The best books about Wales

8 authors have picked their favorite books about Wales and why they recommend each book.

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The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr

By R.R. Davies,

Book cover of The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr

Rees Davies was one of the first historians to seek to explore the histories of Britain and Ireland as both unique and intertwined narratives. Although this book focuses on the Welsh revolt of the early 15th century it shows the author’s formidable understanding of the relationship between England and Wales in the century after the Edwardian conquest. An object lesson in academic history written with the general reader in mind.

Who am I?

I was drawn into the study of medieval history through an interest in chivalry and this led to a PhD and various publications on the career and household of Edward the Black Prince (1330-76). He lived through the heart of what’s become known as the late medieval crisis: a period which many contemporaries thought was a prelude to the apocalypse. I’ve been teaching and writing about this period for more than 20 years now and remain fascinated by the contrasts between creativity and utter devastation that characterise the later middle ages.


I wrote...

The Hundred Years War: A People's History

By David Green,

Book cover of The Hundred Years War: A People's History

What is my book about?

The Hundred Years War (1337–1453) dominated life in England and France for well over a century. It became the defining feature of existence for generations. David Green focuses on the ways the war affected different groups, including knights, clerics, women, peasants, soldiers, peacemakers, and kings. He also explores how the war changed government in England and France and reshaped peoples’ perceptions of themselves and of their national character.

The book illuminates the realities of battle and the conditions of those compelled to live in occupied territory; the roles played by clergy and their shifting loyalties to king and pope. Peopled with vivid and well-known characters—Henry V, Joan of Arc, Philippe the Good of Burgundy, Edward the Black Prince, John the Blind of Bohemia—as well as a host of ordinary individuals who were drawn into the struggle, this book reveals not only the Hundred Years War’s impact on warfare, institutions, and nations, but also its true human cost.

Sunken Cities. Some Legends of the Coast and Lakes of Wales

By F.J. North,

Book cover of Sunken Cities. Some Legends of the Coast and Lakes of Wales

Written in the 1950s by a museum curator-geologist, Sunken Cities is one of the earliest expositions of ‘myth and legend’ and their plausible geological meanings. The author marries his deep knowledge of Welsh traditions about submerged places with contemporary geological understandings. Of course, geology was transformed the following decade but North’s book remains insightful and grounded in ways that many more recent accounts are not. If I lived in Wales, I would be off every weekend with it in hand!


Who am I?

Growing up in post-WWII Europe, young people’s anxiety was often channelled into searching for ‘lost worlds’, places hope could be nurtured and ancient solutions revived. So I encountered Atlantis and Lemuria and other imagined places but also learned, from training as a geologist, that once-populated lands had actually been submerged. Myths and legends often contain grains of observational truth at their heart. The more ‘submergence stories’ I research, from Australia through India and across northwest Europe, the more I realize how much we have forgotten about undersea human pasts. And how our navigation of the future could be improved by understanding them.


I wrote...

Worlds in Shadow: Submerged Lands in Science, Memory and Myth

By Patrick Nunn,

Book cover of Worlds in Shadow: Submerged Lands in Science, Memory and Myth

What is my book about?

Across the world, we find stories about lands under the ocean said to have once been occupied by people just like us. Most of us think this just cannot be true, so we dismiss these stories as ‘myths and legends’, entertaining yet baseless. Yet after the end of the last great ice age, melting land ice raised the ocean surface 120 meters (almost 400 feet) over several thousand years. This so traumatized coastal peoples that they encoded their memories of land loss in oral traditions which morphed into ‘myths and legends’ to reach us today. 

Our ancestors’ encounters with rising oceans can be reconstructed and, as this book shows, help us rationalize and cope with expected future sea-level rise.

The Long Field

By Pamela Petro,

Book cover of The Long Field

When Pamela Petro traveled to Lampeter, Wales for the first time to enroll in a year-long master’s degree program, she had no idea that the open vista of sheep pastures and low hills around the town would strike a chord in her—she found herself nodding as if she was in agreement with the landscape—or that she would spend the rest of her life returning to Wales from the various American cities where she made a life as a writer and a teacher. The Long Field takes us on a journey through time and ideas as well as of places. 

The book masterfully weaves together the accounts of various trips to Wales and elsewhere, the childhood spent in suburban New Jersey where, in spite of the family she loved and was loved by, Ms. Petro was overcome by a desire not to stay in one place, and most important of all,…


Who am I?

Although two of my nonfiction books—The Dream of Water and Polite Lies—are about traveling from the American Midwest to my native country of Japan, I'm not a traveler by temperament. I long to stay put in one place. Chimney swifts cover the distance between North America and the Amazon basin every fall and spring. I love to stand in the driveway of my brownstone to watch them. That was the last thing Katherine Russell Rich and I did together in what turned out to be the last autumn of her life before the cancer she’d been fighting came back. Her book, Dreaming in Hindi, along with the four other books I’m recommending, expresses an indomitable spirit of adventure. 


I wrote...

The Dream of Water: A Memoir

By Kyoko Mori,

Book cover of The Dream of Water: A Memoir

What is my book about?

In 1990, at the age of 33, I traveled to Japan to revisit the landscape of my childhood. I had fled the country at 20 to attend an American college and never went back. My hometown of Kobe hadn’t felt like home after my mother’s suicide and my father’s remarriage. I had no intention of living there again. But when I received a travel grant from the small college in Wisconsin where I was a tenured professor, I decided to spend the summer in Japan to work on my second novel.

I wanted to reconnect and hear the family stories I hadn’t fully understood. The Dream of Water is the book I wrote instead after uncovering a handful of secrets from my own lifetime.

The Valley of Lost Secrets

By Lesley Parr,

Book cover of The Valley of Lost Secrets

Not only is this a heartfelt evacuee story, it’s also a brilliant mystery. When Jimmy and his brother, Ronnie, are sent to the Welsh countryside to escape the bombings, Jimmy is angry at the adults responsible – “They think they know everything but all they do is leave or make wars or send their children away.” The boys eventually warm to their kind foster parents, but some of the villagers aren’t so welcoming. When Jimmy finds a skull in a hollow tree, he has no idea how it’s tied to an unsolved mystery, and the reader has no idea how it will figure in this story’s gripping, satisfying, and emotional conclusion. 


Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by England’s World War II evacuations since I was a child. Appropriately enough, I first learned of this extraordinary historical event in a story: it’s the reason the Pevensies are sent to the Professor’s house in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In the dark days of World War II, more than a million English children boarded trains, buses, and ships, to be picked up and cared for by strangers, in some cases for the duration of the war. It’s a historical event that is as astonishing to me now as it was when I first read of it all those years ago. 


I wrote...

A Place to Hang the Moon

By Kate Albus,

Book cover of A Place to Hang the Moon

What is my book about?

William, Edmund, and Anna aren’t terribly upset by the death of their not-so-grandmotherly grandmother, but they do need a guardian, and in the dark days of World War II London, those are in rather short supply. Could the mass wartime evacuation of children be the answer? It’s a preposterous plan, but off they go, keeping their predicament a secret and hoping to be placed in a temporary home that ends up lasting forever. 

A Place to Hang the Moon is about the comforting power of stories and the dire importance of family: the one you’re given, and the one you choose.

The Song of Heledd

By Judith Arnopp,

Book cover of The Song of Heledd: At the Hall of Cynddylan

This is another historical novel set in my favourite time period AD 600’s, this time in Powys. The main character is Heledd – a peace-weaver bride, she is human, flawed, compelling, and courageous. The background detail is vivid and well researched, but what I love most about this book is the lyrical style of writing, which may almost give the reader the sense that the story is being sung,  reflecting with feeling and humanity, the real Anglo-Saxon poetry that has come down to us. Here is a powerful sense of sadness, regret, and gathering doom, lifted by moments of pure joy – a true lament!


Who am I?

I spent much of my childhood living close to Whitby Abbey and heard many stories of the famous Saint Hilda. As a mother of three, I began writing stories, initially to entertain my children, and eventually published many historical stories for children and young adults – twice shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. I moved back to the Whitby area in my 60s determined to write for an older age group and indulge my lifelong fascination for the Anglo-Saxon period. I took the half pagan Fridgyth character from my Young Adult adventure mystery – Wolfgirl - and developed her role as a warm, curious, flawed, investigator. I'm working on a third Fridgyth the Herbwife novel.


I wrote...

A Swarming of Bees

By Theresa Tomlinson,

Book cover of A Swarming of Bees

What is my book about?

An atmospheric murder mystery set in the wind-blown monastery of Abbess Hild. The decisive and life-changing decision taken at the Great Synod is swiftly overshadowed as the monastery is ravaged by a deadly plague. Fridgyth, the half pagan herbwife, starts to suspect that all the deaths are not from the sickness. Despite Hild’s stern warnings ‘not to meddle,’ Fridgyth cannot control her curiosity and frustration. Risking her warm friendship with the abbess, she sets off to investigate. 

‘A herbwife on a mule may go where warriors cannot – she may see what warriors cannot see and hear what warriors cannot hear!'

