Book Reviews

Aliens: Vasquez by V. Castro

What Da Cover Says: For the very first time, the canonical background of the breakout Aliens hero Jenette Vasquez, as well as the story of the children she was forced to leave behind as written by the rising Latina horror star V. Castro (Queen of the Cicadas).

Even before the doomed mission to Hadley’s Hope on LV-426, Jenette Vasquez had to fight to survive. Born to an immigrant family with a long military tradition, she looked up to the stars, but life pulled her back down to Earth—first into a street gang, then prison. The Colonial Marines proved to be Vasquez’s way out—a way that forced her to give up her twin children. Raised by Jenette’s sister, those children, Leticia and Ramon, had to discover their own ways to survive. Leticia by following her mother’s path into the military, Ramon into the corporate hierarchy of Weyland-Yutani. Their paths would converge on an unnamed planet which some see as a potential utopia, while others would use it for highly secretive research. Regardless of whatever humans might have planned for it, however, Xenomorphs will turn it into a living hell.

What I Says: I’m a big fan of the Alien movies and one of my favourite characters was Vasquez, she seemed so small but man she was hard as nails and the way she stood up to the big macho guys like Hudson always made me smile. V. Castro is one of my favourite authors and when I saw she had written this book I said “Hell yeah I’m reading this!” It doesn’t disappoint, it kicks ass as much as you’d expect from Vasquez.

Castro does a great job creating this history for Vasquez, from a teen full of swagger and attitude, to ending up in trouble and joining the marines to become the fighting machine she was destined to be. The setting for this future is very similar to what it is today, the treatment and reduced rights of those who don’t have money and power is hard hitting and Castro uses all this to give her characters that extra level of strength. Inevitably Vasquez’s story comes to an end, I was disappointed by this, I don’t know why as having seen the movie I knew what was coming but was still hoping deep down that Castro would find a way to save her….alas she didn’t and the book then follows her children as they continue the Vasquez name.

It is now that the book really comes to life, we have dumbass humans carrying out experiments on the aliens/Xenomorphs, ignoring all sensible warnings as it all comes undone. The scenes with the Xenomorphs were spot on, so easy to picture them and their rage at what the humans were doing to them and knowing it was only a matter of time before they got their chance. The final 50 pages or so just whizzed by, such superb writing it was as if I was actually watching the scenes unfold, proper on the edge of your seat storytelling. Loved it. One of my favourite parts of this book was how Castro has stayed on course with the movies, there are so many little easter eggs to find and this made me aware of just how vast these movies were, something you don’t experience from watching the movies.

If you’re a fan of the movie franchise then give this book a go but be warned as Titan books have a lot of books in this series needing to be read. I’m off now to re-watch Aliens…no idea why haha.

Book Reviews

Escape to California: Misadventures in America’s Golden State by Chris Atkin

What Da Cover Says: He wasn’t trying to break America. But would America break him?

Rocked by political turmoil, climate change and a global pandemic, the US was calling out for a hero. Unfortunately, it was travel writer Chris Atkin who turned up.

Over the course of nearly two years living in the Golden State, Chris explores the history and incredible landscapes of western America.

He learns about the unsolved murder of the co-founder of Stanford University and the pioneer family reduced to cannibalism. He also finds the entrepreneurial spirit at the heart of California, which, for all of Silicon Valley’s success stories, is equally central to the tale of how hippies came to benefit when nearly three tonnes of marijuana fell from the skies above Yosemite.

When not living next door to Donkey from Shrek, Chris dodges bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes and Covid-deniers, and discovers there’s more than one way to live the American Dream.

What I Says: I’m a big fan of travel books, the things I look for are a sense of humour, covering an area I don’t know much about, an appreciation of nature and standing firm in the face of danger. This ticks all the boxes, luckily Atkin has his other half with him for the last part. Atkin’s humour is the traditional English put yourself down type and it made me chuckle many times, from scenes of imagining bears around every corner to commentary on the effects of ice water on genitals to inner narratives when listening to Covid-deniers.

There are areas of California that everybody knows, Grand Canyon, Big Sur and Yosemite to name a few, Atkin takes us to these places and shows us the beautiful places you probably didn’t know about. America seems to be all about the big places, the easy to get to views, but travel off the beaten path or climb a mountain and you’ll discover scenes you’d never have dreamed existed. America always does things bigger and it’s natural world is no exception. As well as the big places Atkin takes the reader to many unheard of locations where the number of tourists are just a handful, it was interesting to see what else the place has to offer.

The part of this book that didn’t contain any surprises was the people, there are some truly wonderful people like Wanda who potentially saved their lives and then there are those that scare you, I have no idea how Atkin stayed so calm when faced with those that believe what they read online or support Trump or believe Covid was fake or know for a fact that the weather is controlled by “Them”, I’m pretty sure I would have laughed out loud or put my foot in it some how. Some scenes were tragically sad, so strongly did they believe.

