Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Review by Laurie Cusack of "Earthrise" by Gus Gresham

Earthrise by Gus Gresham ticks all the boxes where page turning is concerned. He draws the reader in from the very first line regarding his feisty heroine: “Erin would remember this as the night everything started getting messed up beyond all recognition.”

The novel is a coruscating read and a testimony of our times concerning the way vested interests manipulate power and our freewill for unadulterated profit; they don’t care if it makes us sick or unwell. Earthrise explores these themes with relish. 

What also makes Gresham’s scorching text stand out is the way it dramatizes the courage and integrity of young adults, with Pullmanesque aplomb. After all, someone must make a stand, or we all will perish. These young adults have guts. They have something to say.

Earthrise is riveting and scary at times as it scrapes under the skin of corporate greed with surgical expertise. And Gresham handles the tense mirroring of reality and fantasy with skilful craft and gusto. This dark twisted fantasy is the real deal … Brilliant!

About the reviewer
Laurie Cusack has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Leicester. He is currently working on his first collection of short stories. His story 'The Bottle and the Trowel' is published in the anthology High Spirits: A Round of Drinking Stories. You can read more about his work here

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Review by Victoria Pickup of "The Carrying" by Ada Limón

There are many things I admire about Ada Limón’s poetry – most of all her stark honesty, and the bravery required to be frank about the things that matter. 

The central themes in The Carrying, her fifth and most recent collection, are mortality, loss, infertility and self-worth. These are topics with which we associate pain, grief and sorrow … and yet Limón manages to muster so many opposites in her poems: she is at once vulnerable and defiant, sombre and strong, serious and funny – and therein lies her charm.

With opening lines like ‘The birds were being so bizarre today’ (Almost Forty) and ‘Have you ever noticed how the trees / change from state to state?’ (Of Roots & Roamers), Limón adopts a conversational style in much of her poetry. By purposefully digressing and laughing at herself at seemingly inappropriate times (‘I pretend my sunglasses hide / my whole body’ (Sacred Objects)), her reader assumes the role of friend and confidant, feels involved − finds the experience of reading her deeply personal and touching.  

It helps that Limón’s work is so unaffected. She doesn’t try to be mystical or illusive, nor embody more fashionable trends of contemporary poetry: her writing exists on its own merit. It flows naturally, speaks plainly, is tightly formatted − yet the beauty, detail and composition are such that it’s perfectly clear The Carrying was not rushed off in a flurry of mindfulness exercises. 

Limón’s sense of place is masterful. Each scene is portrayed with such beauty and tenderness, even amidst turbulent emotion. After the poet has invited us in and painted the picture, she then sets about delivering her message, incorporating twists and turns so that until the final line, we aren’t sure where we’re headed. Indeed, Limón has a knack of bringing her poems to a close in such a way that each lingers on − and despite the frequently difficult subject matter, it is rare for her to conclude on a negative note. 

While Limón uses poetry to express her troubles, she doesn’t indulge in pain-worship. Instead she acknowledges the hardships of life whilst finding a way to be positive, grateful. A good example of this is seen in ‘Wonder Woman,’ where we begin the poem with an urgent care doctor saying ‘Well, / sometimes shit happens’ and concludes with a girl dressed as a superhero bowing and posing ‘like she knew I needed a myth − / a woman, by a river, indestructible.’

Ada Limón’s poetry is wise, intuitive, powerful - but above all, it’s accessible. There’s not an ounce of pretension in her work; you could underestimate the skill and craft hidden behind such seemingly simple lines. She bestows such wisdom – in ‘Prey,’ we are instructed ‘Don’t be the mouse’ and given important advice to learn from the trees in ‘Instructions on not giving up’.

Like the trees she describes, ‘a green skin / growing over whatever winter did to us,’ Limón’s poetry stands strong. It would be demeaning to label this collection as ultimately uplifting – these poems are much so more: fortifying, exuberant and full of life. 

About the reviewer
Vic Pickup’s poetry has featured in a number of magazines and webzines. She is a previous winner of the Café Writers competition and was recently shortlisted for the National Poetry Day #speakyourtruth competition. In 2018, Vic co-founded the Inkpot Writer’s Group in the Hampshire village where she lives with her husband and three children.

