at them; you love them, don’t you? Well they love you. And we don’t point guns at our loved ones do we Julian? No. No pointing guns at loved ones. Okay Julian, we’re not going to hurt you, just listen to my voice, I need you to come outside and …’, the sound of Rookwood’s voice was drowned out by the growling engine of an approaching bike. Rolling his eyes, he lowered the megaphone and turned to see the figure of Crowe shooting down the street towards them on the back of his Ducati, his long, black Prada coat billowing behind him, Shoot to Thrill by AC/DC blaring from his I-Phone. Skidding to a halt, Crowe leaped off his bike and deactivated his I-Phone as the song drew to a close. ‘S’up?’ he asked, whipping off his shades.

It is fair to say that from these opening paragraphs I thought that this was going to be a book more suited to a male reader, as the description of Crowe seemed to be similar to the heroic characters of many a crime fighting film or novel. It would be so easy to picture George Clooney or Will Smith in that sweeping Prada coat whilst riding the motorbike and screaming to a halt at the Police perimeter. I would go even further to say that I needed to read a couple of chapters more before I was completely on board with the central character, and was even starting to identify with him.

Let’s start with the story-line. Crowe is an ex-policeman turned private investigator who is hired by the police to solve particularly grizzly series of murders of children in a village called Cantrip. These happened years ago and then stopped, and now it appears they are happening all over again. This time a child has been crucified upside down on a cross. Of course, this smacks of devil worshipping. In the guise of a journalist, he soon links up with some of the village police who seem to be very shy of speaking about the murders. Crowe meets with the residents of the village and wants to talk of the loss of their children, where he seems to be met by stony silence. That is, until he meets with the local ‘Lord of the Manor’, Baron D’Anton and his butler, Darlington, and the Baron’s daughter, Lili. The Baron has allowed gypsies to camp out on his land and it is rumoured that they may be responsible in some way for the recent deaths.

Crowe, who is full of bravado and character, often finds himself in awkward situations, but there is no doubt that he is on the side of good, and one always hopes that good will prevail. It is twisty-turny in its plot, and has you reading each page eager to get to the bottom of it all.

Tom Barter has a great gift for words, and he weaves a wonderful web of drama, mystery and intrigue in Cantrip, and he builds characters beautifully as the book progresses. This was, for me, a read which I began to warm to because of Tom’s use of prose. From there, it turned into something which was compelling and thoroughly enjoyable to read right through to the last page. I can heartily recommend it.

All rights reserved © Tom Barter

Books From The Pantry: Midlife Crisis by Jason Whittle: Reviewed by Inez De Miranda

The first time I heard of the concept of a midlife crisis I was a teenager, and my forty-something father had just purchased his very first motorcycle. He rode the thing a few times with either me or my mother panicking on the back seat, and then the machine quietly disappeared from our lives, never to be seen again.

The midlife crisis that Clayton Joyce goes through in Jason Whittle’s novel is a little more invasive.

It all starts with Clayton’s fortieth birthday, which he celebrates with his wife and young son.

Clayton is cool about turning forty. He won’t be having a midlife crisis, he reasons, because midlife crises are for those who are disappointed with their lives and he, Clayton, is doing just fine: running his own company, parenting a bright and healthy son and enjoying a stable marriage in which he and his wife “still had a sex life; they did it at least once a month because otherwise they’d start to think they had problems. In fact, since it was his birthday, this month’s night would be tonight.”

But after this monthly sex act – which is presented in a hilarious scene that in itself is reason enough to read this book – it does strike Clayton that he’s put on quite a lot of weight and he decides to take up jogging. That’s when things start to go wrong.

On the book cover Midlife Crisis is described as ‘a darkly comic psychological thriller’ .

At the beginning of the book, and for a fair bit into it, the comic aspect is most prominent. So prominent even that you might wonder why it’s presented as a thriller.

But that becomes obvious as the cosy, funny story starts to change: it becomes less cosy and a little more tense, and after another few chapters all cosiness had been tossed aside and you will find yourself sucked into a dark and disturbing thriller, so nail-bitingly scary that it will stop you from sleeping.

This change in atmosphere is so gradual that when I was reading the book, I didn’t consciously notice it until I stopped reading and realised I’d become quite agitated. I was anxious to learn what the hell would happen next, so I got back to the book as soon as I could. What happened next was unexpected and, I admit, rather shocking…

Midlife Crisis is a novella, so a fairly short read. The various characters are well-presented and Clayton, the main character, is particularly believable. He is a man to my heart: geeky, clumsy and neurotic, and the life he and his wife have together is an extraordinary depiction of the very ordinary.

With Clayton coming across as innocent and likeable and his life being so (sometimes awkwardly) familiar, the evolvement of his rather dull existence into a full-blown thriller is all the more poignant. Midlife Crisis might leave the reader wondering if something like this could indeed happen to an Everyman like Clayton – and if it could, could it then also happen to someone like them?

Midlife Crisis is not suitable for everyone, and definitely only for adults. There is sex, there is violence, and towards the end there is also a particularly gruesome scene where the two are combined. You’ll need a strong stomach for that one.  

But if you can handle that (or if you just scan over that one scene) Midlife Crisis offers an unusual and exciting read which will have you laugh out loud, gasp with horror and wonder about human nature.

Get your copy here 🙂