Book Review: The Soldier Son Trilogy by Robin Hobb

The Soldier Son Trilogy by Robin HobbI have read several books by Robin Hobb, but I’ve never read a trilogy as utterly un-put-downable as this one. It begins with Shaman’s Crossing, following the story of Nevare Burvelle from the time when he is old enough to begin training for his destined career as a Cavalla Officer in the King’s army. From a young age Nevare begins to realise that the society in which he lives is riddled with conflict and inequality, where justice is often neglected in order to maintain the status quo. Nevare is a privileged Gernian, but he soon comes into contact with the Plainspeople and their mysterious magical abilities. Yet they have been subjugated by the might of the Gernian race, and even their magic cannot compete against the power of iron.    Continue reading

Book Review: Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks

Human Traces by Sebastian FaulksI read Human Traces several years ago, and it is no less incredible on a second reading. Set in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the story begins when Jacques Rebière (from France) and Thomas Midwinter (from England) meet each other at the age of sixteen. They discover that they share a common fascination with the growing field of psychiatry and its quest to solve one of humanity’s greatest mysteries: the complex workings of the human mind.    Continue reading

Book Review: A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

Book - A Single Thread

A Single Thread, like many of Tracy Chevalier’s novels, takes us back to a time before, when life for a young woman was far more challenging than it is now. Set in the early 1930s, the book is told from the perspective of Violet, a 38 year old woman who lost her fiancé in the First World War. She has lived with grief and loneliness for many years, and her future looks set: to remain unmarried and unwanted, as a companion to her suffocating mother.

Continue reading

Book Review: Explaining Humans by Dr Camilla Pang

Explaining Humans - a book by Dr Camilla PangAs a young girl growing up with autism, Camilla Pang asked her mother if there was such a thing as an instruction manual on the human race. Of course, the answer was no. Years later, now a qualified scientist, she has written her version of such a manual. This is an intriguing book, written from the perspective of someone who has had to self-consciously learn much of what most of us take for granted. It is amusing and thought-provoking in more ways than one. Continue reading

Book Review: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Book - Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine EvaristoOn opening Girl, Woman, Other, I was immediately struck by the simplicity of its verse form – the text on the page looks like poetry, and it flows too, with line breaks instead of full stops. It is easy to read, easy to become immersed, one by one, in the lives of these twelve women. And what makes this book exceptional is the intricate way in which each individual’s story weaves in and out of the stories and lives of the other women. We get the perspective, for example, of the mother, and then the daughter, the pupil, then the teacher, nearly all of whom are black or mixed-race, women whose voices often go unheard, even in fiction.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Book - The Thirteenth Tale by Diane SetterfieldThe Thirteenth Tale is full of gothic mysteries and ghosts, stories and secrets. It is a tale of sibling rivalry and love on many different levels, yet it is also a story of loneliness and unimaginable grief.

It begins in a fairly ordinary way, with a young woman who likes books. Margaret Lea works in her father’s antiquarian bookshop, and she writes biographies. She hides a secret – a secret that brings great sorrow, a secret that follows her everywhere she goes.    Continue reading

Book Review: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Book - A Deadly Education by Naomi NovikA Deadly Education tells the story of Galadriel Higgins (El for short) – a teenager battling her way through the challenges of high school, a school of magic called The Scholomance. But this is no ordinary school of magic – it is a place built to keep the young witches and wizards safe from the mals that wait outside. And some of the mals (monsters) do manage to force their way in, so this is not a place to let down your guard, not even when you’re walking to the bathroom, or trying to get some sleep. Even the library isn’t safe.    Continue reading

Revisiting a Classic: Evelina by Frances Burney

Novel: Evelina by Fanny BurneyIf you like Jane Austen, then you’ll love this book too. I certainly visualised the protagonist, Evelina, as a kind of Jane Austen character. The novel was first published in 1778 – yes, I am over 200 years late with my review! That’s around 33 years before Austen’s first novel came out, and we know that Austen was influenced by Frances Burney’s work. Evelina is a strong character – blunt, honest, and full of common sense, rather like Elizabeth Bennett. But the plot is more elaborate and entertaining than anything Jane Austen has given us, full of disastrous scrapes and misunderstandings.    Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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…

Continue reading