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: The White Camellia by Juliet Greenwood

Book - The White CamelliaSet in 1909, The White Camellia focuses on the women’s suffrage movement, a group less well-known than the suffragettes who, for years, had been meeting in tea rooms and campaigning peacefully for women’s rights. The book follows the story of Bea, a young woman forced to leave her beautiful home, Tressillion, and move to London, where she finds herself responsible for the welfare of her mother and younger sister. It seems like her only option is to marry her cousin, Jonathan, who inherited the estate, but then Bea stumbles upon The White Camellia, a women’s tea room, and discovers a world of excitement and possibility.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker

Book -The Truth About The Harry Quebert AffairThe Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair is a very difficult book to put down. But the plot twists about so much that you need some breathing space every now and then to process all of its complexities. The narrative follows the story of Marcus Goldman, a young writer whose debut novel caused a sensation, and who is now suffering from writer’s block. Under pressure from his publisher, he eventually seeks the help of his old friend (and famous writer) Harry Quebert, staying with him for a while in the small seaside village of Somerset. Soon afterwards, the body of Nola Kellergan, a fifteen-year-old girl who disappeared over thirty years ago, is unearthed from Harry’s back garden.    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

Poetry Review: Gardening With Deer by Kathy Miles

Poetry Book Gardening With DeerGardening With Deer is a full-bodied, elegant yet accessible collection of poems which hold tightly together but also incorporate a range of topics, from art and myth to personal experience. It opens with an unnerving poem entitled ‘Bear’, which creates a sense of underlying fear, as we contemplate the “growling dark” and “the shadow on the wall that could be bear”. This theme continues throughout, as a prowling, dangerous presence, lurking just beneath the surface.    Continue reading

Book Review – Masque by Bethany W Pope

MasqueWhy would someone take a well-known story, which has been re-invented many times over, and attempt to re-invent it again? Masque is based on The Phantom of The Opera, the French novel by Gaston Leroux, published in 1911. Since then it has been re-told in various films and novels, and on stage. I wouldn’t have considered reading this book, but I attended the regular ‘First Thursday’ event run by Seren Books, and heard Bethany Pope reading from it. I was entranced, hearing the story from the point of view of each character in turn, and wondering whether it would be the same as the original. These words are printed on the front of the book: ‘This is not the story you think you know…’    Continue reading

Book Review: The Unravelling by Thorne Moore

Book - The UnravellingThe cover of this book, and the words ‘Children can be very, very cruel’, immediately drew me in, hooked into finding out what horrendous thing could possibly have happened to the protagonist (Karen Rothwell) as a child – something so traumatic that she has forgotten it, until now. At first Karen seems strange, in the way she remembers, the way she interacts with her colleagues and other unusual behaviour, but gradually you realise that something which happened years ago has had a profound and devastating effect on every aspect of her life.    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

Book Review: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Book: All the light we cannot seeAll The Light We Cannot See follows the stories of Marie-Laure (a blind Parisian girl) and Werner (a German orphan) during the Second World War. It is poetic in style and epic in scope. Each chapter gives us an impression, a short glimpse into another world, often just one or two pages long, brimming with poignant images. It begins in 1944, then moves back ten years and gradually fills in the gaps, leading up to the moment when the lives of these two characters will intersect.    Continue reading

Book Review: I Saw A Man by Owen Sheers

Book: I Saw A Man by Owen SheersI Saw A Man begins with the moment when Michael Turner (writer and recently widowed) walks into his neighbours’ house (Josh and Samantha and their two daughters – a family he has grown close to, since moving back to London). Sheers cleverly takes us back in time to see how Michael began his career as a writer, how he met his late wife (Caroline), how he coped after her death (hit by an American drone bomb whilst working as a TV news reporter) and the back story of his neighbours, Josh and Samantha.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Girl In The Red Coat by Kate Hamer

Book - The Girl In The Red CoatThe Girl In The Red Coat follows the story of an eight year old girl (Carmel) who goes missing whilst attending a storytelling festival. It begins from her mother’s perspective, as she reflects back on the years of growing up, how Carmel was always different to other children, drifting, unattached. I began reading this book whilst attending the Hay Festival, and found myself more aware than ever of how easy it could be for a parent to lose their child in such a busy place.     Continue reading

