Book Review: Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan

Book - Sunlight PilgrimsSunlight Pilgrims is an atmospheric coming-of-age climate change novel – a tale of survival and hope against the backdrop of a freezing winter that sees cities grind to a halt, as temperatures plummet. Set in the Scottish caravan park of Clachan Fells, the book is both visceral and surreal but also entirely believable. We follow the story of young Stella, a trans teenager who is determined to ignore the judgements of others and seek out an identity of her own.   Continue reading

Book Review: Tinkers by Paul Harding

Tinkers by Paul HardingA Guest Post by Bryan Marshall

If you’re looking for a rattle of a read, filled with explosive plot twists, then, dear reader, pass by.  If, on the other hand, you feel you might appreciate a superbly-crafted, delicately-whispered rumination on what the final week of a clock repairman in Maine might feel like, with its half-memories and cloud-fogged hallucinations, then you may want to stay a while.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: Two Exquisite Pamphlets

Poetry Pamphlets - Brood and Teaching a Bird to SingThese two poetry pamphlets (Teaching a Bird to Sing by Tracey Rhys, and Brood by Rhian Edwards) each have their own unique style. What links them, in my mind, is the exceptional quality of the cover artwork, along with a kind of poetry which is unflinchingly honest and elegant in its portrayal of motherhood, emotion and the complexity of family relationships. The volumes both present us with the imagery of nesting birds – a perfect metaphor for motherhood.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: Slant Light by Sarah Westcott

Book - Slant LightSlant Light is a slim-lined poetry collection which hides a wealth of natural wonder between its covers. Sarah Westcott writes on behalf of nature – giving a voice to the creatures of the wild, and providing a new take on our understanding of the world around us. Her language is fresh, raw and earthy, with a strong ecological message.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Sellout by Paul Beatty

the selloutA Guest Post written by James Fenchurch

Some books are easy to begin reading. Not so with this one. I felt I was fighting my way into it, but once I had survived the surreal opening skirmishes I found myself tuning in to the wacky world of satire created by Paul Beatty. Once I was in there it romped along, delighting and surprising me in equal measure. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I became immersed in the lives and relationships of a really unusual cast of characters.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

The Essex Serpent by Sarah PerrThe Essex Serpent is a refreshingly modern historical novel, set in 1893. It follows the story of Cora Seaborne, recently widowed and released, at last, from an abusive marriage. Eager to enjoy her new-found freedom, she abandons London for the Essex Coast, planning to scour its cliffs and beaches for fossils, and determined to track down the mysterious Essex Serpent (which she hopes will turn out to be an undiscovered species). She meets the very practical minister of Aldwinter (William Ransome) who is keen to quell any rumours of serpents and, despite their opposing views, they are immediately drawn to each other.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Markus ZusakThe Book Thief is set in Germany during the Second World War, but it is not your average war story. It is full of metaphors and symbolism, echoing the style of a fable, and it is narrated by an intriguing character – Death. Death looks on as humans do their best to destroy each other in the most horrific ways imaginable, while he is left to clear up the mess they leave in their wake. He doesn’t want to become involved, but he is drawn towards a young girl (Liesel) as she travels across Germany to meet her new foster parents, encountering Death on the way.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: The Mabinogi by Matthew Francis

Poetry Book The MabinogiSpeaking at the Hay Festival last month, Matthew Francis described his first encounter with The Mabinogi (which he read in 1999 when he moved to Wales). “I was both baffled and fascinated by it,” he explained, “It’s extraordinary, and strange in the way it’s constructed, and it also has a strange logic.” He is not a Welsh speaker himself, and this is not a translation – he described it as a “re-imagining” of the myth, in the same way that Shakespeare drew on existing stories for his plays.    Continue reading

A Very Welsh Anthology of Young Welsh Writers

Cheval 10 anthologyA Guest Post written by Thomas Tyrrell

There is a short story called ‘Daffodil Nipples’, two different authors chose the title ‘Welsh Cakes’, and Blodeuwedd (one of the central figures of the Mabinogion) has a poem to herself. The Cheval 10 anthology definitely has a Welsh feel to it, and that’s appropriate for a collection created from pieces submitted for the Terry Hetherington Young Writers Award, (for writers under 30 who live or work in Wales). But there are surprises too: a short story with the familiar title ‘Hiraeth’ turned out to be about an asylum seeker living in Wales, Martina Biavati came all the way from Italy to read her New York-set story ‘Caffe Giallo’, and Katya Johnson’s story about the French painter Cézanne won the second prize for prose.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Fatal Tree by Jake Arnott

Book - The Fatal Tree by Jake ArnottI heard Jake Arnott reading from his novel, The Fatal Tree, at the Hay Festival, and was intrigued by his use of slang words – a historical dialect of thieves and villains, taken directly from the “flash world” of Romeville in 18th century London. The book centres on the true story of infamous jail-breaker Jack Sheppard and his companion, the notorious Edgworth Bess (aka Elizabeth Lyon), but it is not a straightforward telling. Arnott’s narrator (William Archer) is a young hack writer, who gains his material directly from Edgworth Bess herself, as she awaits trial at Newgate Gaol.    Continue reading

