What’s in a Name Challenge: Done!

Four years ago “What’s in a Name” was the very first challenge I signed up for via this blog. It was also the first challenge I completed.

It’s a lovely challenge, and of course I signed up for a second year. A third. And a fourth.

Thanks must go to Beth at Beth Fish Reads for acting as host once again.

I scanned my shelves for six books, with titles each of six categories.  And then I read them.

  • A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title:

In The Mountains by Elizabeth Von Arnim

  • A book with something you’d see in the sky in the title:

The New Moon with the Old by Dodie Smith

  • A book with a creepy crawly in the title:

Snake Ropes by Jess Richards

  • A book with a type of house in the title:

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

  • A book with something you’d carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title:

The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall

  • A book with a something you’d find on a calendar in the title:

The Fortnight in September by R C Sheriff

It’s not the list I planned at the end of last year, but I’ve read six lovely books, and I am so pleased that I remembered to read ‘The Fortnight in September’ in September!


It was Jo’s idea – 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 many I have loved. And I’ve done it!


Six Books that took me on extraordinary journeys

The Harbour by Francesca Brill
A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to the Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh
The City of Beautiful Nonsense by E Temple Thurston
The House on Paradise Street by Sofka Zinovieff


Six books that took me by the hand and led me into the past

The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn
The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon
Tom-All-Alone’s by Lynn Shepherd
The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace


Six books from the past that drew me back there

The One I Knew the Best of All by Frances Hodgson-Burnett
A Burglary by Amy Dillwyn
The Frailty of Nature by Angela Du Maurier
Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins
The New Moon With the Old by Dodie Smith
As It Was & World Without End by Helen Thomas


Six books from authors I know will never let me down

The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks
The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
Closed at Dusk by Monica Dickens
Monogram by G B Stern
Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor
In the Mountains by Elizabeth Von Arnim


Six books I must mention that don’t fit nicely into any category

Shelter by Frances Greenslade
Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon
When Nights Were Cold by Susanna Jones
Alys, Always by Harriet Lane
The Roundabout Man by Clare Morrall
Diving Belles by Lucy Wood


Six Books I started in the first six months of the year and was still caught up with in July

The Young Ardizzone by Edward Ardizzone
The Deamstress by Maria Dueñas
Greenery Street by Denis MacKail
Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace by Kate Summerscale
The Warden by Anthony Trollope
White Ladies by Francis Brett Young


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: Reading the 20th Century

My 20th Century Reading Project is rolling along nicely. First there were ten and now there are twenty books. There’s a book in every decade now, I have a couple more to write about, and I have many more in mind.

But I’m going to move away towards other things for a while.

At the moment I’m reading two wonderful books from years that have already been taken – Scenes of Childhood by Sylvia Townsend Warner and the Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.

I’m lining up books for A Victorian Celebration.

But then there’s Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week and Rosamund Lehmann Reading Week to pull me back to the 20th Century.

I’m rambling, and so I’ll get back to business and  list those ten books:

1902 – The Grand Babylon Hotel by Arnold Bennett

It was all highly improbable, but the construction of the plot was very clever, and I can’t fault the logic at all. The style was simple and straightforward, the story was compelling, and so I turned the pages quickly. It felt to me like a children’s adventure story for grown-ups – not great literature, but a great entertainment.

1918 – Diary Without Dates by Enid Bagnold

It was brave to write what she did, while the war was still going on, and to take it to William Heinneman himself. He published Diary Without Dates in 1918, and Enid Bagnold was sacked for daring to write it. She saw out the war as an ambulance driver, and then she married and found success as a novelist. But this little book remains: one woman’s account of her war, written as she lived through it.

1920 – In The Mountains by Elizabeth von Arnim

The keeper of the journal, whose name I was never to learn, had come to a family home in the Swiss mountains to rest and to recover from – or at least come to terms with – her losses during The Great War. Exactly what – or who – she had lost, what she had suffered, was never quite put into words, but that she was grieving, that she was trying to come to terms with making a new start, was something I never doubted. I found that I understood.

1926 – As It Was by Helen Thomas

‘As It Was’ tells the story of their meeting, their courtship, their marriage, and the birth of the first child. It is an utterly real story, told by a woman who has both the understanding and the words to communicate that understanding. Lives lived long ago come alive on the pages: the beginning  of a love affair, the growth of a relationship, life’s trials and tribulations, the world they live in, the countryside they love …

1931 – Gwendra Cove & Other Cornish Sketches by C C Rogers (Lady Vyvyan)

I picked up the first volume of her memoirs a couple of years ago, and I was soon smitten. Because I saw straight away that Clara Coltman Rogers, later to become Lady Vyvyan, loved and understood Cornwall. And I saw it again in these wonderfully diverse little sketches. She gets everything right: the environments, the communities, the characters, the speech patterns …

1934 – Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins

Her mother realised that Harriet’s suitor had been drawn to her wealth and the expectation of a significant inheritance from an aunt of her late husband. And she learned that Lewis Staunton was clever, that he could play on her daughter’s love of romance, that he could twist her mother’s concerns into something dark and sinister in her daughter’s mind. She tried, but she couldn’t save her daughter. My heart broke for her.

