Book Review: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Book - Unsheltered by Barbara KingsolverUnsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver is an uncomfortable read at times. It is a book which prises apart the building blocks of modern life – financial security, capitalism, family life – all based around the metaphor of a house that is falling down (both in the present and the past). It is exactly what you’d expect of Barbara Kingsolver, but it is also surprising and ambitious in scope, told through the voices of two characters living in Vineland, with over a century between them.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: Ocean Vuong and Claudia Rankine

Poetry collections by Claudia Rankine and Ocean Vuong

I found both Ocean Vuong’s collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric to be equally intense and unsettling, though written in completely different styles. As part of my MA in Creative Writing, I get to study a variety of poetry collections which don’t seem, on the surface, to have much in common. But through our seminar discussions we often find links and patterns, connections and contrasts that you wouldn’t see unless you spent so much time honing in on the craft of writing, searching for the logic behind the art.

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Book Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver by Naomi NovikSpinning Silver is a beautiful and complex story inspired by the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin. It begins in a very ordinary way, told from the perspective of Miryem, a young Jewish girl whose father is a moneylender. He is so bad at lending money that he never presses for repayment, and consequently the whole family live in poverty. The winters are lasting longer and growing colder, the villagers are fearful of the Staryk who haunt their woods, and Miryem’s mother is becoming sick. One day Miryem decides to go out and demand payment herself, on her father’s behalf, little knowing where this simple act of courage will lead her.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters

The Turn of Midnight by Minette WaltersThe Turn of Midnight is an epic tale based around the precarious struggle for control in the wake of the Black Death in 1348. It follows on directly from the end of The Last Hours, in which Lady Anne of Develish had quarantined her people to protect them from the disease. It seems that, outside of Develish, very few have survived, and those who are left soon begin to realise that the world around them has changed beyond all recognition.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Plankton Collector by Cath Barton

The Plankton Collector by Cath BartonThe Plankton Collector is told in the comforting voice of a storyteller, rather like a bed time story, and it is short enough to be read in one sitting. The plot is based around the struggles of one small family as they attempt to keep going in the face of intense grief. One by one, each family member is visited by a mysterious figure – the Plankton Collector. He does very little, and says very little, but gradually, over time, his visits begin to help, and their wounds begin to heal…   Continue reading

Book Review: Tirzah and the Prince of Crows by Deborah Kay Davies

Book - Tirzah and the Prince of CrowsSet in the South Wales Valleys, in the 1970s, Tirzah and the Prince of Crows follows the story of a sixteen-year-old girl as she grows into adulthood. Tirzah has been brought up in a very strict, chapel-going family, but she soon begins to sense a change within herself, and an unsettling desire for freedom.   Continue reading

Poetry Review: Pamper Me to Hell and Back by Hera Lindsay Bird

Pamper Me to Hell and Back by Hera Lindsay BirdPamper Me to Hell and Back is full of confessional, provocative and occasionally explicit poems, written in a conversational style with a bleak outlook on life. This is Hera Lindsay Bird’s second collection, and its sardonic tone reminded me of Sylvia Plath, with an undercurrent of Victoria Wood. Many of the poems are surreal, whilst some feel more like Facebook posts, and others seem designed to be performed as spoken word.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: Blackbird, Bye Bye by Moniza Alvi

Blackbird Bye Bye by Moniza AlviBlackbird, Bye Bye is centred around the theme of birds – the age-old symbol of grief and love. Some of the poems are so abstract that they feel almost entirely like creatures from another universe, while others feel more solid, earthed as they are in the physicality of trees, family, or culture. There is a lightness of touch, so that as a reader you sense a kind of ‘lift off’ from the first page, moving swiftly across oceans and lifetimes towards the final landing point.   Continue reading

Book Review: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

book - my name is lucy bartonA Guest Post written by Mary Le Bon

My Name is Lucy Barton is a beautiful book which tenderly describes the relationship between a young mother and her own mother whom she hasn’t seen for many years. The narrator is in hospital for a period of weeks and her mother arrives unexpectedly and sits at the foot of her bed for five long days, catnapping but steadfastly refusing the offer of a bed. The stilted and very realistic conversation between the two reveals Lucy’s impoverished and, at times, traumatic childhood as they share snippets of memories about people they have known and what has happened to them.   Continue reading