Review by Ashley Lloyd Smith of "Genre Fluid" by Dan Webber

When I first watched Dan Webber perform at an open mic night I couldn’t stop laughing.  And I wasn’t alone. The whole place was in uproar. We waited, tense on every line, for the next observation to blow our heads off. I laughed more than I do at most stand-ups. It is this which goes to crux of the title and in some ways the whole collection. Am I a stand-up comedian or am I a poet? I’m not sure. “I think I might be Genre Fluid.”

This collection of poetry is more than just the last couple of years of his poems flung into one book but in fact the script of an hour long one man show, including the slides he uses and the funny chatty bits in-between. It takes us through the trials of a performance poet on the circuit, a single gay man’s fight with dating technology and the perversity of labels themselves.  

The show was without doubt one of the best nights I’ve had this year. I can’t rate it highly enough. Inevitably, the poetry collection loses some of that excitement once on the page. I have read it three times now so I am hardly bored by it but that’s partly because I can picture the show itself and I’m reliving it. Dan’s personality, one that welcomes you into his world with a big bear hug (‘bear’ being one of those labels) is so important to the poems in performance that they can’t quite reach those heights on the page. 

However I’d still recommend you read it and never miss him on stage if I were you.  Here’s a taste of the world you’ll enter with the shortest poem in the collection (along with its introduction): 

When I’m at my lowest, I always seem to find
something to remind me what a wonderful
world we live in and this particular time
I found it in Asda in Sutton on Ashfield

Teenage boy applying lip gloss in a supermarket mirror
“So, then he called me queer and I was like, yeah and?”
His friends giggle like it’s no big deal
Stealing from the samples, they trade eyeliners
And ever so slightly, the world changes

About the reviewer
Ashley has had a number of poems and short stories published. Last year his debut novel, Pizza with Jimbob & Twoforks, won Best Foreign Novel of the Year in Greece. He is currently taking the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. www.ashleylloydsmith.com

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Review by Lisa Williams of "Your Cleaner Hates You and Other Poems" by Cathi Rae

Your Cleaner Hates You is Cathi Rae’s debut poetry collection; she’s a local performance poet and is currently working as a cleaner.  But please don’t expect the comforting smell of polish as you read though: the opening poem with the same title as the collection is quite a punchy diatribe. 

Further in, we cover buying beds, dying dogs, feral boys and summer storms. Intimate secrets sit beside things found at bus stops. There are lists you want to devour quickly to get to the next but find yourself lingering longer over certain lines. 

All through the collection, Rae lifts your heart with humour only to fill it with sorrow in the next stanza or paragraph. She explores memory and things forgotten; relationships with partners, employers, pets, parents, children; the passing of time and procrastination - all done with a beautiful blend of wit and poignancy. 

Read the book. 

Go see her perform. 

About the reviewer
Lisa has just completed the MA course in Creative Writing at Leicester Uni, is working as a shopgirl, and although nearly 50 hasn’t yet decided what she wants to be when she grows up. You can find her online @noodleBubble

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Review by Charles Bennett of "Longship" by Jessica Mayhew

Contemporary poetry sometimes feels a daunting and precarious place: the ground can give way suddenly, leaving years of wide reading, disciplined writing and artistic values feeling like outdated preconceptions which have no longer have validity. In the face of this multiverse – which might be more effectively labelled contemporary poetries (such is the bewildering variety of writings which now adopt the title of poem) it is a joy to welcome a wise, thoughtful and yet surprising collection from a gifted and reflective poet.

There are good reasons to buy and read this book. Here is someone who knows how to build a poem. The formal lightness of touch is exemplary – giving the poems a shape on the page as well as in the air. Often playful – a series of couplets often ends in a mischievous or profound triplet – Mayhew’s sense of timing, as the meaning of the poem unfolds and develops in its travel down the page, is a real joy. I found myself thoroughly enjoying the journey of the poem – and was delighted by the formal variety in which Mayhew shows how open form poetry always needs some subtle references to more formal elements to achieve its purposes: in the way a jazz improvisation of a classic melody both reinvigorates and refreshes the original. Free verse is, a Eliot reminds us, never really free at all – and it seems to me that poetry must display some kind of formal structuring or surrender its claim to being a poem. There are two, possibly three moments when her formal sensitivity deserts her – but prose poems like ‘Mistletoe’ and the uncomfortable long lines of ‘Cuttings’ only go to show how brilliant the rest of the collection is.

