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Rather To Be Pitied by Jan Newton: Crime In Rural Setting [Book Review]

Book cover of Rather To Be Pitied by Jan Newton

Reading Rather To Be Pitied brought on a wave of nostalgia for a delightful weekend I once spent amid the hills, dams and isolated farmhouses of mid Wales.

This is book two in a crime fiction series by Jan Newton which is set in the area near the market town of Rhyadar. It’s a tranquil region much loved by walkers and cyclists for its trails around six enormous dams that supply water to Birmingham. As impressive as they are, I was there for the birds – it’s one of the few places in Wales you can spot red kites that were on the verge of extinction not so many years ago.

In Rather To Be Pitied, the tranquility of this farming community is disturbed by the discovery of a woman’s body near a walking trail used by Benedictine monks in centuries past. It proves to be a complicated case for the newest member of the local police force, Detective Sergeant Julie Kite..

Though the woman is identified fairly quickly, there’s no sign of her young son. He’s not the only missing person. The dead woman’s former neighbour has left her home and husband. The landlady at the B&B where the murdered woman spent her last night, hasn’t seen her husband in quite a while either. Are the two disappearances connected? And what does all this have to do with some ex soldiers who are working at a local farm?

There are plenty of twists and turns in the plot to navigate before the answers are revealed.

The police procedural aspect is well handled though maybe edged a bit too close to the obvious. What I enjoyed most was the chance to see this part of Wales through the eyes of a newcomer.

Manchester cop adjusts to rural life

Julie Kite was a copper in Manchester but found herself transplanted to an unfamiliar territory when her husband found a new teaching job in mid Wales. Life in her new home proceeds at a much slower pace than the high octane world of Lancashire policing. When you’re used to a battalion of emergency vehicles arriving on scene within minutes of your call, it’s agonising to wait for Welsh ambulances to negotiate slow country roads.

The challenges of rural life are compounded by the suspicion she encounters from one member of the police team. Then there are her own suspicions about her marriage. Is her husband’s former colleague stalking him with unwanted text messages or is there more to this relationship than he is letting on?

And then there are the complexities of the Welsh language. I enjoyed the running joke Jan Newton introduces based on the tongue-twisting nature of Welsh place names which seem impossible to pronounce:

She negotiated winding roads down into Newtown and on towards Welshpool where there were signs of life around the livestock market. Marchnad Da Byw y Trallwng. Where would you start with that? Which bit was Welshpool? She really ought to get around to learning Welsh …

But DS Kite finds there are some compensation as she tells her boss:

I love the way everybody knows everyone else and the fact that it’s completely silent at night. I love the views and the rivers and the way that people calculate journeys in minutes rather than miles.

I suspect that we’ll find that burgeoning appreciation for rural life will deepen as the series progresses. In a sense it has to in order for us to witness a maturing of the central character.

Voice of Authenticity

This was enjoyable read. Jan Newton describes the landscape and the local communities with the authenticity that comes from having driven those roads and met the inhabitants. It makes such a refreshing change to read a police procedural with a rural setting.

I also admired the dynamics of the police team. We get a jealous PC who resents the keen as mustard newcomer Kite and an energetic but kindly DI whose idea of investigation involves copious scones and cups of tea. The set up is complete with a fantastic forensic pathologist character in the form of a super smart and spiky woman who likes a tipple or two. As a Yorkshire lass, she knows how Kite feels to be an outsider.

Jan Newton planted two hints that the series could progress along a slightly different tack in future – one involving a hinted-at medical condition for Kite’s boss and another about her fascination for forensic pathology. It will be interesting to see if any of my predictions prove accurate.

Rather To Be Pitied: EndNotes

The Book: Rather To Be Pitied by Jan Newton was published by Honno Press in 2019. They also published Jan’s debut novel (the first DS Kite mystery) in 2017.

