Book review – Richard Llewellyn – “How Green was my Valley”


It’s Reading Wales 2023 and this is my second read for the Month, read on holiday in Southern Spain, somewhat oddly, although we were staying in quite a working-class area. I bought this especially for the challenge as I’d agreed with Mallika from Literary Potpourri that we would do a buddy read of it (we both read it at the same time and are sharing each other’s reviews but didn’t discuss it separately to these, mainly for reasons of my holiday!). A classic of working-class literature, it reminded me in parts of “The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists” and, while distressing quite a lot of the time, is very well worth reading. Here is Mallika from Literary Potpourri’s review, do go and visit it, too! Do also visit Brona’s interesting piece about the controversies around Llewellyn’s claimed heritage and knowledge/experience (I’m still counting this for Dewithon as it’s set in Wales …).

Richard Llewellyn – “How Green was my Valley”

(13 January 2023, The Heath Bookshop)

In the evening after we had finished tea we all sat on the grass on horse cloths and sang hymns and songs, and we had prizes for the best. Indeed if I was not chosen again for the best voice among the small boys. There is pleased my father was. I will never forget the way he looked when Mr Prosser, St. Bedwas, gave me the sweets.

Singing was in my father as sight is in the eye. Always after that he called me the family soloist. That night he held my hand tight all the way home, with my mother on his other side, and my sisters behind us. (p. 19)

We meet Huw Morgan as a small boy, the youngest in his family, his brothers and sisters settling (or not) into their roles, and we follow him into his late teens; however, his story is being written from much later life, with the horror of a pit slag heap that’s slipped pressing and pressing onto the little house where he was raised and lives now. That gives a feeling of only barely repressed menace throughout the whole book, not particularly needed when everyone is going down badly maintained pits, struggling against the mine owners or struggling at school against bullies and anti-Welsh sentiment.

Huw has a temper on him and inflicts some damage on people, but that’s seen, I think, to not in the end help, as he’s still stuck where he started out, alone and looking back at the green grass of his youth, now obscured by slag heaps (this book was published in 1939, long before the horror of Aberfan; now the Valleys have been greened again by various initiatives, whether or not that will help the social and economic deprivation they have experienced).

There is a feeling of progressive doom about the whole book, as Huw’s siblings push against their constraints and end up leaving, his sister makes a choice of husband that may not be the best and Huw’s chance to escape may not be taken up. There are also some absolutely brutal scenes, especially when the community seeks justice for the assault and death of a child, and the passages where a long strike brings starvation to the people. Huw’s father is the centre of his life, even though he fundamentally disagrees with the actions of his own sons towards unionising, and, appropriate for a review published on Mother’s Day, you can only feel sorry for his poor mother, though she has her own flashes of temper and giddiness, as she is forced to watch her children leave, not able to understand the map of their travels she’s shown.

gbThere are flashes of positivity and possibility, with the local clergyman providing education in books, morals and carpentry, and humour, especially with the bad boys, Dai and Cyfartha, who wreak havoc and revenge wherever they go (but are revealed to be devoted and loving friends (a couple?) as the story goes on). And there are of course beautiful descriptions and all done in a Welsh way of speaking which is done beautifully and not clumsily, feels authentic and was probably quite surprising at the time. As it winds to its conclusion, it feels both inevitable and gutting: a book you have to sit with for a while after finishing it.

Both a classic story of coming of age and an impassioned appeal against capitalism, it’s an absorbing read that I am happy to highly recommend

This was Book 2 read for Reading Wales 2023.

Book review – Charlotte Williams – “Sugar and Slate”


It’s Reading Wales 2023 and so of course I’m reading the book everyone read for the challenge last year! (I was holding out for an affordable print copy and gave up and bought an e-book at the end of March 2022). Lots of people loved this memoir of a woman of mixed heritage growing up in North Wales and I was determined to get round to it, so here I am, having done so! This book was first published in 2002 and then with a revised preface in 2006.