In its interplay with Norse mythology the book achieves an overall unity of purpose. Fortunately, the poetry is never over-reliant on our own knowledge of these myths; and the helpful notes supply solid support. A dancing and delightful collection, full of profound music and strong women, which echoes in the ear after reading, like chilly birdsong heard in a deep fiord.

About the reviewer
Before establishing himself as an academic, Charles Bennett was the Creative Director of Ledbury Poetry Festival, and has acted as writer-in-residence for Wicken Fen. Additionally, his work with choral composer Bob Chilcott has seen him hailed as a memorable and mesmerising librettist. He lives on the edge of Northamptonshire & Leicestershire with his wife, daughter and dog. His latest collection is Cloud River, published by Cinnamon Press. His website is http://www.charlesbennett.net/ 

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Huge thanks to the children of Wolston St. Margaret's Primary School who, for the past two weeks have entertained us with their fabulous reviews. 
You have all worked so hard, we are very proud of you and we do hope you continue on with your reading. 

With thanks to teachers, Miss Brown and Miss Cunnigham.

We hope you, the readers, have enjoyed our children's fiction fortnight but, for now, it's back to the grown ups...

Best Wishes

The Editors.

Review by Sophia, aged 8 of “Gangsta Granny” by David Walliams.

Gangsta Granny is written by David Walliams. The main characters are Ben, Ben's granny, his mum and dad and Raj, the shopkeeper. 

My favourite part of the book is when Ben can only say 'urm...umm" because his granny is doing naked yoga! this made me laugh out loud. 

This book is about a boy called Ben who wants to be a plumber but his parents want him to be a dancer.
On Fridays Ben goes to his granny's house but he finds it boring and all granny makes for dinner is things with cabbage. Surprisingly, Ben looks in the biscuit tinned finds jewels which leads him into wanting to find out more about granny.
Could she be hiding a big secret? dun, dun duuuun!

My favourite character in this book is granny because she makes me smile as she is so funny and she is addicted to cabbage. I also think she is a very cool gran.

I recommend this book, it is suitable for children aged 8 and over. There a few tricky words for younger children.

I would give this book 5/5 and a big thumbs up! 

by Sohia, aged 8. 

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Review by Esme, aged 8 and John and Harry, aged 9 of “Roy the Rooster” by Rose Impey.

It was brilliant we all loved it! 
Roy the rooster was very ugly. He was the ugliest in the world when he hatched and near the middle, he said to himself that he was lonely and had no friends.
Everybody stayed inside when Roy was around. Everybody made fun of him. They said, ‘you look like a bad dream,’ and ‘how can anyone be that ugly?’
Soon Roy had a reputation. Roy was the boss of the town and he was a bully to everyone. But some turkeys wanted trouble. Roy couldn’t run back to his ranch, he could only hide behind a horse or run as far as he can. 
One day, he decided he wanted to go out fishing and he would like to stop fighting. He wanted a nice quiet life.
People said that he wrestled rhinos. Mothers told their children you better be good or Roy the rooster will get you everyone was scared of him so everyone kept well away from him but Our favourite part was when he became the nicest rooster in town because he wasn’t nice at the start and he was nice at the end. 
Roy was happier when he was nice, and he met new friends. It actually had a nice happy ending.

By Esme (aged 8) John and Harry (aged 9) thank you for reading this book review.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Review by Sofya and Reuben, aged 8 of “Believe it or Not” by The Navigator.

In our story, we found out that a T-Rex is as tall as a double-decker bus, which is 4m tall and 12.8m wide! 
Susan Hendrikson was part of a team of fossil hunters who were looking for dinosaur bones on a farm in South Dakota, America. One day, the team found a dead horse on the farm.
A few days later, the fossil hunters’ truck got a flat tyre, some members of the group took the truck into town to get the tyre mended. But Susan Hendrikson decided that she would walk over to Mr Williams’ farm to have a look around. Susan looked closely at the cliffs on Mr Williams, farm. She saw a small pile of bones lying at the bottom of one of the cliffs. 
Susan knew that these bones must have come from a very big animal. She took one of the bones back to the dig side, and showed them to them to the rest of the team. They pieced the bones together to form ‘Sue’s’ (a T-Rex) skeleton, which is now on display at the museum of Natural History in Chicago.
It was a good book because we like T-Rex’s. It was interesting because we learnt something we didn’t know. We liked when their tyre went flat it was a bit funny then. It was interesting, when they told us about the double decker bus and the T-Rex. 

By Sofya and Reuben aged 8.