Tuesday 29 November 2022

Review by Laura Besley of "Three Men on the Edge" by Michael Loveday

Three Men on the Edge by Michael Loveday is a novella-length book comprised of three short novellas-in-flash, the stories of three men: Denholm, Gus and Martyn – all struggling with life. 

The first story, ‘Cause for Alarm,’ explores the marriage of Denholm and his wife, Joan. Through the use of swans – birds which are renowned to mate for life – Loveday gives us some insights into the relationship. When Denholm’s friend shows him ‘an image of a swan pair, necks wound tight round each other,’ Denholm doesn’t see romance, but instead shrugs and says, ‘“Could be the blur … but it looks to me like they’re suffocating each other.”’ Later on he muses that ‘if he’d known, really known, how much marriage is one drowning person trying to push another under, he might not have risked it.’ 

In the second story – ‘The Invisible World’ – there are twelve micro fictions, one for each month in a year of Gus’ life following the loss of his wife whose absence he still feels acutely. He is stuck in a quagmire of grief he cannot, or does not want, to find a way to move on from. ‘There’s a veil between him and the world that will not lift, and to tear it down seems a betrayal. Why is it still not consolation – witnessing these swans, these shadows, this sky?’

The final and longest novella-in-flash is ‘Chewing Glass’ wherein Martyn navigates relationships with Anja and Rob. ‘[W]ith every relationship, the miniature sculptor works her hammer and chisel on the stone lump of your heart. If you’re really lucky, Martyn thinks, a man survives well enough to be left in the end with something recognisable.’

Throughout the book, Loveday supplements the starkness of these men’s lives with the stark beauty of nature. This adds, I feel, to the presence of a certain level of resignation, but also resilience. Because life is brutal, and all you can do is live it. 

About the reviewer
Laura Besley is the author of three collections of flash & micro fiction: (Un)Natural Elements, 100neHundred and The Almost Mothers. Having lived in the Netherlands, Germany and Hong Kong, she now lives in land-locked central England and misses the sea. 

Monday 28 November 2022

Review by Kathleen Bell of "Thorpeness" by Alison Brackenbury

In Thorpeness Alison Brackenbury’s poems explore rural life with love but also a strong awareness of struggle and hardship. A poem about her grandfather, 'Shepherd Brackenbury,' set in lambing season in the 1930s, ends with the tender, warning couplet:

          Best shoes scratched by rough straws, I learnt love meant
          Not glances, silky curls, but blood’s raw scent.

There are celebrations of achievement but also references to the limitations imposed by class and poverty as in the reference in 'Fern' to the old man 'who would have gone / to "Grammar," if they could have bought / a crested cap, soft shoes for sport.’ There is also the satisfaction of rebellion in 'Meeting 1919' when the returning soldier, Brackenbury’s Great Uncle Sidney, tells the lady of the manor 'I’ve not come home to be bossed round by you.'

Women’s domestic achievements and heritage are celebrated alongside the work of male farm labourers. The sequence 'Aunt Margaret’s Pudding' rejoices in the work of Dorothy Eliza Barnes, the poet’s grandmother who had been a professional cook before she became a shepherd’s wife. One poem recounts how she would provide sandwiches of 'home-cured bacon and white bread' for the unemployed men who tramped across England in the rain, searching for work. The sequence concludes not with the rich and heavy sweetness of cakes, puddings, curds and pies but with the salt of samphire, gathered hazardously on the dangerous Lincolnshire shore.

This combination of comfort and danger, risk and hope is characteristic of the poems in this collection. The six-line poem 'Sunday on the Coach' demonstrates a time of peace while hinting at its fragility:

           It is June. Tall grasses nod. On the back seat
           the last baby has hiccupped into sleep.
           No one swears, nobody phones. The south wind whistles
           white motorways of cow parsley and thistles.
           A helicopter hangs, but does not strafe.
           This afternoon the innocent are safe.

