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 🙂

Books From The Pantry: A Universe of Love by Deborah. M Hodgetts: reviewed by Claire Faulkner

Over the centuries there have been thousands of poems written about love. Each one perfectly unique. Each one telling us a different story. Each one describing a different intensity of love. In her new poetry collection A Universe of Love, Deborah M Hodgetts invites the reader to join her on a journey to the soul. Her poems are strong and passionate, and cover every aspect of love. The collection is a culmination of Deborah’s work, which she has been sharing on her blog ‘The Beautiful Music of Love’, for the last six years. The collection is also beautifully illustrated by Stewart Clough.

This is a big collection of work, over 60 poems. Each one helping us to see, inspire and appreciate the beauty and complexity that is love. There were a number of poems which stood out to me in this collection. I was immediately drawn into ‘Come Home’, which opens with the line, “We do not see eye to eye” and continues to tell the story of wishing for a lost love to come back.   

There was surprising and questioning love in ‘The Robot Wife’:

“I built you for a purpose, /to serve me through my life. / But then quite absurdly; / I asked you to be my wife.”

For me, one of the most heartfelt poems was ‘Changing Places’, the story of twins being separated at birth. The language was tender and incredibly moving:

“I no longer a double act but a solitary, / twinkling / light, lost feeling cold and half whole.”

Another was ‘The Letter’, which I read over and over. It beautifully captures the act of sending a letter to someone you care about:

“Like a floating leaf, travelling through the air. / You travel through spaces, / people and places unseen.”

Sending a letter is something we don’t seem to do any more, yet we all remember how lovely it is to receive one, and that feeling is captured beautifully in this poem.

In complete contrast, there is also a tense love of life story in ‘Emergency!’:

“Paramedic pumping, to keep me alive. / Tubes and wires attached, to keep life on / my side.”

Not necessarily what you’d expect to see in a collection of love poems, but that’s the reason it works so well.   

This collection has every type of possible love poem you can think of. It’s a remarkable and impressive body of work with beautiful imagery and language.

Books From The Pantry: Out Damned Spot by F. J. McQueen: Reviewed by Kev Milsom

‘William stared down at his vague bellybutton which had shrunk to the size of a match head.  For the past six months, in fact, ever since he blew the whistle on the use of tarot packs in diagnostics, magic spells in the theatre and numerology on waiting lists, his bellybutton had begun to shrink. He’d kept it open with an earlobe plug.’

As an opening statement in this review, I believe it’s fair to say that if you are a reader who enjoys mundane characters, following well-worn, linear plot lines and all-too familiar settings, this book is probably not for you. However, if you like your literature to open up the imaginative mind and massage it for hours with surreal explosions of unusualities, then F. J. McQueen’s 2016 novel, Out Damned Spot – William Shakespeare Crime Scene Cleaner, could very easily be right up your creative alley.

Let’s start with the story-line. When the novel begins, William Shakespeare, a married parent with an addiction to jazz and Parma Violets from Balham, London, is a junior doctor working for Largesse Cottage Hospital in Hampstead. However, William’s tenure as a doctor is about to come to an abrupt end, and he faces his last ever shift. The reason? It turns out that William is outraged at secretive, superstitious practices within the staff of the NHS, such as witchcraft and sorcery, in order to fight disease and illness, such as placing Ouija boards on the stomachs of patients in order to form a diagnosis.  

Naturally, after becoming a ‘whistle-blower’, William’s social and career status reaches all-time lows, accompanied by intimidating, bullying tactics from his fellow workers, such as placing unpleasant items in his locker, surrounding his car in salt and replacing the windscreen wipers with salted rough, twigs. As his medical career is now redundant, William makes a bold decision: he will use his medical knowledge to become a crime scene cleaner – a decision largely based upon William hearing the cackling prophesies of three ‘witches’ within a locker in the cellar at Largesse Hospital. After hiring two odd assistants to aid his new business (who know less than William about crime cleaning, which totals precisely zero), William Shakespeare is ready to tackle the world of criminal activity. Well, at least once he and his clueless assistants have mastered the day course: ‘101 in Violence-Induced Debris and Staining’.

‘I’ll begin,’ she said, and the chatter subsided.

