Thursday 28 January 2016

I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like to dance: Review of House of Verse at Music CafĂ© on Saturday 16 January 2016, by Jodie Hannis

‘Fields, green grass and weeping willows
Take me to see sea and the jungle
Look at each other and communicate
The places you will take us.’

I have a very vague memory of writing this in a barely legible scrawl during House of Verse, Leicester’s eclectic variety-style performance event which brings together poets, musicians, artists, comedians and anyone else who cares to join. New collaborative project Mythym had encouraged us to write down what came to mind as they played, and though they conjured many flickering sensations in me, this was what dim light and limited powers of articulation allowed. I had been struck by Mythym’s wordless exchange of ideas as duo Hibword and Carise kept calm eyes resting on each other while they wrapped themselves and the audience up in creeping tendrils of musical persuasion. It was just one of the many contented and slightly scattered thoughts I managed to scribble down.

Jenny ‘Hibword’ Hibberd and Carise as Mythym

Here’s another:

‘I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like to dance’ – An epiphany had during Velvet Exit.

In the clear cold light of day I think perhaps this is a little unfair, though it should be stated that I value willing far more than skill or even any clearly defined sense of rhythm. It’s more of a reflection on the euphoria I felt inserting myself into the group of loose-ligamented roisterers and more demure loiterers, a feeling which is often hard to come by.

It was, however, in abundance during musician and composer Jim Ghedi’s set. His sound is as accessible as it is intricate but don’t think it is anything but extraordinary. Musicians in the room glaze over as he plays and his introspective intensity is irresistible. He had us, completely, and we all arced forwards in our seats towards him.
Jim Ghedi ‘Forgive me for what I possess’

There was no break for the spell-bound as Frank Sparrow and Hibword leant into atmosphere and held us tight for a little while longer. In a way, they are antidote to Jim’s complexity without slipping from charm and joy. We were invited to ‘colour them in’ and I think in that moment we were all desperate to try; to find the brightest pieces of ourselves and offer them to others to help fill in the gaps. If that’s not why we’re all there, I don’t have much of a better explanation to offer.

 Hibword and Frank Sparrow

To be taken from here to what followed encapsulates what this evening is all about. Energy flowed and transformed as naturally as our breathlessness was inspired and we were stirred back to revelry by master crowd-manipulator Mr Shay. #GBH was embraced as anthemic if somewhat unnecessary as negative vibes or dead energy were not to be found here in the face of his boundless enthusiasm.
Mr Shay #GBH

The titillation continued with not one but two poems about genitals from Daniel Webber then Leanne Moden. I’ve seen Leanne perform before and was gleefully anticipating watching the unsuspecting crowd’s jaws drop as her vitriolic vagina verse burst forth from her otherwise diminutive stature. She was in good company with the night’s other performative poetry-makers. Brian Sin sounds like honey sliding over gravel and Poetman gave us a digital rendition of 21st century wage slavery through accomplished use of a loop pedal. Rich But Not Famous dropped a dizzying display verbatim, grandmaster gabbling through a whirlwind of words. He either has vertiginous memory wizardry or rhyme and rhythm just fall out of him like teeth fall out of children.

Leanne Moden and Rich But Not Famous
Perhaps he’s a distant sound-cousin of Shuter whose beatboxes are tightly packed in the store cupboard of cacophony. He drew House of Band into an electrifying freestyle which was more collaboratory than competitive; each irresistible increase in tempo and tightness felt like a helping hand being swapped back and forth between them.

Compelling cooperation carried on with our last performers of the night Hayche Griiim & Kiron Hanna who invited House of Band and Ex & Wye to join in creating an elated hip hop, tripping mosh of bouncing bodies to be delivered straight into the waiting spin-hands of our House DJs for the rest of night.

Collective magic from Hayche Griiim, Kiron Hanna, Ex and Wye

With the end not yet in sight, I wrote in my notebook:

‘I’m only cynical about the sinister’

House of Verse makes many things melt away. Such an energised and supportive place to perform and absorb could only have you leave any negativity at the door. By doing so, we unravel some of those cool, distant, protective layers and instead open ourselves to beauty, inspiration and friendship. Don’t you want a piece of that?

Keep up to date with House of Verse happenings here:

About the reviewer
Jodie Hannis chases after words at every opportunity. If you have some, chances are, she’d like to hear them. She also occasionally runs away from ones she puts out into the world herself:

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Review by Mary Mayfield of "The Lie Tree" by Frances Hardinge

(This review was first published on Our Book Reviews Online here). 

When Faith Sunderly's father moves his family to the island of Vane, he gives out that the reason is to help in some ongoing excavations - he is after all a renowned natural scientist and an expert on fossils - but he's actually running from a scandal about to break over his faking of finds. The island feels dark and sinister to begin with and Faith's father's strange behaviour adds to the air of secrecy and menace. 

