Category: Review

Review of Anne Berry’s ‘The Adoption’

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

I am not sure if someone in my position is best suited to review this book. On the other hand, perhaps I am the best person. Let me explain. I have known all my life that I was adopted, and have borne that knowledge happily and without problems. I always believed that my parents were good people who wanted the best for me, and that my birth parents had felt the same.

This book told the tale of a simple Welsh girl, Bethan, who found herself pregnant in the years following the second world war. The father of her baby was an ex-prisoner of war who was working at her family’s farm. Their relationship was loving, though massively disapproved by the Bethan’s parents. Bethan is forced to give up her baby and Thorsten is forced to leave the farm.

I found the book to be initially confusing as I couldn’t always get my head around the characters. However, it didn’t take too long to understand the multiple viewpoints. It also didn’t come easily how Lucilla/Laura would narrate passages about herself in the third person.

Once I realised why this was happening, I relaxed into the book and couldn’t put it down.

The more I read of all the characters and their life difficulties, the better the book became.

I could write so much, but don’t want to give spoilers. All I will say is that most people might read this book assuming that a reconciliation between two lost souls (Lucilla and her birth mother, Bethan) would be the book’s inevitable heart-warming ending. However, the actual ending wasn’t expected, and the book was better as a result.

All I can say is that the book was beautifully written, gorgeous and poetic, particularly in the early chapters set in Wales. I felt such a strong sense of time and place.

‘The Adoption’s heart-wrenching themes are difficult and passion-inducing. So many times while I was reading this, I became angry at the treatment of victim characters.

Of course, Bethan and Thorsten shoudn’t have been forced to give up their baby to adoption, just as Harriet and Merfyn should not have been allowed to take the poor child and abuse her both emotionally and physically. I was adopted at about the same age, but my own experiences were wonderful. All I could think was Poor Lucilla.

Initially I wasn’t convinced that I would enjoy this book,. I felt it was either going to be too clinical (the name ‘The Adoption’ seemed to imply this) or that it would be saccharine-sweet and unpalatable. It was neither.
Searching for a birth parent doesn’t always bring the expected and desired results, either with relation to the people involved, or with relation to how we might feel about it.

I loved ‘The Adoption’. I loved it far more than expected.

I’ve looked at this subject in some depth in my novelette, ‘Changes’ which is now part of a collection called ‘Conflict Management’ by Meredith Schumann.

#meredithschumann #theadoption #anneberry #adoption #birthmother #changes #conflictmanagement

Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘The Sunday Philosophy Club’ – a review

Having just completed the reading of three books which meant nothing, and which irritated and which annoyed me, I was thankful that ‘The Sunday Philosophy Club’ had arrived at the top of my reading list.

It is the story of Isabel, who lives in genteel comfort with her daily housekeeper Grace. Isabel experiences the unfortunate falling of a young man from the top tier of a concert hall. When the young man dies, she can’t help wanting to know more, given that she was likely the last person to have eye contact with him before he hit the ground.

The book’s name comes about because Isabel is editor of a philosophy journal, and the book regularly refers to the ‘Sunday Philosophy Club’. As in ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ snippets of everyday life are interspersed with philosophical considerations and wonderings, both academic and everyday. We also get inside the head of Isabel. She’s intense, interesting and popular, but harbours a secret crush on her niece’s ex-boyfriend.

Having been encouraged to read quite a few of Alexander McCall-Smith’s other works, I came to this book with a preconceived idea of what TSPC might offer.

In general, I was pleasantly surprised. There were inevitably a few issues – for example, where the writing indicates the POV of more than one character.  It is something I’ve worked hard to remove from my writing, so am ultra-aware.

But, as a philosophy graduate and a fan of music-related writing, a book featuring not only a philosopher but also a musician meant I was happy to continue reading this enjoyable and relaxing book. Though there was no real depth, no real character development, and no real plot, I did enjoy reading this rambling, ambling thought process and musings on everyday events.

It’s been a few years since I read a McCall-Smith book. I think I’ll read some more.

#meredithschumann #review #reviews #alexandermccallsmith #thesundayphilosophyclub #bookreviews

Review of Ivan Campo at the Harris on 14th February 2020

Have you ever walked into a gig and felt calm and inspired, even before the music begins? Even when you’re an ancient prog-folk-rocker like me, and even before you’ve sat down? Well, that’s what happened when I went to see Ivan Campo at Preston’s Harris Art Gallery on Valentines Day 2020.

Firstly, the location was gorgeous. I’ve been to the Harris many times before but never to an event, so my assumption was that the concert would be held in a suite deep within the building: somewhere dull and bland with flat acoustics and plenty of audience space. I couldn’t have been more wrong. When we arrived, the band were setting up in the space just behind the lobby’s glass doors. In front of the small stage we could see a chic collection of bistro style chairs and tables.

