Book Review: Captcha Thief by Rosie Claverton

Book: Captcha Thief by Rosie ClavertonI heard Rosie Claverton speaking about mental health in crime fiction at a recent literary festival, and was intrigued by her protagonist Amy Lane, who suffers from agoraphobia. I ended up reading Captcha Thief, which is actually the third book in this series, but it didn’t matter that I hadn’t read the first two – I was hooked from the very first page.    Continue reading

Beyond Psychopaths: Mental Health in Crime Fiction

Rosie Claverton at Crime Fiction FestivalCardiff celebrated its first ever crime fiction festival last week, and one of the most interesting events explored the portrayal of mental illness within the genre. Local crime writer Rosie Claverton also happens to be a junior psychiatrist, and it was fascinating to hear her in discussion with Matt Johnson, a former police officer who also writes crime fiction, and has experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, turning to writing as a form of therapy.    Continue reading

Hay Festival 2018 – Part 2: A Constellation Novel, A Musical Odyssey and the Life of Sylvia Plath

AkalaThe Hay Festival always presents a real mix of genres and ideas and, despite a rather long commute from Cardiff each day over the Bank Holiday weekend, the atmosphere of intense literary devotion made it worthwhile. One thing I particularly love about Hay, is the fact that there are plenty of free events alongside the big names, and this year I attended the preview screening of an (as yet unfinished) documentary style film about the life of Sylvia Plath, focusing on her famous autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar.   Continue reading

Book Review: The Golden Orphans by Gary Raymond

The Golden Orphans

The Golden Orphans is a stunning thriller in every sense of the word. It is packed full of atmospheric description, set on the sun-bleached streets of Cyprus, where crime and corruption hide beneath a veneer of idyllic island life. The novel begins with a sense of unease, which builds slowly. We follow in the footsteps of a young artist who has travelled to Cyprus to attend the funeral of his mentor and friend, Francis Bentham, who spent the last years of his life painting for Mr Prostakov, a wealthy Russian.

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Book Review: Albi by Hilary Shepherd

Book - Albi by Hilary ShepherdSet during the Spanish Civil War, and beginning in 1938, this is a novel which captures perfectly the mixture of fear, excitement and uncertainty experienced by ordinary citizens in rural Spain. Albi is nine years old when the soldiers arrive in his village. Some say the war is over, and some say that it’s not, but it seems like everyone else knows what’s going on apart from him. They say he’s too young, but he’s determined to understand. Told from Albi’s perspective, the story is vivid and, though fictional, it feels very real.    Continue reading

What makes a good book cover?

what makes a good book coverWhat makes you pick up a book? I am unashamed to admit that the cover and title of a book always have an impact on whether or not I decide to read it. They’re what I see first, and first impressions count, to the extent where, even if a book is highly recommended, an unappealing cover will put me off for a long time.

So what is it that attracts you to a book? And what puts you off? Here’s a quick analysis of book cover science…   Continue reading

Book Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Book - The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryThis book may seem like an ordinary story about a fairly ordinary man to whom nothing particularly interesting is likely to happen, but it’s far more than that. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry follows in the footsteps of its protagonist: a recently retired man who has led a fairly unremarkable life. It is when he receives a letter from an old colleague whom he hasn’t seen in twenty years, that he sets off on a rather long and spontaneous journey, on foot.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett

The Bookmans TaleThe Bookman’s Tale is one of those novels that begins at a deceptively slow pace, building its momentum as the plot is revealed. It begins in the 1990s, as antiquarian bookseller Peter Byerly is trying to overcome the shock of losing his young wife. In an attempt to regain some sense of normality he ventures into a bookshop, and discovers an unusual Victorian painting hidden between the pages of a book – a portrait which looks remarkably similar to his late wife. As he attempts to uncover the secrets of this mystery painting, the plot thickens, and we are transported back through the centuries to an incredible book, a family feud and finally to the master storyteller – Shakespeare himself.    Continue reading

Book Review: At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

Book - At the Edge of the Orchardby Tracy Chevalier“Sadie is the most monstrous character I’ve ever written,” explained Tracy Chevalier at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, “and she was very fun to write”. Sadie Goodenough, along with her husband James, take centre stage as the characters of Chevalier’s novel At the Edge of the Orchard. Set in 1830s Ohio, in an area known as the ‘Black Swamp’ where farmers planted orchards, the book is an alternative to the idyllic American settler literature. This pioneer couple are engaged in brutal domestic warfare, fighting about everything, including apples.   Continue reading

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Book - Uprooted by Naomi NovikUprooted is one of those books which you will find literally impossible to put down. It transports you into a fairy tale kingdom full of wizards and magic, with a vivid, filmic quality. The story is told from the perspective of Agnieszka, who lives in a small village, in a quiet valley near the Wood. But this is not just any wood, it is a deadly, corrupted place, seething with an evil power that strikes out at those living nearby, corrupting them in horrific ways. The valley is protected by a lone wizard, the Dragon, who demands that he must be allowed to take one young woman to serve him in his tower every ten years.    Continue reading

Book Review: My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal

Book- My Name is Leon by Kit de WaalMy Name is Leon is set in 1981, amid riots and celebrations. The story is told from the perspective of Leon, a nine-year-old boy whose mother (Carol) struggles to cope with being a single parent after having a new baby. Leon is mesmerised by his baby brother, and enjoys learning to take care of him, but things get more and more difficult until Carol becomes too ill to look after them.

Leon and his baby brother end up staying with Maureen, where they must get used to living without their mum, but more changes are on the way, and Leon begins to suspect that nothing will ever be the same again.    Continue reading

Christmas Gifts for Historical Fiction Fans

christmas book-giftsIt’s nearly Christmas and you may well be searching for some book recommendations – something that will make the perfect gift for your bookworm friend. If you know someone who loves historical fiction, then take a look at my top five suggestions below, and click on the title to read a full review…    Continue reading

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Book - The Handmaids TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale has been adapted and shown on TV this year, so lots of people are reading it. Someone told me the basic premise and I was intrigued. There isn’t much joy in it, but it really gets under your skin and pulls you along. The story opens with the simple description of a room in which a woman (whose real name we never learn) is held captive against her will.    Continue reading

Book Review: Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan

Book - Sunlight PilgrimsSunlight Pilgrims is an atmospheric coming-of-age climate change novel – a tale of survival and hope against the backdrop of a freezing winter that sees cities grind to a halt, as temperatures plummet. Set in the Scottish caravan park of Clachan Fells, the book is both visceral and surreal but also entirely believable. We follow the story of young Stella, a trans teenager who is determined to ignore the judgements of others and seek out an identity of her own.   Continue reading

Book Review: Tinkers by Paul Harding

Tinkers by Paul HardingA Guest Post by Bryan Marshall

If you’re looking for a rattle of a read, filled with explosive plot twists, then, dear reader, pass by.  If, on the other hand, you feel you might appreciate a superbly-crafted, delicately-whispered rumination on what the final week of a clock repairman in Maine might feel like, with its half-memories and cloud-fogged hallucinations, then you may want to stay a while.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Sellout by Paul Beatty

the selloutA Guest Post written by James Fenchurch

Some books are easy to begin reading. Not so with this one. I felt I was fighting my way into it, but once I had survived the surreal opening skirmishes I found myself tuning in to the wacky world of satire created by Paul Beatty. Once I was in there it romped along, delighting and surprising me in equal measure. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I became immersed in the lives and relationships of a really unusual cast of characters.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

The Essex Serpent by Sarah PerrThe Essex Serpent is a refreshingly modern historical novel, set in 1893. It follows the story of Cora Seaborne, recently widowed and released, at last, from an abusive marriage. Eager to enjoy her new-found freedom, she abandons London for the Essex Coast, planning to scour its cliffs and beaches for fossils, and determined to track down the mysterious Essex Serpent (which she hopes will turn out to be an undiscovered species). She meets the very practical minister of Aldwinter (William Ransome) who is keen to quell any rumours of serpents and, despite their opposing views, they are immediately drawn to each other.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Fatal Tree by Jake Arnott

Book - The Fatal Tree by Jake ArnottI heard Jake Arnott reading from his novel, The Fatal Tree, at the Hay Festival, and was intrigued by his use of slang words – a historical dialect of thieves and villains, taken directly from the “flash world” of Romeville in 18th century London. The book centres on the true story of infamous jail-breaker Jack Sheppard and his companion, the notorious Edgworth Bess (aka Elizabeth Lyon), but it is not a straightforward telling. Arnott’s narrator (William Archer) is a young hack writer, who gains his material directly from Edgworth Bess herself, as she awaits trial at Newgate Gaol.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Muse by Jessie Burton

Book - The Muse by Jessie BurtonAfter reading Burton’s debut novel (The Miniaturist) I was expecting more of the same, but The Muse is quite different, both in style and theme. It is much more exciting and multi-layered, spanning two different time periods and focusing on the origins of an unusual painting. The book begins in 1960s London, where we meet the young aspiring writer Odelle Bastien, who moved to London five years ago from the West Indies. She is thrilled when she eventually lands a job as typist for the Skelton Art Gallery, working for the stylish Miss Quick.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Book - The Miniaturist by Jessie BurtonThe Miniaturist is an intriguing work of historical fiction which immediately draws you in to the world of seventeenth century Amsterdam – a world ruled by Burgomasters and Guilds, where neighbours spy on each other and traders show off their riches. Burton tells the story of Nella, a young country girl arriving at the home of Johannes Brandt (her new husband and a wealthy merchant) who seems distant and uninterested in her. But he does present her with a wedding gift – a perfect miniature replica of her new home.    Continue reading

