Book Review: Addlands by Tom Bullough

Book - Addlands by Tom BulloughAddlands is a book that takes you to another place – a rural mid-Wales that no longer exists, where time was slower and life was hard. It begins in 1941, as the farmer, Idris Hamer, ploughs his land with determination, content with his place in the natural world, surrounded by his dogs, his horse, “seacrows, starlings and lapwings”. We move from moment to moment, gaining vivid, brief impressions of life in the Funnon, passing through the years, chapter by chapter, until finally we reach 2016, where the story concludes, aeons away from its beginnings.    Continue reading

Apples, Lyrics & Elves: Highlights from the Cheltenham Literature Festival

Tracy Chevalier book signingLast night I caught a fleeting glimpse of the magical white-tented world that is the Cheltenham Literature Festival. Passing through, from Coventry to Cardiff, I was only able to attend three events, but each one was thoroughly enjoyable. With a similar set up to the Hay Festival, including an almost identical bookshop tent, the same (though fewer) toilets, and extortionately priced refreshments, there was an air of familiarity that was somewhat comforting.    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

Roald Dahl – A Storyteller’s Legacy

Roald DahlBorn in Cardiff, on 13th September 1916, Roald Dahl is most well-known for his books for children. My favourites include Fantastic Mr Fox, The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me, and The BFG. I grew up thoroughly enjoying literature in all its forms, but especially the splendiforous stories and revolting rhymes of Roald Dahl. I am proud to share a birthday with a master storyteller of gargantuan proportions, and have thoroughly enjoyed the recent centenary celebrations… but who was the real Roald Dahl?    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: 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

What makes a good book ‘good’?

booksWhat are the characteristics that you look for in a book? What makes the difference between a book you just ‘enjoyed’ and a book that, when finished, you immediately want to lend to everyone you know? Here are my top ten features of a good book… Of course, these are highly subjective, so please do comment and let me know what it is that you look for in a book. And I should add that this list really only works with fiction, and I reserve the right to change my mind!    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

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: 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

Bath Literature Festival: Part 1 – Sebastian Faulks

Bath Literature Festival bannerI set off early on Saturday morning, walking through a cold, empty city centre to Cardiff Central Station. The homeless were still zipped firmly into their sleeping bags and street-sweepers were doing their best to remove the detritus from the previous night’s Wales vs. France match. The return journey to bath cost just £20, and was well worth it.    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