Book Review: The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett

The Bookmans TaleThe Bookman’s Tale is one of those novels that begins at a deceptively slow pace, building its momentum as the plot is revealed. It begins in the 1990s, as antiquarian bookseller Peter Byerly is trying to overcome the shock of losing his young wife. In an attempt to regain some sense of normality he ventures into a bookshop, and discovers an unusual Victorian painting hidden between the pages of a book – a portrait which looks remarkably similar to his late wife. As he attempts to uncover the secrets of this mystery painting, the plot thickens, and we are transported back through the centuries to an incredible book, a family feud and finally to the master storyteller – Shakespeare himself.    Continue reading

Book Review: At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

Book - At the Edge of the Orchardby Tracy Chevalier“Sadie is the most monstrous character I’ve ever written,” explained Tracy Chevalier at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, “and she was very fun to write”. Sadie Goodenough, along with her husband James, take centre stage as the characters of Chevalier’s novel At the Edge of the Orchard. Set in 1830s Ohio, in an area known as the ‘Black Swamp’ where farmers planted orchards, the book is an alternative to the idyllic American settler literature. This pioneer couple are engaged in brutal domestic warfare, fighting about everything, including apples.   Continue reading

Poetry Review: The Hill by Angela France

Poetry Collection - The Hill by Angela FranceIn writing The Hill, Angela France has created a lyrical memorial, breathing life into old ground and resurrecting the characters of Leckhampton Hill over decades. The poems flit between past and present, nature and humanity, centred around the great battle for freedom that took place in 1902, when the local landowner tried to enclose the area, stopping locals from walking the paths they had used for centuries.    Continue reading

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Book - Uprooted by Naomi NovikUprooted is one of those books which you will find literally impossible to put down. It transports you into a fairy tale kingdom full of wizards and magic, with a vivid, filmic quality. The story is told from the perspective of Agnieszka, who lives in a small village, in a quiet valley near the Wood. But this is not just any wood, it is a deadly, corrupted place, seething with an evil power that strikes out at those living nearby, corrupting them in horrific ways. The valley is protected by a lone wizard, the Dragon, who demands that he must be allowed to take one young woman to serve him in his tower every ten years.    Continue reading

Book Review: My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal

Book- My Name is Leon by Kit de WaalMy Name is Leon is set in 1981, amid riots and celebrations. The story is told from the perspective of Leon, a nine-year-old boy whose mother (Carol) struggles to cope with being a single parent after having a new baby. Leon is mesmerised by his baby brother, and enjoys learning to take care of him, but things get more and more difficult until Carol becomes too ill to look after them.

Leon and his baby brother end up staying with Maureen, where they must get used to living without their mum, but more changes are on the way, and Leon begins to suspect that nothing will ever be the same again.    Continue reading

Christmas Gifts for Historical Fiction Fans

christmas book-giftsIt’s nearly Christmas and you may well be searching for some book recommendations – something that will make the perfect gift for your bookworm friend. If you know someone who loves historical fiction, then take a look at my top five suggestions below, and click on the title to read a full review…    Continue reading

How to Get Published – Advice from a Book Brick

Writers and Artists YearbookThis year I have written a book. It happened kind of by accident, and then it occurred to me that I ought to get it published, or publish it myself. I began to research publishers online, and found the perfect one, only to discover that they won’t accept direct submissions. I would need a literary agent. But I know almost nothing about literary agents! Where do you find a literary agent? In the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, of course…    Continue reading

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Book - The Handmaids TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale has been adapted and shown on TV this year, so lots of people are reading it. Someone told me the basic premise and I was intrigued. There isn’t much joy in it, but it really gets under your skin and pulls you along. The story opens with the simple description of a room in which a woman (whose real name we never learn) is held captive against her will.    Continue reading

Mama Amazonica – Poetry Review & Interview with Pascale Petit

Poetry Book - Mama AmazonicaMama Amazonica is an intoxicating mix of unsettling poems centred around Pascale Petit’s relationship with her mother. Set within the confines of a psychiatric ward, but also within the vast, untamed wilderness of the Amazon rainforest, we encounter the poet’s mother, constrained by mental illness and the physical walls around her. But we also see the sheer unfathomable complexity of the human mind, and its magical, surreal ability to survive trauma.

The following post reveals my own encounter with this remarkable collection, along with insights from Pascale herself, describing her experience of writing the poems, and the inspiration she drew from animals in captivity and in the wild.    Continue reading

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