Books From The Pantry: Hope by Rhian Ivory: Reviewed by Kev Milsom

Plan B’s are for people who fail.

I just never, not once, not even for a tiny moment, thought that I would ever need one.

As a gentleman who relishes being honest and true to his word, it’s fair to say that the arrival through my letterbox of Rhian Ivory’s new novel, Hope announced a personal sense of mixed emotions.

On the uppity side, I’ve read Rhian’s writing before with her splendid 2015 novel, The Boy Who Drew The Future. I also met Rhian last year at Cheltenham’s Wychwood Festival and heard her speaking in gloriously enthusiastic tones about Hope, which was ‘mostly finished’ at that time.

Surely, both excellent signs that Rhian’s new novel would also set my creative senses alight, as her earlier novel had done so? Well…my initial response was more cautious and it’s also fair to say that my good lady wife almost took over the review, before I’d read a single page.

My solitary concern? The genre.

As a gentleman, my preferred genre(s) within literature fall pretty much within the same borders as my television and cinematic tastes. I’m not adverse to a well-written rom-com here and there (‘Love Actually’ and ‘About Time’, take a bow). I’ll even admit to sofa-dancing and singing off-key to a few, melodic musicals over the years, but it’s also fair to say that I do tend to fall back on my preset, safer preferences – usually involving fast action, invigorating car chases, starships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate….that sort of thing. It’s also fair to say that I’ve never really tackled (or felt the desire to tackle) a young adult novel with a female protagonist, focusing on things that a young, female protagonist might be concerned about or engaged in. Might there be a car chase? Fisticuffs or football? Both?

‘Do you want me to do it?’ asked my wife helpfully, as she watched me pore over the back cover of Hope. It was a serious question, and, admittedly for a good three minutes I hovered between two answers.

Thankfully, by minute four, I’d remembered how good a writer Rhian is and decided to go all in, battle helmet on and wielding my finest impartial reviewer’s battle-cry.

How utterly glad I am now that I did so. But, let’s look at the premise of Hope and what it entails.

Hope Baldi is a young lady, whose ambitious dreams to become a student of acting/singing have been cruelly smashed on rocks of despair due to rejection letters from drama schools. As the book opens, she is on a boat, perched by a rail and staring into the sea. It’s not clear whether her intention is to jump, but nonetheless she is interrupted by the calming Irish voice of a young knight, Riley, who clearly recognises a damsel in distress when he spots one. Riley’s gentle humour, although thoroughly unappreciated by a dejected Hope, is enough to guide her away from the rail and thus, a fascinating friendship is formed.

The reasons for Hope’s despair soon become apparent. Her mother – a soul who doesn’t fully appreciate the depths to which Hope’s drama dreams reach – has given an ultimatum; her daughter can apply to five drama schools, in search of her odd thespian goals, but if nothing has opened up then Hope is to seek out a ‘normal’ life, away from acting. Hope has just received her fifth rejection letter and currently a deep, dark cloud of normality has fallen upon her; all ambitions broken and laying in tatters.

To make it worse, it also appears as if every single one of her drama friends are knee-deep in acceptance letters from various drama schools & academies and naturally engaged in lengthy celebration rituals and mutual, celebratory slaps on the back. Hope is fighting to keep herself afloat, while her world crumbles all around her.

To deepen the blow, Hope’s best friend, Callie (a strong and feisty character) cannot seem to grasp why Hope is so low, as she herself ponders over which drama school to attend. Also, as if this wasn’t enough, Hope has realised that medically she has ‘issues’; primarily associated with irrational anger.

Rhian’s novel becomes a journey of discovery for Hope, as she battles against depression, despair and illness. To accompany her, she has a rich, varied set of characters from the fields of family and friends; a key aspect of why this novel works so well. Career, illness, depression, love, friendship, family, dreams…all are covered in depth within the pages of Hope.