As for nature and danger, it seems these go hand in hand when in America. Atkin faces mountain lions, bears and snakes, he eats dodgy food and incredibly spicy food (spice levels seemed ok for others though), he rock-climbs (without crying), puts his body through some very gruelling walks in extreme weather and skirts dangerously close to the California wild fires. Reading all this was incredibly thrilling and I was glad to have done it from the safety of my garden in the warm sunshine. The wildfires become a large focus on the book, not just the damage they cause but how big they are becoming, the effect of climate change on water levels and the restrictions placed on residents on water consumption were incredibly scary, a snapshot of what life will one day be like over here in the UK?

This was a good book, well written and very easy to get into, I mentioned at the beginning I enjoy travel books but I think this one leans more towards a survival book (how to survive America). It you want inspiration of where to go and what to do when planning a trip to California then this book will make a great read…If like me you wanna see a Brit hurt himself over and over again then this book will make a good read. This book hasn’t convinced me to travel to America but it has given me a new respect for how beautiful a place it is.

Many thanks to the author for sending me a copy of this book to review, if you wanna check it out then you can get a copy from HERE: There are no photos included in the book, instead you can find some mind blowing views in a special album created by Atkin on FLICKR:

Book Reviews · Food

Pomegranates & Artichokes by Saghar Setareh

What Da Cover Says: From photographer and food writer Saghar Setareh comes a cookbook full of rich new recipes that show how ingredients and recipes–unconstrained by borders–are shared and transformed through the immigrant experience.

When Iranian writer and food photographer Saghar Setareh moved to Italy at the age of 22, she was enchanted by the rich food culture of her adopted country, and this inspired a curiosity in the cuisine of her homeland and the surrounding countries of the Levant and Eastern Mediterranean. Pomegranates and Artichokes is the story of Saghar’s own culinary journey from Iran to Italy, in which she describes the many parallels that link Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food cultures, and shows how ingredients and recipes–unconstrained by borders–are shared and transformed through the immigrant experience.

Divided into three sections representing stops on Saghar’s culinary “road trip”­–Iran, In Between, and Italy–this book features more than 80 recipes celebrating the foods of these regions. Among the highlights are a simple Iranian breakfast platter, a celebratory Persian feast, Sicilian-style stuffed artichokes, guinea hen braised with pomegranate, sweet–sour meatballs from Aleppo, a Roman ricotta and wild cherry pie, and a velvety Middle Eastern milk pudding.

Illustrated with Saghar’s own beautiful photography and peppered with personal insights and experiences, Pomegranates and Artichokes tells the story of two food cultures, and the delicious space in between.

What I Says: This book is a thing of beauty, from the glorious cover design to mouth-watering recipes and many atmospheric photographs, Murdoch books have published yet another cook book that will have you reading it cover to cover. There are many reasons why I enjoyed this book, foremost is the food journey it takes you on, traveling from Iran to Italy tracing the origins of these recipes, looking at how they have evolved as they have emigrated westwards was fascinating. Seeing as the book is about the journey the recipes have taken, Setareh prompts the budding cook to experiment themselves, try each recipe with both Iranian and Italian flavours, taking this idea further you can evolve each recipe again by using local flavours of wherever you happen to live…for me I put gravy and jaffa cakes on everything (just joking, honest).

As soon as I got the book I sat down with me post-it notes and marked each page I planned to try and there were a great many, Roast Chicken stuffed with dried fruit and some mouth watering breads were going to be first until I got to the last pages with some Italian sweet treats and that is where I started with an Italian Ring Cake and Little Chestnuts, Setareh’s journey goes from Iran to Italy and it looks like I’m going to do the return journey.

Italian Ring Cake

To make this cake I had to adult up and buy a Bundt tin, I thought it was going to be utter chaos trying to eject the cake from the tin, but luckily either the recipe was spot on or I am an amazing chef but it popped out easily and looked amazing. Recipe was easy to follow. Cake tasted amazing, unfortunately I’m not a coffee drinker so couldn’t fully appreciate this by dunking it. The cake took us a week to eat and even the last piece was tasty.

Little Chestnuts aka almond cookies

I don’t think I did too bad with this one, my cookies look quite close to the picture in the book. A lot more effort was needed here, loads of almonds to roast and then chop up which took me ages but in the end it was totally worth it because this is tasty with a cuppa, a nice hit of lemon with that first bite. This goes onto the make again and again and again list.

So what have I learnt from this book? First of all that would be how to use saffron, don’t grab a handful and throw it into whatever I am cooking, instead I shall be infusing it and looking clever whilst doing it. I have been wanting to use artichokes and aubergines for a while now but have had no success convincing the family this is something worth trying, the new name I have for an Aubergine will not help, Mela Insana, but the many cooking options here may do the job.

