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: 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: 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: 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

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

Book Review: City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende

Book - City of the BeastsThis is an unusual book – magical yet almost believable, mythical yet real. It is the story of a boy (Alex) and his eccentric grandmother (Kate) travelling deep into the mysterious Amazon rainforest, further and further from civilisation, in search of ‘The Beast’, a strange and ancient creature which may or may not exist. I had read other works by Allende, and enjoyed them. This is different – a kind of modern fable aimed at younger readers.    Continue reading

Time Travel with a Twist – A Book Review

Jodi Taylor bookJust One Damned Thing After Another by Jodie Taylor gives you time travel with a twist. It’s got all the best elements of Doctor Who and Harry Potter rolled into one and, better yet (for historians like myself), it’s full of genuine, historical research, alongside plenty of humour. Madeleine Maxwell (Max) finds herself a job at St Mary’s, a crumbling old house full of intriguing characters, explosions and surprises. She becomes a trainee historian, learning the ropes, until one day she gets to actually travel back in time. And then the excitement really begins…    Continue reading

Book Review: Cove by Cynan Jones

Book - Cove by Cynan JonesA man out at sea in a kayak is struck by lightning. He awakens, injured, confused and adrift, with no idea where he is or how he got there. He must, somehow, survive. This is a story which you will read in one sitting. It is acute, addictive and raw. The writing is stripped down, simplified, becoming more potent in its purest form. It is filmic and close, mimicking patterns of thought. Continue reading

Book Review: Pigeon by Alys Conran

Book - PigeonPigeon is a moving story of childhood friendship, heartache and survival. It starts with the boy, Pigeon, and his friend Iola, as they race up hill towards the ice-cream van, united, hopeful, yet haunted by the bleak world that surrounds them. The novel is set in North Wales, in a small impoverished town. It was published simultaneously in Welsh and English, and plays both on ‘pigeon’, (the unloved, overlooked, yet ever-present bird), and ‘pidgin’ (the power of language, and the enigma of bilingualism).    Continue reading

Book Review: My Falling Down House by Jayne Joso

Book - My Falling Down HouseMy Falling Down House is a philosophical portrayal of what it means to be reduced to nothing, to become a nobody, to fall to the very bottom of reality and to question what it is to be human. The book transports the reader to Tokyo and a young man named Takeo Tanaka, former employee of a company hit by the financial crisis. He loses his job, his girlfriend and his home in quick succession. Having lost everything, he moves into a frail, abandoned house, made entirely of wood and paper, and attempts a total withdrawal from society.    Continue reading

Book Review: Black River by Louise Walsh

Black River - bookBlack River is a fictional novel based on a true event: the Aberfan disaster of 1966, when a coal tip collapsed, engulfing the village school and killing 116 children and 28 adults. It begins with a description of the ghostly scene which greets the eyes of Harry Roberts, a local journalist, as he arrives in Aberfan moments after the slip. He is stunned and shaken by what he sees. Unable to focus on journalistic objectivity and overwhelmed by the tenacity of Fleet Street reporters getting in the way in their attempt to find the most sensational story, Harry gives up, returning home with nothing to report.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Truth in Masquerade by Carole Strachan

book The Truth in MasqueradeThe Truth in Masquerade follows the story of opera singer Anna Maxwell as she comes to terms with her husband’s sudden decision to leave her, without explanation, after years of happy marriage. The book has a slow build up, but is exceptionally and beautifully detailed, as we follow Anna to her next role, performing ‘the governess’ in an outdoor operatic adaptation of the ghostly Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw.    Continue reading

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

book harry potter cursed childThis script, based on a story written by J.K.Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne, is perfect for any Harry Potter fan. I was a little uncertain about reading it in script form, but once you get going, you soon forget that it’s not a novel. The plot moves very quickly at first, spanning a number of years, as Harry and Ginny’s three children grow up, but then things take a turn for the dramatic, and that’s when it gets really interesting.    Continue reading

Book Review: Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

suite francaiseSuite Française, translated from the French, is made up of two uncompleted works (Storm in June and Dolce) by Irène Némirovsky, who died at Auschwitz in 1942, before she was able to finish her planned novel sequence. In fact, the story of her own life is printed in the back of the book, and is just as fascinating a read as the novels themselves.    Continue reading

Book Review: Defiance by Sarah Jayne Tanner

Book - DefianceDefiance is a book about justice. It’s about standing up for what you believe in, even if it means risking everything. The narrative follows a young man called Noah who makes a living by fighting in a combat club. He lives in the Pit, the poorest area, at the bottom of the city, where it’s hard to find a safe place to sleep and enough food to stay alive. The city contains other levels – through the Cloisters and Arcade to the Spires, where the rich people live, at the very top.    Continue reading

Re-inventing the Mabinogion

Mabinogion - White Ravens and The White TrailIf you live in Wales for any length of time, you cannot avoid noticing the love of storytelling that has filtered down through centuries of tradition. The Mabinogion is the name given to an assortment of Welsh legends dating back to a pre-Medieval era of mythology and Arthurian romance. Seren books commissioned 11 Welsh writers to re-write these tales for a modern audience, bringing them to life in twenty-first-century Wales.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Book The Fault in Our StarsThe fact that this novel has been turned into a ‘major motion picture’, as stated on the cover, actually put me off slightly. But when I eventually picked it up I regretted not having read it sooner. I immediately identified with Hazel, the book’s protagonist, even though I am not a teenager, I am not American, and I don’t have cancer. Hazel is a reader (obsessed with one particular book – An Imperial Affliction), she loves words, she sees everything from her own wry, unconventional perspective, and so does Augustus Waters, the boy she meets at Cancer Kid Support Group.    Continue reading

Book Review: Florence and Giles by John Harding

Book Florence and Giles by John HardingFlorence and Giles is a gripping, re-imagined version of Henry James’ gothic ghost story, The Turn of the Screw. Set in a remote New England mansion in 1891, the novel is narrated by Florence, a twelve-year-old girl who has been left alone by her guardian uncle with nothing but forbidden books and her younger brother for company. It is gripping from the start, as you delve into Florence’s world of literature and loneliness.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Past by Tessa Hadley

Book - The Past by Tessa HadleyI was fortunate enough to attend an event featuring Tessa Hadley, organised by Cardiff University as part of their visiting writers series. She read a short story, and I was impressed by her reading voice. It was strange really, that approximately 30 grown adults should sit silently listening to someone reading in an upstairs bar, in the middle of Cardiff City Centre. But it worked. Hadley has a reading voice that takes you straight into her characters’ world, and it’s also the way she writes – you don’t notice the writing because you’re so intent on the story.    Continue reading

Book Review: Where My Heart Used To Beat by Sebastian Faulks

Book - Where my heart used to beat by Sebastian FaulksAt the Bath Literature Festival Faulks spoke about his earlier work as an attempt to discover “how we got to this point”, whilst his later books examine the question “What are we?”. He described Where my Heart used to beat, his 13th novel, as a way of “wrapping up all of that”, a culmination of all his previous writing.     Continue reading