It was Jo’s idea a couple of years ago, and now it’s become an annual event – celebrate the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

Not quite as easy as it looks. I’ve tweaked the categories to suit my reading style, and because I wanted to push disappointments to one site and simply celebrate some of the books I’ve read and the books I’ve discovered.

Here are my six sixes:


Six books illuminated by wonderful voices from the twentieth century

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield
The English Air by D E Stevenson
The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goodge
Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter


Six books from the present that took me to the past

The Visitors by Rebecca Maskell
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey
Turning the Stones by Debra Daley
The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric
Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray


Six books from the past that pulled me back there

Wired Love by Ella Cheever Thayer
Esther Waters by George Moore
Griffith Gaunt by Charles Reade
Nine Pounds of Luggage by Maud Parrish
The Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas
Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope


Six books that introduced me to interesting new authors

Wake by Anna Hope
Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin
The Lie of You: I Will Have What is Mine by Jane Lythell
Mr Perrin and Mr Traill by Hugh Walpole
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
None-Go-By by Mrs Alfred Sidgwick


Six successful second meeting with authors

The Auction Sale by C H B Kitchin
The Twelfth Hour by Ada Leverson
A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon
Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
Mrs Westerby Changes Course by Elizabeth Cadell
Her by Harriet Lane


Six used books added to my shelves

The Heroes of Clone by Margaret Kennedy
The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken
Portrait of a Village by Francis Brett Young
The West End Front by Matthew Sweet
The Stag at Bay by Rachel Ferguson
Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Boorman


Do think about putting your own sixes – it’s a great way of perusing your reading, and I’d love to read more lists.

10% Report: 100 Years of Books

100 Years of Books

I’m ten years into 100 Years of Books project and so I think it’s time to take stock.

I’d hoped to be at this point a little sooner, but I’ve had a busy couple of months and I’ve been a little distracted by The Count of Monte Cristo – I’m 33 hours in and I have 19 hours to go!

But I’m not going to worry about it – I’m going to read what I want to read, keeping an eye on the years in need of books, and it will be done when it’s done.

Here are the first ten.

(It wasn’t planned but I’m pleased I’ve read five books from the 19th century and five books from the 20th century)

1854 – Ruth Hall by Fanny Fern

“It begins beautifully, with Ruth, our heroine, looking out at the night sky on the eve of her wedding. Her mother had died when she was very young and her father, a man who was both wealthy and parsimonious, had sent her away to boarding school. He would be glad to have his daughter off his hands. And she was happy, because she was in love and the future seemed full of promise.”

1863 – The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley

“Tom had to learn to live with the other water creatures. He had to learn not to tease, he had to learn to make friends, and he had to learn what to do when there was conflicts between his friends. I think that this was my favourite part of the story; everything was so nicely described, but not over described, and the characters of the creatures – some real and some fantastic – were drawn subtly and well.”

1879 – Wired Love by Ella Cheever Thayer

“She was trying to take down a message that was being sent far too quickly for her to transcribe, she was being interrupted by  a customer asking foolish questions, and then she upsets a bottle of ink all over herself. Of course she had to ask “C” – who was sending that message from another telegraph office – to stop and repeat quite a  few times. “C” lost patience with her , but when “N” stood up for herself and explained exactly what she was having to deal with  “C”  understood. The pair went on chatting over the wire – in Morse code – whenever things were quiet in their respective offices.”

1886 – A World of Girls by L T Meade

“My sympathies shifted as the story unfolded. It took in  practical jokes, midnight feasts, competition for honours, an adventure with gypsies, and though I had an idea how things would work out I was never sure quite how the story would get there, and I always wanted to keep reading.”

1894 – Esther Waters by George Moore

“Esther’s story began as she left her home and family to take up a new position, as a kitchen maid in a big house on a country estate. She was apprehensive, but her pride made her hold her head up, and her spirit made her stand up for herself when the cook suggested she get straight to work without changing her dress, which might have been shabby but it was the best that she had.”

1907 – The Twelfth Hour by Ada Leverson

“Ada Leverson wrote with such wit and such humour; she laughed at her characters, their foibles, their situations, and it was lovely because it was the laughter of a friend. I never doubted that she knew them well, that she understood them completely, and that she cared about what happened to them.”

1924 – Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin

“Lucian recognised Juliana’s description of Jane; he knew that she was the intriguing woman she had seen, maybe in a dream, maybe in an altered state, maybe though some supernatural power. He realises that Juliana might be offering his only chance of seeing her again. And he is desperate to seize that chance …..”

1926 – Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

“As her nieces and nephews grew up Laura began to feel the gap in her life, and the country and its traditions began to call her back. All she could do though was fill the house with flowers. Until one magical day when the stars aligned, and Laura realised that she could have the life she wanted, a life of her own.”