It was then that I realised this was to be an intimate gig of maybe 50 attendees, yet the space was vertically massive. The ‘concert hall’ was three storeys high, and the band’s tuning-up sounds floated around the tables and up, through the art galleries, into the stunning ceiling cavity. When the doors opened, we accepted a free glass of Prosecco, then sat ourselves directly in front of the stage.

Ivan Campo has a seemingly simple set up: Adam on lead vocals and guitar, Will on keyboard, guitars, backing vocals and glockenspiel, and Ben on guitars, bass, percussion, clarinet and backing vocals. But Ivan Campo’s sound is anything but simple. Of course, they utilise many elements of folk music, particularly in the vocal harmonies, but the band exhibit elements of pop and choral music too, as the band’s musical influences are multiple and complex.

Each person listening to their music would be aware of different influences, but I found myself hearing Nick Drake, early Crosby Stills, Nash and Young, The Beatles, The Trees, Mellow Candle and even early Genesis. I even detected elements of The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, though these are rare! In ‘Darling Diva’ , there’s definitely a Bonzo feeling to the enunciation and of the verses in particular, and with its near-muted backing voices, the lead voice floats.Whatever their influences, Ivan Campo’s musical talents blend together in a cohesive whirl of gorgeous sounds.

I didn’t stop smiling the entire time, as watching and listening to Ivan Campo transcended pleasure and became unaccustomed joy. Yes, it was certainly connected with the quality of the musical performance, but also with the music’s feel. It exuded positivity and optimism – particularly ‘The Bloodhound and the Fox’ with its gentle organ sound and powerful lyrics, and in the bouncy harmonies of ‘Roll On’ with its staccato guitar and enticing foot-tapping rhythm.

This gig showcased some great music that moved between genres. ‘Forgetful Fredrick’ had a great reggae/calypso sound with its snappy, syncopated guitar and jolly glockenspiel. Incidentally, the whistling in this and in other tunes is an unexpected pleasure that’s simple but so effective. More jolliness arises in ‘Lotus Eater’ – a feel-good song with an early-Beatles skiffle feel, that changes to The Everly Brothers when they sing ‘Every day, gets a little stronger’. Taking a totally different tack, ‘A Chancer’ incorporates reggae-sounding rhythm guitar and a gorgeous lead guitar in this understated piece. Taking another direction, ‘Roller Disco’ tells of waking up in 1959 wanting to go to a roller disco. With its delightful hand shaker, doo-wop backing vocals sound and bass, it is funny, sweet and very feel-good. Weirdly, ‘Local Dealer’s catchy piano reminds me of Billy Bragg’s ‘Waiting for the Great Leap Forward’!

Ivan Campo have a wonderful percussive sound, especially as there is no drum kit. Everything is percussive! Consider ‘Season of the King’ with its gorgeous, rolling piano and motifs, with a tune that particularly suits Adam’s voice, and is brought into another dimension with the clicked-fingers percussion, shakers and syncopated rhythms. Also, in ‘The Mirror’ , amidst the gorgeous seemingly-complex harmonies of a tune that seems too pure to have arisen in our cynical times, the timings are satisfying and tight, assisted by sonorous clarinet notes and the clicking of clarinet keys for percussive effect.

The harmonies and the way the voices merge together are just mild-melting. In ‘The B&B’ the lyrics are great ‘ I know I’ll survive only if I try’, ‘A real reverie.’. ‘Wouldn’t you agree?’ ‘Was it all just a dream?’ My particular favourite part is the ‘It’s difficult. Impossible to see.’ There’s something astonishing about how those harmonies are delivered and how the words are articulated with a beautiful use of silence. In ‘Invisible Man’, the simple effective guitar picking is topped with almost-whispered singing of ethereal harmonies, and the simplest of keyboard accompaniments. ‘Crome Yellow’ presents us with such a Kinks-like feel at the beginning (Kinks but darker), with rich folk harmonies, and syncopated rhythm guitar. In ‘One Minute War’, the articulation of the word ‘Suddenly’ is gorgeous.

Not every band is able to use sparsity to the best effect, but Ivan Campo does. They use a chugging guitar sound on ‘Hurricane Ivan’ to start, and this is reflected by the singing style. As the song progresses, the tune becomes more lyrical, though the sparseness of the arrangement is effective. In ‘Blind Spot’ the harmonies and lyrics are exceptional especially on the lead up to the chorus. Even the chorus is pretty sparse, but so beautiful as a result.

It’s as if the band has fully orchestrated, then stripped right down to only what was essential.

