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!

Esther Waters by George Moore

‘Esther Waters’ was one of those classic novels that I circled for a long time, wondering if I should pick it up or pass it by. The story of a servant who fell pregnant and then struggled to raise her illegitimate son could be profound but it could be grim. When I read Emma’s wonderful review I knew that I had to pick the book up, and now that I’ve read it I have to say that I’m very glad that I did.

It focuses on many of the problems of Victorian society – poverty, gambling, intoxication, inequity – but it is a  wonderfully readable book, telling the story of a fascinating – and sometimes infuriating – heroine.


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.

Her upbringing, among the Plymouth Brethren, had given her a strong faith and firm principles, but it was her pride and her spirit that would prove to be both her downfall and her saving grace.

I was inclined to like her, and to want the best for her. As the story of her family, her upbringing, her circumstances emerged I came to understand what had shaped her character. She was the product of all of that; she was a real, fallible, living, breathing human being.

The style, simple and natural, brought her world to life and allowed her story to shine.

William was the cook’s son. He was eager to secure a position on the estate, to be near that stables, the horses, the gambling that were at the centre of life there. And he took a shine to Esther. She didn’t approve of his gambling, but she liked him, and they grew close, and they began to talk about marriage and a future together.

There was always a buzz in the air on race days, especially race days, especially when a horse from the estate was running, especially when that horse won. For all she disapproved Esther couldn’t help being affected by it, and maybe that was why a line was crossed.

And there were consequences.

Esther, knowing that she had sinned, pushed William away. He took his rejection to heart, he turned his attention elsewhere, and it wasn’t long before he ran off with one of the daughters of the house.

Not long after that, Esther realised that she was expecting his child.

She new that she would have to leave her job, she knew life would be a struggle, and it was, but when her son was born she drew strength from her new role, and bringing him up well became the focus of her life.

The only path open to her after the birth, the only thing that would keep her out of the workhouse, was to pay a baby farmer to care for her child and become a wet-nurse.

Esther was in a horrible situation, and I felt for her and admired the maturity she found to cope.

It worked for a while, but when her child was ill, when her mistress would not let her go to him, when the wet-nurse offered to take him off her hands forever, realised how unjust it all was:

“It is none of the child’s fault if he hasn’t got a father, nor is it right that he should be deserted for that… and it is not for you to tell me to do such a thing. If you had made sacrifice of yourself in the beginning and nursed your own child such thoughts would not have come to you. But when you hire a poor girl such as me to give the milk that belongs to another to your child, you think nothing of the poor deserted one. He is but a bastard, you say, and had better be dead and done with. I see it all now; I have been thinking it out. It is all so hidden up that the meaning is not clear at first, but what it comes to is this, that fine folks like you pays the money, and Mrs. Spires and her like gets rid of the poor little things. Change the milk a few times, a little neglect, and the poor servant girl is spared the trouble of bringing up her baby and can make a handsome child of the rich woman’s little starveling.”

That was, for me, the defining moment in Esther’s story. She would do her best for her son but she would never compromise her principles. That would cause difficulties as she had to work and care for her child, and there were times when she fell very low, but there were also times when good people did their best to help her. And she might have had more, but she was cautious and would not let others now what her circumstances were.

It was when she was doing well, when she was on the point of marrying a good man she met through the Plymouth Brethren, that the father of her child came back into her life. William hadn’t known that there was a child, but when he found out he was ready to be that child’s father.

He wasn’t a bad man, but a fundamentally decent man with a fatal flaw – his love of gambling.

Esther was horribly torn, but she knew that the right thing to do was to marry William, to be a good wife and mother. She was, and she stood by her husband always. Because it was the right thing to do, and because she loved him.

He loved her too, and there were some touching moments as the story of their marriage played out.

Most of all though she loved their son, and she achieved what she set out to do. She raised her son well and she was so proud when he became a soldier ….

The story of how Esther reached that point was wonderful.

It was focused on the reasons for the choices she made, and it did that so very well and with such understanding, but there were gaps. The stories of the conception, of the birth, of stays in the workhouse, of the wedding ….. so much was missing.

But in the end those things weren’t important.

I watched the passage of Esther’s life,  I cared,  and I understood her journey.

That is what will stay with me.