In the second part of our books page special, looking back at the best of 2009, two very special literary experts pick their favourite local reads of the year.
Peggy Hughes, communications officer at the Scottish Poetry Library, selects her poetry book of the year, while Sara Grady, director of the children's programme at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, picks her favourite 2009 children's publication.
The Golden Hour Volume II (Forest Publications, 2009, priced 7.99)
Carl Sandburg said that poetry pack-sack of invisible keepsakes. This sentiment could be applied to the Golden Hour Volume II, an eclectic, experimental, gently explosive treasure trove that brings together some of the creative combustions which light up the Forest Cafe every penultimate Wednesday of the month. And this purchase isn't merely a bookish one – there's a compilation CD lurking inside the back cover featuring some of the best musicians to grace the Forest stage too.
The Golden Hour is the first and last hour of light and the stuff inside reflects this: the word pictures create some heart-stopping vistas. Physically a thing of admirable compactness with little oddly cut pages and excellent illustrations by Magda Boreysza, it contains stories and poems from a broad range of people writing in a broad range of styles, light prose, dark verse; death and love and (liquorice) All Sorts. Some of the names in here are published prize-winners; some aren't.
There's something in it for everyone; you could escape freezing Wester Hailes for the heat, tango and heartbreak of Buenos Aires with Kapka Kassabova. Or leave the crush of Princes Street behind to take a vehicle-free jaunt to the fabled isle of Thula with Robert Alan Jamieson at the helm. China from the comfort of your living room is possible, in Nick Holdstock's tender story A Golden Bowl about a shy chap arriving in China to teach English. If you've overspent, and let's face it, who hasn't at this time of year, then Ericka Duffy's stand out story remembers the kind of skintness that means 4 to last a week and spending your last coins on chocolate cake ingredients. We read to know we are not alone.
The Golden Hour II might persuade you to dip your toes in poetical waters – read Flash by Claire Askew, or consider love, as it appears to Aiko Harman while making sandwiches. Put the CD on: the perfect antidote to Slade this Christmas, a bunch of tunes that will beguile, amuse and get you jumping. At 7.99 it's a snip, and every penny helps the Edinburgh collective the Forest continue their endeavours: a gift that keeps on giving. Words and sounds for every palate and ear: this handsome little trinket may just call off the search.
The Keeper's Daughter by Gill Arbuthnott, is published by Chicken House, priced 6.99
Recent years have seen a flourish of exemplary Scottish writing for young people. One of 2009's most beautifully crafted was The Keeper's Daughter. Gill Arbuthnott's atmospheric setting and strong narrative set the stage for a charmingly classical quest.
Some may groan at the mere thought, conjuring amulets and an array of species who have perhaps outlived their welcome. Admittedly, one of the most disappointing aspects of the post-Potter era has been the proliferation of sloppy, overwrought genre fiction – but this is another beast entirely. The Keeper's Daughter isn't fantasy or pseudo-medieval warrior legend (most pleasingly it completely stands alone too).
It is a delightful (and deceptively simple) read. The journey's unexpected turns and vibrant landscapes could sit comfortably alongside Viking epics and Ursula le Guin. It's understated, atmospheric and has crisp dialogue.
The story is simple in that mythical way that feels traditional while remaining remarkably fresh. While it could so easily have fallen into a simplistic retread of traditional adolescent ground, Arbuthnott's lightness of touch will keep you turning the pages well into the night.
The premise is unassuming: an orphan with an unknown past, a secret tattoo, a lost clan, a prophecy, a sadistic warlord. You know where this is headed. It's a relatively standard set of plot devices but like the best stories, it's the way they are told that make it work.
The hunt for identity and belonging is cloaked in a twisting, turning journey. The strong but delicate narrative breathes a youthful voice into the mix which gives the story weight and resonance. A substantial and rounded cast of colleagues, friends and henchmen create a textured landscape of honest emotion which flesh out Nyssa's voyage admirably.
The setting is unique and haunting: an archipelago of lonely and distinct islands. The real success here in many regards is the cast of characters and ever changing landscape as we hop from island to island. The nimble narrative maps out rich and varied communities which are vibrant without being bogged down in detail – the cultural divisions of the various clans are believable.
In sum, a clear voice, strong characters and an atmospheric world are a source of strength in an overburdened market. This is a more than worthy addition to a much loved genre. Arbuthnott follows in the revered footsteps of Cynthia Voight, Francis Mary Hendry and more recently Shannon Hale, weaving a classical yarn that's sure to please readers of all ages.