From Pain to Poetry – Debut Collections by Rebecca Parfitt and Christina Thatcher

Poetry Book - More than you wereIt is often true to say that the most incredible poetry comes from the most painful experiences in life. For centuries poets have been transforming their pain into something beautiful and unique which speaks into the lives of others and helps us to confront our own pain, and two Cardiff poets have recently launched debut collections which do just that. Rebecca Parfitt and Christina Thatcher have both produced poetry collections which strike at the heart of what it means to be human, exploring the most intense and painful of emotions.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Muse by Jessie Burton

Book - The Muse by Jessie BurtonAfter reading Burton’s debut novel (The Miniaturist) I was expecting more of the same, but The Muse is quite different, both in style and theme. It is much more exciting and multi-layered, spanning two different time periods and focusing on the origins of an unusual painting. The book begins in 1960s London, where we meet the young aspiring writer Odelle Bastien, who moved to London five years ago from the West Indies. She is thrilled when she eventually lands a job as typist for the Skelton Art Gallery, working for the stylish Miss Quick.    Continue reading

Book Review: Gaslight by Eloise Williams

Book - Gaslight by Eloise WilliamsIt’s always strange to read a children’s book as an adult, requiring a kind of leap backwards to a previous version of yourself. Gaslight by Eloise Williams, is exactly the sort of book the younger me would have enjoyed – with the perfect mix of historical detail, mystery, suspense and danger. The fact that it is set in Victorian Cardiff (in 1899) adds an extra dimension of interest for a historian like me, as I can visualise the old city superimposed over familiar streets.   Continue reading

Book Review: Strangeland by Tracey Emin

Book - Tracey Emin's StrangelandI picked up Strangeland in the Hay Festival bookshop (just to take a quick look) and, ten minutes later, realised I was hooked. It’s a collection of autobiographical pieces written by Tracey Emin about her eventful life and, though it’s full of abuse and heartbreak, it’s certainly a gripping read. It’s described on the front cover as “the jagged recollections of a beautiful mind” and “jagged” is a good word for this strange and powerful book.     Continue reading

Book Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Book - The Miniaturist by Jessie BurtonThe Miniaturist is an intriguing work of historical fiction which immediately draws you in to the world of seventeenth century Amsterdam – a world ruled by Burgomasters and Guilds, where neighbours spy on each other and traders show off their riches. Burton tells the story of Nella, a young country girl arriving at the home of Johannes Brandt (her new husband and a wealthy merchant) who seems distant and uninterested in her. But he does present her with a wedding gift – a perfect miniature replica of her new home.    Continue reading

Book Review: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Book - On Beauty by Zadie SmithI really enjoyed Zadie Smith’s debut novel (White Teeth), though I have forgotten most of the plot. I wasn’t sure what to expect with On Beauty, except perhaps more of the same insightful humour and character driven narrative. To be honest, it took the first 100 pages or so for me to really get into this book, but that’s probably because the cast of characters is large, and each one has their own say.    Continue reading

Book Review: Too Brave To Dream – newly discovered poems by R.S. Thomas

Too Brave To Dream - Poems by R.S. ThomasThe poet R.S. Thomas passed away in 2000, and two books on modern art were discovered in his library, with previously unseen poems inserted between the pages. Too Brave To Dream: Encounters With Modern Art brings these poems together for the first time, alongside the images themselves. The poems are varied, short and impressionistic, similar in style to the ekphrastic work published during his lifetime. They are surreal, reflecting the appearance of the art he is writing about, but they are also intriguing in their own way.    Continue reading

Book Review: Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine ThienDo Not Say We Have Nothing is an epic tale written in lyrical prose. It begins in the present, with Marie (also known as Li-Ling) baffled by her father’s unexplained abandonment and suicide, and intrigued by the visit of the teenage girl Ai-Ming, daughter of her father’s friend, on the run from China and seeking safety abroad. The narrative soon delves back into the past, revealing the story of Big Mother Knife, Swirl and Wen the Dreamer, all mixed up with an ancient tale that never seems to end.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: And Suddenly You Find Yourself by Natalie Ann Holborow

Poetry book Natalie Ann HolborowNatalie Ann Holborow’s debut poetry collection presents us with a raw, emotional journey of self-analysis, exploring family estrangement, broken relationships and the vulnerability of human experience. Holborow turns life, love and myth into stark reality, with unnerving language and compelling imagery. This is poetry grounded in the physical, from the “silvered, reeking bass” consumed in a restaurant, to “the housefly buzzing, hysterical, / butting its skull to get out”.    Continue reading

Book Review: Falling Creatures by Katherine Stansfield

Falling creatures by Katherine StansfieldFalling Creatures combines the genres of historical fiction, detective story and gothic ghost story in a rather unsettling way, producing a novel that is both haunting and full of suspense, though it is actually based on historical fact. The author, Katherine Stansfield, grew up on Bodmin Moor, where the novel is set, and the tragic murder of Charlotte Diamond is a familiar story to local residents. At the book launch, Stansfield explained that she has always wanted to write about this case, but it was only recently that she discovered a way into the story.    Continue reading