The book has plenty of photos included as Setareh is a photographer, a woman of many talents, and this talent is shown in the well presented foodie photos, but I do wish there were more photos of the recipe results. I find it very difficult to imagine the outcome of a recipe and rely heavily on a photo of what I am aiming for, no photo and I’ll usually move on to something else, not really a fault of the book as this is more a personal preference.

This is a thoroughly engaging cook book where you’ll learn a lot about food and hear from a modern Iranian woman and the trials she has faced by being from Iran and living in an unjust world. It was a joy to read how she found friends and food and was able to look into her family and their food traditions.

This was my stop on the Pomegranates and Artichokes blog tour, be sure to check out the other reviewers. Many thanks to Murdoch Books and Random Things Tours for including me.

About Author
Saghar Setareh was born in Tehran and moved to Rome in 2007 to study at the Fine Art Academy. She has been running her food and Photography blog, Lab Noon, since 2014, and has contributed to Food52, Conde Nast Traveller UK, and National Geographic.
Alongside working as a professional photographer, Saghar runs Persian and Italian cooking classes in cities across Italy. She was among Corriere della Sera’s selection of ’50 Women of Food’ in 2020.


Two Sherpas by Sebastián Martínez Daniell, Jennifer Croft (Translator)

What Da Cover Says: A British climber has fallen from a cliffside in Nepal, and lies inert on a ledge below. Two sherpas kneel at the edge, stand, exchange the odd word, waiting for him to move, to make a decision, to descend. In those minutes, the world opens up to Kathmandu, a sun-bleached beach town on another continent, and the pages of Julius Caesar. Mountaineering, colonialism, obligation—in Sebastián Martínez Daniell’s effortless prose each breath is crystalline, and the whole world is visible from here.

What I Says: This was a remarkable book that really does play with the reader’s grasp of time, in the space of what must only be a few minutes we get the life stories of the two Sherpas, a history of Everest and the attempts to conquered it, the psychology of the Brits who have to reach the top only to then turn around and find a new challenge, the author shows us how British Colonialism treated the Sherpas and he even manages to fit in a bit of Shakespeare. Not bad going cramming all that in to a few minutes of time.

The book’s main focus is on two un-named Sherpas, one old and one young and the English chap they are guiding who has fallen, their lives play out as they are looking over the ledge deciding what to do. We see this accident from two different angles at pretty much the same time and bit by bit we witness their thoughts and doubts on what to do next. The chapters are very short, some only a few lines long, and it is by using these little snapshots the author is able to mess with time and fit in so much. The thoughts of the two Sherpas as they look down on the body were profound, exploring life and death and what it all means, you soon find yourself caring for these two and you wonder how they got to where they currently are, one of them is so young and the other isn’t local, it was fascinating to find out their stories. The history of the mountain and the life of Tenzing Norgay after being the first Sherpa to reach the summit was full of interesting facts I hadn’t heard before. Also of interest was the recent avalanches that took the lives of multiple Sherpas and that the treatment of these people hasn’t changed since colonial times.

The older Sherpa does get the bigger story here, a brief meeting with a young lady called Rabbit takes up all the longer chapters, his awkwardness around her and the ensuing time together makes him feel more substantial than the younger Sherpa. Why they are both on the mountain soon becomes apparent and I did find myself forgetting about the poor Englishman whilst trying to unravel their story.

Croft has done a brilliant job of translating, I always wonder if the translator brings anything to the story and not knowing how to read the original text you gotta have a lot of faith and the fact that the book flows well and I got drawn in big time proves what a cracking job she has done.

Many thanks to Charco Press for sending me a copy to review, as always this has been fun to read. You can support the publisher by buying the book direct from them HERE:

Book Reviews

Closer Oceans by Jacob Hamilton

What Da Cover Says: One needs to be an outsider to know how and when to escape.

Closer Oceans is the story of pursued young men escaping from a society of ennui to a militarised academy that is eight miles below the ocean’s surface and built within a dome. Fulfilling work and honest living are its promises away from the automation and bureaucracy above, with literature being its most valued resource; mixed with a potion called ichor, books can become weapons and survival tools when chewed.

The potential utopia is being distanced though: centuries of scoundrels have rigged its structure in order to coerce the labouring and keep the best lands and organic foods for themselves. A new scheme rumours to consolidate their corruption even further. Made outcasts on arrival and unwilling to conform, the young men search for how to liberate the Dome.

The optimism of youth keeping its head up is the force majeure against oldness’ bequeathed doom; Closer Oceans answers youth’s call for help when the heaviest decrepitude is all around it. Solutions to artificial intelligence, governance, the search for freedom, persecution and the individual human condition are all found within its voyage.