Murder leaves thirteen types of blot, requiring five methods of deletion. Violence creates two types of ghost, the murder snappy, the murder durational, the murder accurate, the murder incommensurate, the murder solitary, the murder communal and complicit, the murder scheduled, the murder ad hoc, the murder elementary, the murder urban, the murder irresolute, the murder intended, the murder for murder’s sake, the murder revengeful…the murder hierarchical, the murder canonical, the murder of equals, the murder of disadvantage, the murder devotional, the murder pathetical, the murder commodious, the murder involuntary, the murder scatalogical…’

As suspected from the name of the protagonist, F. J. McQueen’s novel pulls heavily on strings associated with THE William Shakespeare – the genius fellow who wrote all those plays in the 16th and 17th centuries. This association comes in multiple forms. Firstly, the names of the characters in this book tend to have a Shakespearean link. For example, Pilot Inspector Benedicke Othello and his wife, Desdemona, Co-pilot Sergeant Iago McDuff and Portia Avalon. William’s wife is naturally named Anne (after Anne Hathaway), although their twin daughters Odile and Odette are named after the black and white swans in Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’. Furthermore, the plot of this book follows Shakespearean themes and characters. The writing style is quirky and follows its own path with ferocious tenacity.  

As stated in the opening paragraph, this is not a place for boring, grey, predictive characters. The pace of the writing moves quickly, covering some unusual ground, but ultimately the journey is worth it, as the reader’s imagination is constantly fed and watered throughout the pages.

Something very different and enjoyable.  

Get your copy here from Urbane Publications 🙂

Books From The Pantry: Love by Robin Barratt: Reviewed by Natalie Denny

Love. The four-letter word that has captured creatives for centuries is the defining theme of LOVE – A Collection of Poetry and Prose on Loving and Being in Love, the second of the Collections of Poetry and Prose book series compiled by Robin Barratt.

LOVE is a varied assortment of poetry and short prose from contributors around the world from Australia to England, from South Africa to Sri Lanka to the USA, to name a few. The origins of the pieces are very prominent in the submissions as they switch between contemporary and traditional styles with distinctive cultural influences running throughout and a real sense of place in many of the stories.

The book is part of a series, the first a replica of the same idea but with loneliness as the theme. The foreword from Barrat explains the main aim of this project was to provide another platform and avenue for creatives across the globe to have their work published and read, regardless of their defining characteristics or biographies. Barrat isn’t a poet and had, by personal admission, accepted nearly every submission and in its original state. I think this shows somewhat in the overall quality of the pieces.

The title boasts over 150 submissions of varying length from over eighty writers and poets. The content takes us on a epic love story from infatuation, the new spark of a relationship, brief sweet encounters, the tender familiarity of an all-time love, to the mundane, everyday tasks that bind two people as one; but it also balances more darker themes of unrequited love, jealousy, vulnerability in love, finding love online, love fading and the painful moving on from a relationship to pastures new. There’s also platonic love depicted between siblings and animals, and religious love, as well as the love of sentimental objects, capturing a wide variety of meanings and relationships.

Whenever dealing with love you will always run against the tide of clichés. I think even these viewpoints should have a level of endearment awarded. As a love-struck, dopamine-addled fool you feel that no one else in the history of the world has felt this feeling. I’m sure we can all remember times in our lives when love has made us conform to our more cringe-worthy selves. So despite my salubrious scepticism, I do believe there is a place for poems like that, though there does seem to be a generous amount within this collection.

Despite that, there’s some absolutely beautiful pieces contained within these pages. My personal favourites include:

‘Today’ by Rachel Walker, which has a lovely descriptive normality – being with your favourite person in the world, of those little blessed moments that add up to something infinite. Walker’s second poem, ‘7 years 4 days 11 months’, is also a heartfelt calendar of love and how it can haunt and liberate a soul.

Molly Donald’s ‘Tell Me It’s Real’ banishes all pink hearts and butterflies in a poem about authentic love that is ‘more than a Hollywood movie’.

Keith Nunes’ ‘Meeting on a Footpath’ details how ‘lovers effortlessly crush each other’ even when the relationship is no more, and ties in nicely with ‘The Tone of Your Voice’ by Martin Redfern depicts witnessing the heart wrenching observation of the one he loves loving someone else. This could also be grouped with ‘Black Cream for Ruined Hearts’ by David Hollywood, which has an excellent use of sounds and visceral, vivid language.