Book Review: Now All Roads Lead to France – The Last Years of Edward Thomas by Matthew Hollis

Now all roads lead to FranceMost biographies begin at the beginning. Not this one. This one reads more like a novel – and the last few years in the life of much-loved poet Edward Thomas certainly provide an engaging plot. Hollis begins his tale with an introduction to Harold Munro’s Poetry Bookshop, which opened in London in 1913, providing a unique hub around which the poets of the day gathered… But Edward Thomas is not yet a poet at this stage in the story; he is a stressed poetry reviewer, churning out travel books and reviews, struggling to make ends meet…    Continue reading

Book Review: Time’s Echo by Pamela Hartshorne

Time's Echo by Pamela HartshorneTime’s Echo is one of the most gripping novels I’ve read in a long time. It follows the story of Grace Trewe, who is staying in York to settle the affairs of her late godmother (Lucy) who drowned in mysterious circumstances. Grace is a keen traveller, fully intending to move on once the house has been sold, but memories of surviving the Boxing Day tsunami still haunt her, and she soon begins to have nightmares of drowning. These strange dreams, which appear to be set in sixteenth century York, seem frighteningly real, until past and present begin to merge into something quite extraordinary…    Continue reading

Book Review: White Lies by Lynn Michell

Book - White Lies by Lynn MitchellI actually won a copy of this book on Twitter by explaining why I preferred a different cover – one which was white (to go with the title ‘White Lies’) featuring an image of a young girl (see below). The novel begins in the present, as Eve patiently types up her father’s memoirs, whilst also reflecting on her own childhood memories of living through the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, in the 1950s. We soon begin to realise that there is something left unsaid, something that Eve and her sister never knew about…    Continue reading

Book Review: The Real Jane Austen by Paula Byrne

book - The Real Jane AustenIn this fascinating book on the life of Jane Austen, Paula Byrne has curated a museum exhibition through text, using objects to tell the story. She focuses on key moments in Austen’s life, painting a ‘real’ picture of the author (whom we tend to imagine sitting demurely in a drawing room) as a well-travelled, theatre-loving, fashionable, ambitious woman, with a spirit of adventure and a love of the sea, who observed, at close-hand, the dangers of political revolution…    Continue reading

Poetry Review: Beginning With Your Last Breath by Roy McFarlane

poetry book Roy McFarlaneBeginning With Your Last Breath is a rich, powerful and moving debut from Roy McFarlane, a poet based in the West Midlands. It is split into five distinct sections, each one exploring a different aspect of the poet’s experience. But the book holds together through the shared themes of identity, family, love and loss, in the context of racial tension and cultural change. The cover image reflects the story of the poems within; it shows a painting by Sonia Boyce – She ain’t holding them up, She’s holding on (Some English Rose), 1986 – the image of the mother figure holding onto her family amidst the struggles of life and racial identity.    Continue reading

Book Review: Sweet Caress by William Boyd

book - sweet caressA Guest Post written by James Fenchurch

I will confess that before I picked up Sweet Caress I was already a confirmed William Boyd fan, and this novel only reinforced my view. His hallmark for me is his gift for creating a vivid sense of place and time through rich, detailed and precise language, within the framework of a completely unexpected story.    Continue reading

Poetry Review – The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America

Book - The Other TigerIt is strange to hear someone reading a poem in another language (a language which you don’t understand at all) and then to hear that same poem read again in your own language. There is a sense of building anticipation, as you hear the emotion behind the words, with particular intonations that seem to stand out… Yet the meaning must come later, inevitably with a sense of both satisfaction and loss, as no translation will ever convey the strength of the original…    Continue reading

Book Review: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Book - My Brilliant FriendI thought about reading something by the famous Elena Ferrante a few months ago, looked up her books online and was surprised by rather quaint, odd-looking covers and mediocre titles. But the obsession in the media with Ferrante’s true identity did its work, and curiosity eventually won. My Brilliant Friend (the first of her ‘Neopolitan Novels’) captured my attention immediately (once I’d got past the hideous cover and lengthy character index) with a missing mother and a tale of lifelong friendship.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer

book the doll funeralI loved the main character in this book. Ruby is different. She has a bright red birthmark around her left eye, and she can see things that other people can’t, like Shadow (the boy who mysteriously appears out of nowhere) and the Wasp Lady (who swoops at her as she walks up the stairs). At the age of 13 she is delighted to discover that she was adopted as a baby, and decides to track down her real parents, who will surely come to rescue her from Mick (who likes to use his fists) and Barbara (who lets him).    Continue reading

Christmas at Bullerby and other Swedish Children’s Stories

bullerbyMy family have always celebrated Christmas the Swedish way, on Christmas Eve, because  my Grandma on one side of the family was Swedish. One of my favourite books as a child was Astrid Lindgren’s beautifully illustrated Christmas at Bullerby. It was first published in Britain in 1964.      Continue reading