Among his collection of prized specimens, all carefully transported to their new home, is a very curious plant which he's taking extra care of - it feeds on lies and having grown bears a fruit that imparts special knowledge and understanding on its eater. Within a few days of the family's arrival, the whole island is aware of the allegations against Faith's father, so when his dead body is found in strange circumstances the obvious assumption is that he committed suicide to avoid disgrace - Faith though believes he was murdered and sets out to prove it and track down the murderer. To this end she begins to feed the Lie Tree with untruths, but to get more information out of it she must invent bigger, more preposterous lies and spread them far and wide throughout the island community....

How to start to describe The Lie Tree? It's a murder mystery, with gothic horror overtones, a morality tale, historical fiction..  it's very difficult to pin down! The important thing is that it's an excellent read. It's darkly atmospheric, filled with quietly brooding menace, with the lie tree itself oozing evil and corrupting those who engage with it; it captures the feel of Victorian times when Darwin's new theories about evolution were altering how people saw the world and man's place in it, scientific concepts were being proved false, and religious beliefs challenged; and the murder mystery has red herrings and plot twists galore. In addition, it has a 14 year old heroine not happy to take the quiet role assigned to her by Victorian standards. Faith has inherited all her father's curiosity about the natural world but finding her interest in science blocked, has turned her inquisitiveness to more personal matters - eaves-dropping on others' conversations, riffling through private papers. Not the behaviour of a nice Victorian young lady! This willingness to snoop on others proves useful though, as she tries to discover motive and culprit for her father's death.

All in all, a book that should appeal across a wide range of ages and tastes, and one that I'd personally be tempted to re-read.

About the reviewer
Mary Mayfield is an avid reader and blogger from Notts, now living in Derby. She loves everything from War and Peace to the Shopaholic series, by way of Virginia Woolf. Claim to fame? Grandma grew up next door to DH Lawrence! See Our Book Reviews Online

Sunday 24 January 2016

Review by Annette Hannah of "Behind Closed Doors" by B A Paris

(This was review was originally published on Sincerely Book Angels here). 


Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace. He has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You might not want to like them, but you do.

You’d like to get to know Grace better.

But it’s difficult, because you realise Jack and Grace are never apart.

Some might call this true love. Others might ask why Grace never answers the phone. Or how she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn’t work. How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim. And why there are bars on one of the bedroom windows.

Sometimes, the perfect marriage is the perfect lie.


One word, "Wow": this is the most fast paced psychological thriller I have ever read. The narrative races along and gives you a feeling of foreboding and absolute terror at what awaits Grace and her sister Millie who has Down's syndrome.

To all their friends Grace and Jack have the perfect life, they have a beautiful house, fancy holidays and they are completely in love with each other and everyone thinks Jack is so kind for offering to let Millie live with them but what goes on behind closed doors is another matter.

Jack is in complete control of Grace's life and he has every corner covered. Grace knows that time is running out and soon her sister finishes school and comes to live with them for good and then she knows there will be no escape. New friend Esther seems suspicious of their relationship but if Grace lets anything slip then she will be punished beyond belief and so will Millie.

This book was thrilling and scary and in fact I was actually scared to go to the loo on my own and my heart was still racing for a while after I'd finished reading it. There were some lovely moments when describing the relationships between Grace and Millie. It portrayed Millie's personality very sensitively which I thought was lovely and she was a brilliant character.

A gripping thriller that will ensure you will not want to put this book down, I have never rooted so much for a murderer to come out on top. I have just watched Room which was brilliant and I think this is on a par with that.

About the reviewer
Annette Hannah is married with three children. Originally from Liverpool now living in Hertfordshire. She has been blogging for almost a year and loving it; through blogging she has managed to meet lots of her favourite authors and lots of lovely blogger people too. Her blog is Sincerely Book Angels

Review by Mary Mayfield of "A God In Ruins" by Kate Atkinson

(This review was first published on the website Our Book Reviews here). 

In Life After Life, Kate Atkinson brought us a tale of one life, Ursula Todd's, lived over and over again till it was "right". In A God In Ruins, she brings us just one life-time, that of Ursula's brother Teddy with all its ups and downs, happy memories, devastating sadness, youth, old age ....

Working out the odds as a World War II bomber pilot, Teddy didn't rate his chances of making it through to see the peace - so he found it strange to be picking up the pieces of his life and starting to plan for the future. The war continues to cast its shadow over him though - to cope, he developed a deep layer of stoicism, almost a numbness, to keep himself plodding on, accepting whatever was thrown at him - from bombs and machine-gun fire to the dreadful things he himself did and  the random accidents that claimed the lives of friends. Scarred and numbed by his experiences and feeling a need to atone for his actions, Teddy decides his life will now be one of kindness, his own slight reparation for the horror of war, but those dreadful years are not shrugged off so easily and his relationships with wife, daughter and grandchildren are all affected.