As previously stated, Rhian Ivory is a great writer. In Hope she brings out a full spectrum of colours for each character portrayed; each shining brightly at times with glittery hues, or displaying deeper layers of a muddier, unclear colour. The truth is that, as in life, each character possess their own flaws and weaknesses and Rhian is never backward in showing these levels to the reader. We get to see everyone for good, or bad and this totally assists us in being able to relate to them, as well as enhancing the main story of Hope Baldi.

The writing is…to put it simply; flawless. The plain beauty of Hope lies in the utter believability of everything; from the locations mentioned, such as the children’s ward of the hospital where Hope is destined to work, alongside her mother, to the realism of the many characters we encounter along the journey. It is also clear that Rhian has engaged in a great deal of personal research to bring everything together into one believable, honest package.

The plot-line is intriguing and never strays into the realms of dull, or mundane. This is also greatly aided by Rhian’s decision to keep the chapters short, so the pages soon begin to fly by and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll get to the end of one chapter and have to make that decision to put the book down to get on with daily life, or perhaps…yes…yes…I’ll just do ONE more chapter…or maybe two.

For me, the best sign of whether a book works is whether it engages with my brain. I found this almost impossible to put down and, trust me (I’m an honest man, see paragraph 1, sentence 1) I don’t say that very often. In fact, it’s a genuinely rare occurrence for me, but Rhian has managed it with ease.

A beautifully, brilliantly-thought out and thoroughly well-planned novel by a very talented and caring writer. Finally, a personal lesson. Perhaps, this is a genre of book that I would never have considered, had I glanced at it on a shop bookshelf. As previously stated, I am so very glad that I did, for verily I have been converted by the writing skills of Rhian Ivory. Amen and several hallelujahs!

More please.

Get your copy of Hope

Books From The Pantry: Vicious by Michael Forester: Reviewed by Kev Milsom

Rule Two: The Game will be initiated upon the occurrence of an event, outside the control of the players, which establishes a tear in the curtain (“a random tear”). Players are free to observe the occurrence of the event if they wish. A player who initiates a tear in the curtain will forfeit the Game and may, at the discretion of the Arbiter, be excluded from any future Game.

Rule Three: The Arbiter will confirm the existence of a randomly established tear in the curtain by passing through the tear’.

It’s fair to say that the plotline to some novels are relatively straightforward and commonplace.

Boy meets girl…girl meets boy. Passions are ignited. Romantic poems are uttered. Mopey ballads are hurriedly composed and played under bedroom windows. There may be a cute and cuddly cat/dog/hamster/aardvark/dragon involved, especially for the ladies, somewhere down the line. A dangerous car chase, gunfight, swords or a set of fisticuffs shall be provided for the gentlemen readers. Perhaps, three quarters of the way through, a passage of doubt or trust shall ensue, whereby boy doubts girl and girl doubts boy, probably down to the fact that boy really doubts boy and girl deeply doubts girl. Ultimately, these silly doubts shall be hurriedly cast aside like the cellophane on an eagerly-awaited DVD and all shall end well, with a kiss and a song, complete with a merry, dual dance into the sunset.

As much as these types of novels are wonderful in their own way, it is a true pleasure to find that Michael Forester’s plotlines hold considerably more depth of meaning and a greater variety of incidents, as visibly demonstrated in his newest publication, Vicious.

OK…so let’s get the basics of the plotline…please remember to hold on tight. Firstly, we have a character called Tolly, or to give her full name Tolly Boudicca Tolpuddle Jones (Mother was a feminist, Father was a trade unionist); sometimes known merely as ‘Tracy’ Now Tolly is not what we would call a ‘one-dimensional character’, because Tolly has…well, to be quite frank, Tolly has enough personal issues to fill a celebrity’s mansion house, to its absolute mock-Tudor limits.

For a start, Tolly is a punk rocker. Not your contemporary, retro-punk, who wishes they had been alive when the likes of The Damned and The Clash were noisily rocking London to its roots in the mid-1970’s. No, Tolly is a genuine antique from that very era; one who witnessed the glories of the bygone days of angry music, blasting out to equally-angry, pogo-dancing, spitting crowds.

