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.

Mrs Westerby Changes Course by Elizabeth Cadell

I thought I knew what to expect from an Elizabeth Cadell novel, but this was the book that proved me wrong.

It had her usual ingredients:

  • A bright, independent heroine.
  • An overseas jaunt.
  • A puzzle to be resolved.
  • A dash of romance.

But the balance was rather different – tilted less towards the romance and much more towards the puzzle – and the story was much darker than I had anticipated.

Think somewhere between D E Stevenson and Mary Stewart with a dash of Agatha Christie ….

1879044Gail Sinclair was a secretary, employed by the century-old publishing firm of Beetham Brothers, and because she was poised, elegant and capable, it fell to her to look after Mrs Stratton.

Mrs Stratton was a young widow, and, while she was nursing her dying husband, she had written a book that was expected to become a publishing sensation.

The job should have been easy, but there was a complication: Mrs Westerby.

Mrs Westerby was the sister of Mrs Stratton’s late husband, and she was determined that she and Mrs Stratton should be the best of friends, that they would be able to comfort one another after their shared loss. But she was brash and loud, she was chaotic, and she was inclined to turn up wherever Mrs Stratton was, quite sure she was wanted, oblivious to the fact that she was not.

Mrs Stratton was everything that Mrs Westerby was not, she was her complete opposite, and she just wanted to live her own life in peace. She saw no reason to have a relationship with a sister-in law who was years older than her, who she barely knew, when the man who had been the only link between them was gone.

Mrs Westerby discovered that Gail’s married sister was a near neighbour, and extended an invitation to Gail. She couldn’t say no; and strangely, for all her failings, she couldn’t help rather liking Mrs Westerby ….

Gail planned to use her annual leave to travel to Spain, to collect her naval-officer brother. When Mrs Stratton found out she asked a favour. She wondered if she might travel with Gail, as far as the property her husband had owned in the Basque Country. Mrs Westerby had been left the house, Mrs Stratton had been left the furniture and they needed to sort things out. Mrs Westerby was going too, but Mrs Stratton really did not want to travel with her. Gail was reluctant to get involved, but she didn’t feel she could say no.

The journey was eventful to say the least, and Gail and Mrs Stratton kept running into Mrs Westerby and Julian, the godson who was driving her. Mrs Westerby’s behaviour grew more outlandish, more suspicious.

Gail knew what she thought, but Julian saw things rather differently.

There is, of course, a grand dénouement at that property in the Basque country.

That ending was a little bit contrived, but I couldn’t have predicted it and I do think it was right.

The plot was a little bit clunky, but I didn’t really mind.

The story was engaging.

The character-study, the contrast between the sisters-in-law, was intriguing.

The puzzle was exceedingly puzzling, I was genuinely baffled, and I loved the way the story held me, enjoying the journey and the incident as I wondered what on earth was going on.

All of that came together to make a book that was ridiculously readable.

And a very fine entertainment.

The Corner Shop by Elizabeth Cadell

Elizabeth Cadell’s books kept popping up on lists of recommendations, and when I did my research I was disappointed to learn that they were all out of print, because they sounded lovely. But luck was with me: I spotted a very pretty edition of her 1966 novel ‘The Corner Shop’ and I pounced.

1134412 I quickly found myself very taken with the heroine, with a wonderful adventure, and with a fine romance.

Lucille Abbey was an attractive young divorcee, and she was the owner of a successful secretarial agency. She was bright, capable, confident, charming, and adept at dealing with whatever difficulties life might throw her way.

On her way to her annual holiday – a busman’s holiday, looking after her aunt’s little shop in Paris – she made a detour to sort out a little business problem. Lucille had sent three of her most capable secretaries to carry out a seemingly simple job at a professor’s country home, and all three had given up, so Lucille decided that she would have to deal with the situation personally.

Lucille realised that the professor was oblivious to practicalities, but she explained, clearly, charmingly, and firmly, what she needed and why she needed it, and she got the job done. By the time she was finished Lucille and the professor were getting on beautifully, and both were enjoying the novelty of having a bright, quick-thinking, sparring partner.

There were one or two mysteries that Lucille couldn’t solve – the mystery of the lady visitor who was sure that her missing china was at the professors house, and the mystery of the professors’ mothers missing paintings, that seemed to be attracting an extraordinary amount of interest – but her job was done, and it was time for her to be off to Paris.

Lucille found that things had changed since her last visit. He aunt had acquired a new, bigger shop, and was planning to move after her holiday. Lucille had already suspected that her aunt wasn’t as hard-up as she had always claimed, and that she could have easily paid for someone to look after the shop while she was away. But there was a touch of the workaholic about Lucille, and that didn’t have too much in her life outside work. She was wonderful, but she was fallible.

And then the plot got very complicated. There were dubious goings-on in the new shop. There was an unexplained gift – a glittering starfish brooch. And it seemed that they mysteries of the paintings and the china had come to Paris too. The professor wasn’t far behind. Coincidences abounded!

There was a lot of running around in Paris then, and the plots got very tangled. At times it seemed a bit of a mess, but it was a very entertaining mess.

The personalities are deftly sketched with a light touch, the dialogue sparkled, and the story read beautifully. It was fun!

But I do wish it had stayed in England, because things fell apart in Paris. It stretched credulity too far when all of the plot strands converged there. There were possibilities that were unexplored, and there were characters who had potential that were allowed to slip away.

The mysteries were all tied up in the end, but the knot was rather untidy; it was a resolution but it wasn’t quite right. The romance, on the other hand, played out exactly as I had expected and exactly as I wanted.

The Corner Shop has it’s faults, but for all of that it is a lovely light read, full of entertainment, intrigue, romance, and charming characters.

I shall definitely be on the look-out for more of Elizabeth Cadell’s books!