Charlotte Williams – “Sugar & Slate”

(21 March 2022, e-book)

They were little acts of resistance; small gestures of defiance from a very limited repertoire. How would we have known how to organise for resistance? We were far too isolated and in any case the pressure to conform kept a firm grip on any spontaneous acts of rebellion.

Charlotte grew up in North Wales, her and her four sisters very much the only people of colour in their small town, their mum a proud, strong Welsh woman, their father from Guyana but living a lot of the time in various countries in Africa, returning to Guyana in his old age. We end up in Guyana with Charlotte and her husband in the latter part of the book, her White husband fitting in in some ways better than her.

The narrative is not linear and straightforward, but you can follow it, and we return, like Narnia’s Wood Between Worlds, to an interstitial Trinidadian airport where Charlotte waits for a flight to Guyana and interacts with a Rastafarian from Slough in an Africa t-shirt who is setting off to become a tomato farmer.

We get the story of Charlotte’s father, a notable artist who is however not around much, and her strong mother, and the marvellous interval when both parents are in Africa negotiating the end of their marriage and the girls run deliciously wild, though without the theoretical framework to use that wildness for much effect apart from upsetting their neighbours.

We also learn about different aspects of Black Wales – the boys from the Congo buried near the missionary college they attended, the notable African independence politicians and thinkers who also gathered at the college, the Black community in Cardiff that goes back 150 years and gives Charlotte’s friends some slightly envied roots, the links between Guyana and a town in Wales, both centred on aluminium smelting and its raw materials. I also didn’t know that the Cardiff riots of 1919 triggered an upsurge in insurrections and Black consciousness in the Caribbean.

Moving between Wales, Africa and the Caribbean and South America, Charlotte charts how she feels and is seen in each place and mulls on identity and belonging, allowing space for no conclusions to be reached. She intersperses her narrative with her own poems and others’ and excerpts from her father’s books and historic books about the missionary centre, etc., giving a kaleidoscopic picture that is effective and moving.

This was Book 1 read for Reading Wales 2023, hopefully I will get “How Green Was My Valley” read soon.

An interesting Bookish Beck synchronicity (I allow these over a couple of books as I don’t read as many at the same time as she does), in this book, Charlotte is drawn to the shape of a Guyanese woman’s square shoulders and bottom shape, realising they match hers, and in “Windward Family“, Alexis Keir realises that his “small head” is just the head size and shape of his people in Saint Vincent.

State of the TBR – March 2023


Well, in good news, the bulk of books on my TBR has stayed essentially the same as last month, the bad news being that I still have almost an extra shelf of it!

I completed 20 books in February (one left to review) and am part-way through four more (one my new Reading With Emma Read). Sadly I didn’t read quite what I intended to, as I was struck down by an unpleasant virus that seems to be doing the rounds and only able to read a series of (nine!) very light and enjoyable novels on my kindle for about a week in the middle of it. I read three of the #ReadIndies books I’d laid out for myself, with one still on the go and therefore should still Count, and added two that came in through the month handily from indie publishers. So six ReadIndies challenge books in total, plus two of the ones I laid out for myself I really didn’t like at all and put to one side, at least thus removing five from the print TBR. I finished one of my other print review books (review to be done for Shiny) and am part-way through another (see below). And I DID read all five of my NetGalley books published in March, hooray, plus three more NetGalley books by Christie Barlow that were waiting for me to read the first six (I did). So eight books off the NetGalley TBR and my percentage is 88%!


Not quite so many incomings this month (mainly because I couldn’t see very well or leave the house much this month, I suspect). The kindness of friends and publishers kept me supplied, though!