In particular, Tolly liked the Sex Pistols. Well…one Sex Pistol in particular…namely the bass player – Sid, of the Vicious variety. Not only did she like Sid Vicious, but they briefly shared a moment of rough passion in an alley after one gig, during which Sid had initiated foreplay by spitting and swearing loudly into Tolly’s face as she watched from the audience. Naturally, to Tolly, this was a sign of true love, destined by the Gods themselves.

Of course, Tolly’s life mission was now crystal clear – she and Sid were destined for each other and nothing/no-one would ever stand in their way, despite the fact that Sid showed not the merest sign of making this happen and refused to acknowledge her mortal existence. Undeterred, Tolly followed the path of her divine ‘holy grail’ in making Sid Vicious her soul mate; a path that would ultimately lead to elements of Trans-Atlantic arousal, denial, cheating, murder and theft.

Thankfully, in 2008, despite Sid being long deceased, Tolly notices a new intern at her workplace, named Henry. The meaning of life suddenly becomes clear. Henry is, without doubt, the reincarnation of Sid Vicious. Thus, Tolly simply HAS to have him for the remainder of eternity and Lord help anyone who stands in her way.

Unfortunately, Henry has some major issues of his own, as he seeks to woo the love of his life, Laura, but has woken up to find a miniature, ugly, ebony talisman in his bedroom, which suddenly springs to life and becomes animated. The talisman – known to Henry as Talis-Man, or simply Talis – spends most of his time in Henry’s pocket, naturally creating chaos in his daily life, especially in his most private of moments with Laura.

And what of Laura? Well, Tolly has her demonic addiction to Sid Vicious and Henry has a tiny, animated talisman causing havoc in his young life, but – not to be outdone – Laura has an angel friend called Gabriel and believes herself to be the future mother of the next Messiah.

Add in a charlatan minister of God, some ethereal characters playing some form of Divine board game throughout the length of the book and you have the basis of ‘Vicious’.

So, the plotline is busier than a bus load of bees. How does it scan for the reader and will we need a notebook, pen & abacus to keep up with unfolding events?

Thankfully, no, for we have an exceptionally talented writer in Michael Forester. The characters are deliciously complex, but the prose takes careful time to explain each step of the way, leaving us in no doubt as to who is who, where/when they are and precisely what is occurring. The ‘when’ part of this is doubly important, as Michael frequently swings us back to the 1970s to tell parts of Tolly’s story but, as each chapter begins with the name of the character being explored and the exact date on which this happens, the reader is never unsure of events.

As usual, Michael’s writing is precise, to the point and positively splattered with fine humour; the latter employed most effectively to bring lightness to some darker elements of the story; particularly surrounding Tolly’s tragic attempts to make sense of the world around her.

The characters in Vicious are clearly individual and never dull. The plotline never once crosses into the world of mediocrity. Michael’s descriptive talents ensure that the reader is always aware of what is happening, even when story events steer us into the world of ‘weirdly odd’.

A thoroughly good read and very much recommended.

Get your copy of Vicious

Books From The Pantry: Cry Baby by Gareth Writer-Davies: Reviewed by Giles Turnbull

There is a sense of transport and movement in Gareth Writer-Davies’ poetry collection, Cry Baby. The pamphlet opens with the title poem which reveals a sense of disappointment that pervades the writing from start to finish:

I was not the imagined girl
ready for gingham ribbons and ankle socks
I was something else … a fist of a child
who bit my mother’s breast
and kicked out at rainbows.

In ‘Milko’:

the milk van delivered
dairy goods
for breakfast and pud
like a carnival float
the bouncing cargo
of gold and silver tops
danced in the crate
as if the party ends at the child’s front door.

