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 Auction Sale by C H B Kitchin

It was chance that led me to discover C. H. B. Kitchin last year. I read Streamers Waving, one of his earliest novels and I discovered that he was an author with wit, understanding, and such lovely style. that book left me eager to read more of his work, and I was so pleased to discover a wonderfully diverse range of titles being reissued, some by the wonderful Valancourt Books and others as Faber Finds.

Auction Sale

The simplicity of ‘The Auction Sale’ called me first. It’s a small, quiet story, and it tells the story of an auction over three days, just before the war. The contents of a country house were being sold; because the owner had died, he had left the home to his sister, and she had decided to sell up.

Miss Alice Elton was attending the sale, because she had many happy memories of Ashleigh Place, just outside the small town of Markenham. 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.

Miss Elton’s memories were wrapped around the story of the three days of the sale quite beautifully. Mr Kitchin captured the proceedings at the auction – the differing styles of the two auctioneers, the curious locals, the professional dealers – so very well. And as lots came and went Miss Elton remembered so many things.

She remembered her friend’s concern for the uncle who brought the house, and for her troubled orphan nephew who came to live their for a time. And she remembered her friend’s relationship with the lovely Mr Osmund Sorenius; a relationship that might have been a love affair, had they both not had an instinctive loyalty to their respective spouses. Miss Elton had been friend to both, and a chaperone maybe.

As I read ‘The Auction Sale’ two other books and a film came to mind. The love of the house reminded me of Vita Sackville-West’s The Heir; the stirring of memories brought Ruby Ferguson’s Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary to mind; and the almost love affair had echoes of ‘Brief Encounter.’ That was lovely, but as I read I came to love ‘The Auction Sale’ for its own sake.

Mr Kitchin writing was subtle and sensitive; he so clearly understood, his style suited his story perfectly; and he brought the house and all of those who passed through, and the auction and all of those present, to life.

I appreciated the attention to detail, the contrast between the quietness of the past and the liveliness of the auction, and way the changes at the house were set against the changes that the coming war would bring. Most of all I appreciated Miss Elton. She might have been a tragic figure, but she wasn’t; she he had lost much, she had little, but she  accepted that life had changed, and would continue to change, and she carried on.

I was so pleased that she had two successful bids, and that she won a painting and a bowl. They had little monetary value, but they carried particular memories.

The story ended at the end of the third day of the auction. Miss Elton collected her purchases, and she took them home.

It was lovely to meet her, to attend the auction, and to be trusted with her memories.


Streamers Waving by C. H. B. Kitchin

‘There is quite a Bloomsbury set, is there not?’

‘There is,’ said Miss Clame, ‘but we’re not in it. We’re just the  tiniest bit west, both spiritually and geographically.’

I fell in love with that quotation at first sight, and immediately sought out a copy of Streamers Waiting. It’s in print as a Faber Find, but I found that the Cornish Library Service had thought it a book worth hanging on to, and I called in their copy.

Published in 1925 it tells the story of Miss Lydia Clame. Miss Clame was lovely, but she was a ‘surplus woman,’ one of many who found that after the great war there simply were not enough men to go around. And so  she lived in genteel poverty, with two other spinster ladies.

Streamers WavingMiss Clame had accomplishments, she had social graces, and she had a wide circle of friends and a busy social life. But it wasn’t enough. She was acutely aware that she was a second-class citizen, that married women would always be one step ahead of her.

She accepted her situation, but at time she struggled, because life’s little setbacks hit so much harder when they have to be faced alone.

She hoped for a happy ending.

What would become of Miss Clame?

I must confess that ‘Streamers Waving’ rather crept up on me.

I found much to admire. Simple and elegant prose. Dialogue that balanced wit and believability perfectly. Characters simply but clearly drawn, revealing just enough for me to understand their significance.  A life caught with empathy and understanding. A gentle satire with something to say about its times.

But it took some time for me to realise that Miss Clame had crept into my heart, and that I really cared about what would become of her.

She was bright, she was thoughtful, she was considerate, and she was so very self-aware. But she wasn’t equipped to deal with the changes that the Great War had wrought.

Some coped, indeed some thrived; but others, like Miss Clame, struggled.

A little more plot would have been nice. I would have loved to have seen a little more of Miss Clame’s lodgers: Miss Trelawny who wanted to climb mountains and Miss Smith who painted pottery. But this is a simple story, shining a clear light on one woman’s life.

The end of Miss Clame’s story is moving, and so very well judged.

I’m very glad that I met her.