And it is this musical self-awareness that made the band so special. These guys were not afraid of using their instruments and voices unpretentiously. ‘Liquor Mountain’ was sweet and reminiscent of something in the long ago past, and ‘Obscene Dream’ was glorious with its descending and ascending sweetness, and of silence. And again, reminiscent of a time gone by with its gentle, almost-whispered singing, ‘Rat Race’ begins in the manner of one of those brilliant busking tunes that cheers you as you walk past. But soon it becomes a hush little baby style version of something Beatles-like. How could such a thing be described in mere words? In ‘Could the Devil be a Gentleman’ I was instantly reminded of the Orkney and Shetland folk I adored in my teen years. I love the clarity of the fingerpicked guitar and the sound of the voices, especially the line ‘By the thoughts of a restless day’ which gives me tummyache and brings tears to my eyes.

This was one of the best gigs I have ever attended. Perhaps the best.

Acoustic music is often considered to have less breadth and depth. Not so. Of course, the grandeur and echo-chamber effects of the venue added to the atmosphere. But it was all about the band and their pure music. I purchased Purchased four Ivan Campo EPs on my way out – and have been listening to them ever since. This will definitely not be my final Campo gig.

#meredithschumann #author #authors #review #reviews #ivancampomusic #prestonharris #harris

Read This Book: NO MATTER WHAT! ***** FIVE STARS

Read this book ‘No Matter What‘ by Lesley Atherton

Review by Guest Blogger, Lauren O’Neill

No Matter What‘ is a short tale told from the point of view of Jayne Smith, a ghost writer who loves her job. She enjoyed the challenge of trying to write a book, autobiography or memoir in a way that it would seem her clients had written the books themselves. That is, until a certain supermodel named Hawk was sent her way, bringing not only stress and trouble along with him but also a past that Jayne had long since left behind.

Image: Pngtree

Lesley Atherton does a really good job of drawing you in and keeping you there and interested until the very end. Usually for me, short stories are just something to read to pass the time but with ‘No Matter What‘, I found myself enthralled with every word.

Even for a short story, each chapter flowed easily from one to another, I never found it difficult to get to the next page, never got stuck on a paragraph and never struggled to find the motivation to continue.

Jayne Smith, the protagonist of the story, is a woman who doesn’t find the need to impress or be a different person just to appease her peers and clients. Throughout ‘No Matter What’, I noticed how I didn’t agree with everything she believed but I still wanted her to come out victorious, be it ignoring the “supermodel version of Christopher Ecclestone” that was Hawk or being able to one day get the recognition she truly deserved for her hard work.

Without giving too much away, I saw myself mentally making note of every word she wrote, putting it away for later. This may just be a short fiction story but within it, you’ll find many things you could put to use in your life. As I started reading, I had somewhat of an idea in my head on what ‘No Matter What‘ was going to be about. Boy was I wrong!

For a 64 page story, there were so many twists and turns that kept me guessing and I have to admit, I never would have predicted what was going to happen and I think that’s quite a feat.

Illustration – quick sketch by a young Morrigan Atherton-Forshaw

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed ‘No Matter What’: the story was interesting, gripping and even quite helpful in some places. It kept me intrigued and excited to keep on reading to find out what happened to Jayne and if Hawk had caused any more trouble for the poor woman.

I would definitely recommend ‘No Matter What‘ to you if you enjoy a quick little fix of humour, excitement, mysterious supermodels and a ghost writer with more to her than she lets on, if you enjoy all that, then this is the story for you.

See also ‘Conflict Management’ by Meredith Schumann, Lesley Atherton’s new author name.

5/5 stars

#lesleyfridayreads, #lesleyatherton, #scottmartinproductions, #laurenoneill, #nomatterwhat, #shortnovel

Review of Bolton: The Positives, by Meredith Schumann

David Holding takes a wander through Victorian Bolton in his book ‘The Dark Figure: Crime in Victorian Bolton’ so I thought I’d stroll through the 21st Century version, for good and for bad.

Second, some goods.