Ada Leverson’s “Bird of Paradise” was a kind gift from the publisher, Michael Walmer, and I have read and reviewed it already (here). Bookish Beck sent me Jeremiah Moss’ “Feral City” which is about New York and the pandemic (I’m aware I need to send this on to Laura Tisdall so will try to promote it up the TBR!). I spotted Bob Mortimer’s autobiography, “And Away” in The Works when milling around on the High Street and couldn’t resist it. Charlie Hill dropped a copy of his historical novel “The Pirate Queen” round (read and reviewed here) and my lovely friend Jenny dropped Deesha Philyaw’s “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies” (racy stories!) and Cyndia Lauper’s memoir round on the same day. I bought Hunter Davies’ “The Heath” for Emma as she lives near Hampstead Heath and we decided to make it one of our Read Together Books – even though we have one on the go and another two in hand, I decided I had to have this one, too, so ordered it from the (Heath!) Bookshop. Michael Hann’s “Denim and Leather” is the story of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal: I did a very small amount of transcribing for it (and he added me to the acknowledgements!) and decided to pre-order the paperback LAST Feb so thank you, Past Me. And Vertebrate Publishing sent an enticing email about review copies and I chose “The Outdoors Fix” by Liv Bolton which has essays by a lovely diverse group of people and how the British countryside has helped them in various ways (look out for that review soon as it’s out on 9 March).

I won four NetGalley books this month and didn’t buy any other ebooks:

Ryan Love’s “Arthur and Teddy Are Coming Out” (published April) is a feel-good novel where a grandfather and his grandson both want to come out as gay but one finds it easier than the other. Paul Morgan-Bentley’s “The Equal Parent” (March) looks at research from around the world about why parenting gets gendered and how to combat it – so much so that as a man married to a man, he gets called MummyDaddy by their local chemist. Christie Barlow has another one out but this time I’m caught up so can read it at the right time – “A Summer Surprise at the Little Blue Boathouse” (April) returns us to Heartcross and more warmth and community. Finally Catherine Joy White’s “A Thread of Gold” (June) brings Black women out of history to celebrate them as they should be.

So that was 20 read and 13 coming in in February, two of which I’ve already read – a win!

Currently reading

As well as Adam Nicolson’s “The Sea is Not Made of Water: Life Between the Tides” with Emma, I’m reading Lauren Fleshman’s “Good for a Girl”, about her own life in athletics and women’s experience in general, for Shiny New Books, and Liv Bolton’s “The Outdoor Fix” as described above.

Coming up

This month, I’ll also be reading for both Bookjotter’s Reading Wales (Richard Llewellyn’s “How Green was my Valley” and Charlotte Williams’ “Sugar and Slate” (which was the main read for it last year but I was balking at buying the ebook until I just had to) and Cathy at 746 Books’ Reading Ireland (Kate O’Brien‘s nun-based novel “The Land of Spices” and the novella “Small Things Like These” by Claire Keegan which I know everyone has read except me) for once (I usually manage one or the other).

My NetGalley TBR for March has eight books on it and an equal mix of fiction and non-fiction:

Jacqueline Crooks’ “Fire Rush” is set in reggae clubs in London and Bristol and takes our heroine through gangs and to Jamaica. Monica Macias tells of her life as a West African growing up in North Korea in “Black Girl from Pyongyang”. Nikesh Shukla’s YA novel “Stand Up” has teenager Madhu caught between helping her family and wanting to be a stand-up comedian. We’ve seen “The Equal Parent” above, and Katherine May’s “Enchantment” looks at how to help your mental health through finding wonder in life. Julie Shackwell returns to Scotland with “A Scottish Country Escape” – another reliably good light novelist. “Rootless” by Krystle Zara Appiah is a poignant novel about a British-Ghanaian marriage in crisis. Finally, Elizabeth Day explores her own friendships and broader discussions of friendship in “Friendaholic”.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong with Emma as we won’t finish it this month), that’s three books to finish and twelve to read, which feels OK, though I would like to continue progress on reading hardbacks I bought recently before they come out in paperback …

How was your February reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection?