Posted by: billpurdue | December 11, 2009

78 Pick of the year

Christmas is coming and, as well as trying to decide what books to buy for the book lovers in my life, it’s time for me to look back over the past 12 months and tell you about the highlights of my reading year.

One of the titles that stands out from the early part of the year is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Burrows [Bloomsbury £10.99 9781408800485 ]. I have to admit that it was the title that attracted me to begin with, but I was completely absorbed in this tale, set just after the second world war, of a London author who is looking for inspiration for her new book. She hears about this strangely named society in Guernsey and begins a correspondence with the members of the society to find out more.

Later on, I read The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson [Canongate £7.99 9781847671691] which was on the Richard and Judy list. Whilst in hospital a patient from the psychiatric wing begins to take great interest in a man who has just suffered horrific burns in a car accident. Her name is Marianne Engel and she is a sculptor of grotesque statues and gargoyles. She insists that she has known the burns victim in another life in Europe in the 14th Century and bit by bit she relates the story of her life at that time and how they met. Very graphic in places, but quite compelling.

Another fascinating and un-put-downable novel for me was The Somnambulist [ Gollancz £7.99 9780575082144], by Jonathan Barnes, the story of a Victorian illusionist, Edward Moon. Moon’s chief claim to fame is to be able to thrust several large swords through the body of his accomplice, known only as The Somnambulist, without causing any loss of blood or discomfort as the main attraction of his nightly performances. He is also a bit of a detective “on the side” and is called on to help Scotland Yard with a couple of murder cases which involve a strange religious sect. Very odd, but very good!

As for non-fiction, I was totally hooked by the story of the Fitzwilliam family of Wentworth House in South Yorkshire. It’s called Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey [Penguin £8.99 9780141019239]. The book chronicles the decline and fall of the Fitzwilliams and is set in the largest privately owned house in Britain, which is nowadays a crumbling and forgotten palace.  There’s a lengthy review of the book in The Times Online Property section – of all places

As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m quite fond of “TV tie-ins” and I’d like to mention a couple published in 2009, which I haven’t bought, but wouldn’t say no to.  The Victorians; Britain through the Paintings of the Age [BBC £25 9781846077432] by Jeremy Paxman is a good read as well as being lavishly illustrated, to use a well worn phrase (but this time I think it’s justified).  The second is one not previously mentioned in the blog, and that’s Life [ BBC Books £25 978-1846076428] by Martha Holmes and Michael Gunton: the TV series is excellent (the last instalment to be screened on Monday Dec 14th)and so is the book.

Now for local history and local authors: Jonathan Foster’s book about the mysterious life of scientist and inventor Harry Grindell Matthews The Death Ray [Inventive Publishing £11.99 9780956134806] is a really good read- essential for anyone interested in the history of science. Janet Roberts’ book Oil under Sherwood Forest [£4.99 Janet Roberts Booklets  9780956190208] is a fascinating account of the American “invasion “ of Nottinghamshire when extra help was needed during the second world war to sink the oilwells around Eakring.

The new book on Hardwick Hall, Hardwick ,A Great House and its Estate, by Philip Riden and Dudley Fowkes [Phillimore, £14.99 9781860775444] was only recently published in the “England’s Past for Everyone” series. I have looked for it in the shops, but it doesn’t seem to have filtered  through yet, so I’ll hopefully report on that in the near future.

In brief: other titles which made an impression on me during the year were A Lifetime in the Building [Aurum £16.99 9781845133962] by Christine Adams, the story of how May Savidge literally moved her house from Hertfordshire to Norfolk;  Deliverance by L A G Strong [now out of print] is a forgotten gem from the past. It’s set in the West Country and is about an orphan set loose from the orphanage to find his own way in the world; and finally Devil in Amber [Pocket Books £7.99 9780743483803] by Mark Gatiss a gripping surreal novel with a touch of humour about the unlikely named Lucifer Box who tries to stop someone with an equally improbable name – Olympus Mons – from taking over the world.

There’ll be another posting before Christmas.

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