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.

Wake by Anna Hope

My attention was caught, first by a beautiful cover, and then by a title that appeared simple, but was actually full of meaning. ‘Wake’ is a word that speaks of both beginnings and endings; of the very first moment of a new day, and of the final ritual at the end of a life. It suits Anna Hope’s first novel, a compelling account of lives that had been changed by the Great War, so very well.


‘Wake’ tells the story of three women’s lives over the course of five days in November 1920. And it sets their stories against the story of the journey of the body of the Unknown Soldier, brought from the battlefield to his final resting place over the same five days.

  • Hettie was young. She lived at home, with her mother and her shell-shocked brother, and she worked as a dancer, at the new Hammersmith Palais.
  • Evelyn was a little older. She lost her love to the war, and so she lived quietly with a friend and worked hard, dealing with claims in a pensions office.
  • Ada was older again, and she was a wife and mother, but she lost her son to the war and she struggled to accept that he was gone.

They had little in common, save that their lives had been knocked off course by the Great War. But a chance meeting  changed things, and over the course of five days more about those three women, their lives, and the events during the war that changed their menfolk gradually became clear. It also became clear that there would be no easy answers, there was no black and white, that there were only shades of grey.

The writing was simple, clear, and profound. The characters were perfectly drawn, their worlds were perfectly realised, telling details are illuminated, and three women became utterly real to me. I cared for them and I was deeply affected by what happened, and what had happened to them and to the people they loved.

The story moved between them so smoothly that I sometimes I lost track of where I was, but that didn’t matter, because it made me realise that so much was the same for these three women. Some of the truths that emerged had echoes of other stories set in the same era, but that didn’t matter either, because it made me realise that there were so many men and women with similar tales.

And  that, for me, was what gave this story power and depth. Hettie, Evelyn and Ada were three ordinary women who stood for a whole generation of women who had to live through the war and had to deal with its consequence. Anna Hope spoke for them, quietly and clearly, with understanding and with love, and her words stirred so many emotions.

And she made me wonder, is there any memorial to these women, beyond books that speak for them as ‘Wake’ does ….. ?