Book Review: Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

Book 'Snowdrops' by A.D.Miller‘Snowdrops’ is a Moscow slang term for the dead bodies which end up buried under snow, revealing themselves as it eventually begins to melt in the spring. The book is written as a confession from Nick, an English lawyer who has spent some years living in Moscow, to his fiancée. It is also a justification, an explanation of what happened and an attempt to understand why. He is brutally honest and, from the beginning, you sense that something went badly wrong, but it isn’t until near the end that all is revealed.    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: My Own Dear Brother by Holly Müller

My Own Dear Brother thumbMy Own Dear Brother is a powerful depiction of life in occupied Austria during the Second World War. But it is not a book about war, or a book about occupation. It is a book which makes you realise that anyone is capable of anything, that evil comes not only from outside, but also from within. And it also demonstrates the brutal and unfair treatment of the vulnerable members in society.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Illusion of Innocence by Jacqueline Jacques

Book - The Illusion of Innocence by Jacqueline JacquesI know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but this cover (with its simple, elegant design, Victorian camera, steam train and the word ‘mystery’) drew me in straight away. The Illusion of Innocence follows Archie Price, police artist and painter, as he helps to solve a mysterious crime in which the robber (Freddy Porter) stole a box of illicit postcards and murdered his victim. He meets Polly, sister of the accused, desperate to get away from Freddy and his gang, and all three end up on the same train, travelling to Chelmsford for the trial. A sudden and terrifying derailment turns everything upside down and, while Polly and Archie are looked after by a local family, Freddy is nowhere to be found.    Continue reading

Book Review: Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbo

Book Midnight Sun by Jo NesboMidnight Sun is set in the strange, empty, sun-lit landscape of northern Norway. It follows the plight of Jon, a hapless young man on the run from Oslo’s biggest drug lord: The Fisherman. He has no doubt that he will soon be hunted down and shot. Stopping off in Kåsund, a small fishing community where everyone knows everyone, he meets the striking Lea and her son Knut, and attempts to delay the inevitable by hiding out in a hunting cabin.    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

Ekphrastic Poetry from Kelly Grovier

Poetry Book A lens in the palm by Kelly GrovierKelly Grovier’s collection A lens in the palm is full of ekphrasis (poetry written in response to a piece of artwork). Each poem has an ekphrastic quality about it – a certain way of looking, not just at art but at nature and humanity as well. The front cover is taken from a Japanese woodcut by Shosan ‘Monkey reaching for the moon’ c.1910, and it encapsulates the theme of Grovier’s work – reaching out in an attempt to capture the intangible.    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

Poetry Non-Stop – National Poetry Writing Month

poetry books - National Poetry Writing Month

Poetry Books

April is National Poetry Writing Month (also known as #NaPoWriMo). The challenge is to write a new poem each day throughout the month. It started in America in 2003, and has grown since then with poets everywhere encouraging each other to take the challenge and get writing. Pattrick Widdess, a poet based in Wales who regularly performs his work and has had poetry published in a number of magazines, has written Poetry Non-Stop, an inspirational guide, ready for National Poetry Writing Month 2016.    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

Book Review: 1356 by Bernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell's historical fiction book - 1356It is not often that I am inspired to read a book after watching a TV series, but the recent BBC adaptation The Last Kingdom (based on Cornwell’s Saxon Stories) had me gripped. I was delighted to discover that he has written a number of books, and immediately began with 1356. It is an intriguing tale, bringing to life a confusing and complex period of European history – The Hundred Years War between England and France.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

The Forgotten Garden - a book by Kate MortonThis was the second book I read by Kate Morton, after being impressed with her first novel The House at Riverton. It was even better – with a beautifully interwoven plot which moves seamlessly between three different time periods. Australian Cassandra, in 2005, attempts to discover what her deceased Grandmother (Nell) was up to, back in the 1970s, when she bought a ruined cottage thousands of miles away in Cornwall and, in doing so, she stumbles upon a compelling mystery that dates back to 1913.    Continue reading

Book Review: The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

house at rivertonThis was a random find in an Oxfam bookshop in Chester – one of those buys where you look at the front cover (I must admit this didn’t really draw me in), scrutinise the blurb, scan a couple of pages and you’re still not absolutely sure… but it turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read all year, so well worth the £4 that I paid!   Continue reading

Book Review: The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami

The Moor's Account - A book by Laila Lalami The Moor’s Account takes you on an unforgettable journey following the Spanish conquest of what is now Florida. The conquistadors search for the evasive land of gold, embarking on a trek which leads them into numerous confrontations with indigenous tribes and which, ultimately, most of them will not survive. Only four of them make it into the civilised world again: three Spanish free men and Mustafa, the slave. The novel is his story.    Continue reading