For all its focus on the vivid and the particular, Alison Brackenbury’s beautifully crafted poems often seem to hint at something just out of words' reach. It is therefore fitting that the final stanza of the final poem looks both toward an unreached Thorpeness and to something further beyond:

           In tall streets, low clouds press. 
           Three swallows snatch
           a gust, a breath, last fly.
           Small voices catch
           land’s end, storm’s edge, whirl high
           far, far beyond Thorpeness.

About the reviewer
Kathleen Bell is the author of two recent poetry collections: Do You Know How Kind I Am (Leafe Press) and Disappearances (Shoestring), both published in 2021. She also writes fiction and, on occasion, teaches creative writing and leads workshops.

Friday 18 November 2022

Review by Neil Fulwood of "Radical Normalisation" by Celia A. Sorhaindo

Here’s roughly the first half of "Poetic Turn of Events," the compact, bristling, self-questioning opening poem in Sorhaindo’s astonishing collection:

        Today, The People are giving back,
        mirroring, throwing light, honest
        feedback to The Poets; uncovering
        cryptic metaphors; deciphering line
        breaks; telling The Poets exactly what
        they feel-think of them & their loopy
        poetic turns …

It’s what I’d be tempted to describe as a game-changer, except the game is barely yet afoot, and Sorhaindo has another 90 pages to deliver - 90 pages in which the poet challenges herself as rigorously as she does her readers; in which soaring intellectualism and street patois exist side by side; in which womanhood jostles with race, cultural heritage, self-interrogation and the sheer defiant act of surviving.

Poems on the aftermath of a hurricane and the rebuilding of a community are delivered in clear-sighted and stringently unsentimental terms, while a questing and experimental sensibility is apparent in pieces such as "Un-Set Binary Bits - Lingua Franca" and "animula : rapture of an Introverted Narcissist," where Sorhaindo seems to be testing the boundaries of the page itself, never mind the flexibility of the words thereon.

Radical Normalisation fuses linguistic fireworks and a freewheeling imagination, tempered by the poet’s awareness of the weighty responsibility of her craft, and is unlike any other collection I’ve read this year. 

About the reviewer
Neil Fulwood lives and works in Nottingham. He has published three full poetry collections with Shoestring Press, No Avoiding It, Can’t Take Me Anywhere and Service Cancelled, and a volume of political satires, Mad Parade, with Smokestack Books.

Thursday 17 November 2022

Review by Rosa Fernandez of “Cracked Asphalt” by Sree Sen

From the moment I read the dedication at the beginning of Sree Sen’s collection of twenty poems (‘for all those taking up odd jobs to afford poetry’) I knew I would enjoy the contents of Cracked Asphalt. While I may never have moved whole countries to make life work, I have transplanted to other cities, and it is that sense of attempting to reorient yourself into a new environment that lines like ‘tiny weeds crack open / the asphalt of my journey’ capture beautifully.

This selection is a journey in itself, beginning simply with our protagonist having arrived and already dreaming of return, and as the poems progress we build more of a picture of this new life adventure. The second poem ‘frames’ captures this simply and effectively: ‘200 doors felt my knuckle’ perfectly summarises the slog of the door-to-door fundraising job, and the lines ‘my hand … can’t make the journey / from plate to mouth’ perfectly encapsulates the exhaustion of this kind of (almost) thankless job; having been there myself it had a real physical resonance.

The finer detail and emotional depth grows through the collection and I enjoyed the simplicity of description and piercing contrasts; from one kind of belonging in a ‘Mumbai apartment’ to Dublin where it is ‘easier to love’ free from expectation and constraints. The simple brief elegance of ‘pray’ and ‘love’ as two tiny emotional flashes to the longer thoughtfulness of ‘parable of the lost cause’ which travels from the mundane daily actions out to the edges of the universe.

The warmth of these poems is perhaps best summed up in the final poem ‘Kala Ghoda’ and the ‘tripwires of nostalgia’; we end with ‘bellies warm & full of rum,’ a delicious description for this enjoyable and moving collection.

