Best Books of 2008

I’ve read some excellent books this year.

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

November – two books tied

  • 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

24 thoughts on “Best Books of 2008

  1. Half A Yellow Sun is on my tbr pile, and I’ve enjoyed all of the Joyce Carol Oates I’ve read. I picked up Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge from the library yesterday. My husband thinks Gladys Taber may be a distant relative of his!


  2. Fun list! I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame a couple years ago and LOVED it. I can only imagine how good Les Mis is! Someday I’ll get to that. . . 🙂



  3. You’ve read some great books — and such an eclectic list, too.

    I have The Illusionist in my TBR pile as I’m a huge J. Johnston fan and am slowly working my way through her back catalogue.

    I also have Half of a Yellow Sun in my pile. I bought it from a charity shop earlier in the year for £1.99.


  4. is the Illusionist book the one they made the movie from????

    Merry Christmas Margaret. I know I rarely comment but I do check your blog often! Hope you have wonderful holidays!


  5. I really liked the Poppy Adams book, too! I’ve got The Longest Day on my pile and am reading the latest Maisie Dobbs mystery now. Great choices!


  6. Some interesting choices. Have added the John Humphrys to my ‘to get’ list. An interesting subject and I liked his book about the mangling of the English language a lot, though the title eludes me at the moment.


  7. I love the idea of doing one per month – I haven’t read any of yours, but intrigued by The Behaviour of Moths, as it’s been so popular across the blogs.


  8. A nice selection of books to represent your year of reading. I already have a couple of them on my wishlist thanks to you, and a couple others in the stacks waiting.
    I hope you had a lovely Christmas and are enjoying the rest of your holiday!


  9. That’s a great list and a great idea! I really want to read ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’. I want to wish you a very Happy New Year filled with exciting books! 🙂


  10. I enjoyed the way you organized your best books of the year. You’ve mentioned some mysteries that sound very good to me – thanks for the recommendation!

    Happy reading in 2009!


  11. Your list is great–I like the idea of choosing a favorite each month. I would love to read Our Longest Days–after you posted on it I had to buy it. Now to find time to read it.


  12. Congrats on finishing Les Miserables! 🙂

    What a great idea, to choose a favorite book each month! I’ve added several to my wishlist… The war diaries sounds particularly appealing to me, I’ll get that soon.


  13. Many of these are unfamiliar to me — one of the reasons I love reading other people’s lists! I haven’t read any J.C.Oates; maybe ‘The Gravedigger’s Daughter’ is a good place to start.


  14. I love the diversity of your list! And good to know that Richard Harris’s Pompeii is more than good because I’ve been wanting to read it.


  15. I always have trouble naming “the best” when it comes to books, too. Most of these are unfamiliar to me. I am a third of the way through the unabridged version of Les Miserables.


  16. I have posted my selections for 2008 on New Year’s Eve. I have limited most of my reading to fiction and literature, and plan to read more non-fiction in 2009.

    Best New Fiction 2008
    The Future of Love Shirley Abbott

    Letter from Point Clear Dennis McFarland

    Finding Nouf Zoë Ferraris

    The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

    The Art of Racing in the Rain Garth Stein

    Best Backlist Fiction
    The Birds Fall Down Rebecca West

    The Uncommon Reader Alan Bennett

    A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian Marina Lewycka

    The Dreyfus Affair Peter Lefcourt

    Kansas in August Patrick Gale

    I’m reading Jose Saramago’s Seeing right now.


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