2012 Book Winners
A beautifully presented book in hardback and consistently well set out. The story was measured, detailed and well paced. Murphy has a fluid style and knows her subject. She is clearly familiar with the region of Florence from both a historical and geographical perspective and also has a deep and intimate knowledge of the business of restoring wall paintings. She makes good and imaginative use of both past and present tenses and switches effectively between first and third person narrations. There was some beautiful writing in this novel and lovingly careful presentation.
This is a very timely book, produced in a professional manner. It takes the familiar account of the last voyage of the Titanic and examines it from a fresh perspective. It is told by the master of the vessel, Captain Edward Smith. The writer, who clearly has much specialist knowledge of the manner in which passenger ships are run, has seen the original log books of the master before the last tragic voyage, and shows a clear-sighted recognition of how these facts might have affected his decisions. The character of the master is strong and believable and the reader’s sympathies are constantly with him, as the novel takes us through his earlier life in a series of well-handled flashbacks. A small criticism is the claim on the front cover that it is a ghost story. Although there are some references to a ghost on the ship, this seems a small and insignificant part of a powerful strong story, and the claim is slightly misleading.
The illustrations are excellent with use of vivid colour and imagination. Much thought has gone into the appearance and it is eye-catching without being flashy. The typesetting is playful and in keeping with the intention of the book. There were a few problems with the presentation. The judges’ main criticism was that there is too much information at the beginning. These pages should have appeared at the end as they might deter a young reader. It takes too long to reach the main content of the book . There are also page numbers on pages that should not be numbered. However, all the judges agreed that it was a beautiful book and it would be good for schools.
Sarah Lacey - Elizabeth Dye
A time-travel story, taking the central character back to the nineteenth century and the use of children in the mining industry. The facts have been well researched and are convincing. The end pages indicate that it is part of a series, but nothing in the text indicates this, so it stands alone well. It is nicely written, with a strong, believable protagonist with whom the reader can easily identify and the action is well paced. It is written in a way that would appeal to children.
Dance Lessons - Aine Greaney
This was beautifully and carefully crafted with a great sense of character and place. It painted a warm, evocative picture of rural Ireland, effectively contrasting it with the world of academic life in the US.. There were many short, vivid episodes, which skipped between viewpoint, place and time. This device was mostly effective, although the judges thought that it sometimes slowed down the story. Nevertheless, the writing is exceptionally good and the presentation contemporary and sharp.
The Empathy Effect - Bob Lock
The book is well written, the setting one the author knows well, and it shows. The style is slightly experimental as part of it is told in first person while the third person is used for the scenes where the main character does not appear,. The limited colour palate of the cover works well, although some of the judges felt that the title and author did not stand out enough, and preferred the image on the back to the front. There were a few concerns that the plot contained too many coincidences, but it was nonetheless an exciting, well-constructed novel.
Toward the Heliopause - Joan Michelson
Joan Michelson’s tribute to her husband Geoff Adkins is relentless in its focus on marriage, family, daughter, sudden death and its aftermath. There is much emotional power and appeal here. She investigates the meaning of her husband’s death from many angles, with consistency, compulsion and determination. The narrative about the family life is interesting, but might not appeal to all readers, especially if they are not familiar with her and her husband’s work. The poetry is impressive and laudable for human reasons, however. The judges felt that the cover was not sufficiently eye catching but they accepted that this was probably deliberate given the nature of the subject. Although some of the writing is a little repetitive, the poems are very well constructed and create a dramatic effect as a book, a concept and a collection.
Act III - Richard Romanus
A well produced and enjoyable book from an accomplished writer, a film actor and his wife, both of whom have enjoyed considerable success in Hollywood. It is an account of their move to an idyllic Greek island in retirement. The location, Skiathos, is portrayed vividly and with much affection, and the narrative came to life for our readers. It was felt by one of the judges that, although some of the characters had fascinating stories, they were not explored at sufficient length. The writer’s background enables him to drop in regular references to his previous Hollywood life - well-known people and films– and this is an added attraction.
Timestop - John Alcock
This is a readable and likeable collection: cheerful and quite lightly, cleverly witty, but also a bit patchy: plain, clear and nuanced, but sometimes derivative.
Mirror of the Soul: A life of the Poet Fyodor Tyutchev - John Dewey
This is an erudite work which has clearly been exceptionally well researched and equally well written and presented. An impressive read about this little known poet. The referencing and index are particularly helpful.
Beatrice - Fiona Joseph
A well-written account of Beatrice, a member of the Cadbury family who was determined to give up her inheritance and use it to benefit the workers at the Bournville factory. She and her husband become anti-capitalist protestors and peace activists, making considerable efforts to leave behind her earlier existence as a privileged member of a wealthy family.
The Figurehead - Bill Kirton
An interesting idea for a detective story, set in 19th century Aberdeen. It is left to the local wood carver, a man who specialises in quality figureheads, to take on the role of detective when a body is found on the beach. It has not been washed up after an accident, as everyone believes at first, but shows signs of something more sinister. A well-written detective story
The Damascus Drum - Christopher Ryan
The illustrations, engravings from 1881 by Edward Whymper, are the most compelling aspect of this book, but they do not always relate directly to the text. The book is very attractive, with a well-designed cover, and the writing is poetic. It is the story of a journey across Syria, a goat, and the drum made out of its skin. It is the stuff of fantasy and mysticism.
Brother 'Lijah Built the Ark - Glennis Stott
A chillingly realistic book that reflects the fear that everyone feels towards religious sects with a dominant, controlling leader. The story has more strength than the characterisation, which was felt to be a little simplistic, but the plot is very well handled.
Snack Yourself Thin - Richard Warburg and Tessa Lorant
An interesting concept that explores in some detail a new idea for a diet. Anecdotal evidence from one of the writers and his acquaintances is convincing and the information is well set out, although the pedantic insistence on using the trademark becomes increasingly irritating throughout. It was well-written and readable and worth serious consideration for those wanting to lose weight.
Hobgoblin - Tessa Lorant Warburg
The second part of a trilogy set in America and Germany, an interesting perspective of the Second World War from the German point of view and based on the author’s family. It is extremely well written, with vividly realised scenes, although it sometimes feels more a memoir than a work of fiction.