Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Carew Castle & Coastal Cliffs in Pembrokeshire, Wales

Tenby in Wales

I'm back home in Maine and already feeling nostalgic for our UK Sabbatical. In the last week my husband and I visited Wales. My mother-in-law's family originally came from Pembrokeshire, and since she died of cancer earlier this spring, it was a bittersweet vacation.

Our first stop was Tenby, a medieval walled city, where in 1471 the future King Henry VII supposedly escaped via a tunnel on his way to France. Exploring a back alley, I learned the Welsh word for bookstore: cafion. Most signs in Wales are in both English and Welsh. On a trash bin taught us the Welsh word for litter: sbwriel. Don't ask me how to pronounce it!

Bluebells on the Coastal Path, overlooking Tenby

From the Tenby train station is a free public trail that cuts across a golf course to the Coastal Path. My hometown in Maine is on the other side of the Atlantic, and I'd missed the soothing sound of crashing surf.

Most of the Tenby trail was an easy climb, but I couldn't resist scrambling down a rocky cliff for a photo of...


Another hazard was crossing a military shooting range, but warning flags indicated all was clear that day. Jet fighter practice flights occasionally break the idyllic quiet of rural Wales.

The next day we hiked another section of the Coastal Path, which abbutted a lily pond nature sanctuary,

...and a secluded beach.

You could hike for days on the Coastal Path. What I love the most about the UK is the public access to the coast and countryside with long networks of well maintained trails. We were lucky to have clear weather in Wales; it was the driest spring in 20 years.

Carew Castle in Pembrokeshire, Wales

After the hike, we drove just a few miles to Carew Castle. We arrived late enough in the day to have the castle all to ourselves to explore. It was built in 1270 to fortify the tidal estuary and was in remarkably good shape for a ruin. We were horrified to learn that a lord, upon installing larger windows, had razed the village for a better view.

Admiring the castle as we walked the circular river path, I was struck by how much Carew Castle reminded me of the young adult novel I had revised on sabbatical. A MATCH FOR EVE is a contemporary story about a year abroad at a castle-cum-school in coastal Cornwall, which is to the south of Wales but a similar landscape. Great Britain inspires great stories.

Like Cornwall, the country lanes of Wales are bordered by centuries old blooming hedgerows. The roads are often only wide enough for one car so you need to back up to a pullover spot to let another car pass...or to let me take more photos! I'll save Hay-on-Wye, the Welsh town of books, for another post.

As much as we enjoyed our time abroad, it's lovely to be home, catching up with family and friends.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Goodbye to Bluebell Season & England

Wytham Woods at Oxford University is used for environmental research and hosts art studios.

As eager as I am to return home after a year abroad, England is hard to leave during bluebell season. It's been a fun and productive sabbatical in two countries. My UK young adult novel is revised, and I've started writing a new YA novel set in Japan. We spent lots of time with our British family, caught with old friends, and explored new places. I will blog about last week's marvelous vacation in Wales soon.

Wild bluebells and rapeseed fields at Wytham Woods

This week I'll be mostly offline moving back to Maine. More later!

Bluebell woods at Pangbourne College in Berkshire, my husband's old school.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

WILDMAN by J.C. Geiger

I'm offline traveling in Wales, enjoying the final week of our UK sabbatical. The photograph above is of Carew Castle and Tidal Mill in Pembrokeshire, home county of my husband's ancestors. If you're looking for good summer reading, check out Wildman and the link below to more book reviews. Next post I'll teach you how to say bookstore in Welsh!

In Wildman by J.C. Geiger an auto breakdown strands a valedictorian in rural Washington days before graduation. Lance has a full scholarship to Oregon State University to study Business, but he still auditioned for a music school in Seattle. If he dumps his car, Lance can return home in time to party with his girlfriend, but the old Buick is all Lance has left from his deadbeat dad. In a classic teen boy dilemma, Lance must choose between his car and his girl.

What makes this young adult novel special is the strong sense of place. Inside the gorgeous cover, the story is scented with fragrant pines, motel mildew, and cheap beer. Every night a cargo train blasts through Trainsong at two in the morning. Lance is warned to get out while he still can, but waiting at a dive bar, he bonds with hard-luck young adults who jump trains for fun. A quirky young woman makes Lance question his life choices. Wildman reminded me of the TV series Northern Exposure, set in Alaska.

The setting enhanced the menacing drama:
"The road got darker, more remote. Like they weren't travelling across the wilderness so much as tunneling into it."
Although the writing was often lyrical, the voice and imagery were true to a teenage boy:
"He rifled through his stories like a deck of old baseball cards. What had he ever done?"
The unfiltered teen boy perspective was pitch perfect for its intended audience but might offend other readers. Although Lance cares the most about personality, female characters were rated by their sexual allure and a fat woman enjoying her food was observed with disgust. There was underage drinking, borderline infidelity, barroom violence, and false testimony to the police with few consequences. From the limits of Lance's point-of-view, the ending was a bit confusing, but I loved the final imagery. Wildman is a fast and fun read, which teenage boys will enjoy. After this impressive debut, I'm eager to see what J.C. Geiger writes next.

With a shift of location up the west coast, Hotel California could be Wildman's soundtrack:

Reviewer's Disclosure: the author and I share an agent, Sara Crowe. Upon my request, I received a free digital galley from the publisher, Disney Hyperion, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Wildman's North American release date is June 6th, 2017.

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@Barrie Summy