  • Skaters yell to each other. Despite the heat and brightness of the day, they wear long sleeves and beanies and there isn’t a single t-shirt or pair of sunglasses to be seen. We watch as they zoom about, but we’re mainly looking at their facial expressions – pride, cool, nonchalance… The joys of being young.
  • We park in the multi storey where weekend parking is free, and we manage to find a spot on the first floor.  It’s never happened before.   
  • Thirsty, we flop into a café for a much-needed drink. I can’t place the accent of the man who takes our order, but he’s so friendly and recognises us from our previous visits. He asks about the family and gives us each a toasted teacake on the house.
  • We spend two hours rummaging round X-Records and emerge with music, DVDs and a pretty funky Led Zepp-inspired shirt. I absolutely love the friendly organised chaos of this place.
  • We decide to eat at the Cherry Moon café, just up the road. It is a place for gamers of all types, for comic book fans, and for diners who like good food. We certainly go mad for their halloumi fries, and my crushed avocado on sourdough toast is superb. Yep, this has to be the coolest and friendliest place ever. Oh, happy days.
  • A community police officer smiles at us and comments ‘Isn’t it a beautiful day?’ If he’d been wearing a bowler hat or flat cap I’m sure he would have raised it for me. ‘It’s certainly warm, I reply. ‘I think the lions are happy’. I gesture over to the distinctive town hall step statues, and note the affection for the town’s people in the officer’s eyes. †††† ‘Good job. We don’t want hungry lions rampaging round Bolton. We have enough problems.’
  • We do our fish and vegetable shopping in the covered market. The place is clean and bustling and the choice is fantastic. We purchase Caribbean curry to accompany the fish, and I suspect the man dishing out the chickpeas is the cheeriest person in the whole town. We leave, arms clutching food bags and faces glowing with anticipation of our evening meal. It feels like Christmas.
  • We take a trip round the museum and gallery and discuss the photographic exhibition and Egyptian displays. Another two hours happily spent. We don’t call in at the aquarium this time, as we need to get home.
  • The roads are busy, but I’m astonished when a pedestrian stranger leads us from the car park and onto the road. He holds up the traffic with a grin, and waves as we drive away.

#lesleyfridayreads

Review of Bolton: The Negatives, by Meredith Schumann

David Holding takes a wander through Victorian Bolton in his book ‘The Dark Figure: Crime in Victorian Bolton’ so I thought I’d stroll through the 21st Century version, for good and for bad. First, some bads.

  • The car park’s one we’ve been to hundreds of times, but they’ve changed the entry method. We assume it’s owing to the homeless people who regularly slept on the landings, and perhaps also the drug transactions we’ve seen occurring in this place which stinks of urine and is peppered with pigeon guano.
  • Three men sprawl on the ground, backs leaning up against a wall. One is more lying than sitting and the other two surround this incapacitated friend. ‘Spice’ a woman says, as we pass. Sugar and spice and things not nice.
  • A woman squats on the corner wearing a filthy, navy blue sleeping bag. We pass a little later when she’s being questioned by the community police officers who wander the town centre. She is insisting that she was innocent of a crime, while they are insistent on her guilt. A small crowd gather to listen. Meanwhile, a young near-toothless man, lies on a nearby bench and watches with open mouth.
  • Undeterred by cardboard policemen at the pound shop’s entrance, an elderly lady in an unseasonably heavy camel coat pockets a chocolate block.
  • In a large health and beauty shop, a dead-faced woman hovers by the make-up stands. She opens tubes, installing their contents on her face inexpertly and with speed. When two young staff members inform her that this is not acceptable, she immediately scurries away without a word.
  • A charity shop assistant discusses their recent spate of shoplifting, and the cheek and sense of entitlement of such people. Another customer comments: ‘They must be pretty desperate to steal from this place’. The two workers ignore her slight.
  • Three young boys scare an elderly woman with their play fighting. She stumbles, and the boys disperse.
  • Two teen girls mock a larger than average woman who is reclining in an arcade-salon chair to get her eyebrows done. Her body spills over, and the teens, with perfect skin and perfect bodies, point and laugh. The woman hears, and her smile freezes.

#lesleyfridayreads

Review of ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ by Richard Bach

It’s June 23rd 2019, and I want to say a massive happy 83rd birthday to Richard Bach, author of 70s classic, ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’.

Back in the 80s, I discovered this mind-blowing book in the eclectic library of two aging peace campaigners. I read it in a single sitting, then immediately began again. It delivers the clearest of messages:

It isn’t only acceptable to be different – difference is desirable.

Society inevitably values conformity when really it should be seeking uniqueness, free-thinking and transcendence.

Of course, stability, regularity and rules are important. Vital, even.

But there is always space for those who think outside these limits, as ‘Jonathan’ does.

Plot-wise, ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ focuses on a radical young seagull who has ambitions to live differently to his fellow gulls. They exist only to eat, but Jonathan spends his days in more noble pursuits – perfecting experimental flying techniques. Undaunted by failure, even being ostracised by his fellow gulls doesn’t make him give up.

Like Jonathan, achieving my own ambitions hasn’t always been easy, but this book has given me the strength to carry on more times than I care to remember.

And it’s because of this that I recommend EVERY writer read this book, and EVERY artist. In fact, EVERY creator of EVERY kind.

But this isn’t only a book for creators, it’s a book for any free-thinker, and for everyone who has experienced isolation, disassociation or social exclusion – you too have much in common with this short novel’s titular character, and will have much to gain from Richard Bach’s writing.

So, Richard, have a wonderful birthday. Mine is one small voice among many, but I’m grateful to you for making me realise it’s OK to stand out, to leave behind the familiar, and to work towards achieving your dream, no matter what.

#childrensbooks #richardbach #jonathanlivingstonseagull #bookreview