In January I decided to pick one book each month as my “Book of the Month” and my idea was that at the end of the year it would be easier to decide which was the one I liked the best. It hasn’t worked out because I just can’t decide between them. Maybe, because I have been reading it for most of this year and I finished it yesterday, it’s Les Misérables by Victor Hugo!
These are my books for the year in the order I read them:
- Winter In Madrid by C J Sansom – an action packed thrilling war/spy story and also a moving love story and historical drama all rolled into this tense and gripping novel. Sansom vividly conveys the horror and fear of the realities of life in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and the first two years of the Second World War. Original Review
- The Illusionist by Jennifer Johnston – it starts with Stella, looking back on her life after the death of her estranged husband, Martyn. Thirty years earlier they had met on a train. Stella is charmed by him, and after a very short time they are married, against her parents’advice. Martyn has a full time job but practices magic tricks, describing himself as an “Illusionist”. However, it’s not long before she begins to have misgivings, particularly when he won’t tell her anything about his background or his job or what is in the locked the room where he is devising an extraordinary new trick, with the help of two mysterious men. Original Review
- Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This book is based on the Nigeria-Biafra War of 1967-70. It begins in the early 1960s in Nsukka in the south eastern area where Ugwu becomes Odenigbo’s houseboy. The story centres on these two characters and Olanna, Odenigbo’s partner, her twin sister Kainene and her partner Richard. Odenigbo is a professor at the University and his house is the meeting place for academics who debate the political situation as it leads up to violence and the secession of Biafra as an independent state. Original Review
- Revelation by C J Sansom – the time was March and April 1543, a time of struggle for power between religious reformers and reactionaries. Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer joins forces with Gregory Harsnet, the London coroner in investigating the murder of his old friend Roger Elliard one of a number of grizzly murders based on the Book of Revelation. Matthew is also working on the case of Adam Kite, a teenage boy, imprisoned in the Bedlam hospital for the insane, helped by Guy Malton (previously a monk and now licensed as a doctor). Adam is a ‘self-hater’ fearing that he is ‘unworthy of God’s love’. The question is, is he mad or possessed by the devil? Original Review
- Our Longest Days: a People’s History of the Second World War Mass Observation (non-fiction). This is a collection of real wartime diaries. The diarists came from a variety of backgrounds, and from different regions, most of them were middle-class, well-read and articulate. They tended to be people with a natural capacity for observing – and for recording what they observed. I felt as though I had lived through the war myself. Original Review
- Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear – a detective story set in 1930/1 in England. The artist Nick Bassington-Hope fell to his death from the scaffolding whilst installing his work at an art gallery. The police believed it was an accident, but his twin sister Georgina wasn’t convinced and hired Maisie Dobbs to investigate his death. Along with Nick’s death there is also the mystery of the missing piece of art work that was to be the centre of the exhibition. Original Review
- In God We Doubt by John Humphrys (non-fiction). Humphreys was brought up a Christian but his growing doubts overwhelmed his faith. On his Radio 4 programme he challenged the leaders of three religions to convince him that God exists. In this book he explores religious beliefs and atheism and finds himself somewhere in the middle. I didn’t write a post about this book.
- Pompeii by Richard Harris. The story of the eruption of Vesuvius, destroying the town of Pompeii and killing its inhabitants as they tried to flee the pumice, ash and searing heat and flames. Harris gives vivid descriptions of the luxury of the town – its villas and baths – the corruption of its leaders, the poor living conditions of the general population and savage cruelty shown to the slaves. Original Review
- The Gravedigger’s Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates about a Jewish family who emigrated to America before the Second World War, fleeing from the Nazis. Rebecca’s father, originally a maths teacher can only get work as a gravedigger and as the story unfolds we see the effect this has on him and inevitably on his wife and children. Original Review & also here
- The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams – the story of two sisters, Ginny and Vivi. Vivi, the younger sister left the family mansion 47 years earlier and returns unexpectedly one weekend. Ginny, a reclusive moth expert has rarely left the house in all that time. What happens when they meet again is shocking to both of them. Original Review
- Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge by Gladys Taber & Barbara Webster (non-fiction) -a lovely book composed of letters between Gladys and Barbara about country life in Pennsylvania and Connecticut in the 1950s, illustrated by Edward Shenton. Original Review, also here & here.
- Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee (non-fiction) – the story of Laurie Lee’s childhood in Slad in Gloucestershire, a remote Cotswold village at the beginning of the twentieth century. A delicious book, full of wonderful word pictures. Laurie Lee was also a poet and this book reads like a prose poem throughout. Partial Review (Full review to follow next year).
- The Arsenic Labyrinth by Martin Edwards – the mystery of the the disappearance of Emma Bestwick. Ten years earlier there had been no apparent reason why she vanished into thin air but more information was revealed following an article in the local paper appealing for the case to be re-opened on the tenth anniversary of her disappearance. There are many twists and turns as Detective Inspector Hannah Scarlett’s Cold Case Review Team carries out its investigation. Original Review