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.

Yew Hall by Lucy M Boston

I’ve always loved stories spun around houses. That’s why, when I was looking for Lucy M Boston’s memoirs in my library’s catalogue, I was distracted by the title ‘Yew Hall.’

And then I was intrigued, when I discovered that it was Lucy M Boston’s first published work, and that she had described it as,  “a poem to celebrate my love of the house”.

And the opening chapters live up to that wonderful description. An unnamed narrator speaks of her home with such intimacy and such love. She knows its history, the changes that have come and gone over the years, and she knows, indeed she is part of, the very fabric of her beloved home.

“I have called my house a barn, an ark, a ship, a boulder, a wood. All the while I am trying to find the important thing to say about it, but it distracts me with a jostle of different attributes, none of which can be left out. The sea, for instance, is a mass of cold and heavy water. I believe that if my house were magnified as big as the sea it would show as much sparkle, as much rhythm and vitality, as much passion as the sea. It is a natural thing, made out of the true earth. The walls are three foot thick, not of solid stone, but of quarried stone brought here by barge and laid piece over piece with the grain always lying as it lay in the cliff face, but here with seams of air between the stone. Only the jambs, arches, sills and angles are in cut stone. The rough is plastered inside and out with loose old sandy plaster, warm and friendly, if rather ‘crimbling’ as the old men say locally. The effect is rather like an airy cave, in which the Trafalgar chairs with their carved ropes look at home like sailors, and the dangling lustres of the candelabra, like ripples, throw shaky lights over the ceiling. The walls are not heavy, having so much air in them. They rest easily on the earth and grow to the impressive height of the roof-tree without force, not locked and rigid like bricks and mortar, nor steelbound and plugged with sterile composition. They breathe around me. Sitting alone here for the longest series of wordless winter nights I feel neither shut in nor shut off, but rather like the heart inside living ribs.”

I understood, that house came to life for me.

But I learned little of the woman herself. Not her name. Not whether she was a spinster or a widow. Just that she loved culture, her house, her garden, and that was all she needed in her life.

She wasn’t alone in her home; she had tenants in a small apartment that she let out. New tenants. They were a young couple who had lived abroad, and needed a place to settle while they looked for a more permanent home.

Lucy loved fashion, parties, company, and she wasn’t one of life’s home-makers. She was spoiled, she was indolent, but she was good natured. She thought Yew Hall would be a wonderful place for parties, if only her landlady would agree.

Mark indulged his wife, but he was more practical. He was fascinated by Yew Hall and its history and spent many evenings in conversation with our narrator, while his wife flicked through the latest glossy magazines.

Yew HallHis only concern was how his wife would cope when he was called up for military service. He knew it was inevitable; she refused to acknowledge that it was possible.

I’d thought that there might be difficulties between the two women of Yew Hall, but there were none. Each accepted the other’s eccentricities, secure in the knowledge that they knew what was really important in life.

And there was the contrast: tradition and continuity on one had, and modernity and change on the other.

There was a crisis to come though, I was sure of it. There was something in the tone of the story that told me.

Mark’s brother, Roger, came to stay. The two brothers were very different but they got on well. But there was tension between Lucy and Roger.

The custodian of the house looked on. She liked Roger, he shared her love of art and the theatre, but she could see that something was amiss. That there was family history that of course she knew nothing about. And it was none of her business.

If only she had realised how bad things were. There was a sign, but she didn’t see it, and she could do nothing as events played out in a tragic finale.

I was held first by the wonderful evocation of the house and then, as the story shifted by a very subtle undercurrent that told me something was going to happen. Wonderful, wonderful writing, and there was a lovely touch near the end that would have told me, even had I not known, that this was a debut that would be the precursor to greater things.

The characters and the relationships were simply drawn, but I could believe in them. The plot was slight, but it was enough.

What didn’t quite come through was what I thought the author wanted to convey, that the house and the land would go on while lives came and went. I took the point, but it could have been made better.

The writing though was quite lovely, and that’s what I’m going to remember. And the house, of course.

Ten Library Books and Ten Very Good Reasons for Placing a Reservation.

A few weeks ago I ditched the idea of restricting library reservations and changed my project into one to celebrate the magic of library reservations.