Book Review: Driving Home Both Ways by Dylan Moore

Book - Driving Home Both Ways by Dylan MooreDriving Home Both Ways is a detailed account of the author’s travels over a period of thirteen years, from the moment he set off from Brecon to Cardiff as a teenager. Exploring themes of identity, nationhood and community, he continually refers back to his Welsh roots, recounting trips to destinations across the globe – from the Basque Country to Slovenia, from Mexico to San Francisco… exploring some unique places along the way.   Continue reading

Book Review: Captcha Thief by Rosie Claverton

Book: Captcha Thief by Rosie ClavertonI heard Rosie Claverton speaking about mental health in crime fiction at a recent literary festival, and was intrigued by her protagonist Amy Lane, who suffers from agoraphobia. I ended up reading Captcha Thief, which is actually the third book in this series, but it didn’t matter that I hadn’t read the first two – I was hooked from the very first page.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: Fourth Person Singular by Nuar Alsadir

Poetry Book - Fourth Person Singular by Nuar Alsadir

Fourth Person Singular begins with the intriguing line: “The door to my interior was propped open and a fly buzzed in.” This sets the scene for a poetry collection which experiments with form in unexpected ways, using metaphor and analysis to explore the notion of self-hood and internal thought. I was not surprised to discover that Nuar Alsadir is a psychoanalyst. This innocuous little book is challenging, provocative and beguiling in equal measure, though I am still not quite sure entirely what to make of it.

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Cornish Short Stories: A Collection of Contemporary Cornish Writing

Cornish Short StoriesShort stories can be difficult to contend with – their brevity creates a sense of unease. They can never fully reveal the whole story. Instead, they provide something unique and captivating – a glimpse into a parallel universe where anything can happen, and the best short stories are those which pull you into their world for a few marvellous pages, seducing you into a false sense of security, then abruptly leaving you to your own wistful thoughts, as you mull over what you’ve just read, often wishing for more.   Continue reading

Poetry Review: Visiting the Minotaur by Claire Williamson

Visiting the Minotaur - poetry by Claire WilliamsonVisiting the Minotaur plunges you straight into the myth in ‘Swimming with the Bull’, a dramatic encounter across ‘three-and-a-half-thousand years’. This sets the tone for the collection as a whole, exploring the surreal nature of family relationships and crossing the boundaries of time and space, as humans and monsters find their roles reversed. The cover image (a painting by Matthew Grabelsky) is both startling and ordinary – the perfect depiction of what lies between the covers.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Last Hours by Minette Walters

The Last Hours by Minette WaltersCrime fiction writer Minette Walters has branched out into the realms of historical fiction with her new novel The Last Hours. Set in the summer of 1348, it provides a fascinating glimpse into what life was like for the ordinary folk of Dorset when faced with the horror of the Black Death. Lady Anne of Develish decides to quarantine the demesne, bringing her serfs inside the walls to keep them safe from contamination. But the people soon become restless, as fear of starvation begins to counteract the fear of disease.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway by Rhys Thomas

The Unlikely Heroics of Sam HollowayThe Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway is a rather unusual book, based around the seemingly ordinary exploits of Sam Holloway – a young man who dresses up as a superhero at night. It’s a beautifully written, heartfelt story, which is both hilarious and tragic at the same time. We gradually delve deeper into Sam Holloway’s world, and begin to understand the circumstances which have led him to lead this double life – an incredible weight of sorrow with which he has learned to live.  Continue reading

Book Review: The Golden Orphans by Gary Raymond

The Golden Orphans

The Golden Orphans is a stunning thriller in every sense of the word. It is packed full of atmospheric description, set on the sun-bleached streets of Cyprus, where crime and corruption hide beneath a veneer of idyllic island life. The novel begins with a sense of unease, which builds slowly. We follow in the footsteps of a young artist who has travelled to Cyprus to attend the funeral of his mentor and friend, Francis Bentham, who spent the last years of his life painting for Mr Prostakov, a wealthy Russian.

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Book Review: Albi by Hilary Shepherd

Book - Albi by Hilary ShepherdSet during the Spanish Civil War, and beginning in 1938, this is a novel which captures perfectly the mixture of fear, excitement and uncertainty experienced by ordinary citizens in rural Spain. Albi is nine years old when the soldiers arrive in his village. Some say the war is over, and some say that it’s not, but it seems like everyone else knows what’s going on apart from him. They say he’s too young, but he’s determined to understand. Told from Albi’s perspective, the story is vivid and, though fictional, it feels very real.    Continue reading