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 Blue Castle by L M Montgomery

I have loved Anne of Green Gables since I was a very small child, and I read it and all of its sequels over and over again. But it never occurred to me to find out whether L M Montgomery had written anything else. It was only a few years ago, thanks to a chance find in a bookshop bargain bin and meeting any number of bookish folk on the internet that I learned that she had. And that The Blue Castle may be the most beloved of all her books.

I went looking for a copy, and it took a while, because it wasn’t in print in the UK at the time, but I found a lovely old copy that wasn’t too expensive. I enjoyed owning it and admiring it, I enjoyed the prospect of reading a lovely book. Reading isn’t the only pleasure in book ownership!

Earlier this year I spotted a reissue, and I decided it was time to take my book off the shelf and read.

I loved it!

the Blue Castle tells the story of Valancy Stirling. She is twenty years old and she is trapped in the role of spinster daughter, living with her widowed mother and her Cousin Stickles. They treat her like a child, restrict her like a child, and make her feel that she is a burden and a disappointment to them. They don’t listen. None of her extended family, who live around and about a Canadian country town. They tease her, they laugh at her, but they don’t listen. Nobody listens.

Valancy escapes into her head, where she has created a rich fantasy world that she shares with her dashing prince in her beautiful Blue Castle.

“Valancy had lived spiritually in the Blue castle ever since she could remember. She had been a very tiny child when she found herself possessed of it. Always, when she shut her eyes, she could see it plainly, with its turrets and banners on the pine clad mountain height, wrapped in its faint blue loveliness, against the sunset skies of a fair and unknown land. Everything wonderful and beautiful was in that castle. Jewels that queen might have worn; robes of moonlight and fire; couches of roses and gold; long flights of shallow marble steps, with great white urns, and with slender, mist-clad maidens, going up and down them; courts, marble-pillared, where shimmering fountains fell and nightingales sung among the myrtles; halls of mirrors that reflected only handsome knights and lovely women – herself the loveliest of all, for whose glance med died…”

And she escapes into her books, especially into the works of naturalist John Foster. Nothing was more magical to Valancy than nature.

When her birthday dawns Valancy awakes to the realisation that imagination and books are not enough, and that she has to do something, anything, to change her life.

She begins with one small trip: a solo trip to the doctor, to talk privately about a strange feeling in her heart that has been worrying her for quite some time. The news is shocking: the doctor tells her that she has just one year to live.

dbe49f260aae70b9783436e6f582ca3fValancy decides that in that year she will live. Really live! She spoke her mind, she stood up to her family. She tore up the rule book and followed her instinct instead. And then she decided to move out, to nurse a sick school-friend, the daughter of the town drunk who was ostracised by the town when she bore an illegitimate child. Valancy was happy keeping house, having someone to care for, being needed and appreciated.

When Valancy’s friend died her family thought that she would come home, that she would settle down again. But she did something worse. She took up with someone else who had been ostracised by town society, a friend of her friends. And she married him. They lived together in his country home, and Valancy was blissfully happy. At the very end of her life she had found her Blue Castle, and her handsome prince.

It felt like a happy ending, but of course it wasn’t that simple …

I fell in love with Valancy on the very first page, and I lived and breathed with her to the very last page. My heart rose and fell so many times, I wanted to cheer for her, I wanted to weep for her, and most of all I wanted to hug her. I loved her spirit and I loved the spirit of her story.

L M Montgomery catches everything: the sadness of Valancy’s constrained life; the selfish, snobbish, thoughtlessness of her family; the pleasures in life and friendship that she discovers; the vitality of her rebellion; the joy to be found in simple pleasures; the romance of what might be her happy ending …

And there were so, so many rich, vivid descriptions to get lost in.

“Sometimes they took a lunch with them and went berrying–strawberries and blueberries. How pretty blueberries were–the dainty green of the unripe berries, the glossy pinks and scarlets of the half ripes, the misty blue of the fully matured! And Valancy learned the real flavour of the strawberry in its highest perfection. There was a certain sunlit dell on the banks of Mistawis along which white birches grew on one side and on the other still, changeless ranks of young spruces. There were long grasses at the roots of the birches, combed down by the winds and wet with morning dew late into the afternoons. Here they found berries that might have graced the banquets of Lucullus, great ambrosial sweetnesses hanging like rubies to long, rosy stalks. They lifted them by the stalk and ate them from it, uncrushed and virgin, tasting each berry by itself with all its wild fragrance ensphered therein. When Valancy carried any of these berries home that elusive essence escaped and they became nothing more than the common berries of the market-place–very kitchenly good indeed, but not as they would have been, eaten in their birch dell until her fingers were stained as pink as Aurora’s eyelids. Sometimes they went trouting on little nameless rivers or hidden brooks on whose banks Naiads might have sunned their white, wet limbs. Then all they took with them were some raw potatoes and salt. They roasted the potatoes over a fire and Barney showed Valancy how to cook the trout by wrapping them in leaves, coating them with mud and baking them in a bed of hot coals. Never were such delicious meals.”