1946 – Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor

This is a story with echoes of other authors: Jane Austen in the heroine’s name, and in more besides; Charlotte Bronte in the heroine’s position; Ivy Compton-Burnett in some of the dialogue and relationships; Daphne Du Maurier in the presence, and untold story, of Marion’s wife; Molly Keane in the crumbling mansion; Thomas Hardy in some of the darker moments; and maybe even more that have passed me by when I was caught up … Not a satire, not a pastiche, but something rather different, and rather more interesting. Something I can’t quite explain.

1955 – The Tigress on the Hearth by Margery Sharp

Hugo, a young Devon lad, the kind of hero who could so easily have stepped from the pages of a Regency novel, found himself at the point of a sword. He had been on holiday with his uncle when he, quite inadvertently, breached Albanian etiquette, and it seemed that he would never see Devon again.

1963 – The New Moon with the Old by Dodie Smith

Globe House is a wonderful mixture of the traditional and the modern. The four young people had been brought up by their grandmother and they were a credit to her. As were Cook and Edith. They continued to live together happily after she died, with just few changes. The family still ate in the dining room and the staff in the kitchen, but the family went to the kitchen to make their own coffee so that all could be cleared away in time for the whole household to settle down together and watch the evening’s television.

1996 – Reality and Dreams by Muriel Spark

In her twentieth book, published in the nineties when she was in her eighties, Muriel Spark’s authorial voice spoke as strongly as it ever had. The clearsightedness and the oh so subtle wit are quite wonderful. She created a fine gallery of characters – not likeable characters but they were terribly readable – and gave them just enough plot to keep things interesting and to throw a wealth of ideas into the air.

A little book and yarn shopping ….

…. after nearly a year of unemployment and being very careful. Not too much, because I already have books and yarn aplenty, but just a few very lovely things that I really couldn’t resist.

Back issues of Slightly Foxed!

I very nearly squealed because the edition with the Leo Walmsley article was there.

And now I definitely feel a subscription coming on ….

I really didn’t expect to see the three Dodie Smith novels that were only reissued earlier this month in The Works, but there they were, priced at three for £5. A wonderful bargain, but I was a little sad that they were being sold so cheaply so soon.

I snapped up The Town in Bloom, It Ends With Revelations and The New Moon With The Old – I can already vouch for that one, and it’s lovely to have a copy of my own now that the one I read has gone back to the library.

And that’s it for book shopping …. for now at least ….

And so to knitting.

I was charmed by Ella Austin’s Bunny Mitts in this month’s copy of Knit Now

And when I saw that the yarn came from the wonderful Skein Queen and that she had mitten kits in stock I really couldn’t resist.

So that’s my next small project lined up.

And on Monday we have to go to St Ives, so I’ll have my first chance to look at the Oxfam Bookshop for a while. And I shall take my birthday book token, that I’d forgotten I had, just in case I should spot something in the St Ives Bookshop ….

The Girl from the Candle-Lit Bath by Dodie Smith

While I was waiting for this month’s Dodie Smith reissues to appear, while queueing patiently for the Cornish Library Service’s much in demand copy of ‘Look Back With Love’, I had another look at the library catalogue to see if there was anything else interesting by Dodie Smith that I might order up.

The title ‘The Girl from the Candle-Lit Bath’ caught my eye and I placed my order.

When the book arrived I learned that in 1978, at the age of eighty-two, Dodie Smith published her first story of suspense.

It started beautifully. Nan arrived home and she overheard her husband on the telephone. He was arranging a rendezvous in what Nan had thought was their own special place, and her hurt and anger were palpable.

Nan had been an actress, and she had been famous thanks to an advert in which she starred as ‘The Girl from the Candle-Lit Bath.’ But when she married Roy, a rising MP, after a chance meeting and a whirlwind romance, she gave up her career to play the role of consort.

She’d had doubts about whether she had done the right thing, and suddenly she was sure that she hadn’t. And she decided that before she did anything else she had to find out what her husband was up to.

When Roy put the phone down he rushed out of their flat, not even noticing that his wife had arrived home, and hailed a taxi. Nan followed and hailed a taxi of her own to follow him. She saw the rendezvous, and it wasn’t what she had expected at all; a small packet was passed between her husband and another man …

Nan was confounded, and she poured her heart out to her very sympathetic taxi driver. He, Tim, told her that he was actually a crime writer who drove a taxi to supplement his meagre earnings as an author. He suggested many possible explanations of what Nan had seen: blackmail, whistle-blowing, espionage …

He convinced Nan that she would learn more, and she would be safer, if she carried on as usual and didn’t share her concerns with anybody else.