About the reviewer
Rosa Fernandez is a slam-winning poet and sometime proofreader. She also enjoys wearing silly hats. 

Monday 14 November 2022

Review by Jon Wilkins of "The Meanwhile Sites" by Pete Green

The Meanwhile Sites is a term, according to Google Books, "used increasingly by urban planners to refer to locations that are earmarked for future development, it is a book about places like this, and situations like this, and their relationships with people, and the oppositions of marginality against mainstream, renewability against finitude, utility against intangible value, and the changing forms of physical, cultural and psychological landscapes in a post-industrial age.” Quite a mouthful and perhaps the beauty of Pete Green’s work is that you don’t actually need the definition to understand their work as it is an obvious howl into the air about an increasingly globalised world that is attacking everything that Everyman would have stood for.

I admire Green's reminiscences of a life well spent, of a world abused, of a time when life was simpler, because the world was more simple. Their use of metaphor is stunning and in every poem we can unpick meaning and streams of consciousness as they remind us of what once was and of what now has become - the rewards for letting the developer march over us, the trader destroy our banks, the politicians who betray their promises.

These are very political poems that sweep over continents in their journey to show us what has happened through neglect and tolerance of the various political and economic processes put in place. "I am the king of Belgium" delivers us to exactly the world we have created, the world we have inherited - a world that we perhaps will never recapture as we seem to have gone too far. "The Money Tree" shows us what has been taken away, what society has lost and what can again never be recovered.

I love the experimentalism of Green's works; they give us diverse ways of promoting or pursuing a point. Not for Green a simple way - their work jumps out from the page lightly and dark, as nuanced and creative, their talent obvious and deep. Complex language, historical and literary references abound. Green shows that they understand what they are writing about. The reader can feel their anger, feel their regret.

The notes at the back of the book are useful as they show what inspired Green, though to see the finished article from the few words of inspiration is often a wonderfully mystic journey with a surprise at the end of each line, of each verse or stanza. Green challenges us. They demand that we think about their words. Their words implore us to think about the world we live in, a world that is gradually being taken away from us, a world that Green references from neolithic times to the present - a world where there is still some hope, but is there still time?

About the reviewer
Jon Wilkins is 66. He is married to the gorgeous Annie with two wonderful sons. He was a teacher for twenty years, a Waterstones bookseller and coached women’s basketball for over thirty years before taking up writing seriously. Nowadays he takes notes for students with Special Needs at Leicester University. He has had a work commissioned by the UK Arts Council and several pieces published traditionally as well as on-line. He has had poems in magazines and anthologies, art galleries, studios, museums and at Huddersfield Railway Station. He loves writing poetry. For his MA, he wrote a crime novel, Utrecht Snow. He followed it up with Utrecht Rain, and is now writing a third part. He is currently writing a crime series, Poppy Knows Best, set at the end of the Great War and into the early 1920s.

Sunday 13 November 2022

Review by Jon Wilkins of "Scenes from Life on Earth" by Kathryn Simmonds

Saying that someone or something is clever is often seen as an insult, and a rather patronising one at that. But in this case, when I say that the poems of Kathryn Simmonds are clever, I mean it in the broadest possible sense. 

Kathryn Simmonds persuades us with her use of language and rhythm, appearance and tone, that her world is a world that we should enter. She draws us in with the simplicity of her writing, that disguises so many ideas and displays of talent.

We see the depth of her feelings for her mother. She mourns and we mourn with her as her pain surrounds us, dragging us into her words. These are words that envelop and create another world that we can co-exist in; a world that recognises bereavement, that shows us what loss can do, far beyond the immediate numbness and anger, but at least a measure of closure. Memories are combined with stories and images from her childhood that reflect so easily her love for her mother. Light touches shine in each poem as a remembrance is shared and happiness recalled. We see that one can move on towards, if not acceptance, a future that can keep the good things close to heart. Her poems are a celebration of life, a festival of death and an awareness of memory and how it is so important once a loved one has gone.