The Author: Jan Newton grew up in Manchester and Derbyshire and spent almost twenty years in the Chilterns before moving to mid Wales in 2005. She has worked as a bilingual secretary in a German chemical company, as an accountant in a BMW garage and a GP practice and as a Teaching Assistant in the Welsh stream of a primary school, but now she has finally been able to return to her first love, writing.

Portrait in colour of Jan Newton, author of Rather To Be Pitied

She graduated from Swansea University with a Masters degree in Creative Writing in 2015 and has won the Allen Raine Short Story Competition, the WI’s Lady Denman Cup competition, the Lancashire and North West Magazine’s prize for humorous short stories and the Oriel Davies Gallery’s prize for nature writing.

Why Did I Read This Book?: I was in the mood for some crime fiction and saw this mentioned on the Honno website. It’s counting towards the “Wales” category in my #20booksofsummer 2020 project.

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Coming To Your Shelves This Spring: New Books From Welsh Publishers

The output of the Welsh publishing sector may not be as prolific as their counterparts elsewhere in the UK, but what it lacks in numbers, it more than delivers on quality and variety.

The small community of independent and specialist publishers champion the cause of writers born in Wales and those who have chosen to make the country their home.

Here are a few titles coming out this Spring that have caught my interest.

Honno Press

Published this month is Wild Spinning Girls by Carol Lovekin an author I’ve enjoyed in the past (see my reviews of Ghostbird and Snow Sisters). Just like those novels, Wild Spinning Girls, features an old house that has secrets and a protagonist who has to learn to let go of the past.

The Memory by Judith Barrow also takes secrets and memories as its theme. I’ve not read any of Judith’s work yet but this one sounds interesting. It’ features the difficult relationship between a mother and her daughter. Over the course of 24 hours their moving and tragic story is revealed – a story of love and duty betrayal and loss – as Irene rediscovers the past about the sister who died 30 years earlier. The Memory is due out on 19 March.

Seren Books

Seren has always enjoyed a strong reputation for the spotlight it provides Welsh poets. They’re continuing to do that this year with two new collections due out in February. The first of these caught my eye simply because of the very strange cover art….

The Machineries of Joy is Peter Finch’s 26th poetry collection. Seren says it’s “chock-full of acute observation, pointed asides, startled reactions, formal dislocations and structural invention.”

Also coming out with a new collection is Andre Mangeot with Blood Rain. Many of the featured poems are inspired by the his love of the landscape of Wales and in particular the dramatic vistas of the mountains of Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons.

Parthian Books

One of the things I’ve long admired about Parthian is the way they bring an element of diversity to their output. That’s very much in evidence again this year with books from a Sommalian refugee, a Latvian author from the Cold War era and one of the most respected voices in contemporary Welsh literature.

They have some really exciting sounding books coming out in April and again in the summer but you’ll have to wait for news of those later on in the year.

For now, I’ll just mention one that was launched just a few weeks ago.

I, Eric Ngalle is a remarkable true life account of a young man who left Sommalia believing he would soon be in Belgium, studying for an economics degree. But the travel plans went wrong and instead he ended up in Russia. After his passport was stolen, he spent two years as an illegal immigrant. Somehow (and I’m very curious how this happened) he ended up in Wales where he studied history and is now doing an MA in creative writing.

That’s all for now but I’ll be back with some more titles in a few months. If you’ve never read anything by a Welsh publisher I hope I’ve done enough to persuade you to lend them your support!

Welsh author confronts climate protests

Alison Layland

Alison Layland  is a woman with many talents. 

She’s been a quantity surveyor and a taxi driver.  She’s now a writer, translator and member of the  highly esteemed Gorsedd of the Bards. 

Her second novel ‘Riverflow ‘  confronts the controversial issue of fracking and its impact on a rural community.  

Q.  Describe your new novel Riverflow in one sentence.

It’s a novel of family secrets, community tensions and environmental protest against a background of fracking and floods on the river Severn.