Book Review: On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Book - On Beauty by Zadie SmithI really enjoyed Zadie Smith’s debut novel (White Teeth), though I have forgotten most of the plot. I wasn’t sure what to expect with On Beauty, except perhaps more of the same insightful humour and character driven narrative. To be honest, it took the first 100 pages or so for me to really get into this book, but that’s probably because the cast of characters is large, and each one has their own say.    Continue reading

Book Review: Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine ThienDo Not Say We Have Nothing is an epic tale written in lyrical prose. It begins in the present, with Marie (also known as Li-Ling) baffled by her father’s unexplained abandonment and suicide, and intrigued by the visit of the teenage girl Ai-Ming, daughter of her father’s friend, on the run from China and seeking safety abroad. The narrative soon delves back into the past, revealing the story of Big Mother Knife, Swirl and Wen the Dreamer, all mixed up with an ancient tale that never seems to end.    Continue reading

Book Review: Time’s Echo by Pamela Hartshorne

Time's Echo by Pamela HartshorneTime’s Echo is one of the most gripping novels I’ve read in a long time. It follows the story of Grace Trewe, who is staying in York to settle the affairs of her late godmother (Lucy) who drowned in mysterious circumstances. Grace is a keen traveller, fully intending to move on once the house has been sold, but memories of surviving the Boxing Day tsunami still haunt her, and she soon begins to have nightmares of drowning. These strange dreams, which appear to be set in sixteenth century York, seem frighteningly real, until past and present begin to merge into something quite extraordinary…    Continue reading

Book Review: Sweet Caress by William Boyd

book - sweet caressA Guest Post written by James Fenchurch

I will confess that before I picked up Sweet Caress I was already a confirmed William Boyd fan, and this novel only reinforced my view. His hallmark for me is his gift for creating a vivid sense of place and time through rich, detailed and precise language, within the framework of a completely unexpected story.    Continue reading

An Interview with Novelist, Poet and Musician Linda Lee Welch

Linda Lee Welch Linda Lee Welch was born and raised in the USA. She moved to the UK in 1976 and has worked as a musician, writer, community artist and teacher. She has two novels published by Virago and is also a prize-winning poet. She taught Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University for sixteen years, after completing the MA herself. Now retired from teaching, she is focusing on her writing, and collaborating with other writers, musicians and artists, including her husband Michael Harding.    Continue reading

An Interview with Kate Hamer

Kate HamerKate Hamer’s debut thriller The Girl in the Red Coat was published in February 2015 and soon became a Sunday Times bestseller. It was shortlisted for numerous awards and has been translated into seventeen languages. I recently met up with her to talk about her second novel, The Doll Funeral (due to be published on 16th February) and the third one, which she is in the process of writing. We began by discussing her inspiration for the books…    Continue reading

Book Review: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Book - My Brilliant FriendI thought about reading something by the famous Elena Ferrante a few months ago, looked up her books online and was surprised by rather quaint, odd-looking covers and mediocre titles. But the obsession in the media with Ferrante’s true identity did its work, and curiosity eventually won. My Brilliant Friend (the first of her ‘Neopolitan Novels’) captured my attention immediately (once I’d got past the hideous cover and lengthy character index) with a missing mother and a tale of lifelong friendship.    Continue reading

Book Review: The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness

Book - The Last Hundred DaysSet in communist Romania, in 1989, The Last Hundred Days is a fascinating, vivid portrayal of the last months of the Ceauşescu regime. The absurdity of living in a city full of corruption, lies and paranoia is emphasised by the fact that the story is narrated by a young, nameless English student, an outsider who is adrift and immune, in a world full of danger and repression.    Continue reading

Book Review: Requiem by Berlie Doherty

book requiemBerlie Doherty has written numerous books for children and young adults, short stories, plays and poetry. Requiem (one of only two novels which she has written for adults) was first published in 1991 and has recently been republished by Cybermouse Books. It is an intense, emotional story told from the perspective of young, talented Cecelia Deardon. Cecelia is intelligent enough to win a scholarship to the local convent school, but she will always stand out as the girl who has no money. She loves singing, but Mother Mary Rose forbids her from joining the choir, humiliating her at every opportunity.    Continue reading

Book Review: Cove by Cynan Jones

Book - Cove by Cynan JonesA man out at sea in a kayak is struck by lightning. He awakens, injured, confused and adrift, with no idea where he is or how he got there. He must, somehow, survive. This is a story which you will read in one sitting. It is acute, addictive and raw. The writing is stripped down, simplified, becoming more potent in its purest form. It is filmic and close, mimicking patterns of thought. Continue reading