Book Reviews: April 2015

27 April 15 words: WriteLion
With Eve Makis, Ben Cheetham, Kelly Vero, Ian Shipley, James Walker, Carol Swain, Aly Stoneman, Amanda Eleanor Tribble and more
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The Spice Box Letters
Eve Makis
£8.99 (Standstone Press)
When a novel’s protagonist uncovers a journal left behind by a deceased relative, you may understandably suspect an emotional journey of self-discovery is in the offing. Perhaps the journal will contain details of a long-lost affair to be retraced, or an heirloom to be sought out. What you’re not expecting is their gran’s personal account of the brutal realities of the Armenian genocide of 1915, but that’s what Katerina discovers after the funeral of her beloved grandmother Mariam. Digging through the painful history of her family, Katerina travels to Cyprus and New York to find out what happened to her relatives during the genocide. Makis has done her research, and the historical details of 100 years ago ring true, as do finely drawn characters like Katerina’s great uncle, the cantankerous, memorable Gabriel. Add some mouth-watering descriptions of food and you have a warm, affecting tale to savour. Robin Lewis

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Angel of Death
Ben Cheetham
£7.99 (Head of Zeus)
The charred remains of a married couple are dragged from a burning mansion on the outskirts of Sheffield and their children are discovered, barely alive, beside the house fire that belies a terrible secret, revealed on a video found in the wreckage. The second of Ben Cheetham’s Steel City series follows Angel, a prostitute focused on revenge most unlawful. Picking apart the carnage is DI Jim Monaghan. Like many a fictional veteran detective, he has marital and boss issues, sacrificing his own happiness for the sake of putting away the bad guys. In this case, the criminals are hiding the darkest of crimes behind their authority and facades of respectability. The nature of justice and its moral ambiguities are studied in this fast-paced novel that kicks off a three-book story-arc, the last of which is to be partly set in Nottingham. John Baird

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Summer Girl
Kelly Vero
£5.49 (FeedARead)
If you’ve ever been to Valetta, you’ll know how well the walled citadel lends itself to a detective novel. But here’s a detective with a twist: he’s a vampire. “Gimme a break!” I hear you cry. “Not another bloody vampire novel.” But wait. This series is actually pretty enjoyable. The novels are a love letter to Malta - Kelly Vero was born in Nottingham but has made Malta her home and her love for the island is obvious. Jack Sant is a compelling hero too - a slim, pale, blonde man, though at least 400 years undead, investigates cold cases for his friend Frank Vella, and Summer Girl is an easy one to solve for a man like Jack. It’s not much of a mystery, but so much of this first slim volume is taken up with the details of the detective’s devilish lifestyle, you don’t much mind. Sue Barsby

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Mohawks And Mohicans
Ian Shipley
£9.99 (Grosvenor House Publishing)
Ian Shipley knows a punk when he sees one. Mohawks and Mohicans is an incredible account of the thriving punk scene in the once serene market town of Newark-on-Trent. Since reading, I’ve spent a huge number of happy hours listening to the incredible bands that Shipley talks about. I’m particularly in love with The Automatics and I love Ian Weird’s punk poetry. Shipley really captures the genre’s fun side and he nails the anarchic, revolutionary, underground feel of the movement for anyone who feels alienated from the political status quo. If it had one drawback, it’s that the book is so rammed with info that it’s more like an encyclopaedia than a story. All that amazing research could have been woven into a more exciting, gripping narrative. Trust me, though, when I say I’m being picky. It’s well worth a read for all lovers of punk. Katie Hutchcraft

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For It Was Saturday Night
James Walker/Carol Swain
Free (Shintin)
Disgusted at the powers that be “mekkin’ a right balls-up of education”, James Walker calls upon the shade of Alan Sillitoe for assistance. Unwilling to return “while there’s toffs in government”, Nottingham’s bolshiest novelist sends his two most famous creations back into the world to help. But when Smith from Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner proves, in his zombified form, to be more of a short-distance shuffler, it’s down to Arthur Seaton of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning fame to throw his weight behind Walker’s campaign for literacy and libraries. Things get off to a shaky start when Seaton goes in search of a pint and discovers that his beloved White Horse is now a kebab shop. Illustrated in suitably unpretentious fashion by Carol Swain, this latest Dawn of the Unread comic also features Ray Gosling, the Fish Man and Blakey from On the Buses. Neil Fulwood

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Ms Hood
Aly Stoneman and Amanda Eleanor Tribble
Free to view/download (Shintin)
For an ancient legend, Robin Hood is bang up to date. Making the gap between rich and poor smaller via the surgical removal of rich folk’s money from their wallets, to then redistribute it to those at the other end of society will only seem irrelevant when those at the top stop being greedy sods. No time soon, then. Dawn of the Unreads Ms Hood recasts Robin as an idealistic young lad who pretends to hold up a bank as a publicity stunt. Pointing a toy bow and arrow at the police goes as well as you’d expect, and Rob ‘Hoody’ finds his legend at a premature end when an overzealous riot officer plugs him. Told in verse with a nod to Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife, this story finds modern echoes of Robin Hood’s anti-authoritarianism and resistance in leaks, protests and the always-contemporary sight of rich bastards eating all the pie. Robin Lewis

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A Sense of Place
Nottingham Writers’ Studio
£3 print or free online
Launched in 2014, this quarterly literary journal from Nottingham Writers’ Studio showcases creative writing by its members. The theme of the current issue, A Sense of Place, was inspired by their move to the impressive new premises in Hockley and explores how ‘place matters’, allowing writers to “add dimensions and meaning that… exposes a story’s beating heart.” Contributors including Angela Barton, Sarah Dale, Pippa Hennessy and Tony Challis tackle temporal and physical terrain through poetry and prose, connecting location with memory and emotion in diverse settings ranging from Mombasa to the potbanks of Stoke-on-Trent. Being a nosey bogger, I was equally intrigued by the authors’ short biographies at the end of each piece, from which the source of inspiration can sometimes be gleaned. The journal – along with previous issues – is free to read or download, with a limited print run on sale from NWS and Five Leaves Bookshop. Aly Stoneman

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Beyond The Tune
Jayne Stanton
£5 (Soundswrite Press)
This East Midlands-based poet and fiddle player has read and published her poetry widely, and there’s plenty to enjoy in this observant and intimate first collection. Full marks to the independent publisher in Leicester who has put together a classy little volume on a no-doubt shoestring budget. The writing is dexterously crafted, achieving both economy and musicality. I particularly enjoyed the poems reminiscing about the sayings and ‘rituals’ of the author’s family, including the dialect piece Handed Down and the detailed tea ceremony at Grandma’s. Cats feature in several of the poems and some set-ups feel intriguingly esoteric, while a sequence in the middle sails into darker waters (Found in Cupboards; Pet), but Jayne, in her opening poem Grace Notes, alerts and invites the reader to expect metaphors and double meanings throughout, “Listen/ For the notes between the notes. Slip beyond the tune.” An excellent debut pamphlet. Aly Stoneman

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