1930 – The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield

“I loved the way the diary seemed to capture her thoughts almost as she thought them, almost as she might have reported events on her own head. And I loved that it was witty and funny in the friendliest of ways. I never doubted that the Provincial Lady understood, that she cared, and that she poked fun at herself just as much as she did at others. “

1949 – The Auction Sale by C. H. B. Kitchin

“Miss Alice Elton was attending the sale, because she had many happy memories of Ashleigh Place, just ou
Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflatem. She had been secretary to Mr Durrant, and she had become companion and dear friend to his wife. That part of her life was over, but she remembered it with such love. For the people for she knew, and for the timeless beauty of the house itself. She just wanted to see it again, to remember, and to bid on one of two lots that held particular memories.”

Next up – 1932!

The Twelfth Hour by Ada Leverson

Ada Leverson does spin a story beautifully.

In this – her debut novel, published in 1907 – she shines a light on wealthy, upper class London society, following one particular family over the course of a long, hot summer.

There are two sisters, one married and one not.

The Twelfth Hour by Ada LeversonFelicity was delighted to be married to Lord Chetwode, and she was sure that their marriage would be happy and successful. But she barely saw him. Because he loved horse racing, he collected antiques, and he travelled here, there and everywhere in pursuit of his interests. It wasn’t that he didn’t care, he was simply oblivious to the fact that his wife had less to occupy her and wanted to spend time with him.

Her sister Sylvia was of an age to be married, and her father was steering her towards Mr. Ridokanaki, a wealthy Greek financier. Sylvia didn’t care for him at all; she was in love with her father’s secretary, and he with her. She knew that her father would not approve. He wasn’t an unkind man, he wanted her to be happy, but he couldn’t quite understand that others didn’t see the world in exactly the same way that he did.

Their brother Savile, home from school for the holidays, saw everything quite clearly and was quite sure that he could sort everything out. But he was distracted by his love of the opera star he loved from a distance, and by the need to fend off an admirer who was rather younger and rather closer to home.

Events took their course.

I couldn’t call it a plot as such, but it was lovely to watch what happened over the course of a summer season.

There are lovely details and moments. Sylvia sent bouquets from her unwanted admirer to the housekeeper’s room; Felicity and her friend Vera were caught up in a desperate social whirl; and Mr. Ridokanaki’s response when he found that his beloved’s affections were engaged elsewhere was wonderfully unexpected.

There were no heroes and no villains, just real, fallible, foolish human beings. In the hands of a lesser writer this might have been a bold, brash work, by Ada Leverson wrote beautifully and understood the importance of subtlety. The Twelfth Hour is above all a human story.

I loved Felicity, and I felt for her. I felt for Sylvia too, though her lack of concern for the feelings of others bothered me at times. But I think I could make allowances, given that she was so young and so in love. And Savile, well he made me wonder if the young Angela Thirkell read Ada Leverson, because he was the sort of young man Tony Moreland might have matured into.

And I really must mention Aunt William; she was a supporting character, but she was the most marvellous comic creation.

Ada Leverson wrote with such wit and such humour; she laughed at her characters, their foibles, their situations, and it was lovely because it was the laughter of a friend. I never doubted that she knew them well, that she understood them completely, and that she cared about what happened to them.

I never doubted that she understood their world and the circles that they moved in. Felicity’s story and Sylvia’s story spoke quietly and clearly about the situation of women of their generation and their class.

Above all though is a wonderful light read, a confection, and it really is such fun.

By the end of summer all of the pieces had fallen into place. It would be fair to say that love had a lot to do with it …..

I am so glad that The Twelfth Hour is in print, because free downloads are wonderful, but Ada Leverson wrote the kind of books that need to sit on bookshelves, and that can make readers smile whenever they catch their eyes.

10% Report: Reading the 20th Century

My 20th Century Reading Project continues to roll along. First there were ten, then there were twenty, and now there are thirty books.

The plan was to complete the century over two years, sixty in year one and forty in year two, as it gets more difficult as there are fewer spots to fill.

So I’m a little behind schedule but I’m not going to worry about it – I’m going to read what I want to read, keeping an eye on the years in need of books, and it will be done when it’s done.

I already have a few books that I wish could go on but their years were already taken. The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks got the spot for 1960 and so Scenes From Childhood by Sylvia Townsend Warner and Memoirs of an Armchair couldn’t go on.

And I’m only allowing one book per author – unless there is a long period between books and much to distinguish them – because I want to my final list to be as diverse as I can make it.

But enough rambling, here are the books:

1911 – The Limit by Ada Leverson

Just one conversation brought the couple and their world completely to life, and opened the door to a lovely comedy of manners, light as air but with just enough serious underpinnings to stop it floating off into the ether.

1930 – The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

There are familiar elements: a clock, apparently knocked over and confirming the time of death; an unfinished letter, that may or may not have been tampered with; confessions that cannot possibly be true.  – but they are used well, throwing many questions into the air and creating a seemingly unsolvable puzzle..

1935 – White Ladies by Francis Brett Young

Bella was a wonderful character. She wasn’t always likeable, indeed she was often maddening, but I could see what made her the woman she became, and I never stopped loving her spirit and her determination.  And what a story!