So far so good. I had my doubts about whether a woman betrayed by her husband would share so much with a strange man, but I could have put those doubts aside if the story was good. And the potential seemed to be there. But, sadly, things went horribly wrong.

Nan took steps towards independence, looked to revive her acting career. but she hung on to the hope that there was an innocent explanation for her husband’s behaviour and accompanied him to a house party at the country home of two of her husband’s patrons.

They make it clear that they don’t like her, that they don’t think that a girl from a tantalising advertisement is in any way a suitable wife for their protegé. And when Nan goes back to town she finds she is being followed.

All of this made the story lurch from being fanciful to being unbelievable. I suspect it was compromised by the author’s wish to write about what she knew, what she had written about many times before. And I could see that suspense didn’t suit her.

The characters were paper-thin, the settings were uninspired, and I found it hard to care.

That title was a bit of a cheat.

And the ending really doesn’t bear thinking about.

Such a pity, because the potential was there in the early chapters. But this was maybe a book too many, a stretch too far.

So it’s straight back to the library with this one.

Fortunately though those reissues, of much earlier novels, look much more promising …

The New Moon With The Old by Dodie Smith

Now here’s a lovely story. It’s set in the early sixties, in a real world sprinkled with just a little bit of added fairy dust.

It begins with Jane Minton, She’s a young woman all alone in the world, accustomed to standing on her own two feet and earning her own living. And she’s rather good at it.

Jane has a new job. A very good job: she is to be secretary-housekeeper at Dome House, the country home of Rupert Carrington, a successful city businessman.

Her employer is rarely at home, but Jane finds herself welcomed with open arms living very comfortably in a beautiful and well-run house with her employer’s four charming children (who are in their teens and twenties) and two members of staff.

Globe House is a wonderful mixture of the traditional and the modern. The four young people had been brought up by their grandmother and they were a credit to her. As were Cook and Edith. They continued to live together happily after she died, with just few changes. The family still ate in the dining room and the staff in the kitchen, but the family went to the kitchen to make their own coffee so that all could be cleared away in time for the whole household to settle down together and watch the evening’s television.

Tradition was nicely tempered by modernity …

It was lovely to watch over such a wonderful household – I can’t quite capture what made it magical, it just was –  but I did wonder when the plot was going to arrive.

It arrived with a bang: Rupert Carrington arrived unexpectedly when only Jane was home, and told her that he was wanted for fraud and had to leave the country. He asked Jane to stay for a while, to help his children find ways of coping without the money that had underpinned their lifestyle. Jane agreed: she liked the family, she had been a little in love with their father ever since he had interviewed her, and she actually had nowhere to go.

The news was taken surprisingly well, and the household began to make plans. Jane landed a job at the local school, Cook and Edith had many offers to choose from, as their talents were renowned, and each of the four children set out to do what they could.

They all had wonderful adventures.

Precocious, stage-struck, fourteen-year-old Merry, set out for London to become an actress, but slid into a job helping with amateur dramatics at a stately home and found that the lady of the house had an unexpected plan for her.

I particularly liked Drew – he was what my mother would call a people-person. And he was an aspiring writer, planning a novel set in the Edwardian era, so seemed entirely sensible to him that he should become an old lady’s companion. He  landed the job, and he found himself revolutionising her household.

And I emphasised most with Clare. She  was quiet and sensible, she and didn’t think she was as talented as her siblings. But she found a job too,  in the household of an elderly gentleman, reading to him. It was a job well suited to a young woman with a head full of romantic notions gleaned from novels.

Richard, was the eldest and he took his responsibilities seriously. But he lived for his music and he had jobs he could go to, if only he could deal with those difficult visitors and work out what to do about the house.

Each of their four stories is told in turn, and in between times Jane tells the story of Globe House.

There is little realism: the stories are full of remarkable coincidences, great wealth, and falling in love at the drop of a hat. But the storytelling is so lovely, so charming, that I didn’t mind at all.

The characters, all a little different, all beautifully drawn, captivated me.

Sometimes I missed one when another was centre stage, but not too much as I loved them all, and I think that the episodic structure was probably right for these stories.

There was so much wonderful entertainment: I was amused as I watched Merry disguising herself as a grown-up to make sure that she wasn’t hauled back home again; I was as puzzled as Drew by the arrangements in the household he joined; I was as thrilled as Clare when she found a library of wonderful old books; and I was delighted for Richard when it finally seemed that, just maybe, all of the pieces were falling into place.

So many wonderful details, but I don’t want to give too much away.

In the end it seemed that love or money could, and would, solve just about anything …

This is a strange, old-fashioned mixture of romance, reality, and just a little fairy dust.

I couldn’t help loving it!