Q.  Why did you decide to tackle environmental issues in this novel ?

“I’ve always been passionate about environmental issues and try to live as “green” a life as possible. I specifically wanted to focus on these issues when I wrote Riverflow, with the intention of writing an engaging, character-driven novel, but through the characters’ own lives and passions raising readers’ awareness of these issues and the climate crisis, and hopefully giving some food for thought.

Fracking protest

Between starting to write it and publication, I’m pleased that these issues have gained a certain amount of prominence through movements such as Extinction Rebellion. We also have the work of Greta Thunberg and the school climate strikers, David Attenborough, Chris Packham and many others. However, there’s still a long way to go in terms of government and corporate action.

The process of writing has also inspired me to get personally involved, and I’m now an active campaigner with Extinction Rebellion

Q. How difficult is it when you are translating fiction, to maintain the voice/style of your writer? Does the author in you ever want to change some part of the text? 

“Getting to know, and conveying, the author’s voice is an essential and enjoyable aspect of translating fiction.

It does take a few chapters for me to fully immerse myself in it, and in my subsequent redrafts and revisions, it’s the early chapters that need the most work.

I think being an author in my own right possibly makes it easier for me not to “interfere” unduly, as I have my own voice and way of writing and can keep that separate from my translation work.

Issues often arise in translating for a different culture. For example, German cultural references might need to be subtly explained to English-speaking readers. Or differences in style may be required in order to appeal to a different readership. Both I and my editors may make changes, in consultation with the author.”

Q. What made you decide to add ‘author’ to your career portfolio

I’ve always told myself stories and been an avid reader. I’ve always enjoyed working with words and always wanted to do something creative. So, although it wasn’t something I seriously considered when I was younger, I guess it was likely if not inevitable that I would become a writer – eventually!

I started writing fiction when we moved to Wales in 1997. I immediately set out to learn the language and our tutor happened to be a poet and creative writing tutor. After our language course came to an end, the group had achieved a lovely momentum and we carried on with creative writing classes.

I found, strangely, that writing in a second language removed my self-consciousness barriers. Soon I was writing short stories and flash fiction in Welsh. My first (unpublished) novel was also written in Welsh. By translating that for friends and family to read, I finally gained the confidence to begin writing in my native language, English.

Q. As a non-native Welsh person, how has your experience as an ‘outsider’ shaped your perspective on the country?

I lived in rural mid-Wales from 1997 until about three years ago, when we moved to a house right on the border, and learning the language has given me a unique insight into the literature and culture of Wales.

Living in the kind of rural and village communities that characterise a lot of this area of Wales is also fascinating, and feeds into my writing, although the village on the banks of the Severn that forms the setting for Riverflow is fictional. 

The border town of Oswestry and the surrounding area, although just in Shropshire, is a fluid one with a very Welsh feel and a Welsh-speaking community. I’ve sometimes felt that these places are just as, if not more, “Welsh” in character than certain places within Wales. Especially here, but also in the close-knit communities of rural Wales where there are a substantial number of English incomers, there’s a lot of – usually friendly – cultural banter.

As a Welsh speaker and “Cymraes fabwysiedig” (adoptive Welsh woman) I sometimes feel I have a foot in both camps, which is great for a writer and people-watcher!

Q. Do you enjoy participating in literary events?  

Despite being really nervous beforehand, I really enjoy public events.

I particularly enjoy interview and panel formats, like the one at Crime & Coffee, ( a festival organised by Cardiff library service) which was a panel discussion with fellow Honno authors Jan Newton and Gaby Koppel.

Another activity I enjoy is being asked to visit reading groups; it’s lovely to meet readers, talk about their reactions to my and others’ books, and answer questions about writing.

I particularly enjoy questions or comments from people who are touched by the subject-matter – when talking about Someone Else’s Conflict, that is people who have first-hand experience of the 1990s conflicts in the Balkans, and with Riverflow – although I’ve only talked about it at a couple of events so far – it’s people who are involved in environmentalism or protest.