What I Says: Imagine if you will the painting by Botticelli The Abyss of Hell, now imagine that the painting was actually done by Dalí and he made it underwater, now step into that painting, this is what reading this book is like, a glimpse into a potential future that feels both absurd and plausible. The book starts off with the book’s discovery by the author and then jumps right into the fray with nothing given away, we meet Tony who seems to not know what is going on, I like how protagonist and reader both start on a level playing field. Through his eyes we can see that not all is right with society, we gradually meet like minded individuals and they band together and end up on a quest to find the wealthy folk behind all the corruption. It is an epic journey, there is violence there is a magic in the air and a mutual respect between nature and our heroes.

The things listed here are the things I liked most about this book and are here to tantalise your reading tastebuds:

  • Armoured Alpacas
  • Books as survival tools
  • Giant sea creatures
  • Rugs
  • Strange object in a jar (what could it be you ask)
  • The thief that has had both hands chopped off and will only get them back when he has changed his ways
  • The fact that the author must have eaten many books mixed with Ichor to create this story
  • I would spend pages not knowing what the hell was going on and then you get one moment where you go “Aaaaahhhh, cool!”
  • Armoured Alpacas (mentioned here twice as there were two)

When reading this I kept seeing inspiration from other books and authors, seeing as literature is so important in this future this made for some clever writing, the language was similar to a clockwork orange, humans have evolved so why wouldn’t their language? I could see Jules Verne, Tolkien, Dante, Wyndham, Lovecraft and even a bit of Homer. I could also see similarities to V for Vendetta, the joy I got from that when you witness the downtrodden workers having had enough and being inspired to revolt.

This was a interesting read, there is much that went over my head but I know when I re-read this in the future I’ll be picking up on bits I missed this time around and who knows what the future holds, I might be needing these pages mixed with Ichor for the upcoming revolution. You can get yourself a copy of this book from the authors website HERE….or you could rip up the floorboards of your Aunt’s house and look for a copy there.

Book Reviews

These Particular Women by Kat Meads

What Da Cover Says: Did or didn’t Virginia Woolf carry her walking stick with her into the River Ouse? Did Kitty Oppenheimer get it right on her fourth marital try? Was revenge Agatha Christie’s motive when she disappeared in 1926? Could Estelle Faulkner out-drink husband Bill? Did Mary McCarthy believe her own hype? Was Caroline Blackwood a slob as well as a snob? In These Particular Women , Kat Meads investigates ten famous/infamous women and the exceedingly contradictory biographical and autobiographical portraits that survive them.

What I Says: This is one of those proper interesting books that gets under your skin and sends you off on a google journey between essays desperate to find out more than what is contained within these pages. So many of the women here were unknown to me, of course I had heard of the men but that’s how it is in this world, the women included here played their part and deserve a proper look into their lives. The thing that kept jumping out again and again was all the contradicting info in their past biographies, it felt like nobody had taken them seriously enough to do proper research, so in steps Kat Meads to find out about these larger than life ladies and how being female shaped their lives.

First up is Virginia Woolf and taking this in-depth look into her life and emotional wellbeing has opened my eyes to her writing, I always hated To The Lighthouse and it became a bit of a joke over how much I disliked it. Now that I have found out about the link between victims of abuse and water/drowning I feel I deserve to give the book another go, being better educated I may appreciate the book and see what others see when they say it was a classic.

Meads covers those 11 days when Agatha Christie went missing, I had heard about this event but had never looked further into what happened, it was very interesting to find out about her life and her relationship with the media. Meads delves into what was happening in Christie’s life at the time and whether it could have been revenge or just a need to be somebody unknown for a while, the opposite of having your 15 minutes of fame.

The more interesting essays here were about those women I hadn’t heard of, Jean Harris who shot her lover and the media frenzy this created, two people covered it and saw two different sides of this woman and they couldn’t help but let their feelings influence the biographies they wrote about Harris. Then you have the wives of famous men, Estelle Faulkner and Kitty Oppenheimer, both amazing women and both living in the shadows of their husbands, you feel they had so much potential and wonder what they could have achieved in a more equal world.

My favourite essay was right near the end, a dual biography of Sylvia Plath and Mary Flannery and their relationships with their mothers, fascinating to read about these four women and Meads’ writing was so very clever and makes this essay flow effortlessly, pretty sure I would have ended up with utter chaos on the page if I attempted something like this.

A lot of research has happened to create this book, so many biographies have been read to try and figure out the facts and Meads has does a grand job of making this easy to read by blending many facts with a touch of wit. This book feels immense even though it is a short one and I think that’s down to how many lives have been covered and how much I have learnt. I highly recommend this book, easy to read and plenty to be gained from it.

