It was Jo’s idea last year, and we’re doing it again this year.

Celebrate the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

It’s not quite as easy as it looks. I tweaked the categories last year to suit my reading style, and I’ve tweaked them a little more this year to make sure that the right books got in.

Here they are!


Six Books that tugged at my heartstrings

The Night Rainbow by Claire King
The Lonely by Paul Gallico
A Perfect Gentle Knight by Kit Pearson
The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery
The Young Clementina by D E Stevenson
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole


Six books illuminated by wonderful voices from the twentieth century

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
The Fool Of The Family by Margaret Kennedy
A Pixy in Petticoats by John Trevena
Mariana by Monica Dickens
Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton


Six books that took me to another time and place

Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household by Kate Hubbard
This January Tale by Bryher
The Love-Charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel
In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda
The Pinecone by Jenny Uglow
A Commonplace Killing by Siân Busby


Six books that introduced me to interesting new authors

Death of Lyndon Wilder and the Consequences Thereof by E.A. Dineley
The First Book Of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz
Telling the Bees by Peggy Hesketh
The Sea Change by Joanna Rossiter
Chaplin and Company by Mave Fellowes
The View on the Way Down by Rebecca Wait


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

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
Yew Hall by L.M. Boston
Orkney by Amy Sackville
A Five Year Sentence by Bernice Rubens
The Asylum by John Harwood
Perfect by Rachel Joyce


Six Books I started in the first six months of the year and haven’t quite finished … yet …

The Palace of Curiosities by Rosie Garland
The House on the Cliff by Jon Godden
Elijah’s Mermaid by Essie Fox
The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton by Diane Atkinson
Warpaint by Alicia Foster
The Rich House by Stella Gibbons


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 Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

I’m usually wary of novels, set in a period within living memory, that use real people, who lived and breathed, as characters, but there was something about this book that called me. And I’m very glad I did.

And, of course this isn’t the story of Louise Brooks, silent movie icon; it is the story of one woman who crossed paths with her in one summer that would change both of their lives.

0612-the-chaperone-lgnIt opens in the early 1920s, the in Wichita, Kansas, where housewife Cora Carlisle has undertaken to act as chaperone to the teenage Louise Brooks, who is heading to summer dance school in New York. At first it seems to be a study in contrasts: Cora is conventional, prim, proper, and always aware of proprieties, while Louise is headstrong, confident and determined to experience everything the world has to offer. But it soon becomes clear that the truth is more complicated than that; that Cora had quite unexpected reasons for wanting to come to New York, and that there was much more to Louise than it had first appeared.

Laura Moriarty handles all of this very well. Her words feel right and are so easy to read that I always felt safe in the hands of a very capable storyteller. She brings the period, in both the small town and the big city, to life. And she weaves in so many themes – racial segregation, prohibition, sex and sexuality, family and identity – in a way that seems completely natural and right.

But I am wary of saying too much, because I think the developments that moved the story forward and developed the characters are best enjoyed first hand. They sometimes took me by surprise but they always made perfect sense.

It was lovely to watch Cora’s journey; so many of her opinions and attitudes changed as she saw more of the world, and as I saw this and as I learned more of her history I grew to like, and admire, her more. She began as an unremarkable small town housewife, but as the story unfolded she became even interesting than her young charge.

When the summer in New York drew to a close Cora made an extraordinary decision. The story should maybe have ended there, it would have been a wonderful ending, it would have left so much to think about. But it didn’t.

A shorter second act carried the story forward, through the rest of Cora’s life. The contrast between Cora, who defies convention but keeps up appearances, and Louise, who in unconcerned about either, is fascinating but there are problems. The years rush by, there are none of the intriguing questions that underpinned the first act, and thought the story is plausible – and Louise’s real life has clearly been well researched – it is a little more difficult to believe that what went before.

It said much that was interesting, and I was fascinated to see the future unfold, but it wasn’t quite as strong as what had gone before. Maybe a simple afterword would have worked better.

But I still have to say that The Chaperone is a gem: a wonderfully readable story of two fascinating women with much to say about their lived and their times.

I didn’t mean to disappear…

… but once the initial euphoria of having a job again wore off I was beset by doubts.

Could I juggle everything. A full-time job, a dog, a mother in a nursing home, a life, a blog …

I retreated for a while, and I spent my evenings just reading and listening to music. New music, found via the lovely medium of artist radio on

And after a few days I realised that I had to do this. That I had to sing the praises of the lovely books I’m reading. As soon as I stopped thinking about what I would write the words and the ideas began to form in my head again, quite naturally.

I just need to find a little more self-belief, and maybe to think as little bit less.

Things may be a little quieter than they were, but I’m still here.

I have a plan for next week. And here it is, interspersed with some of the things I’ve been listening to.

Monday: A novel published last year, that spins around an early twentieth century icon to tell the tale of a very different woman who crossed her path. It was very nearly perfect …

Three sisters from Watford offered up the first new piece of music that caught my ear. It seemed very timely, and now it is lodged in my head …

Tuesday: An extraordinary work of non fiction: London at war brought to life through the the letters, diaries and fiction of five remarkable writers. I can’t find the word to explain how wonderful this is yet, but I will …

I was on the other side of the room when I heard a voice coming out of my computer, and I was smitten …

Wednesday: Briar returns, with another game of guessing the blogger from five of their books…

I thought this was going to be a little too folky for me, but I was charmed. And The Leisure Society sound rather like Belle and Sebastian in their more up-tempo moments, and that has to be a good thing …

Thursday: A first encounter with a familiar name from the early part of the twentieth century, that left me eager to read more of his work but uncertain about what I should read next …

I loved Natasha Khan’s first record, I was a little less taken with her second, and her third passed me by. Until I heard this …

Friday: A gothic romance from the seventies, set in Cornwall. The perfect book for a cold, damp, dark night like tonight. Unless I change my mind, and pick up another book, of course …