Q. What book is on your bedside table right now? 

“I’m about to start This is Not a Drill, the recently published Extinction Rebellion handbook. It’s probably not ideal bedtime reading as thinking about the future of the planet is a decidedly scary prospect right now, but I’m sure that many of the essays and articles will be essential reading. It’s also a book I intend to pass on to people after I’ve finished reading it.


Spotlight on Alison Layland 

  • Alison Layland is the latest author from Wales to feature in Cwtch Corner.
  • She studied Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at Cambridge University, and after a brief spell as a taxi driver worked for several years as a chartered surveyor before returning to her first love – language. She translates from German, French and Welsh into English. Her published translations include a number of award-winning and best-selling novels.
  • Alison started writing when she moved to Wales in 1997. A Welsh language course led the way to creative writing classes. She was Welsh Learner of the Year in 1999. In 2002 she won first place at the National Eisteddfod with a short story written in Welsh. 
  • She is currently teaching herself Croatian as a by-product of her research for her first novel Someone Else’s Conflict.
  • Her latest novel Riverflow was published by Honno in June 2019.
  • You can learn more about Alison’s books at www.alayland.uk She is also on Twitter via @AlisonLayland

Cwtch-Corner

Cwtch Corner: where authors from Wales get to talk about their work, what inspires their writing and their favourite authors and books.

Thorne Moore visits Cwtch Corner #Waleswrites

Cwtch Corner: where authors from Wales get to talk about their work, what inspires their writing and their favourite authors and books.

Cwtch-Corner

It’s time to welcome Thorne Moore to Cwtch Corner. I read Thorne’s debut novel A Time for Silence a few years ago. She’s gone on to publish five more books, including a collection of short stories. As she joined me in Cwtch Corner the subject naturally turned to her latest novel…..

Thorne MooreQ. Thorne, imagine you’re in a lift with some potential readers. You have less than a minute to persuade them to read your latest book. What’s your pitch?

Knowing me, I’d probably still be lost for words when the lift stopped, but assuming I do manage to talk fast…I’d say that Covenant is a prequel to my first novel, A Time For Silence, but it also stands alone.  1883, Thomas Owen is convinced God has given him the tiny farm of Cwmderwen and he impresses this belief on his children, but only his daughter Leah has the strength to hang onto it, until she realises that the price has always been too high. It’s about faith, family, possession – and women.”

Q. On your website you say that “Settings, especially houses, are a major inspiration for me”. What is it that attracts you to this kind of setting?

Unless we’re really insensitive or unobservant, the places where we live do become a part of us, influencing how we see things, whether we want to stay put or flee. And place remains when we are gone, retaining the mark of when we were there, for good or ill.

Houses, particularly, retain something of everyone who’s lived in them, and everything that’s happened there, even if it’s hidden under seven layers of wallpaper. Houses that belonged to notorious murderers often get knocked down because somehow the murder is still there, haunting the community.

Though I write about crime, especially murder, I am primarily interested in all that led up to the deed, and the consequences long after. Houses embody that expanse of time. They have witnessed it all and they don’t forget.”

Q. How much of your own experience makes an appearance in your work?

A lot, of course, but seldom in an overt and straightforward manner. I weave in bits and pieces.  I have studied and taught genealogy and I milk that quite often (and I make good use of a host of family names).

The nearest to autobiographical I get is in The Unravelling, where, with a bit of tweaking and shuffling, I have used the estate where I grew up and my memories of childhood there in the 60s. But none of the people and events are real, just the games and childish worries and playground politics.”

Q. Which authors have you changed your mind about over the years?

lordof the ringsIn my teens I was fanatical about Tolkien, especially The Lord of the Rings. I do still admire his mastery of perfect fantasy – which is perfect rather than pure because it’s grounded, interwoven with the everyday normality of our lives; dragons and elves mixed up with the need for pocket handkerchiefs and a good mushroom fry-up. But I don’t read him any more.

I began to find it all a bit distasteful, as I did with C.S Lewis’s Narnia books. Poor Susan, denied heaven because she grew up.