Thanks to Sagging Meniscus for sending me this copy, you can get yourself one HERE:

Book Reviews

Taking Flight by Lev Parikian

What Da Cover Says: A bird flits across the sky overhead. It’s an everyday occurrence, repeated hundreds, thousands, millions of times daily by insects, birds and mammals across the world. It’s something so normal, so entirely taken for granted, that sometimes we forget how extraordinary it is.

For centuries all humans could do was watch and wonder, earthbound – but even now, for all our technological advances, put us in a flying race against a mosquito or a beetle or even that reluctant last-resort flier the red-legged partridge, and there will only ever be one winner. Flapping, soaring, gliding, hovering, diving – the miracle of flight has evolved in hugely diverse and fascinating ways, whether in a fruit fly or albatross, swift or Quetzalcoatlus, pipistrelle or common darter.

From the mechanics and aerodynamics of flight to different techniques and phenomena such as flocking and migration, Taking Flight explores the unique abilities of thirteen flying species, celebrating flight in all its myriad forms, and urging us to look up and drink in the spectacle of these gravity-defying marvels.

What I Says: Parikian’s enthusiasm for whatever he is talking/writing about is so contagious, I so easily get caught up in his whimsical daydreams about travelling in time to witness the ancestor of a dragonfly, that I kept forgetting I was reading a book and had to go back a page to see what I had missed. Mixing this enthusiasm with his silly sense of humour made this rather in-depth look into wings an easy read, creating new types of measurements, using known things like cricket pitches and varieties of a particular brand of ice cream makes it easy to see the point he was trying to make…just imagine where I’d be now if he had been my teacher at school…well, I’d still be reading this book but I may have created a time machine between chapters.

Included in this book is an impressive amount of flying creatures, ya got it all, insects, birds, dinosaurs, more birds and even bats (surprisingly the flying ones and not the wooden ones) I was very impressed with how many he included, I kept saying “what about the…” and a few pages later there it was. Each chapter focuses on one type of species, using some writerly sense Parikian starts at the beginning, investigating the earliest known versions via fossils and knowledge gained from Jurassic Park, he shows how the animals evolved to become expert flyers and then brings us to present day and describes how the animal fits in to the world (i.e. stealing chips at the beach). You can tell from the writing he has his favourites, the eternal battle between the Peregrine Falcon and Pigeon contains some of his best writing. As you would expect in a book focused on wings there is a lot of science, and with some superb writing Parikian somehow manages to bring it all down to a level any reader could understand. I have learnt a huge amount of interesting facts from reading this and have spent quite a bit of time boring those around me with what I have learnt.

The book does have one fault though, a distinct lack of photographs, I have never seen a Pterosaur and it would have been great if the author had included a few photos of ones he had found in the wild. The book is good fun, full of interesting little titbits and very well written, I think it’s about time Parikian gets his own documentary series.

Many thanks to Elliot & Thompson for sending me this copy, you can grab your own copy from Litalist HERE and support your local Indie bookshop and not that other place.


Nobel Prize Winning Interview with Jim Gibson

Ey up Ladies and Gents, do you guys remember all those nightmares I suffered from, the images of that creepy book I saw online, the nightmares that had me waking up at night in strange places, mostly in abandoned theme parks? No? Oh! Well anyways…the source behind those nightmares is here today to be interviewed by me innit!  So please welcome master wordsmith Jim Gibson

Q1: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing?

I’m currently a gardener, from a small ex-mining village in North Notts and I got into writing through reading as I’m sure most people did. Having grown up skateboarding, going to DIY punk gigs and living in that kind of world, I’ve always been around creative people who don’t need to be invited to do things so it was natural for me to enjoy reading fiction and then go, ‘Right, I think I’ve got something’ and to just have a go. Also, things like skateboarding taught me from a young age to look at the world around me with a different perspective from other people and I think that skill has been transferred into my writing, looking at the world as an outsider but also, the way that you’re out on the streets all day and night means you rub shoulders with the people that those sitting at home don’t even know exist. The weird, wonderful and sometimes not wonderful people that lie underneath society’s veil.

I think all of the facets of the world are a great inspirations and the microcosm which I know intimately has enough for me so that I don’t have to go any further to be able to portrays something that I feel is different to anything else we’ve seen in literature at this point. A lot of the characters in this book are people that would never have had their own pages previously.

Q2:  Before we discuss the contents of the book tell us about the photo on the cover…well the hell is that from?

These are bollards outside the primary school up the road from my house and the picture was taken by my wife, Sophie Gibson, who is a talented photographer and designer. The story of this one particular girl is that as soon as she was installed, her face went black overnight. The people who installed her said there was something wrong, that she kept wriggling while they were trying to cast her in the post crete. At the beginning, she was scrubbed clean of the black soot in the morning and overnight it would return. A medium was called out and she communicated, said that it was Sarah Clunes, daughter of miner Pete Clunes. Said she had trouble getting much out of her for the screams. Anyway, when it was looked into, it turned out that Sarah had gone to the pit one day to pass a message to her dad and someone thought it was a good idea to take her down. Needless to say, it caved in and she was never seen again. Now they leave the black face and parents tell their children not to look her in the eye or they will hear her screams for the rest of their lives. The council were asked to remove her but people are worried about what might happen if they do.

