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