Q. Your home is on fire… Which book will you choose to save

This is one of those impossible questions. Seriously, I’d be far too busy calling 999, screaming at everyone to get out, helping my very elderly mother to safety, rescuing the cats, grabbing my laptop, disconnecting the gas tanks, to think about books. But supposing all that was done and I still had time, am I allowed to say my Kindle, or is that cheating? Other than that, the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. I’d need something spiritually enchanting while I watched my home burn to the ground.”

Q. You lived much of your life outside of Wales. Has that ‘outsider’ experience shaped how you write about Wales?

“Undoubtedly.

I grew up in Luton but my mother was Welsh, which gave me a sense of exile from the start. Once I moved to Wales, the reverse happened. I became English in exile in Wales. I am perverse!

But I am deeply aware of differences. Not the difference between my home town of Luton and my mother’s, Cardiff, because a town is a town is a town. But I am very conscious of the contrast between the suburban home counties – with fast raucous towns where today is all that matters and a countryside that’s a playground for the cities and a home for the well-heeled – and the very ancient, very slow, very isolated, semi-wild woods and hills and valleys of West Wales, where even the language is different, and the past is ever-present. The countryside is littered with the human touch of millennia, from prehistoric hut circles to abandoned cottages and derelict mansions. I find it very easy to write a sense of mystery and history into my books set here.


Thorne Moore is originally from the Luton area, about 30 miles from London. She has a long connection with Wales dating from her time as a history student at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth. She now lives in a Victorian farmhouse in Pembrokeshire in west Wales where she divides her time between writing and her craft business. Thorne is a member of the Crime Writers Association and Crime Cymru, and is co-organiser of the Narberth Book Fair. She is published by Honno Press.  

Ash by Alys Einion #bookreview #writingWales

Ash

Anorexia, domestic abuse, female subjugation, religious extremism: Ash by Alys Einion contains an abundance of issues but they don’t get in the way of what is essentially a story about relationships.

Ash is the follow up to her debut novel Inshallah which traced the fateful decision of a woman to swap her native Wales for her husband’s home in Saudi Arabia. When her life is threatened and no-one believes her claims about her husband Muhammed’s abusive behaviour, Amanda flees the country with her children.

Ash finds her back in the UK, struggling to bring up the children, moving from one squalid home to another, always fearful that Muhammed will find them.  The boys eventually find their own way to survive in a country and a way of life that feels alien. But Ash (Aisha) the only daughter, finds it impossible to adjust. Impossible to fit in. Impossible to relate to her mother.

Ash is a moving portrait of a troubled teenage girl and her alienation from her mother. It’s told in the voices of these two women whose experiences have given them a bleak outlook on life.

“Everything is fake, in the end,” says Ash.

All the people who say they love you, they don’t mean it. Those women, the ones my mother shacked up with, they said they loved her, they said they’d be there, and they’re gone. It’s a lie, all of it.

Amanda deals with these frequent disappointments in her life, the times when people let her down by losing herself in her painting. Ash takes a different approach, starving herself and exercising fanatically to lose weight and avoid cruel jibes at school. 

The gulf between these two women is the strongest aspect  of the novel. Initially I found it hard to believe that Amanda would be so engrossed in her painting she wouldn’t notice her daughter’s unhappiness. Forget to shop for groceries yes. Forget to eat, certainly. But fail to see her daughter isn’t eating and has no friends? Not really. As we learned more of Amanda’s background however, her often eccentric behaviour became easier to accept: art is her refuge, a way of forgetting the pain of the past.

Many of the chapters deal with these past events. They help provide the necessary context for the main characters’ current state of mind and explain the tension between mother and daughter. This means there is a certain degree of ‘telling’ in this novel but that wasn’t any barrier to my enjoyment of the book. I found the rewinds to Amanda’s life in Saudi Arabia and her first months back in the UK also helped fill in the background that I was lacking because I hadn’t read Inshallah.  Every chapter is labelled with a colour which often reflects a key mood though this wasn’t always successful and many times I failed to see the significance of the selected colour.