Wow, I had no idea there was such and fascinating background to that photo.

Q3:  So what is the book about?

The Bygones is a small story collection that is set out as a journey through a location, meeting some of the people that live there and letting them show you whatever story they want to, in their own voice. It plays around with the idea of modern day folklore to the extent that oral storytelling in daily life mirrors this old tradition and the stories range from the very grounded to those that play around with more ethereal elements. It’s about nothing and everything and capturing a certain place at a certain time and letting it be how it is forever.

Q4:  You have written a story called Gnomes, well done you for raising awareness of God’s mightiest creatures.  Where did the inspiration come from?

Gnomes was actually a story inspired by a story. My mum told me years ago about this woman who she remembered from her childhood. I vaguely remembered this story but had a vivid picture of the woman in my head regardless, her looks mirroring how I thought she would act and I basically let this character and the narrator direct their own interactions and his meeting with Karen, the gnome lady, turned out to really affect him more than I thought it would.

Funnily enough, when my mum read the story eventually, she said to me, ‘The real story was loads weirder than that.’ So it seems I toned it down a bit whilst thinking I was doing the opposite but this is all part of the folklore, it changes from person to person.

Q5:  I read that you are the co-founder of Hi Vis Press and Hand Job Zine, how did you get into that and which of them would win in a fight?

Hand Job would slip a knife into Hi Vis without it even realising there was a confrontation.

But in reality, they were the same beast. We started Hand Job Zine as a really anti lit zine that went against all of the stilted, arts council funded, boringly formal and non-risk taking publications that were out there. There was none of the anarchy, transgression or boundary pushing that historically had produced the most exciting work and that’s what we were after so we didn’t sit around waiting for it. We just did it ourselves. It started off being a cut and paste old school zine but, issue by issue, it started to look more designed whist holding the same ethos at its heart. Eventually, we thought we could do a coffee table mag with the same style of writing but presented in a way that people would respect the writing inside as much as it deserves to be. So there was Hi Vis Press and Low Light Magazine. We produced two issues of a stunning lit and photography mag that I still think was better than anything else on the market and 2 books. The collection Extreme Violets by extremely talented poet Miggy Angel and Billy and the Devil by Dean Lilleyman. Both are recommended as truly great progressive works if you can find them anywhere. Now though, time doesn’t allow us to pursue this but we’ve always said, it’s not dead, just sleeping. I’m sure that we’ll come back to it at some point in the years to come if we manage to wiggle a bit more free-time.

I have read Billy and the Devil and it is one hell of a book, my review for those needing convincing is HERE:

Q6:  Are you much of a reader? What is the best book you’ve read recently, and which is the book you first fell in love with?

I love reading as much as I have time to and lately have been trying to read as much contemporary stuff as I can as it’s all too easy to get lost in the past classics which I have mainly done for my reading life. I’m finding a wealth of amazing writing out there. My favourite book that I’ve read recently has to be The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Marianna Enriquez. I love reading works from other countries and cultures and seeing how the voice and style differs. This, for me, was great in the way that it approached darker subject matters in an almost hypnotic and uncanny way whilst also being very anchored in its world. But there are also writers much closer to home, like Rob True, that have a writing style that is very unique to their own perceptions of the world. I like things that are different to the norm.

The first book that I fell in love with was Trainspotting. I had started vaguely getting into reading and a teacher at school recommended it to me (who had once found me with marijuana in a lesson) I’ll let you decide if that was appropriate or not. But it was a revolution of how you could approach characters, what stories you could tell and how you could do it. Up until this point I had only really read what we studied at school and whilst I knew there was something that I enjoyed in it, it wasn’t until I read trainspotting that I was excited about what was to come. After this there was many more book loves to come and funnily enough, one of my all-time favourites, Last Exit to Brooklyn, has an introduction by Irvine Welsh talking about how much of an influence it was on him. The circle is complete.

Q7:  Time for some random questions.  If you could have a meal with anybody, dead/alive/undead, who would you pick and what would the meal consist of?

I dunno, I’m a fan of my own company to be honest. I think I’d just stick with my wife and the dog and a mish-mash of everything that’s bad for you. Either that or go for a burger with The Dude from Big Lebowski, not Jeff Bridges though, just The Dude. Maybe a bit of bowling. I think I’d enjoy that. Something steady.

Q8:  If you could put your name to an award, what would it be an award for and how big a bribe do you need for me to win it?

