December can be such a busy month - at least pre-Christmas - that reading may not be high on the priority list, so as we've done before, the CBG will have a month 'off'. To launch us into the New Year, I've chosen our January book and one for February so that we have plenty of time to get hold of copies and fit both reads (one short, one long!) into busy schedules.
For January, a classic of children's literature which appeals to adults, too. Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was first published in 1962 and is set in 1832, but in a period of English history which never happened. King James III is on the throne, and a newly opened Channel Tunnel allows ravaging wolves, driven by severe winters from Europe and Russia, to enter the British Isles ... At Willoughby Chase, the grand but remote country home of Sir Willoughby and Lady Green and their daughter Bonnie, Bonnie's orphaned cousin Sylvia comes to stay, and the girls are left in the care of the tyrannical, scheming Miss Slighcarp when Bonnie's parents have to go abroad.
"Dickensian in flavour ... rich in atmosphere and intrigue."
"A genuine small masterpiece."
"Thrilling tale...stuffed with atmosphere, adventure, memorable characters and luxuriant Gothic prose. Any child who discovers it will fall in love, not only with Aiken's writing, but with reading... The Wolves sequence has inspired writers from Philip Pullman to Cathryn Constable... Aiken was a genius, and her reissue deserves howls of delight," says Amanda Craig in The Times.
Our February book is "a novel which combines the simple pleasures of Agatha Christie with the intellectual subtlety of Umberto Eco." It is An Instance Of The Fingerpost by Iain Pears, "a deeply scholarly thriller, but with the learning worn lightly and all the elements of the plot clicking together smoothly."
Set in Oxford in the 1660s, at its centre is a young woman accused of the murder of Robert Grove, a fellow of New College. Four witnesses give their accounts of events leading up to Grove's death: "Marco da Cola, a Venetian Catholic intent on claiming credit for the invention of blood transfusion; Jack Prescott, the son of a supposed traitor to the Royalist cause, determined to vindicate his father; John Wallis, chief cryptographer to both Cromwell and Charles II, a mathematician, theologian and master spy; and Anthony Wood, the famous Oxford antiquary." Only one version contains the extraordinary truth.
I very much hope that both books will appeal and that everyone who wishes to will find the time to read them. They should be easy to get hold of, whether from libraries or shops; they are available as e-books and audiobooks; there are US editions; but as ever, in case of any local difficulty, The Book Depository stocks them and will despatch them worldwide, free of postage (they are listed here and here). Let's set our discussion dates as from Saturday, 26th. January (for The Wolves ...) and from Saturday, 23rd. February (for An Instance ...), and if you've never read along with us before but would like to do so now, you would be very welcome.