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.

The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh

Lights! Camera! Action!

I read a book, but it felt like a film. An epic that should really be seen on a big, big screen.

The opening scenes are set in England in the later years of Queen Victoria’s reign. Frances had been a cherished only daughter but her father’s sudden death has left her destitute. And now she is faced with a stark choice; she could become a virtual servant in her aunts household, or she could accept a proposal from a man she doesn’t love.

Frances chooses marriage.

The next scenes are set on board ship, as Frances travels to join her future husband in South Africa. She forms friendships other young women, travelling for very different reason, and she forms a passionate relationship with a man. He is charming, attractive, and terribly immoral.

And so we come to the scenes in South Africa.

Frances had expected to live in the city, to live a comfortable life and to enjoy a certain status as the wife of a doctor. But her husband has been posted to a remote outpost where he must try to keep the smallpox epidemic away from the diamond mines.

Frances struggle to cope with a life she had not expected, and she finds herself torn between two men, between her head and her heart.

She makes some terrible decisions, does some terrible things, quite oblivious to the consequences of her actions …

I wanted to shake her: she had such a wonderful spirit, but she was so, so unthinking. She needed to grow up. And maybe she would …

Her story was rather predictable, but it had so many wonderful details, so many twists and turns, that it really didn’t matter.

Times and places were brought to life quite wonderfully.

I learned much that I didn’t know. About the Victorian charity that sent young women to the colonies to do good and worthwhile works. About the harsh conditions on the diamond fields, and the appalling ways in which native workers were abused and exploited. About the struggles of doctors and nurses to stop the spread of terrible diseases …

I saw the darkness and the beauty of South Africa.

And I read a story that said so much about human relationships, about Victorian society, and about the history of a country. All held together with fine storytelling, elegant prose, and wonderful clearsightedness.

There were a few wrong notes, a few interesting angles under-explored, a few characters under-developed. The story still worked though.

The ending was dramatic – melodramatic even – but it was right.

And it would work beautifully on screen. I can see that closing montage in my head …