These are like those questions you get at job interviews that make you want to kill yourself. Why do you do this to me? (Assassination attempt 1 has been foiled)

An award for lives lived with a complete absence of modern technology. I’m hoping I’ll get to win that award in the future but for now I’ve gotta hustle. I always admire those people who live out in the wild and grow veg and have animals and everything; that’s what we’re working towards. It wouldn’t take a bribe for you to win it, some doctored images would do. We wouldn’t come out and visit you unless it was within tandomcycling distance.

Q9:  I’m planning on making a movie for Adam Sandler, could you quickly write a plot for the movie as I need to do a trailer by the end of the week, no limit to budget cos I is well rich.

Well the classic Sandler character is a loveable but slightly dim American guy in a heartwarming comedy so instead I’d chuck him into a Shane Meadows film or something. Have him play like a British crack head, have him signing on and going to the clubby for a few pints. I don’t think I’d go for a plot, what I’d do is I’d have him live the life for three months prior and then just chuck him into situations for him to improvise. Like having someone start a fight with him in Wetherspoons or send him to KFC when they’ve ran out of chicken or have him wonder around derelict post-industrial landscapes. I think that would be a good experiment.

Haha that would be epic.

Q10:  What’s your opinion on music?  Is it real and what is your favourite song?

Music without lyrics is more real than our lives and speaks to a place inside of us that we can’t reach on a conscious level. With lyrics its good fun. I’m one of these with really eclectic taste so I’ll go from hardcore punk to minimal piano pieces in one playlist. As for favourite song, it’s a toss-up between The The – This is The Day for its total and utter euphoria and Lucinda Williams – Fruits of my Labour because it’s an absolutely beautiful song and was used at mine and Sophie’s wedding.

Q11:  What’s next for you?  Any new books on their way?

Well, I’ve just had a story released with Nightjar Press as they publish single stories in chapbooks. It was a great honour to be included in this series.

Apart from this, I’m always working on stuff and have a novel, The Warren, drafted out and being read by the publisher. There’s nothing set in stone but hopefully that will be the next book and acts as a progression from The Bygones. The narrative voice is similar in the way that the characters talk directly to you and how each chapter was written as a short story in itself rather than an altogether plot which hopefully shows a fragmented reality much the same as real life. Characters have their own stories and then there are larger sections where their stories overlap. It is quite transgressive and experimental at times and may test some readers but I feel like people who enjoyed The Bygones would really enjoy The Warren.

Also, I’m working on a couple of projects with photographers, one loosely based around the life of D H Lawrence who is a literary legend in this area and another to produce a piece of prose to accompany a photobook and exhibition based around council flats in Sheffield where I briefly lived. I love working across mediums with other artists as I feel that the people who approach me with ideas really get that these aren’t just stories, they’re written paintings, musical melodies in words, they’re atmosphere and tone rather than plot. And for this reason they work well with other forms of art.

Practical task:  I have a gnome gallery on my blog, every victim I interview gets to create a piece of artwork based on Gnomes, can be any medium and you are welcome to name the piece. 

O pale Ophellia! Beautiful as snow!

Many thanks to Jim for taking part in this interview and sharing some fantastic books, also check out his book The Bygones, especially for the Gnome story. Not sure him drowning a Gnome should be classed as art but like his teacher as school I’ll let him get away with it this time. If, like me, you want to stalk Jim then check out this tree link thingy.

Book Reviews

Of Cattle and Men by Ana Paula Maia, Zoë Perry (Translator)

What Da Cover Says: Animals go mad and men die (accidentally and not) at a slaughterhouse in an impoverished, isolated corner of Brazil.

In a landscape worthy of Cormac McCarthy, the river runs septic and sludgy with blood. Edgar Wilson makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of a cow, then stuns it with a mallet. He does this over and over and over again, the stun operator at Mr. Milo’s slaughterhouse: reliable, responsible, quietly dispatching cows and following orders, wherever that may take him. It’s important to calm the cows, especially now that they seem so unsettled. One runs headlong into the side of a barn, 22 more hurl themselves off the side of a cliff. Bronco Gil, their foreman, thinks it’s a jaguar or a wild boar, Edgar Wilson does not. But what is certain is that there is something in this desolate corner of Brazil driving men, and animals, to murder and madness.

What I Says: The opening paragraph was brilliant, from these first few lines I was hooked, I knew I was in for a special journey with an interesting character called Edgar Wilson, I’m not sure why it was like this but I felt instantly settled and all stresses of starting a new book vanished. It is an atmospheric read, very much like No Country for Old Men, you can sense the heat and the lethargy in the characters, there is no rushing around, everything happens at a relaxed pace with plenty of time to sit, chill and enjoy the views. Edgar and his fellow comrade’s thoughts are all very simple, and at 100 pages long not a word is wasted, easily the sort of book you can finish and think I fancy having another round of this.