Life After Life was a stunning, knock-me-for-six, sort of book and I'd wondered how on earth Kate Atkinson was going to follow it. Surely anything would seem tame by comparison, lacking in emotional clout? Well, the short answer is No! A God in Ruins is another absolute stunner.

Carefully and cleverly constructed, the story moves back and forth in time - to Teddy's childhood and his grandchildren's futures, sometimes revisiting events from a different angle - but always circling those formative, life-changing war-time years.

War novels seem to be rather the province of male authors - though why that should be I don't know - but Atkinson puts the reader there on Teddy's Halifax, dodging flak and enemy aircraft, experiencing the fear and adrenaline, the fragility of both life and aircraft; it's as good as anything I've read (and from childhood preferring my father's war novels to my mother's romantic fiction, I've read quite a few). There are certain incidents that sound a little familiar - for example from the film Memphis Belle - but something that surprised me was the occasional beauty of an air-raid seen from above - target indicators falling like red, gold and green fireworks or the twinkling lights of incendiaries - contrasting with the horror of killing those below.

There are subtle signs and hints throughout that the author is playing with the reader, indicators of what the eventual ending may be; the references to Life After Life, and the ever-present omniscient narrator who knows what will happen in the future well beyond the confines of this story, point towards the final twist. It's the sort of game that elsewhere, with different authors, I've objected to but this time I didn't mind at all - I'd been expecting the end, it felt 'right' and in many ways I'd have been disappointed if the story had ended in a more conventional way. As I read I felt completely immersed in the story - it doesn't matter at what level this is fiction - Teddy, his wife Nancy, daughter Viola, grandchildren Sunny and Bertie all felt completely real, all people I could care about and relate to.

The ending left me saddened and moved - an emotional roller-coaster seems a lazy description but that's exactly what this is.

About the reviewer
Mary Mayfield is an avid reader and blogger from Notts, now living in Derby. She loves everything from War and Peace to the Shopaholic series, by way of Virginia Woolf. Claim to fame? Grandma grew up next door to DH Lawrence! See Our Book Reviews Online.

Saturday 23 January 2016

Review by Tim Love of "Used to Be" by Elizabeth Baines

(This review was originally published here.)

The Mandaeans of southern Iraq had a demon called Dinanukht, half man and half book, who "sits by the waters between the worlds, reading himself". This demon could be the patron saint of Bainesland, where characters interpret symbols that seem to belong to the external world, but turn out being part of the character's past.

These 12 stories span a range of symbolic visibility. In the epistolic “A matter of light” set in May 1816, a self-proclaimed rational man dismisses strange events as interesting physical phenomena, tricks of the light worthy of investigation. Even when he entertains the possibility of ghosts, he dismisses the notion because he's lived too virtuous a life to deserve being haunted. But we learn he's a plantation owner and that his treatment of slaves wasn't perfect. The dark shadows and the “light” of the title take on racial overtones.

In “Looking for the Castle” the symbolism's more overt. A women takes a detour to visit her home town. She has problems navigating her past. Has so much really changed? Maybe the unfindable castle's really the misremembered priory. But what is she really seeking? Was her childhood a place where she felt safe, or was it a confinement that still restricts her? After all, the fence her father built is still there.

“Used To Be” includes another mindscape – two middle-aged sisters, actresses, are on their way to an amateur film-set. The journey of bridges and missed turnings becomes a metaphor ("And flashing past with the bridges are all my selves") then becomes another story to tell when they arrive late.

Further along the overtness spectrum is "Tides or How Stories Do or Don't Get Told". Fans of "show, not tell“ might balk at the 13 mentions of ”story“ or ”stories" and the discussion of narratives – e.g. "Would I mention my sense then that nothing had meaning and that my life after all was no story, or would I lie, since he recovered, and make those symbols fit a narrative arc with a happy ending?" - but to me it's like the stage magician who explains how a trick works only to surprise the audience later. What kind of story of herself does the narrator want to write?

The protagonists come in many varieties (male/female, young/old, presented in the first, second and third person), but they're all opening a debate with their past. Sometimes it's disowned - "I see her, my former self, as another person" - used as raw material to be melted down, reforged. Sometimes it illuminates the present. The settings encourage reinterpretations – film-sets, BrontĂ« country, old haunts. Explicitly or otherwise, the characters are story-makers, reassembling their life-arc from stirred memories.

Whatever the uncertainty of the narrators, the characters are utterly believable. There's always the sensation of an underlying reality. Characters may exhibit enhanced free will once they've unshackled themselves from the past, but the real world is a given.