Where the book worked better was in showing the pain and confusion experienced by the teenage Ash. Her response to the psychological warfare waged against her by her class mates — the willowy, slim hipped girls who call her fat — is to reduce her food intake to almost nothing.  Control over her body gives her strength.

They all hate me, they despise me, but they can’t beat me because I am better than them, I can do this now and no-one can stop me. No one is stronger than I am …

If I eat this, they win, and that mens they’re right about it all, that I’m just a fat nothing.

Though Ash is a highly intelligent girl, her predicament makes her vulnerable to exploitation. I won’t go into details of that aspect of the plot because it would spoil the book for other readers, but it gives the novel a highly topical dimension and provides a cliff hanger ending. I suspect that means Alys Einion has a follow up novel in the offing.

There were times I thought the book was a little repetitive but the thrust of the narrative and the depth of the characterisation kept my interest throughout.

Footnotes

About this book: Ash was published in 2018 by Honno Press, independent women’s press in the UK. 

About the author:  Alys Einion has had a varied career. She has been a nurse and a midwife but now works  as Associate Professor of Midwifery and Women’s Health at Swansea University in Wales. She gained a PhD in 2012, studying the intersection between women’s life writing, fiction and representations of sexual violence, which led to the publication of her first novel Inshallah. She also has aPhD in Creative Writing

Why I read this book: I’ve been making a conscious effort in the last couple of years to read more books from authors and publishers based in Wales. I couldn’t resist this one when I saw it on the Honno website. Aly

Books to give and receive Christmas 2018

A few weeks ago the editors at Shiny New Books asked their team of reviewers (plus some friends) to reveal which book or books they’d like to give for Christmas.

I thought that was such a great idea I decided to do my own version but with a little twist. While we all enjoy giving we also enjoy the excitement of receiving. And so I asked  bloggers, publishers, authors and avid readers based in Wales what book/s they’d most like to give as a Christmas gift but what book or books they secretly hoped Santa would bring them this year.

They’ve come up with an eclectic list incorporating a literary classic to a short story collection, a ‘clean eating’ cook book and, in one case, a novel that hasn’t yet been completed…..

Helena Earnshaw: Honno Press 

Would love to give: Stranger Within the Gates by Bertha Thomas

stranger-within-the_gates“Obviously I love to give books published by Honno, and particularly from the Welsh Women’s Classics, hoping to introduce friends and family to these great women writers of the past! Stranger Within the Gates, by Bertha Thomas, is a favourite. Although written over 100 years ago, it has a contemporary appeal — it contains a witty pro-suffrage parody, as well as other sharply observed stories.

We’ve also recently brought out a new edition of The Rebecca Rioter by Amy Dillwyn, with a great new cover that makes a beautiful and interesting gift. ”

 

Hoping Santa will bring….

“I am torn between three books. I’m hoping for The Original Suffrage Cook Book, originally published in 1915 to help raise funds for the campaign for the vote for women. The Women’s Atlas, by Joni Seager also looks like a fascinating resource as does Y Lolfa’s Codi Llais by 14 Welsh women about what it means to be a woman in the 21st century.

“In fiction, I am hoping for Disobedience by Naomi Alderman. A bit of a well known choice, with the upcoming film, but a recent interview with the author was so moving and fascinating that I feel I need to read the book. ”

Cerian Fishlock: Publishing student

Would love to give: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

“Of course you’d want to tailor a gift to your chosen recipient, but this is both my favourite book of all time, and the book I think everyone should read. It’s a phenomenal piece of literature, beautifully crafted, and causes you to question the basis of human nature. The Penguin Classics edition is a beautiful text, making it the perfect present for Stevenson fans and virgins alike.”