These are very sparse poems, not weighted down with adjectives and adverbs; punctuation is rarely present and upper case letters are reserved for proper nouns. The poems are all short, the detail pared back to the bone. It creates a no-fuss remembrance of childhood from the adult’s perspective; a truth that invites no argument:

and when the little train stopped for breath
I came up for air
in Kentish Town
alone and inexact
my parents
two hundred feet below
lost in the puzzle of the map
(from ‘The Train Is Coming’)

The effect is not dissimilar to standing in front of Munch’s painting, The Scream, suspecting there is an immense story lurking in the unspoken words underneath the visible anguish. The poem ‘Child’ suggests that the feeling has persisted into adulthood:

I have grown used to the idea
and set a trap
using the window as a mirror

I am startled
by my own silhouette

Short as they are, there are some intriguing tales in this pamphlet. How the mother tries to escape by swimming the estuary to Ynyslas (in ‘Swimming At Aberdovey’), and how the child’s sister is kicked out of home for having sex with her boyfriend (in ‘Lilac Ladies’). There are moments of humour, such as in ‘Pyjamas’:

when once I saw a yellowhammer
and confusing it for a tennis ball
hammered it for six […] sometimes
there was a knock on the door
then I’d dream
I was walking the streets in my pyjamas.

When you read this pamphlet from start to finish, you really do get to experience the child growing to adulthood like you are part of the family.

Cry Baby by Gareth Writer-Davies is published by Indigo Dreams Publishing.

Books From The Pantry: Survivalism by A. K. Hepburn: Reviewed by Giles Turnbull

A.K. Hepburn’s poetry pamphlet, Survivalism, leaves you in no doubt that these poems are deliciously dangerous. The very first lines of the first poem alert the reader to the inescapable intrusion of shadows under the trees:

Lauren was a pianist.
I could tell that from the way
her fingers played the protrusion
of my hip bone, sprawling on the
hillside,
ignoring something threatening
brewing just below the horizon.

Poets have always battled with matters of life and death. In the poetry of Ted Hughes, crows are symbolic of creation. In ‘The Crow People’ Hepburn gives us her take on crows:

The crow people
Walk upright,
Smudgy charcoal outlines
On grey concrete

To me this reads like a picture of a city full of commuters who:

Leer and gape,
Gaudy faces open
In mockery

evoking a scene similar to that in part 1 of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land:

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,

I had not thought death had undone so many.

By the third poem, ‘Coracle’, we have images of dead animals and dead trees:

He drifted up the spine
of the Pennines.
Peaks jutted from the water
like the vertebrae
of a long-dead whale
breaching the surface
[…]
an English sea,
breaking over the
skeletons of old oaks
littering the sea floor.

A few poems further on and we find pianistic Lauren again. This time it is ‘On the Coldest Night of the Year’, with the:

electricity off, fractals
forming inside the glass.
Outside, it’s eighteen below

and:

Lauren’s fingers glide
through a Nocturne, until
they’re too blue, too numb
to wring out another tune

the last notes of this poem bringing with them further death.

As we get to the title poem, Survivalism, we have almost become accustomed to the world being none-too hospitable. I was reminded of The Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins. In that book, Katniss Eberdeen risks her life to salvage a bright orange backpack which contains a ‘half-gallon plastic bottle with a cap for carrying water that’s bone dry’ amongst other things. In this poem our survivor also has a knapsack and a:

Water bottle, leaching
chemicals, probably

There are, appropriately enough, 13 poems in this pamphlet, beginning with ‘Before’ and ending with ‘Apocalypse, Then’. If you enjoy your worlds dystopian, as I do, you will love them — it may be wise to wear thimbles on your fingertips whilst reading, lest turning the pages slices them clean off.

Get your copy of Survivalism

Books From The Pantry: Testing The Delicates by Deborah Edgeley: reviewed by Kev Milsom

Testing the Delicates is a collection of poetry to raise awareness about the stigma surrounding mental health, ignorance about it and prejudice towards it, identity, isolation, memories, and understanding the past through photographs.

The voyage of this short (but perfectly formed) book plots the course of personal thoughts, emotions and memories of its author, Deborah Edgeley, as she retraces many poignant steps of her life, particularly in relation to her early years, and the connection to her mother.

Initial, cursory glances at Testing the Delicates reveal unto the reader a cocktail of emotional depth, portrayed within the forty-three pages of poetry, and prepare us for the literary voyage ahead.