My favourites are “Used to be”, “Falling” and especially "Tides or How Stories Do or Don't Get Told" (which is much shorter than I recall it being). None of the stories are routine, which is no surprise given that they've all been published already in places like Carve Magazine, Unthology, Stand and Best British Short Stories. You can buy it directly from Salt.

About the reviewer
Tim Love’s publications are a poetry pamphlet Moving Parts (HappenStance, 2010) and a story collection By all means (Nine Arches Press, 2012). He lives in Cambridge, UK, teaching computing. His poetry and prose have appeared in Stand, Rialto, Oxford Poetry, Journal of Microliterature, Short Fiction, New Walk, etc. He blogs at

Thursday 14 January 2016

Review by Dips Patel of the book and film “Beasts of No Nation” by Uzodinma Iweala / Cary Fukunaga & the memoir “A Long Way Gone” by Ishmael Beah

That same day (see two previous posts), I also happened to watch a corking film called ‘Beasts of No Nation,’ which is based on a book of the same title (by Uzodinma Iweala), set in an unnamed West African country.
It’s essentially about a kid who becomes a child soldier and then finds a way out and hope for a better life. Hugely affecting (both the book and the film) it ain’t pleasant or easy viewing (or reading for that matter), but it is worth watching as the performance of the child actor (Abraham Attah) is incredible and powers the film while easily holding his own against Idris Alba and I’d watch that rapscallion in anything – he is very, very good.
Even though it’s a work of fiction (having read ‘A Long Way Gone: the True Story of a Child Soldier,’ by Ishmael Beah, which is absolutely worth reading), it’s time well-spent watching or reading these books/film, a slip of a novel that you’d whip through in an afternoon, but is likely to stay simmering in your consciousness for a long while after and I could say the same about the film and the memoir too.
About the reviewer
Dips Patel is a graduate in Graphic Design which means he can colour in without going over the lines and when he does he makes it look deliberate, cool and edgy. He much prefers fine art where the art of talking nonsense is finer still allowing him extremely moderate success in introducing his work to a wider audience. Hobbies include reading stuff, watching stuff, commendably misguided attempts at painting stuff and consuming copious amounts of coco pops, clementines, curries, cakes and cocktails, not all at the same time which is frowned upon in polite society.

Review by Dips Patel of “Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture” – an exhibition at Tate Modern

Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture
Tate Modern
11 November 2015 – 3 April 2016

After Giacometti’s exhibition at National Portrait Gallery (see previous entry), I took a stroll down river to Tate Modern to take a gander ‘n’ gawp at this:

Triple Gong, c1948

I’ve loved his stuff for years and apart from seeing a bunch of his work in, I want to say the Musee d’Orsay, but it could well have been the Pompidou, or even the Louvre, never had a chance to see an extensive collection of his stuff. (I remember one option of a module on my art course in college was making a mobile and after about a day of abject failure I picked something else to do!)
Vertical Foliage, 1941
His really early stuff, the simple wire pieces were mesmerising (I know I’ve said before that sculptures are just drawings in space) but these things, the manipulated wire looking like someone has literally just drawn a head in mid-air and sometimes only when you have walked around the thing does it take on the shape and form of a head seen from different angles, or a face or a horse or elephant or a team of acrobats or a…it looks playful and there’s generous humour in these pieces (incidentally, whoever thought of the lighting for this show should get some credit, it is a really gorgeously lit exhibition).
Form Against Yellow, 1936
There’s the seed of something great in the pieces, to me unmistakable, and as you walk through the rooms the development of the work, his ideas, going from mechanical kinetic sculptural works (one of which had Einstein watching it for 45mins until it had gone through its full rotation) to the increasingly monumental mobiles for which he is most famous, ultimately the evolution of the work reveal a clarity of thought and knowledge of materials, physics and engineering (trained as an engineer in his youth) and execution of ideas which resonate with a deep, almost substantial lightness (I know what I’m saying is odd but again I can’t think of the right words).
Medusa, c1930

Varese, c1930

Saturn. The planet. Massive, second only to Jupiter as gaseous giant in our system of solar, and with its rings looks like a reet monster but it’s made of gas so as the gag goes, find a large enough bucket and it’ll float. That’s his mobiles right there, Saturn. His mobiles are like Saturn, which is apt as he did a few sculptures inspired by space and the celestial bodies and stuff. Floating in space, as people move about displacing the air around them they change, evolve and transform the mobiles into living things. That was a treat and a half!
Goldfish Bowl, 1929
About the reviewer
Dips Patel is a graduate in Graphic Design which means he can colour in without going over the lines and when he does he makes it look deliberate, cool and edgy. He much prefers fine art where the art of talking nonsense is finer still allowing him extremely moderate success in introducing his work to a wider audience. Hobbies include reading stuff, watching stuff, commendably misguided attempts at painting stuff and consuming copious amounts of coco pops, clementines, curries, cakes and cocktails, not all at the same time which is frowned upon in polite society.