The Eyre Affair

By Jasper Fforde,

Book cover of The Eyre Affair

The Eyre Affair introduces a world subtly more insane than ours. The first time I met it I took in the alternate Britain where the Crimean war is still going on after seventy years, cheese is illegal, and there’s a special police department to tackle fights between opposing Shakespeare and Bacon fans, that was enough absurdity to draw me in. After that it just took me down the helter-skelter and into the “bookworld” of Jane Eyre, where the characters stand ready to perform the moment a reader starts reading. It is Alice in Wonderland with the straightjacket off and not a syringe of sedative in sight.

The Eyre Affair hits all of my buttons at once, does a little jig, and then dares me to follow the next piece of wild and surreal invention to its extreme conclusion.


Who am I?

I am a fantasy and science-fiction author with a soft spot for books cut with a sharp sense of humour, impaled on the absurd, or littered with the brutal slaughter of conventions and tropes. I love crisp one-liners and surreal worlds, awkward anti-heroes, and kick-ass heroines who bring their own ruthless horde to the fight. If I were to pick out one feature of a book, film, or television show that really catches my attention it would be “Wow. Didn’t see that one coming.”


I wrote...

Hell Of A Deal: Demon Trader - Book One

By Mark Huntley-James,

Book cover of Hell Of A Deal: Demon Trader - Book One

What is my book about?

“Everyone has their demons, but I buy mine wholesale…” Paul Moore, shopkeeper, Master of the Dark Arts, and demonic broker, has just met the hottest witch to ever try to kill him.

Paul thought he was the best, until the demons of the Babylonian Triad launch a turf war, pitting him against rival demons, competing traders, an explosive spice, and ruthless church factions... Paul knows that being a Master of the Dark Arts involves sacrifice, but really doesn't want to be the one dragged to the altar in his fight through life, death, demons, and trying to survive a first date. It's not the end of the world, just the start of a new corner of hell, in a mad, fast-paced adventure full of oddball characters and very dark humour.

The Owl Service

By Alan Garner,

Book cover of The Owl Service

The haunting themes and mood of The Owl Service lodged themselves in my imagination when I first read it as a teenager and there they stay, decades later. I’ve returned to its mysterious and beguiling world several times since then, and on each occasion, the book has immediately woven its old spell around me. It is rich in Welsh magic as the past is played out against the backdrop of the present, and a hidden collection of plates decorated with what might be a pattern of owls becomes something far more potent and sinister. This is one of the books that first introduced me to the mysteries of landscape, the power of the past, and the enduring life of myths.

Who am I?

I have always tuned into the atmosphere of places. Sometimes this is a joy and sometimes it’s a very different experience, but either way, it’s a fundamental part of me. It spills over into my work, too, because each of the thirty-odd non-fiction books I’ve written has its own strong atmosphere. I was particularly aware of this while writing Red Sky at Night, as I wanted to evoke a sense of the past informing the present, whether that means planting a shrub to keep witches away from your front door or baking what I still think is one of the best fruit cakes ever.


I wrote...

Red Sky at Night: The Book of Lost Countryside Wisdom

By Jane Struthers,

Book cover of Red Sky at Night: The Book of Lost Countryside Wisdom

What is my book about?

Have you ever enjoyed a picnic in a field or lazed quietly in a garden or park while watching the clouds scudding above your head, bees nosediving into flowers and birds coasting along on thermals? Have you ever gazed up at the stars at night, marvelling at what you see, or drawn your chair up closer to a log fire while knowing that humans have been doing this for millennia?

Then this is a book for you. It evokes that sense of having a fundamental connection with nature and your surroundings, whether you’re in a town, city, or the countryside. Red Sky at Night also describes many of our country's customs and traditions that have all but vanished but deserve to be remembered.

Physick and the Family

By Alun Withey,

Book cover of Physick and the Family: Health, Medicine and Care in Wales, 1600-1750

So many history books about medicine in the early modern period focus on London and other English urban centers. Withey’s book allows readers to move beyond the metropolis and glimpse sickness, disease, and medicine in a largely rural setting. It challenges readers to move beyond the concept that rural medicine was dominated by folklore and magic, Wales was not insular or remote but connected to broader medical trends in both Britain and Europe. This book illuminates how the ‘Welsh’ body was perceived: strong, robust, possessed of a hot choleric temperament, and a fondness for toasted cheese. And paints a clear picture of the men who made their living treating these bodies.


Who am I?

I’m a lecturer in history at the University of Hertfordshire where I teach early modern history of medicine and the body. I have published on reproductive history in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The history of medicine is endlessly diverse, and there are so many books on early modern medicine, some broad and others more specific, it’s this variety that I find endlessly intriguing. Some conditions from the era, like gout and cancer, are familiar, while others like, greensickness, aren’t recognized any longer. Thinking about these differences and about how people’s bodies ached and suffered helps me to appreciate their relationships, struggles, and triumphs in a whole new dimension.