As with all personal journeys, the largest challenges for the author involve:

a) including us readers as enthralled passengers for the duration of the journey.

b) providing us with relevant sources of information and education and

c) allowing us to gain a sense of empathy from our voyage into often-choppy, emotional waters that may easily infringe into whirlpool eddies formed from mental illness and depression.

For this, we naturally require a competent captain at the helm to guide us safely through these waters. Thankfully, for the reader, Captain Deborah Edgeley’s literary skills enhance our journey in two main aspects.

Firstly, the writing is beautifully expressed. This allows all passengers to relax and ease into the words, without fear of any misunderstanding, or vagueness, about the importance of the emotional messages being relayed to us.

An excellent example of this lies within the poem, ‘Thought Pictures’, which focuses on the particular aspect of depression, and how isolating this can make us feel, meaning that expressing our feelings to others becomes much more difficult. The severity of the mental downsides of watching a beloved soul dealing with mental/emotional difficulties is balanced beautifully with lighter, more comforting tones, especially when dealing with ‘imagined’ conversations with the self, at such difficult times. If the beauty and skill of wordsmithing is to conjure up relevant and powerful images via literal expression, then this nails it for me personally, as each line conjured up images of my late mother in a very similar state. Through Deborah’s words, I was able to return to my thoughts from a decade previous; each description supremely apt and meaningful.

…’See your stare, your blink
your unkempt eyebrow raise…
your tongue poke
through your wetted lip

I taste your imagined words
as you jigsaw another shade
to my thought pictures
that float in my head.

Secondly, our understanding is greatly increased, as the author has provided us with a detailed map of our journey with the inspired addition of nine full pages of notes, relating to every given poem.

This is genius, and I sincerely wish that more writers employed this option, especially within the expression of personal poetry. As passengers, we instantly know exactly where we’re going, as we are in possession of a skilled ‘tour guide’, providing us with precise information about every valuable sight along the way.

On a personal level, as someone who can easily empathise with various aspects of the subject matter, so beautifully relayed via Deborah’s words, this ‘map’ addition increases both the closeness and power of the poetry, allowing me to nod along throughout the verses, and relate them to my own personal experiences.

Criticisms? I have two:

Firstly, I got to the end of this book and eagerly wanted to hear more. The writing is so ‘spot on’ that I didn’t want the voyage to end, and became disappointed to return to the home port and disembark back on shore.

Secondly, Deborah is clearly a very skilled writer, and the prose contained within her ‘Notes’ section is relayed both simply and effectively.

As such, if there is to be a follow up book (hint hint) I would personally love to see this aspect expanded into some sections of ‘life writing’.

Like Deborah, I gave up my job to care for my ailing mother. One poem leapt out at me, ‘Act One, Scenes 1-12’, because it so beautifully emphasises those days when emotional closeness is eclipsed by the dark difficulties of basic communication, both within everyday, mundane topics, and those covering more difficult scenarios.

Shall I take you to Daddy’s grave,
tulips or sweet peas?
Talk to him or stay silent?
Trace the gold letters
with your hand or mine?

From the heart, exemplifying intelligent, thoughtful, caring words which stretch both the mind and soul, aided perfectly by illustrations from the talented artist, Mark Sheeky.

Encore please!

Whose Apple Thou Art? 

In Greenwood, studded with crab and perry,
out of tempest mind tumbled Caliban.
So say yeomen of sixteenth century,
‘Bring thee where the crabs grow,’ said the madman.

Drinking proverbial acidity,
Gossip’s Bowl was spice sipped by Bidford folk
in restaurants of ancient forestry
acid draughts intoxicate shallow jokes.

But three crabbed months had soured themselves to death.
‘He’ll never have Miranda,’ they concurred.
The Bidford souls muttered under their breath
‘Goddess and a madman?’ with spoon they stirred.

‘Whose apple thou art, gem grown from deep root?’
‘Yours, but I will never bear sweet fruit.’

Testing The Delicates from Amazon

Deborah Edgeley on FacebookTwitterSoundcloud

Mark Sheeky ArtFacebookTwitterSoundcloud

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.