Book Review: Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia OwensWhere The Crawdads Sing is full of despair, poverty, prejudice and loneliness beyond all imagining. But it is also a book that delights in the wonderous gifts of the natural world. It tells the heart-breaking story of Kya, the ‘marsh girl’. Her mother walks off when she is still a young child, walking away without saying goodbye or even waving. She’s too young to understand what’s going on, but then her older brothers and sisters leave too, and soon she is left alone with her father, a veteran of the war, drinking his way steadily through their small income, unpredictable in his rages.   Continue reading

Poetry Review: Black Cat Bone by John Burnside and Bird-Woman by Em Strang

Books - Black Cat Bone by John Burnside and Bird-Woman by Em StrangI have had John Burnside’s collection Black Cat Bone on loan from the library for nearly a year now, and I keep returning to his long poem ‘The Fair Chase’. There’s something mesmerising about it, not just in the compelling rhythm, but also in a narrative that never seems to end. On the one hand, it is a depiction of hunting that seems violent and bloody. On the other hand, it is a kind of doomed, ongoing quest towards a deeper understanding of the self, which can never be fully realised, reminiscent of both Actaeon and the Ancient Mariner.     Continue reading

Recent Summer Reads: Historical Fiction

historical fiction booksI’ve been busy lately (with PhD work etc.) so rather than reviewing lots of books in separate blog posts, I decided to review a few of them together. I love historical fiction, both as time travel and escapism. It’s also a genre that makes you compare your own attitudes to those of others – other people living in different times and different cultures. And though it’s difficult to pinpoint how, I am sure that some of these characters and ideas are subsumed into my subconscious and resurface, often years later, in my own poems.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Word by J L George

Book - The Word by J L GeorgeThe Word is a compelling dystopian novel, set in a future that feels unnervingly familiar. It follows the stories of five youngsters born with supernatural powers: they can compel others to obey their commands. This strange plot device could have felt gimmicky, but J L George succeeds in creating a world that is believable, and particularly unsettling as a result. It’s also an emotional rollercoaster, and a gripping read. I read the book in just two sittings.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: Much With Body by Polly Atkin

Poetry Book - Much with Body by Polly AtkinPolly Atkin’s second poetry collection is a book of unpredictable creatures and their ever-changing habitats, many of which are watery or wild. The opening poem draws you in to a world where ‘Everyone is talking about the moon / The full wolf moon’, ending with the unsettling image of the sky growling and creeping forward ‘ready to take us down’.    Continue reading

Poetry Review: All the Men I Never Married by Kim Moore

Poetry book - All the Men I Never Married by Kim MooreI’d been looking forward to reading Kim Moore’s new collection for a while, having heard her read many of these poems at various literary festivals and events. As I opened the book and began to read, I could hear her voice in my head. These are lyrical poems, designed to be heard as well as read. They are poems that speak with a clear, unapologetic, feminist voice, breaking the taboos of acceptance and denial. Each poem feels larger on the inside than the outside, and several of the poems seem to echo in your mind, long after you’ve read them.    Continue reading

Five Favourite Reads from 2021

Five favourite reads of 20212021 was a busy year (PhD, teaching etc…) so I’ve not been able to spend as much time as I’d like reviewing books. Here are five of the books I’ve enjoyed over the past year, with just a quick summary or comment for each one, rather than a full review…     Continue reading

Poetry Review: 100 Poems to Save the Earth

Book: 100 Poems to Save the EarthHow can poetry ‘save the earth’? The introduction to this anthology explains that the title is intentionally provocative, because ‘our crisis is fundamentally a crisis of perception’. And that is where poetry comes in. It is only when you read the poems that it becomes clear what this might mean. This is not just an anthology of eco-poems. It includes poems that examine humanity as well as nature. Poems that interrogate the very concept of exploitation and inequality. Poems that acknowledge their own ignorance.   Continue reading

Book Review: Heavy Light by Horatio Clare

Book: Heavy Light by Horatio ClareI first heard about this book when Horatio Clare was interviewed at one of the online Hay Festival events. It describes the author’s experience of hypomania and mental breakdown. This led to him being sectioned in a psychiatric ward, followed by a long period of recovery. It is clear from the first few pages that this book is more than just a book. It is, on the one hand, a somewhat surreal but honest portrayal of how one writer experienced a mental breakdown. On the other hand, it is an investigation into the current ‘mental health crisis’ in the western world, highlighting the inadequacies of a system that relies on long term drug treatment, even though scientists still don’t understand exactly how they work.     Continue reading

Poetry Review: Wild Persistence by Katrina Naomi

Poetry Book - Wild PersistenceWild Persistence is the first book of poetry written by Katrina Naomi since she moved from London to Cornwall, and it is full of poems about change, about decisions and pausing to consider moments in time. I read this collection on my first day of the #SealeyChallenge (reading a book of poetry each day for the month of August) and thoroughly enjoyed it. The book begins with celebration in ‘How to Celebrate a Birthday’, and it sets the tone for the whole collection, urging the reader to pause and contemplate, amid the busy-ness of life. Continue reading

Book Review: Salt by Catrin Kean

Book - Salt by Catrin KeanBased on a true story, Salt begins in Cardiff, in 1883, where young Ellen lives a dull and lonely life, working as a domestic. She longs to escape, but is forced to witness her mother’s daily turmoil, as she confronts the ghosts of her past. Then, one day, Ellen meets Samuel, a ship’s cook from Barbados. Despite the disapproval of some, they fall in love and get married, and Ellen is able to fulfill her childhood dream of running away to sea. Together, they set sail for San Francisco, working their way across the Atlantic Ocean, getting to know each other along the way.   Continue reading

Reading Poetry in August – The Sealey Challenge Days 21 to 31

Poetry books for the Sealey ChallengeI have completed the Sealey Challenge, reading a new poetry book each day for a whole month! Though I spent 3 days on one book (an anthology) and only dipped into some of them, that still means I have read at least part of 29 different poetry books over the last 31 days. And many of them have inspired me to write my own poems, so it has definitely been worthwhile. I’ve read several books that were simply sitting on my shelf un-read, as well as a few new ones ordered specially for the occasion, and some old favourites, plus a couple of poetry magazines. Here are my highlights from the final 11 days…   Continue reading

Reading Poetry in August – The Sealey Challenge Days 11 to 20

Poetry book - Road Trip by Marvin ThompsonI am beginning to realise just how challenging it is to read a whole new poetry book for each day of the month. Even just dipping into a new book takes time, and I’m trying not to rush, as I want to make the most of any inspiration that strikes while I’m reading. I have not stuck to the rules completely, but have still tried to push myself to read more. So here is an overview of all the poetry books I have read over the last ten days, with some of the main highlights…   Continue reading

Reading Poetry in August: The Sealey Challenge Days 1 to 10

Book - Identity Papers by Ian Seed

Identity Papers by Ian Seed

I’d never heard of the Sealey Challenge, but I jumped at the chance to challenge myself to read more poetry, to read a whole poetry book or pamphlet each day through the month of August. I decided not to put too much pressure on myself, and to not worry if I didn’t get to the end of every book. So here’s an overview of the poetic gems I’ve discovered in the first ten days of August, and some of the highlights…   Continue reading

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.

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