The story takes place in a slaughterhouse and is very much anti-meat but that doesn’t take over the book, I was expecting this to be full of lectures to the reader to put them off meat but the author just tells you how the slaughterhouse works and leaves you to ask why you have your head in the sand and continue consuming meat even though deep down you know what these animals go through. The reader spends most of their time with Edgar, a stun operator, you get up close with the animals and look into their eyes with him as they are knocked out. The plot was mysterious and I found myself easily pulled in and caught up trying to figure out what was going on. I also really felt for Edgar, as the stun operator he suffers with what his job requires of him but he knows that if he doesn’t do it somebody else will do it and probably with less care for the animals.

The book is translated by Zoë Perry and if the original text felt like a Cormac McCarthy novel then she did a fantastic job in translating. Another fine release by Charco Press, enjoying exploring international literature with them.

Many thanks to Charco Press for sending me this copy to review, if you wanna check it out then get yourself a copy via the publisher HERE:

Book Reviews

These Envoys of Beauty (a memoir) by Anna Vaught

What Da Cover Says: These Envoys of Beauty is writing straight from the heart. Over twelve essays, Anna Vaught uses her relationship with the natural world to explore themes of loneliness, depression, and complex and sustained trauma within the family home, issues that shaped her early life and continue to have a far-reaching impact decades later.

Vaught writes about how she oriented herself to the natural world and lived within it while growing up in a rural home; about wishing trees, talking streams, and her early knowledge of plants, animals, and botanical names; about her passionate relationship, even when very young, with foraging and what was edible, how things smelled, licking the rain from leaves, drinking, growing, and cooking. She writes about how nature fed and feeds her imagination, and how it gave her hope of something different beyond the world she experienced as a child and young person.

What I Says: This is a very brave book, Anna Vaught has laid herself bare to the reader, she has shared a childhood filled with emotional abuse and loneliness and she shows how nature has helped her to come to terms with what happened to her and to help her to understand the guilt that still lives with her today. She admits that things still trigger her today and that makes you comprehend how brave she is putting this book out into the world for us to analyse and judge.

I have to admit that this has opened my eyes somewhat, I work at a school and annually take part in child protection training, all aspects of child abuse are covered but I don’t think I ever truly grasped the emotional abuse, the intensity of the trauma it causes and the fact that it is something that you carry for the rest of your life. The loneliness described by Vaught makes me wish I was a time traveller able to travel back and tell her she is a wonderful human and give her a hug before moving on to cash in on those winning lottery numbers.

I loved the writing style in these 12 essays, Vaught is always communicating directly with the reader and now and then she admonishes herself to keep on topic and each time this happened it made me chuckle, a clever way of giving a heavy subject a moment of lightness. On a few occasions she invites the reader to visit her home and what an experience that would be, because Vaught is a collector, pick up a book and you’ll find pressed flowers and then there are the objects dotted around the house, little objects found on walks and each item has it’s own story put together by the author. The writing doesn’t dwell on the childhood abuse, events are shared but this book is about how nature has helped Vaught deal with the trauma, as a child and an adult, it is full of hope for any reader looking for help. There are some scenes that are beautiful, the description of the Elder tree and how full of life it is has to be my favourite essay…and from now on when watching a tree in the wind I shall be remembering this book and picturing the tree as a Galleon in a storm.

The subject matter is shocking and you may think it is not for you but it is the sort of book you should push yourself to read as what you gain will be immense, a greater understanding of victims or even a greater understanding of yourself. A truly informative book that will stick with me for a long time.

This was my stop on the These Envoys of Beauty book blog tour, be sure to check out the other stops on this tour. Many thanks to Anna Vaught, Reflex Press and Random Things Tours for including me.

Author Bio: Anna Vaught is an English teacher, young people’s mentor, Creative Writing teacher and author of several books, including 2020’s novel Saving Lucia (Bluemoose) and short fiction collection, Famished (Influx). Her shorter and multi-genre works are widely published in journals, magazines, anthologies and the national press. She has been a Bookseller columnist and still writes regularly for them, while she is currently a columnist for Mslexia. Her second short fiction collection, Ravished, was published by Reflex Press in 2022, and 2023 will see four books: memoir, These Envoys of Beauty (Reflex Press), new novel The Zebra and Lord Jones (Renard. UK and commonwealth; Zebra is currently on US submission), plus The Alchemy, her first book about writing. Saving Lucia will be published in Italian by Milan’s 8tto edizioni as Bang Bang Mussolini. She is a guest university lecturer, tutor for Jericho Writers, super-nerd, volunteer with young people, mental health campaigner and has recently established the new #Curae prize for writer-carers with industry-wide support. She works alongside chronic illness and is a passionate campaigner for mental health provision, including in the publishing industry.