1953 – Murder in Time by Elizabeth Ferrars

The police investigate. The guests talk about what has happened, they tell their stories – or in some cases have their stories drawn out of them. But it was difficult to know who was telling the truth, how the facts would fit together. As new facts emerged I changed my mind about what might have happened, about what was truth and what was lie. I had an idea, but I couldn’t make all the pieces fit

1959 – Mizmaze by Mary Fitt

Imagine, if you will, a country estate. A grand house with extensive grounds set on the English coast. A house named Mizmaze, because the main feature of those grounds is a maze. At the centre of the maze a man lay dead. He was the owner of the house, and his murderer had struck him down with one of his own croquet mallets.

1961 – The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart

Having Mary tell the story was a wise decision. I questioned her reliability, and I wondered what she might be holding back, but now that her story is done I can’t fault her narration. I understand the reasons for everything she said and did; and for everything that she didn’t say and didn’t do.I wonder if it’s significant that the author gave her leading lady her own name …

1962 – Coronation by Paul Gallico

The Clagg family arrived at St Pancras station early in the morning, on the Coronation Special from Sheffield. It was to be the day out of a lifetime because Will Clagg, factory foreman accepted the offer of a lifetime. Five seats in a window in Wellington Place, just off Hyde Park Corner. A wonderful view. A buffet lunch. Champagne. And the price reduced from £25 to £10 – Will’s cousin Bert, a London chauffeur had some excellent contacts.

1989 – Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood

The juxtaposition of serious issues – birth control and drug addiction – and frivolity – a wonderful array of frocks and dalliances with young men – is rather strange. Most of the time I liked it, but I did have moments when I was heartily sick of wardrobe details and just wanted something to happen..

1990 – Closed at Dusk by Monica Dickens

I knew that Monica Dickens was a wonderful author. I knew that she had written a marvellous range of books, works of fictions and non fiction, stories for children and stories for adults. But I didn’t know that she had written crime fiction until I spotted a tatty copy of ‘Closed at Dusk’ in a charity shop bargain box.

1993 – Pillion Riders by Elisabeth Russell Taylor

A trip to Paris highlighted the differences between the pair: he wanted to whisk her around the city, to have her experience everything that Paris had to offer, while she wanted to walk, watch, listen, and slowly absorb the city’s character.

The Limit by Ada Leverson

Sometimes it takes a little time for a bright,  young wife to explain something quite simple to her quiet, sensible husband.

“You see Harry is giving this dinner on purpose so Daphne shall meet Van Buren by accident. You know all about Van Buren, the Van Buren – the millionaire, who turns out to be a dear creature and quite charming, and has taken the greatest fancy to Harry, and clings on to him, and keeps on and on asking him to ask him to meet people. You must own it would be rather jolly for Daphne, because, of course, you can’t think how he’s run after – I mean Van Buren – and he isn’t an ordinary American snob, and it really and truly isn’t only his millionairishness, but he’s a real person, and good-looking and nice as well; and though, Heaven knows, I’m as romantic as anybody – for myself – I wouldn’t be so selfish as to be romantic for her too, and I can’t help feeling it’s out duty, being in the place of parents to her, to give the angel a sporting chance!”

Fortunately Romer was bright, and he loved Valentia more than enough to do whatever he could to make her happy.

Just one conversation brought the couple and their world completely to life, and opened the door to a lovely comedy of manners, light as air but with just enough serious underpinnings to stop it floating off into the ether.

A wonderful company assembled for that dinner, and though the match-makers plans didn’t succeed, it introduced a host of wonderful characters who would become entangled in ways that were quite unexpected.

An aspiring actress, who endeavoured to be a social butterfly while living in a basement flat with her beloved mother, found herself the beloved of a tattooed man, invited in the hope that he would entertain the American millionaire.

Their romance was lovely, and I was a little sorry that they sailed off into the sunset quite early in the book. I missed them, but there was a great deal else happening that held my attention.

A successful playwright, swept away by the romance and excitement of it all, found himself making an unplanned proposal.

Young Daphne was smitten by a ‘baby guardsman’, and by his mother’s seemingly idyllic life in the country.

And Valentia began to wonder if she has married the right man. If she might have been happier with her charming, sophisticated cousin, Harry…

Every character is beautifully drawn and acutely absorbed, by an author who knows exactly when to display with, when to draw out pathos, when to shine a clear light, and does all of those things so very, very well.

She brought their world to life and I could hear so many wonderful dialogues in my head, because they were so real and so right.

Best of all she understood, she really did.

That allowed her to make some telling points quite naturally. Romance may cloud our judgement. We may not like to admit it, but money does make life easier. Appearances and first impressions are so very important …

The Limit is one hundred and one years old, and though much has changed human nature has changed not one iota.

At the heart of the story was a love triangle: Valentia, Romer and Harry.

Ada Leverson caught the differing charms of the two men in Valentia’s life beautifully.

“He had, in fact, a genius for love-making, but he had not, like Romer, a genius for love. Harry had all the gift of expression – poor Romer had only the gift of feeling.”

I’m inclined to say poor Harry, not poor Romer. I loved Romer!

Think about it…

But it wasn’t up to me, it was up to Valentia. Or maybe it wasn’t. What happened was quite unexpected, but utterly right.

The ending was wonderful. Not everyone was entirely happy, there were loose ends, but it was right.

And the right time to say goodbye to a fine entertainment.