Hoping Santa will bring….

modern cook“I regularly buy myself a novel or work of fiction (thank you Waterstones for your buy-one-get-one-half-price offer), but very rarely pick up a non-fiction book for myself. Of course the New Year heralds the season of diet manuals and ‘get fit quick’ guides. Ignore those, head straight to Anna Jones’ vegetarian bibles instead. The Modern Cook’s Year and A Modern Way to Cook ignore all the jargon of current trends and offer realistic recipes which fit in with modern life — all wrapped up with mouth-watering photography.

 

An Edited Life by blogger Anna Newton, is an upcoming guide to getting your life in order (now available for pre-order in the UK). Whilst I’m not usually interested in social media stars turned authors, a quick peruse of Anna’s blog (The Anna Edit) will prove all the inspiration you need to overhaul your wardrobe/loft/kitchen/makeup… I could go on.”

Susan Corcoran: Blogger at booksaremycwtches

Would love to give: The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech

“This is a dark, consuming drama that shifts from Zimbabwe to England, and then back into the past, The Lion Tamer Who Lost is also a devastatingly beautiful love story, with a tragic heart. It’s a joy to read, heart breaking and exquisite. For me, it’s her finest book to date.”

Hoping Santa will bring….

Silence of the girls“The books I secretly hope Santa brings me are Pat Barker’s The Silence Of The Girls. Having fallen deeply in love with Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, it would be fascinating to read the story from a female character’s point of view.

The other would be A Keeper by Graham Norton. I loved his first book and really want to read this one.”

 

 

 

Thorne Moore: author

Albi“I’d give Albi by Hilary Shepherd, the best and most thought-provoking book I’ve read this year. It’s about real history and human nature in crisis.

I’d love to receive — from Santa, who is magical and can therefore achieve anything —volume 3 of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, because I am itching for it, so it would make the perfect Christmas present.”

 

 

 

Kath Eastman: Blogger at The Nut Press

Would love to give: The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale

“I try and fit the book to its recipient and their interests but these are some of my go-to book gifts this year:

The Toy Makers“The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale is set in a toy emporium which opens in London when the first frost appears and shows how magical the imagination can be but there’s also a darkness to it as well which I loved. I think it’s a perfect read for this time of year.

“I’m giving crime fans Amy Lloyd’s The Innocent Wife which is a really impressive debut looking at a woman who campaigns for, falls for and marries a death row prisoner, only for him to be released and for her to discover that’s when life gets interesting.

“My other choice would be The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway by Rhys Thomas which is about an unlikely superhero: it’s geeky, humorous, heartbreaking and refreshingly different. I’d recommend it to fans of Eleanor Oliphant and comic book heroes alike.”

Hoping Santa will bring….

“I already have more than enough unread books to keep me going over the festive period, so I’d be happy with some book tokens for Christmas to put towards some of the terrific new releases coming in the New Year.

That said, I wouldn’t say no to finding the Costa shortlisted novel The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman under the tree, or John Boyne’s A Ladder to the Sky, both of which really appeal to me.

Megan Farr: Firefly Press and Graffeg

Would love to give: The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher

Clockwork Crow“A book I would gift to all children aged 8-12, as well as their parents, is this beautifully written and magical book by Catherine Fisher. It is the perfect read over the Christmas holidays, as the story is set in a snowy Victorian mid-Wales in the lead up to Christmas Day. When orphan Seren arrives as her new home she finds that the family is in mourning as their son has been missing for a year and a day. Seren sets off with the help of an enchanted Clockwork Crow to find him in this magical story of snow and stars from a master storyteller.”

 

Hoping Santa will bring….

“I am very much hoping to find Middle England by Jonathan Coe and Cassandra Drake by Posy Simmonds under the Christmas tree. I recently read The Rotter’s Club and very much look forward to revisiting the characters after the financial crash of 2008, following them to the present day, and seeing what Coe makes of the Brexit fall-out. I am equally excited to read Posy Simmonds’ first graphic novel in 11 years, being a huge fan. Her graphic novels are always a delicious mix of gorgeous drawing, brilliant characters and great societal observation.”

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