I wrote...

Maladies and Medicine: Exploring Health & Healing, 1540-1740

By Jennifer Evans, Sara Read,

Book cover of Maladies and Medicine: Exploring Health & Healing, 1540-1740

What is my book about?

Maladies and Medicine offers a lively exploration of health and medical cures in early modern England for anyone curious about the history of the body and the way our ancestors lived. This was an era when tooth cavities were thought to be caused by tiny worms and smallpox by an inflammation of the blood, and cures ranged from herbal potions, cooling cordials, blistering the skin, to of course letting blood. The book’s twenty chapters cover attitudes towards, and explanations of, some of the most common diseases and medical conditions in the period, along with the steps people took to get better.

It explores the body from head to toe, from migraines to gout. Case studies and personal anecdotes taken from doctors’ notes, personal journals, diaries, letters, and even court records show the reactions of individuals to their illnesses and treatments, bringing the reader closer to patients who lived c.400 years ago.

Undermined

By Ripley Hayes,

Book cover of Undermined: A Gay Mystery (Daniel Owen Welsh Mysteries)

Daniel Owen is a cop in a small Welsh town where everyone knows everyone else, and it seems like everyone is holding secrets. I love this book because of the atmosphere and the chance to see a different culture. Daniel is a great guy and I’ve enjoyed all the books featuring him so far.


Who am I?

My first published novel, Mahu, was about a gay cop coming out of the closet in Honolulu while investigating a dangerous case. I didn’t even realize there was a whole genre of gay mysteries until I’d finished it, but since then I have made it my business to read as much as I can of these books, both classics and new ones. My reading has deepened my understanding only of my protagonist’s life, but of my own.


I wrote...

Mahu: A Mahu Investigation

By Neil Plakcy,

Book cover of Mahu: A Mahu Investigation

What is my book about?

Kimo Kanapa'aka's world turns upside down in Mahu. At 32, he has reached the pinnacle of his profession, detective on the Honolulu Police Department's homicide squad, based at the Waikiki station. But a difficult murder case, as well as turmoil in his personal life, is about to threaten everything he has worked for.

A life-threatening drug bust in chapter 1 makes Kimo realize that it's time to stop lying to himself. He's drawn to the Rod and Reel Club, a gay bar in Waikiki, where he has a couple of beers and begins the long process of accepting his attraction to other men. Leaving the club, though, he stumbles onto two men dropping a dead body in an alley, and he launches himself into a nightmare where his private life becomes public news.

The Healing

By Joy Margetts,

Book cover of The Healing

Philip de Braose, a despondent French mercenary who has lost his desire to live, is found half-dead and subsequently befriended by Hywel, a Cistercian monk. This moving tale explores the spiritual journey of an initially hopeless soul.

Margetts recounts engaging details of their travels, such as Hywel’s seasickness as they sail from Bordeaux to Bristol, and Philip’s soul-searching as he becomes aware of his own arrogant, selfish attitudes. We also gain a realistic impression of the modest living conditions and spiritual aspirations prevailing in thirteenth-century Cistercian monasteries.

This book has a deeply Christian message, with many Biblical references. As such, it speaks to readers who may be finding it difficult to trust God as they struggle with past wounds and failures. The dénouement at the end is unexpected, but both life-asserting and encouraging.


Who am I?

A yearning for a happy and meaningful life, as well as struggles with fear, guilt, and unfulfilled wishes, are common to mankind of all ages. My books combine historical and fictional characters to address such timeless spiritual issues from a Christian perspective. During a hiking tour of the Isle of Elba, I discovered the cave where the saintly 6th-century hermit San Cerbone lived in exile. Researching his life inspired me to write a work of historical fiction about that colourful character’s interactions with Silvanus, an unhappy local lad who longs to escape but finds new priorities.


I wrote...

Aquila: Can Silvanus Escape That God?

By Vince Rockston,

Book cover of Aquila: Can Silvanus Escape That God?

What is my book about?

Silvanus is angry. Perplexed. And afraid. Angry that his dad made him undertake such a precarious trek. Perplexed about the future. And afraid of the fearful stone god, Aquila the Avenger, who haunts him wherever he goes. His dream? Escape the little isle of Ilva and discover the wide world.

What supernatural power is it that brings him instead to old Cerbonius’ cave? And how will this exiled bishop’s uncanny wisdom shape the lad’s future? Good fortune, villainy, heart-searching, romance, and inspired counsel lead Silvanus to make life-changing choices.

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