Richard and Judy Shortlist 2009

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Here at Bookbag Towers we've been reading Richard and Judy's favourite books for 2009.


The Brutal Art by Jesse Kellerman

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The perfect take-your-mind-of-it read as art deal Ethan Muller searches for an artist and uncovers a legacy of shame which comes uncomfortably close to home. It's not great literature but it is a great read. Full review...

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale

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I love a bit of true crime myself, and when it is cloaked in a swirling Victorian cape I like it still more - I can conceal my prurience beneath the respectability of education. So I was well disposed to 'The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher' before I opened it. When I started to read, though, I was gripped. Full review...

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

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Journeying through his own particular Hell, the author encounters the enigmatic Marianne, who claims they were lovers many centuries ago, giving him explicit details as to their former life/lives together. This formed the bulk of the novel, and was wonderful. Retelling legends and myths from various civilisations is a wonderful tool, and reminded me of the enchanting The Blood of Flowers, (Anita Amirrezvani) which also utilised this method to great effect. In some respects our two protagonists can be seen as Beauty and the Beast, with the unnamed protagonist crippled by self loathing and depression, and energised by the enigmatic Marianne, the sculptor of gargoyles. Full review...

When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson

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Gabrielle, her two little daughters, Jessica and Joanna, and baby Joseph, are walking home along the leafy lanes one afternoon when a monstrous event occurs which only one of them survives. Thirty years later we are in a posh Edinburgh suburb where Dr Hunter, her husband Neil and their baby live with 16 year-old nanny Reggie (short for Regina), commuting daily from her high rise flat. In the same city, Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is worrying about the case of a young family suffering harassment from an ex-husband as well as investigating a possible (separate) case of arson. Full review...

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

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Two novels in one – a modern murder mystery intertwined with a fictional reworking of history – set in the Mormon world of polygamy. Very interesting in some places, but not as good a read as I'd been led to believe by the Richard and Judy blurb. Possibly over-ambitious and ultimately disappointing. Full review...

The Bolter by Frances Osborne

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A biography of Idina Sackville (1893-1955), the five-times married socialite, member of London 1920s society and part of the Happy Valley community in Kenya for a while, written by her great-granddaughter. Full review...

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill

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The narrator is all-important in this delightful book. Hans is a Dutchman adrift in New York when his wife decides to return to her English parents with their small son, Jake. He is an analyst in oil and gas conglomerates and his job is just too lucrative to relinquish; and so he opts to stay, returning to England at fortnightly intervals to spend a weekend with his little son. Shortly after his wife, Rachel, leaves he happens upon a group of immigrants playing cricket, a bizarre apparition that prompts him to join them, and there he meets Chuck Ramkissoon, a West Indian naturalised American, who is a fabulist and some-time entrepreneur, who later turns out to have darker sidelines that Hans only gradually discovers. Full review...

The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin

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The vibrant character of Lilly Aphrodite illuminates the pages of this tale of a valiant orphan and her struggles to survive and find love in Berlin, in a novel spanning the first three decades of the 20th century. If you enjoy historical novels and film history, you'll find this book very readable. Full review...

December by Elizabeth H Winthrop

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11 year old Isabelle Carter does not talk. Not that she is mute. She just stopped talking a few months ago, less and less initially, and then suddenly would not talk anymore. At all. Not a book for everyone, it doesn't have quick thrills and it doesn't seem to want to bedazzle and conquer: some readers might find it slightly too detailed and slow, but worth a try anyway. I am sure most parents will find it educating and enjoyable - and intensely distrubing too, perhaps. Full review...

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

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The break up of Yugoslavia and the ensuing conflict is something I know little of, despite it happening fairly recently. The afterword of The Cellist of Sarajevo explains how the siege of the city lasted from 1992 until 1996, yet I know more of the Holocaust in the 1940s. I hoped reading this novel would give me a better understanding of these events – and it did.

Although this novel is fictional, it is based on one particular event which did happen – a cellist who played at the site of a massacre for twenty-two days – a day for each person killed there. We see this event through the eyes of three characters whom we follow – Arrow, Dragan and Kenan. Full review...

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