‘A Little Tin’ by John Stockdill resonated, as it told the story of responding to hate with love; ‘only kind words’ can be more effective than anything else in reaching a person.

‘Cruelty’ by Lonita Nugrahayu dissects the nature of love, namely how ‘we fall in love … we rise in hate’ when healing from a relationship.

‘One Word Only’ by Sarah Spivey was a grand and beautiful testament to self love in the face of any flaws glimpsed in the mirror at the age of thirty-seven having just woken up.

The short poem ‘Love’ by Andrew Hunter sums up the sentiment of the collection perfectly likening the heart to a strange muscle that ‘beats us up’.

There is something for everyone in this book. I was delighted by the variation in writing styles and subject interpretation. If you’re looking for new writers with fresh perspectives, from a range of places, then this collection is worth your time.

 Get your own copy of Love 🙂

Books From The Pantry: The Changeling’s Child by Rachael Lindsay: Reviewed by Shannon Milsom

‘I is different, my Dear Ones,’ Hobnail agreed. ‘I strives to be different! My aunt, long time ago, is teaching me skills and magical uses for my extra fingers. She is teaching me big lots: most of alls, how to live when others wants me gone. And now I lives and lives.’

As a child, some of my fondest memories are from happy, sun-dappled afternoons spent exploring the wilderness of my garden; making glorious muddy messes and checking for treasures hidden under rocks and tucked away in crevices. A shy girl, I found companions in the animals and insects that made their home in my tiny, private jungle.  

Upon reading The Changeling’s Child by Rachael Lindsay, I was immediately transported back to that magical, childhood place. Rachael Lindsay’s writing evokes perfectly the enchantment and strange wistful wildness of nature. Laugh-out-loud funny in some parts, and touching in others, it is a perfect read for an imaginative child (or indeed, a child of any age!)

The Changeling’s Child by Rachael Lindsay tells the story of Hobnail, an ugly and unloved misfit who lives in the forest with her two ‘Dear Ones’, Warty Toad and Slimey Slug. Outcast by even her mother who thought her strange daughter to be an evil changeling fairy child, Hobnail is taught magic by her aunt and then finds herself a home in the quiet solitude of the forest with only her pets for company.

However, even in the forest there is nastiness afoot. The cunning Leaf-Man and his spies hatch a clever plan to try and get Hobnail out of the forest for good; a plan that involves a human baby.

The characters in The Changeling’s Child are engaging, funny, and have a real sense of depth to them that gives the story warmth and soul. Hobnail’s past is presented to the reader through the bedtime stories that she tells to her pets, which is a lovely and poignant touch.

Rachael Lindsay also puts lots of expressiveness into the dialogue of her characters, especially Hobnail:

‘My dears! This is no time to be larking-fun and playful in a pool! Time and the dimsk are against us. We must hurry on our way.’

I also found the exchanges between Warty Toad and Slimey Slug to be highly amusing. The two pets each jealously vie for the attention of their mistress; often trying to outdo each other in their endeavours to please Hobnail, and usually with hilarious results!  

This, as well as some beautiful descriptive writing and gorgeous illustration, really helps us, as readers, to paint a picture of Hobnail, her friends, enemies, and the enchanted, peaceful haven of the forest they all inhabit. (Although that picture could possibly be a little slimy and splattered with woodlouse jam).

Get your own copy of The Changeling’s Child

Books From The Pantry: Waiting Spaces by David Hollywood: reviewed by Kev Milsom

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‘What is contained in this book is a collection that responded to moments in time, or urges to express desperation, or are a simple observation of sometimes everyday experiences and aspirations that I yearn for. Hopefully they will sometimes gladden you, the reader, and on others annoy you, or make you sorrowful, and maybe through a couple of examples, terrify the life in you.’

Waiting Spaces: A Collection of Poems Describing our Life’s Thoughts, Feelings and Experiences covers an impressive total of seventy-eight pieces of poetry by the Irish-born poet, David Hollywood; each ranges in length from a few lines to much longer pieces.

As a reader, my initial impressions focused on the simplicity of the poetry. Sometimes, the rhyming patterns involve a basic a-b, a-b or ab-ab style, although this is by no means indicative of the whole book. Personally, I absolutely loved this element as it emphasises a key aspect of why I enjoyed the essence of this book.  