Some of her phrases are visceral. Others as delicate as silk. But they stick in our minds. Simmonds finds humour where we least expect it, beauty when we are looking into shadows. She observes life and death for us, as her imagination flies about her world - a world that becomes ours.

Life could be so complicated as could death, but Simmonds simplifies it and welcomes us with open arms. Witty and charming. Her good grace, her good humour overcomes sadness. The humour draws us in and wraps its arms about us. Her poem "Equinox" sums it all up so easily, so perfectly, and we can feel precisely what she means.

Kathryn Simmonds is so clever.

About the reviewer
Jon Wilkins is 66. He is married to the gorgeous Annie with two wonderful sons. He was a teacher for twenty years, a Waterstones bookseller and coached women’s basketball for over thirty years before taking up writing seriously. Nowadays he takes notes for students with Special Needs at Leicester University. He has had a work commissioned by the UK Arts Council and several pieces published traditionally as well as on-line. He has had poems in magazines and anthologies, art galleries, studios, museums and at Huddersfield Railway Station. He loves writing poetry. For his MA, he wrote a crime novel, Utrecht Snow. He followed it up with Utrecht Rain, and is now writing a third part. He is currently writing a crime series, Poppy Knows Best, set at the end of the Great War and into the early 1920s.

You can read another review by Jane Simmons of Scenes from Life on Earth, by Kathryn Simmonds, on Everybody's Reviewing here

Friday 11 November 2022

Review by Fiona Linday of "Marrying Across Borders" by Sheela Burrell


It was an absolute pleasure to read Sheela’s generous memoirs, Marrying Across Borders. This most enlightening read shows her informed perspective on international marriage, giving others tips for thriving in the UK. They say to write what you would like to read; Sheela has filled a gap for those couples adapting to new surroundings and cultures. As well as us gleaning from her integration and connection with her family and friends, she cleverly elicits the experience of others in cross-cultural marriages. That was through a questionnaire to extend her Malaysian perspective.

This self-help book is presented striking a natural tone. Much humour and honesty keep us hooked in enjoying this helpful tool. I think it prepares those in cross-cultural marriages for smoother integration.

I particularly enjoyed the social and cultural norms chapter where Sheila says of her marriage: “When two people from different cultures fall in love, they come as two uniquely wrapped packages with intricate layers of beliefs and rules from their own culture ... We realised that we needed to respect and compromise as a couple in a cross-cultural relationship when it came to each other’s culture.”

Her story covers current topics to encourage cohesion within families. So the reader learns about misconceptions and better understands rich cultures. The layout is easy to dip into for valuable insight to engage newcomers as challenges present themselves or consume as a gripping memoir. I highly recommend this as a valuable resource to those welcoming couples in a cross-cultural marriage.

About the reviewer
Fiona Linday is an East Midland’s writer, coach and creative mentor. First published with the young adult Get Over It, Adventures, Onwards and Upwards. Then followed a prize-winning short story, ‘Off the Beaten Track,’ and the Unique Writing Publications Story Award for ‘Love’ prose non-fiction. There is a YA eBook anthology of short stories, The Heavenly Road Trip with Help For Writers. More recently, she enjoys facilitating with Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester University learners editing Family Matters: An Anthology of New Writing, 2019, and Making Our World Better, Dahlia Publishing, 2022. These projects were Arts Council supported. Her inspirational collection is Count Our Blessings, Onwards & Upwards, 2021. Presently, she is pitching a resilience-building, wildlife picture book series seeking a publisher. Her website is here. You can read more about Making Our World Better on Creative Writing at Leicester here

Thursday 10 November 2022

Review by Laura Besley of "The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing" by Hannah Storm

As Russia continues to invade neighbouring Ukraine, it feels particularly poignant to be reading – or in my case rereading – Hannah Storm’s flash collection, The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing (Reflex Press, 2021). One of its main themes is the effects of war – on individuals and what they lose as a consequence, or on a rare occasion gain, although hardly ever through choice. Further themes explored are the power struggles between men and women, and violence against women in particular, as well as the kaleidoscope of experience and emotion surrounding motherhood. 

