A good read for all the family at Christmas
PUBLISHED: 10:43 19 December 2016 | UPDATED: 10:47 19 December 2016
Devon Life book reviewer Annette Shaw picks her Christmas books for all the family
by Gill Leslie. Illustrated by Olly Oliver
With seven grandchildren, Gill Leslie from Tiverton had a good idea of what made a good book for bedtime. To prove the point she wrote her own and launched a writing career in her 70s.
“I’d always made up short stories so when my sons left home, in between keeping 15 sheep and assorted hens and ducks, I took an English degree with the Open University.”
Inspiration for Jig-Sore came in a creative writing group and an assignment on the word jigsaw. “I had a light bulb moment with a play on words about a pink pig and a brown bear!” With a suggestion from the publisher to produce an interactive cut-out book, Gill is thrilled with the results.
Finger holes let young readers (age 3+) dance with the characters whilst the simple rhyming text is easy to chant. It’s a fun start to books and life of reading.
Published by House of Marbles. Hardback £7.99
The Racehorse Who Wouldn’t Gallop
by Clare Balding
“Even if it scares you, have a go!” This was Clare’s closing comment in a theatre packed with children. She is naturally inspiring and I’m sure many people left with a renewed sense of purpose.
Refreshingly, it wasn’t just about the book promotion - which is brilliantly funny and has great messages for children and adults. The gist of the story is that Noble Warrior, a potentially ace racehorse, won’t gallop unless he can see his friend Percy Pony. But it’s OK to have help. Images of the Rio Olympics flashed on a screen. Powerful legs make for good athletes! And if Beyonce didn’t have them she’d probably fall over whilst dancing. “Try everything and don’t worry if you fail. Focus on what’s inside.”
When we spoke, Clare had been out about in Devon. She told me one of her favourite walks is Hope Cove to Salcombe, featured in her book Walking Home, published by Viking.
Published by Puffin Books. Hardback £9.99
Tots to teens:
The Water Babies
by Charles Kingsley
The Reverend Charles Kingsley was born at Holne Vicarage, Dartmoor, in 1819. He was a parish priest for most of his life but Kingsley was also a social reformer and political activist. In 1859 he was invited to Buckingham Palace and was in fact appointed chaplain to Queen Victoria.
One of his best-known books is The Water Babies, which charts the tale of Tom, a child chimney sweep, and reflects Victorian issues such as working conditions of children. This charming edition contains illustrations by W. Heath Robinson.
It’s nice to revisit, or maybe even get to know, the classics and the story behind the story. I started by talking to John Rous of the Clovelly Estate. “Charles’s father was a curate in the village and consequently he often visited. The Kingsley Museum was opened 20 years ago, on the main street, and attracts huge numbers of visitors each year.”
Published by Macmillan Collector’s Library. Hardback £12.99
by Laurence Anholt
Reflecting on where the world has been, and could return, on the subject of racism, this book has been endorsed by Amnesty International.
Set in 1960s America, the characters are powerfully portrayed as Devon writer Laurence Anholt explains.
“Irishman Jack Morrow is a hypnotist in an academic setting. I needed an outsider with a magical yet realist element. He is also the mentor.”
Cue Jungian archetypes. “Everyone has a distinguishing factor and the reader is challenged to consider prejudice in more ways than skin colour.”
Laurence’s ancestry is a story in itself as Jewish forefathers crossed from Persia to Europe in the 1700s and fled again as Hitler rose to power.
“My aim was to write about race in a non-didactic way.”
A thrilling cross-over novel (teens upwards) that brings us home to mutual respect and love - if there has to be one choice, this is it.
Published by Corgi. Paperback £7.99
by Kate Furnivall
Tucked away in a village near Agatha Christie’s Greenway, we were a million miles from 1945 and the ravages of Naples and art theft, the setting for Kate Furnivall’s latest book. I learnt so much in addition this being a cracking and atmospheric read. From the lives of wartime scugnizzi (wild street kids) to the exquisite art of inlay and marquetry which is a specialty of Sorrento, I could have listened to Kate all day as she spoke feelingly about her research and the shattered world of key character Caterina Lombardi.
“To cut German supply routes to Africa, bombing had been merciless. I wanted to explore how Italians coped with occupation by the Nazis and then the Allies. When your life is stripped to nothing and civilised veneer goes, where does the strength to survive come from?”
Interestingly, it was the women who worked together.
Published by Simon and Schuster. Paperback £7.99
The Well-Watered Land
by Jez Wilkinson
With family links to the Cadburys and a grandmother locked up with the Pankhursts fighting for women’s’ suffrage, Jez Wilkinson’s story is well worth reading.
Born in 1946 at Laughter Hole Farm, a thousand feet up on Dartmoor, Jez has been a hill farmer all his life. Now living at Poundsgate, he talked to me about his childhood and old country ways.
“We had real characters in our lives like Peter Hannaford. He was the thatcher, pig killer, vet, water diviner and stone mason and breakfasted on bacon, eggs, clotted cream and cider.”
Even as an incomer I can see how Dartmoor gets under your skin. Jez has been on the moor all his life and on his own admission: “I don’t like being anywhere else. Tried a cruise but there’s no place like my homeland. And if I get grumpy I go and look at my cows.”
Published by Blackingstone Publishing. Paperback £12
Grown-ups of all ages:
Cartes Postale From Greece
by Victoria Hislop
“Only I know the truth!” says Victoria Hislop tantalisingly. In many ways this sums up a thoroughly enjoyable book. It’s a love story with a travel story with stories running through it. In short, different! I’d also add courageous and to be honest, it’s impossible to discern in some chapters what is truly fact or fiction. Emotional, thought provoking and occasionally unsettling, but always with Victoria’s warmth and passion for all things Hellenic.
I’ve included it because it will be high on the present list for Devon’s book groups and anyone who adores Greece. And it’s peppered with photographs as she explains: “I liked the idea of incorporating colour pictures into fiction. Children have illustrated books and this is one for grown-ups.”
Victoria also has very fond memories of childhood holidays in Salcombe. “We were always lucky with the weather and the beaches and coastline were positively Mediterranean!”
Published by Headline Review. Hardback £19.99
Legendary Dartmoor Pubs and Inns
by Simon Butler
When I made an appointment to talk to Simon his wife answered the phone. Chatting like women do, she made a comment about her husband being a walking encyclopedia in the nicest way.
This guide to Dartmoor pubs, also perfect for exploration in the festive season, is based on research by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for The Hound of the Baskervilles. Not so much the best pint as the most atmospheric locations.
“Conan Doyle , having trained in medicine in Edinburgh, became a GP in Plymouth. It was whilst working there he got to know the moor,” says Simon. Although The Hound is an amalgam of stories, Dartmoor doe indeed have its own black dog legends. “Using diaries for research Doyle stayed in Princetown when he wrote the book. He really was familiar with the territory and that comes out so strongly in his work - it’s accessible yet compelling.”
Published by PiXZ Books (Halsgrove imprint). Hardback £9.99