Namely, it is easy to read. It allows – and effortlessly draws – the reader into the mind of the poet’s thinking and expression, something which always personally alerts me towards the skill of the writer. For me, this is summed up in one of the two essays written at the beginning of the book, one focusing on the question of ‘What is Poetry?’ and another asking ‘Is Poetry the Poor Relative of Prose?’ In the latter introductory essay, David Hollywood creates a poem which I found to be very poignant and reflective of the book ahead.

What has happened to worn chairs and wooden tables?

With a carafe of wine and old oranges,

In a garden together with friends,

Who greet you with their welcome,

And support of each other.

It belongs to some other time!

Imagine a walk through a thin wood,

To the edge of a rise,

To discover the finest of views in the morning,

Finding dew in the middle of your thoughts,

And the sun has already started to warm.

At the end I should love the world to be elegant!

To know that my company was anticipated,

Enough to say ‘good day’,

Fine manners and good behaviour,

With the best of company,

And only that which is true and noble.

And nothing of these times!

The carefree world that the opening lines create sum up the essence of this collection of poetry, for each poem holds a tone which suggests not someone preaching their intensive views to an audience, but rather the gentle voices of friends meeting in a relaxed, tranquil setting, sharing thoughts and laughter over a glass of fine wine and enjoying the company of kindred souls. As such, everything is easy to understand and relate to. At no point does the reader wonder where they are, what is happening and why.

Ultimately, creating poetry appearing to be so simple and straight-forward perhaps runs the criticism from some quarters of lacking literary skill or craft. Certainly not so here, for David Hollywood’s words shine out from every piece, ranging from the shorter, four-line creations, such as ‘Past Tomorrows and ‘Traffic Jams’ (‘When driving in Dublin…Avoid the Quickest routes…Because they always take you…Down the slowest streets’), to longer pieces such as ‘Youths for Profits, Without Sin’, covering a wide range of thoughts and emotions, including poetry involving the complexities of love and romance, towards more philosophical and contemplative topics.

Again, within each poem, David Hollywood’s inner voice is loud, yet never overbearing…deep, yet never remote, and, as previously stated, best consumed in the company of one’s finest allies, easily inspired by exposure to excellent poetry.  

Waiting Spaces: A Collection of Poems Describing our Life’s Thoughts, Feelings and Experiences may be one of the longer titles we’ve covered here at Ink Pantry, but ultimately this collection delivers – doing exactly what it says on the tin.

 

Special Inky Book Launch: The Many Beautiful Worlds of Death by Mark Sheeky: reviewed by Kev Milsom

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“About six weeks,” says the doctor. “It’s hard to say. We don’t like to say. Everyone is different. But not long. Not six months. Although that happens sometimes. Rarely. Six weeks is typical.”

With this opening paragraph, we are soberly introduced to the world of George and a medical diagnosis that would strike fear into any individual, brought to us by Mark Sheeky in his book, The Many Beautiful Worlds of Death.  

True, George is apparently not long for this world. Yet George is not a soul to accept this news and decides to fight back against his fatal prognosis; his major weapon is in the knowledge that he can utilise his talents as a successful inventor, to create ‘Plan A’: namely, the construction of a time machine. Once successful, ‘Plan B’ will involve travelling back through history to consult with the most brilliant minds ever born in the entire universe, with the ultimate goal of defeating his terminal illness.

Following George’s journey, the reader is transported into a delightfully surreal future world. We learn that George shares his world with Pauline, a wife who spends more time and conversation with the flowers in her garden than with her husband – along with the attentions of a handsome neighbour, Roger. We’re also quickly under no misapprehensions as to George’s inventing talents, as their house is also shared by a robotic son, Adam, constructed by George.  

Within this family trio, it’s impossible not to feel sorrow for George’s predicament at his most desperate time – a wife who loves him, yet seeks guidance from sunflowers, along with a robot son who lacks emotional empathy and understanding. This book is George’s personal journey, and we are swept along with it, including how his illness affects himself and those closest to him.  