The Library Reservations Project1

There are so many things that can spark a search, and it’s wonderful what you can find, in reserve stock or in other libraries, just by running a simple search.

So here’s a list of ten books – a couple that have come home, a couple that are waiting at the library, a few that I have on order and a few more that I plan to order very soon.

What Not by Rose Macaulay

‘The Love-Charm of Bombs’ made me want to read more of Rose Macaulay’s books. Most of all I wanted to read ‘What Not’ –  a book she wrote during the Great War, inspired by her work at the Ministry of Information and her new love affair with Gerald O’Donovan. That relationship would continue until his death, in 1942. The book is out of print and I’ve never come across a copy, but I found one in the library’s fiction reserve.

Nancy: The Story of Lady Astor by Adrian Fort

When this appeared as a group read for the GoodReads Bright Young Things I realised that I new very little about Nancy Astor. Save that she was American, that she was the first woman MP to take her seat, and that her constituency was in Plymouth. I’m curious but I can’t justify buying a book only available in hardback that I’ll probably read only once. The library has a few copies scattered around the county, so I placed an order.

Yew Hall by Lucy M Boston

A mention of Lucy M Boston’s memoirs in the comments that followed Hayley’s lovely post  about Rumer Godden’s ‘A Fugue in Time’ sent me scurrying to the library catalogue. The book was there. And I spotted Lucy M Boston’s first novel, a story of a house with a long history, written for ‘new adults’ and thought it might sit well on the 1954 slot in my Century of Books.

Jambusters: The Story of the Women’s Institute in the Second World War by Julie Summers

One book caught my eye in the window of The End of the World Bookshop with Briar one evening last week. It wasn’t in the library catalogue when I looked for it later that evening, but I put it on to my ‘please add it to stock’ list and a few days later it appeared.

At this point I must say that I do visit bookshops in opening hours and I do buy new books, but I lack both the budget for hardbacks and the patience to wait for more affordable paperback editions.

The Carrier by Sophie Hannah

This is a simple case of knowing a ‘must read’ author had a new book coming out, watching for it to come into stock and then getting my order in. I’ll probably add a copy to my collection when out in paperback but I couldn’t wait that long and I could see copies going on to library shelves up and down the county ….

Carnival by Compton Mackenzie

I’d never thought to find out what Compton Mackenzie had written beyond
Whisky Galore, Monarch of the Glen, and diaries. But Hayley’s post about The Adventures of Sylvia Scarlett intrigued me. Now I’ve looked I’ve found a far more interesting author than I’d ever  realised, and I’ve ordered Carnival, from 1912, a story of theatrical folk with a Cornish connection to fill a gap in my Century of Books.

Underground, Overground: A Passenger’s History of the Tube by Andrew Martin

Last year’s new edition of ‘Poems from the Undergound’ made me nostalgic for my commuting days and so when I spotted Karen buying this book I added it to my wishlist. And when she mentioned a reference to Dorothy Whipple I placed my order.

The Lovely Ship by Storm Jameson

When I saw mention of a trilogy by Storm Jameson in ‘We Write as Women,’ I thought it would be ‘The Mirror in Darkness’ trilogy that I read years ago. But it wasn’t, it was another trilogy telling the story, beginning in the 1840s, of a woman who was heir to a great shipbuilding company. I was intrigued, the first book came from a year still to be filled in my century of books, and so I placed an order.

Bloomsbury Ballerina: Lydia Lopokova, Imperial Dancer and Mrs John Maynard Keynes by Judith Mackrell

I spotted ‘Flappers’ when Cate pinned the oh so striking cover, and I immediately went to add it to my wishlist. It was then that I spotted and other intriguing title by Judith Mackrell. I’d already bought two books that day and I couldn’t justify another so I checked the library catalogue. There are two copies further up the county.

Summer Visits by Margery Sharp

If only somebody would reissue Margery Sharp’s novels I would rush out and buy them all. But as nobody has – yet – I pick up used copies where I can and I order others that the library has and I haven’t found when the mood strikes. ‘Summer Visits’ sounded so appealing on a cool, grey day …

And that’s ten!