But I do have to say though that the plot is a little stretched, that it does go on rather – even as I was reading happily I found myself thinking from time to time that I had got it, that she didn’t need to labour the point, that it was time to move things along. And that she laid on the romance and sentimentality far too thickly in the later chapters.

But now I’ve gone on. It’s that sort of book!

I did love The Blue Castle, I just need to remember that it is a book that needs the right moment. A sentimental, leisurely, comfort-reading kind of moment …

Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery


Writers of children’s literature often create characters who are orphaned. It allows them to enjoy adventures that parents would never permit, it frees them from the need to return home and takes part in the day-to-day routines, and of course it immediately elicits sympathy.

But L M Montgomery does something rather different, and very special, with Anne (with an e) Shirley.

First she sets the stage. Matthew Cuthbert drives to the station to collect an orpan boy to work on the farm he shares with his sister Marilla and in just a few paragraphs you sense the beauty of their environment and the bonds of their community.


But at the station there is no boy, just a skinny girl with red hair, overjoyed at the prospect of a new home. Matthew takes her home and the shy bachelor is soon charmed by Anne’s constant chatter, her vivid imagination, her enthusiasm, her joy in the world around her.

It is quite impossible not to be charmed.

Any ideas of sending Anne back are quickly dismissed and she settles happily into her new world, finding a “bosom friend” in Diana Barry, and a rival in schoolmate Gilbert Blythe.

The story is packed with incident: Anne’s outburst at Rachel Lynde; finding a mouse in the sugar bowl; breaking a slate over her arch-enemy’s head, inadvertently getting Diana drunk on current wine; saving a baby’s life; mistaking liniment oil for vanilla essence when baking a cake for the new minister’s wife; falling off a roof, dying her hair green.


Anne experiences joy and despair and, steadily over the course of the book, she grows into bright and hard-working young woman, winning academic honours and a prestigious scholarship, and developing a wonderful understanding of what is really important in life.

Anne, Matthew and Marilla form a family in the truest sense of the word and the evolution of their relationships is simple and perfect.

Indeed the whole book is a joy. The writing is lovely, the setting is beautifully evoked, the story never falters, there are wonderful details everywhere, and the values espoused are simple and fine.

And what could be better than the story of an orphan who finds her place in the world?

Teaser Tuesdays / It’s Tuesday, where are you?


Good afternoon, I am Mrs Rachel Lynde. I am at home, in Avonlea on Prince Edward Island. It’s a lovely day and so I am sitting on my porch enjoying the sunshine. I’ve just seen Matthew Cuthbert going past in his buggy wearing his best clothes. Where could he be going? He should be out sowing! He doesn’t generally go to town at this time of year and he never pays calls. Maybe I should step over to Green Gables after tea and find out from Marilla what’s going on …

It’s Tuesday, where are you? is hosted by raidergirl3.


Just quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences the book you’re reading to tempt other readers.

Here is mine:-

“Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.”

Isn’t that a great opening?!

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB

This all comes courtesy of Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery

Childhood Favourites Challenge


I was thrilled to find this challenge this morning. It’s a wonderful idea and it brightened up a dull work day.

It’s being hosted by Lynda and it has a dedicated blog here.

The challenge runs from 21st December 2008 – 21st June 2009

Here’s how it works:

  • Read a minimum of 5 books which you loved as a child. Anything from Dr.Seuss and Beatrix Potter to Water Scott – you choose your favourites. They must be books you read as a child, not new children’s books.
  • Start this challenge on or after 21st December 2008. Finish by 21st June 2009.You therefore have 6 months to complete the challenge.
  • Send an email if you would like an invitation to post on the challenge blog.
  • Post your choices on your blog and/or the group blog.You can choose in advance or pick as you go along.
  • Cross overs with other challenges, audio books, eBooks all acceptable.

I have chosen 6 books:

  • The Owl Service, by Alan Garner
  • Anne of Green Gables, by L M Montgomery
  • A Dolls House, by Rumer Godden
  • Little Women, by Louisa M Alcott
  • Alice In Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
  • The Borrowers, by Mary Norton

There are some books I’d be worried about going back to in case they didn’t have that same magic now I have joined the ranks of the grown-ups, but I have great confidence in the ones I have selected.