‘The curtains blew into the room once more, waltzing graciously for one dramatic curl before being sucked back, pulled towards the window, covering it with their cotton film, showing each angle and sharp edge of the window frame. Marking the contours of the architecture like a brass rubbing that grasps at reality but never attains it. The light outside was now dim, and rain had begun to fall heavily, casting streaking shadows on the thin yellow drapes and hissing, dripping, making a periodic yet irregular tam tam sound on the glass panes of the open window, unseen.’

The writing style of The Many Beautiful Worlds of Death is often intriguing. As a very successful and talented artist, the descriptive elements of Mark Sheeky’s book are reminiscent to me of viewing – or being inside – a massive painting; something I personally found fascinating. At times, Mark is literally ‘painting with words’ and the effect draws the reader into each scene with further depth and interest with well-constructed sensory observations.  

Also, I have to say that I adored the opening chapter – essentially a short poem, along with musical notation, so that the poem could be played, or sung – once again demonstrating Mark’s musical creativity as a composer. Inserting this as an opening chapter is genius…and yes, I both sang and played it on the piano; something I would highly recommend.

In many ways this opening musical piece sets the scene for the rest of the book, as the author demonstrates creative freedom and expression on every page. What I enjoyed most about the book is that I’ve never come across a book written in the same style. It’s unique and different; something I adore within any creative genre.  

Visually inspiring, highly imaginative and often deeply moving, touching on psychologically thought-provoking and metaphysical elements. Love it.   

 

Get your copy here

 

Ink Pantry are hosting a special book launch with Mark Sheeky and his wonderful novella The Many Beautiful Worlds of Death in Leicester on Saturday 22nd October from 1pm at Café Mbriki. We invite you to come and meet Mark, who will be signing his books on the day, and the Inky elves who work behind the scenes. Come and join our Inky Jamboree and eat cake!

 

 

 

 

Books From The Pantry: Lonely by Robin Barratt: Reviewed by Shannon Milsom

 

Lonely

Lonely is an often poignant and touching poetry and short story compilation, put together by publisher and writer Robin Barratt. In the compilation there are 118 contributions from 57 writers, each with their own unique and culturally different way of writing.

Why a compilation on loneliness, one might ask?  Robin’s answer is simple:

‘Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, and no matter what sort of lives we have led, or are leading, most of us at some point have felt, or feel, lonely or alone.’

Loss, is of course, a key theme, and one which many of the writers in Lonely chose to describe, such as in Courtney Speedy’s short story ‘But I Loved You All the Same’.  The story describes in vivid and unusual rhyming prose the loss of one man’s wife to mental illness. The reader gets a real insight into how bright and wonderful and chaotic everything was before the woman’s mind deteriorated, and how, even though he has moved on, the narrator still yearns for her.

‘I can still smell you on my pillow and taste you in my morning coffee.’

Dadby Maire Malone explores the theme of loss of a parent in her short but sweet poem.  Gentle memories of a father lend the lines a dreamlike quality that lets the reader observe small yet poignant snapshots of someone’s life.

‘I was a child again running down the lane

For your ounce of Condor or packet of Gillette’s’

Although lots of the poems and stories are full of descriptive, emotive and provoking language, some of my favourites are those which are subtle and thought-provoking in the way they almost matter-of-factly describe the feeling of being lonely.

Lonelinessby Margaret Clough illustrates this in such a way.

‘I hold a book that I have read before. My fingers, as they turn a page, can feel the emptiness between the lines.’

The poem gives the reader a look into the seemingly joyless and bleak life of someone living alone. The monotonousness and mundaneness of the descriptions emote a feeling of hopelessness and despair. Then the last line, in its simplicity, makes you stop and pause:

‘I have stopped listening for the phone to ring’.

One day in Spring’ by Kathleen Boyle is another piece of writing with artful subtleness. Kathleen’s short story deals with death and loneliness. The world is described to you through the eyes of an old woman, Joan, who knows her time on this Earth is nearly up.  The descriptions of what she observes in her last day are poignant in their beauty, for you are aware, as the character is, that this is the last time she will see them:

‘Joan acknowledged that this day, with its puffs of white cloud drifting high above the little town, the intermittent sunshine brightening pink blossomed trees and crocus strewn grass verges, was a different day.’

Joan’s transition into death is again, subtly written and moving. As the reader, you get attached to the character of Joan throughout the story. You feel her last day is lonely and not without sadness and regret, but also that she is ready and acceptant of death. The last line, understated and exquisite, gives Joan her final release.

