Book Review: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Book-HamnetA Guest Review by Mary Le Bon

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is a tender and haunting portrayal of the emotional trauma Shakespeare’s family suffered when his son, Hamnet, died suddenly aged eleven. O’Farrell reveals that their all-encompassing grief is the background to Shakespeare’s writing of the play ‘Hamlet’ four years later (as ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Hamnet’ are different versions of the same name).     Continue reading

Book Review: Just So You Know – Essays of Experience

Book - Just So You KnowThis slim volume of essays invites the reader to step briefly into someone else’s shoes and see the world from a different perspective. It gives voice to those who often go unheard, challenging our preconceptions on race, disability, language, mental health, gender and more. But it also interrogates the concept of identity itself. How Welsh are you? How disabled are you? How black are you? Together, these writers explore what it means to grapple with the varied aspects of ourselves, our families and our culture(s). Continue reading

Book Review: Behind the Mask

Book - Behind the Mask

Behind the Mask: The NHS Family and the Fight with COVID-19 documents the impact of Coronavirus on the staff and patients of one small hospital in South Wales. It is a simple, short collection of photographs and quotes, yet it reveals the incredible determination and hard work of those staff who have been, and still are, working on the front line, donning PPE every day in this hot weather, and persevering in the face of physical and emotional exhaustion.

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Celebrating Poetry Pamphlets

Poetry pamphletsI have a small collection of poetry pamphlets (called ‘chapbooks’ in the US) that I’ve acquired over the last few years, so I thought I’d select just a few of them as a kind of mini celebration of the versatile and the short – a space where poets often take a few more risks, try out new forms and link their poems in more obvious ways than they could in a full collection. The definition of a pamphlet is debateable, but they are generally much shorter than a full collection, and can often be read in one sitting.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Book - The Mirror and the Light by Hilary MantelHilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall series is a triumph of historical enactment in book form. When The Mirror and the Light (the third and final book) was published, I was still recovering from post viral fatigue, and didn’t have the strength to hold a normal paperback, never mind this giant brick of a book, so I left it a few weeks before ordering a copy, and, as my strength returned, I was able to sink back into the sixteenth century as if I had never been away.   Continue reading

Poetry Review: After Cézanne by Maitreyabandhu

Book - After Cézanne by Maitreyabandhu

Paul Cézanne repeatedly attempted to capture the image of one particular mountain (Mont Sainte-Victoire) in his post-impressionist paintings, and this obsession is echoed in Maitreyabandhu’s most recent poetry collection, After Cézanne. The collection is unusual in focusing entirely on the work of one artist, and reproducing many of the paintings in full colour, so the reader can peruse the original works of art alongside each poem.

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Book Review: The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth by William Boyd

Book - The Dreams of Bethany MellmothA Guest Post by James Fenchurch

When I saw The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth, a book by William Boyd that I had not yet read, I seized it without even looking inside, only to discover that it was a collection of short stories. I have not always appreciated this literary form, but I found the collection entirely absorbing.    Continue reading

Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes – A Series of Mysteries by Laurie R. King

Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell booksLast summer I was sheltering from the rain in one of the many second-hand bookshops in Hay-on-Wye, and my eye was caught by a book. That book turned out to be from a popular series of books charting the later years of Sherlock Holmes, and his partnership with a young woman named Mary Russell. The first of these, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice begins in 1915, when Sherlock is supposedly retired, focusing his incredible mind on the mysteries of beekeeping. It is told in the enigmatic voice of Mary Russell.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Vagabond’s Breakfast by Richard Gwyn

The Vagabond's Breakfast

The Vagabond’s Breakfast is a memoir – a collection of short prose pieces which evoke the confusion of illness and the complexity of memory. Beginning in 2007, shortly after he was diagnosed with hepatic encephalopathy, awaiting news of a potential liver transplant, Richard Gwyn reflects on the years leading up to this moment – years of vagrancy and alcoholism, travelling around Europe, moving from one temporary location to another, with no clear sense of direction or purpose.

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Last Minute Book Gift Ideas for Christmas

christmas book-giftsIt’s nearly Christmas, and there’s no better gift than a book! This year, more than ever, it feels like there has been so much change and uncertainty in the world. Reading is a great way to pause and reflect, and to understand how other people see things in different ways. So here are five book-gift recommendations, just in case you need some last minute inspiration – four fiction books and some poetry…

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Book Review: Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

Book - Once Upon A RiverIt was the beautiful cover design that attracted me to Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield and, as soon as I began to read, I was hooked. It’s a wonderfully mysterious, ghostly tale, set in a time before people travelled far, and centred around The Swan Inn, on the edge of the Thames, at Radcot, where the age-old tradition of storytelling holds sway.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christi Lefteri

Book - The Beekeeper of Aleppo

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is, without doubt, one of the saddest books I have ever read. It is told from the perspective of Nuri, a man who is fleeing the horrors of war with his wife Afra, who was blinded when a bomb exploded at their home, killing their young son. They leave Syria, hoping to join Nuri’s cousin, Mustafa, who has already made it to England, and their journey is fraught with danger.

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Poetry Review: This Tilting Earth by Jane Lovell

This Tilting Earth by Jane LovellThere is a strong sense of time passing, in This Tilting Earth, a pamphlet of poems by Jane Lovell (the winning entry from last year’s Mslexia pamphlet competition). It begins with ‘Song of the Vogelherd Horse’, an elegy which takes us back to the Ice Age, giving voice to the artefact itself, conjuring up the ghosts of those who ‘smoothed my lissom back’ and ‘buried me in soil’. This introduces the pamphlet’s main theme – an exploration of mankind’s complex relationship with animals over the centuries.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

Book - The Downstairs Girl by Stacey LeeThe Downstairs Girl is set in 1890s Atlanta, and it reminded me very much of Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women, which also features a protagonist called Jo, who writes. But this novel examines American society from a different perspective – that of the outsider. Jo Kuan is Chinese, scraping out a meagre living as a hat maker, and hiding away at night in the basement of a print shop, with her adopted father (Old Gin). They exist on the edge of society – not white or black, but viewed warily by others as something in between, to be avoided and ignored.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

Book - The Italian Teacher by Tom RachmanWhat makes someone a great artist? The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman provides a fascinating answer to this question, as it tracks the life of Charles Bavinsky, known as ‘Pinch’, son of the great artist, Bear Bavinsky. It begins in Italy, when Pinch is just five years old, watching his father entertain the crowds, desperate for his affection and approval. His mother Natalie is also an artist, working with ceramics, but she is eclipsed by Bear’s extravagant personality, and her work always comes second to his.   Continue reading

Book Review of Barack Obama: Dreams From My Father

book - barack obama dreams from my fatherA Guest Post written by Mary Le Bon

Dreams From My Father gives an honest, self-deprecating account of Barack Obama’s search for identity in the first part of his life. He was commissioned to write this book, after becoming the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review. This led him on a journey of exploration, seeking out his ancestral roots and working through the confusion of his own childhood memories.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Overstory by Richard Powers

Book: The Overstory by Richard PowersThe Overstory is an epic tale which moves at an incredible pace, following the stories of disparate people, and trees, over several decades. I was uncertain, to begin with, what to make of the present tense omniscient narrator style, but soon became swept along, mesmerised by the way in which the lives of people and trees are intertwined:    Continue reading