Precious Bane

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Read 29/06/2021-21/07/2021

Rating 5 stars

For my third summer read, I headed to Shropshire with Mary Webb’s novel Precious Bane. There’s an excellent preface in the Virago Modern Classic edition that I bought from Well-Read Books in Wigtown. Written by Michelene Wandor, it gives a feminist context for the book, describing a little of Webb’s life alongside the history that surrounds her character Prue Sarn’s 19th century existence. Although set at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, Wandor tells us that “national events appear to be outside the concern of the isolated, rural and largely illiterate community” and “the backdrop to Prue’s story is the three centuries of intense and virulent witch-hunting all over Europe.” Continue reading

Cornish Short Stories: A collection of contemporary Cornish writing

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Read 01/06/2021-09/06/2021

Rating 4 stars

My first read for the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, hosted by Cathy at 746 Books, is a collection of contemporary short stories by Cornish writers. It arose from a Falmouth literature event called Telltales, where the book’s editors, Emma Timpany and Felicity Notley, met Nicola Guy, an editor with The History Press, and an anthology was born (http://www.cornishshortstories.org.uk/). Continue reading

Hit Factories: A Journey Through the Industrial Cities of British Pop

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Read 05/04/2021-18/04/2021

Rating 3 stars

Hit Factories is a curious and eclectic book. The title and the flyleaf blurb suggest a social history of pop in industrial cities – how the industrial landscape influenced the music and vice versa. It’s not that, though. It’s more personal, built around an attempt by author Karl Whitney, a Dubliner transplanted to the North East of England, to understand Britain differently.

Whitney has drawn on a travel writing approach of exploring the relationship between landscape and community, finding the out of the ordinary and drawing on the voices of those involved in the story. The book examines why certain industrial cities developed, or didn’t, distinctive music scenes and represents the condensed musical histories of 11 cities across just over 300 pages. Continue reading

The Life of Rebecca Jones

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Read 28/03/2021-30/03/2021

Rating 5 stars

Angharad Price’s novel The Life of Rebecca Jones is a fictionalised memoir born of family documents and photographs, some of which appear in the text. It’s a clever and affecting book that paints a picture of farming life in the Maesglasau valley in Merioneth across the 20th century. Written in Welsh, the original novel has the title O! Tyn y Gorchudd, which can be translated as O! Pull Aside the Veil. I read Lloyd Jones’s excellent translation into English. Continue reading

The Owl Service

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First read 1982/3

Re-read 21/03/2021- 27/03/2021

Rating 3 stars

Alan Garner’s The Owl Service is set in a Welsh valley not far from Aberystwyth. The valley contains an ancient, mysterious power. Teenagers Alison, Gwyn and Roger somehow unlock that power and have to deal with the consequences. Continue reading