‘Pain free, she stood and stepped away into the dark.’

Loneliness is the most human of emotions. So simple and yet also so complex in its many forms. Lonely manages to capture the essence of this, with each writer painting their own intricate picture of what they perceive loneliness to be. The reader is privileged to be able to dip into the book and step into one of these snapshots of human emotion at any time; each so different from the next.

Ultimately, this is what makes this compilation so engrossing, magical and utterly relatable. As human beings we have all felt some degree of loneliness. Whether it be the heartbreak of losing a spouse or family member, or the quietness of solitude when living alone; what makes Lonely so brilliant is that it explores these feelings from all angles and backgrounds.  

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Books From The Pantry: The Spirit Within by Sheila Renee Parker: Reviewed by Kev Milsom

Spirit

  ”Cassy, you’re a really good student. You have a lot of potential to do really great things. Just don’t get distracted, okay?” he said in a sturdy voice.

   ”What do ya mean, distracted?”

   “I think you know exactly what I’m referring to,” he insisted, while staring over my shoulder at Amber. She didn’t seem to notice because she was too busy playing with her cell phone.

    “I’ll be okay,” I said.

    “I’m sure you will, Cassy, but just remember that those who work harder in life get rewarded a lot more than those who don‘t.”

    “Huh?” He confused me. I had no idea what he was talking about.

    “What I’m trying to say is that persistence is effort and I know you’ll go far if you don’t let certain influences get in your way,” he said, not losing sight of Amber.

    “Thanks, Professor Stone, but everything’s gonna be fine.” I smiled as I tried to reassure him.

    “It’s your future. Don’t let anyone interfere with that.”

    “Yeah. Sure. See ya Thursday.”

Although I’m well past the expiry date and my memory is admittedly not what it once was, I’m reliably assured that life as a late teenager can be a confusing time.

This is certainly the case for Cassandra Blakemore (known to everyone as Cassy) – the central character in Sheila Renee Parker’s debut novel, The Spirit Within. When we first meet Cassy, she struggling to cope with various aspects of everyday life in the town of Fairview, Texas; notably her schooling and the frustrating qualities of a best friend called Amber, (mentioned in the above quote), who believes that life should be less about taking it seriously and more about parties, boys and more parties. On top of this, Cassy also has to cope with growing up with the loss of both parents, a well-meaning, but interfering, Uncle called Mitch and coping with her ‘gem’ of a boyfriend, Raleigh Nichols, who likes to drink…and then drink plenty more.

While this would be considered enough for any young soul to deal with, new and odder challenges begin to materialise, when Cassy begins to experience unusual sensations of a paranormal nature which begin to impinge upon her life. When these mysterious happenings put a strain upon her relationship, Cassy is faced with a stack of unwanted questions and some important decisions that have to be faced up to.

The story is told in a first person narrative, which adds considerable weight to the protagonist in this novel. While there is a lot of dialogue throughout the book, the author makes sure to keep events moving along nicely. To aid this, the chapters are each of a reasonable length – each beginning with a simple description which sets the forthcoming scene. This all ensures that the reader is kept firmly attached to the plot as it moves along and allows for good rhythm and pace. The introduction of the ‘weirder stuff’ is gradually introduced and keeps the reader intrigued by what direction(s) the book is going to be travelling in.

This is a key issue with the The Spirit Within as the balancing, juggling act that is required to maintain the central themes associated with growing up, dealing with relationship problems and terrifying paranormal vibrations is a writing challenge that’s certainly not on the easy scale of difficulty. Sheila Renee Parker manages to combine these foundation issues well, adopting a solid writing style which allows the reader to relax into the book and just go along with the literary ride, meaning that when the surprises do occur the reader is not left staring at the page and wondering what just occurred. We know the characters well, because the author has put a lot of work into making them as three-dimensional as possible.

This is certainly a book that younger readers in their tens and twenties would enjoy, but also one that appeals to anyone who relishes tales associated with the paranormal. It’s also clear that the author has done her research into these topics, which furthermore adds a sense of realism to the plot, with forays into ESP, psychokinesis, premonition and more.

A perfect book for the beach, in what’s left of our summer.

Get your copy here 🙂