The opening story, ‘Sarajevo Rose,’ is directly about war and the displacement Damir suffers where his name no longer means peace, but ‘scorn’ and ‘stranger’ and ‘the soiled sheets of a bedsit he [can] scarcely afford.’ Even stories not directly about war are peppered with war-like phrases, such as in the title story: ‘[h]e weapons his words’ and ‘the sound of its freedom pops like gunfire.’ Or in the case of ‘The Huntsman,’ a story about a teenager’s first French kiss, there is a distinct feeling of battle, or enemies fighting, as a ‘terrified’ Sarah locks herself in the toilet and ‘pray[s] the lock will hold.’

‘When I go to war, they loan me a flak jacket, a big blue thing designed for men’: ‘Bulletproof’ is one of several stories about women reporting on warzones, being forced to survive, and forced upon, in a world dominated by – often dominating – men, mined presumably from the author’s own journalistic experiences. 

Combining the themes of war, displacement and motherhood is the story ‘Behind the Mountains, More Mountains’ in which the main character ‘[gives] birth to a daughter, the child of men, the child of a history and country she would never really know.’

The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing is a deep and heartfelt collection, which never shies away from the painful experiences of war, its effects, and those affected by it. 

About the reviewer
Laura Besley is the author of three collections of flash & micro fiction: (Un)Natural Elements, 100neHundred and The Almost Mothers. Having lived in the Netherlands, Germany and Hong Kong, she now lives in land-locked central England and misses the sea. 

Tuesday 8 November 2022

Review by Thilsana Gias of "The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly" by Sun-Mi Hwang


What do you think of when you hear the word "fable"? Your mind might soar to Aesop's The Town Mouse and The Country Mouse or if you are prone to harrowing school flashbacks, Orwell's Animal Farm

But unlike these examples, Sun-Mi Hwang's fabulist novel features a protagonist that we can actually get behind and cheer on - a humble and endearing little chicken called Sprout. 

Sprout is by no means a one-dimensional character - through her struggles and sacrifices for motherhood, we see a vivid portrayal of the complexity of human emotion, allowing the character to transcend the simple role of a moral-inspiring creature and become her own valid being with a fierce sense of determination in a cruel and lonely world: "Just because you're the same kind doesn't mean you're all one happy family. The important thing is to understand each other."

Sprout's voice is deliberately portrayed as very plain and honest (given her upbringing as a lowly caged hen) and contrasts with the chiding voices of harsher and more arrogant animals that set the confining social expectations and standards of farmyard life. Consequently, it is through Sprout's uncomfortable interactions with these creatures that we realise the novel is an allegory for the trials and tribulations that immigrant mothers experience in a harsh and judgemental society. 

Now, more than ever, exposure to such voices has become an utmost necessity as we see daily news reports featuring refugees of war and environmental disaster struggling to build nests for themselves and their children; facing hostility from governments, communities and even the very lands and seas they traverse on their arduous journeys. Therefore, having these disturbing realities presented to us in the colourful yet unforgiving backdrop of the natural world allows us to focus on humanity of a yearning mother without much political noise or confusion.

Perhaps what is most captivating about the novel is how beautiful the setting looks to the protagonist despite the hardships she faces in it - we are treated to lovely descriptions and illustrations of acacia trees which evolve and change with the seasons alongside Sprout, who tries to find hope wherever she can.

If you are still wondering why you should read a book about a chicken, know that Sprout's heart-wrenching story, full of daring escapes, sinister weasels and holes of death, has a rather magnetic quality, drawing international audiences of all ages and even inspiring a comic and popular animated film. So, if there's a moral here, it's that birds of a feather flock together and that maybe, just maybe, great minds think alike.

About the reviewer
Thilsana Gias is an MA Creative Writing graduate from the University of Leicester and a secondary school English Teacher. She spends her days trying to find time to write and crying every time a child confuses Romeo and Juliet with Rapunzel: "Romeo, Romeo, let down your hair!"