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.

10% Report: Reading The 20th Century

I’m ten years into my century, and so I think it’s time to take stock.

The first ten years were always going to be the easiest, with the risk of picking up a book and finding it dated from a year already covered at it’s lowest.

But that isn’t to say there haven’t been clashes: I ordered Scenes of Childhood by Sylvia Townsend Warner and Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon from the library only to find that they were both published in 1981.

And there have been a few other occasions when I’ve found a book, gone to add it to my spreadsheet, and found that there was another book already in the space I had intended it to fill.

My first ten books are tilted towards the end of the century. I knew I’d have most difficulty with the later years, and so whenever I’ve seen an oldish book on the library shelves or around the house I’ve picked it up.

The eighties and nineties are shaping up well, but the decade I’m really struggling with is the seventies. Suggestions would be most welcome!

But I’m rambling, so here are the books:

1910 – The City of Beautiful Nonsense by E Temple Thurston

“The City of Beautiful Nonsense is a wonderful love story. It is terribly sentimental, and rather old fashioned but, if you can accept those things with an open heart, it can take you on a wonderful emotional journey.”

 1929 – The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey

“An audacious murder, in the middle of a queue of people, all pressing forward, eager to see the final performance of popular musical. The investigation fell to Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard. A detective without the gimmicks, or idiosyncracies of many of his contemporaries, but with a great deal of intelligence and charm, I soon suspected that his creator was a little in love with him … quite understandably …”

1936 – Monogram by Gladys Bronwyn Stern

“I found that what I had was not a coventional autobiography. That, given a free hand by her publishers, the author had decided to do something a little different. She explains, with both erudition and charm, that, while a conventional biography that plots a straight line through a line can be a wonderful thing, it is sometimes more interesting to do something else. To set down three stakes, to run a rope around then to make a triangle, and then to see what is to be found inside that triangle. And that’s just what she does.”

1960 – The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks

“I was engrossed by Jane’s story. She was real, and I understood her, I cared about what might happen to her, and so it was wonderful to watch her coping with everything that life through at her, with new and old relationships, with her advancing pregnancy.”

 1969 – The Play Room by Olivia Manning

“It looked very promising: a coming of age story set in an English seaside town in the swinging sixties. Laura was fifteen, and she dreamed of leaving home for the bright lights of London. She wanted to leave her dull, lower middle class family behind. Her strict mother, her unassuming father, her irksome younger brother.”

1981 – Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon

“‘Still Missing’ was a difficult book to read. It had to be. It was right that I felt terribly unsettled, and it was right that I was forced to consider my own feelings about what was happening. I could do that because the characters, their stories, their relationships, were all perfectly drawn. There were moments when things happened that didn’t feel right. But they were right; answers can’t always be neat and tidy, and politically correct.”

 1983 – The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

“I have read The Woman in Black before, but it was so long ago that I have forgotten the details, save that it was very good and extremely unsettling. And so a re-read, before seeing the film, seemed to be in order. It  is a ghost story built on classic lines: with an isolated house, a bleak landscape, wild weather, ghostly figures, inexplicable events.”

1984 – Mother Love by Domini Taylor

“But maybe Helena wasn’t as fragile as she seemed. Maybe she was disturbed. Maybe she would do anything to serve her own interests … A single, horrible revelation demonstrated that Helena was very dangerous and very clever. I saw that, but nobody else did.”

1994 – Pippa Passes by Rumer Godden

“Pippa Fane was seventeen years old, and the youngest and newest member of the Company of the Midlands Cities Ballet. And she was travelling abroad on tour for the first time. The first engagement of the tour was in Venice. Pippa was captivated. By the city, by the people, by the food … everything! “

1999 – Buried in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho

“Janie Bolitho captured my hometown, as it was back in 1999, absolutely perfectly. And she  created an engaging heroine, who I could quite happily believe is still living just a little further around the bay. Rose is a youngish widow who is gradually picking up the strands of a new life. She has good friends, she earns a living as a photographer, and she has taken up painting – always her first love but not the easiest way to earn a living – again.”

And now I must ponder the lovely book from 1963 that I am going to write about next, and carry on with the intriguing novel from 1946 that I have nearly finished , and …

The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks

In London, in the late 1950s, society did not look kindly upon unmarried women who fell pregnant.

Jane was nobody’s fool.

She had been an actress, with a touring company, and she was doing well. She didn’t have much money, but she managed, she was happy doing what she wanted to do with her life.  But Jane got on the wrong side of a difficult actor, and was ‘let go’.

She was too proud, too independent, to go home  and so she took a job in a cafe. And she made a success of it, working diligently and intelligently, standing her ground against a boss who would have been all too ready to take advantage of her,  and rising above the gossiping customers who wonder why the actress is working in a cafe.

Jane went home to her father, a reserved man who had raised her alone, at the appointed time and she found a good job in hotel management. She made a success of it.

But then she met an old friend from her theatre days. A friendship becomes something more, but the romance quickly fades and Jane isn’t sorry when he leaves to go on tour.

It was a little later that she realised she was pregnant. And her father threw her out.

Jane is still proud, still independent. She finds a place to live.

“There wasn’t much to be said for the place, really, but it had a roof over it and a door which locked from the inside, which was all I cared about just then. I didn’t even bother to take in the details; they were pretty sordid, but I didn’t notice them so they didn’t depress me–perhaps because I was already at rock-bottom.”

The l-shaped room. A dingey, grubby, awkward space in a run down boarding house.  Jane could have afforded something better – she had savings, she still had her job – but she chose not to.

She planned to keep herself to herself, to keep her baby, and eventually to bring up her child alone.

But she knows she won’t be able to hold on to her job for too long, and she doesn’t know how she will cope when she has to give it up.

Jane doesn’t intend to mix with the other residents of the boarding house, but they are curious about her and in time she is drawn out of the shell she constructed for herself.

She forms friendships. With John, the affable musician who lives in the room next to hers. With Mavis, the elderly spinster who lives in the room below hers.  And with Toby, a struggling writer, who could maybe become more than a friend.

But Jane has to deal with the consequences of her pregnancy. And she can’t hide forever.

I was engrossed by Jane’s story. She was real, and I understood her, I cared about what might happen to her, and so it was wonderful to watch her coping with everything that life through at her, with new and old relationships, with her advancing pregnancy.

This is a very human, character driven story. Lynne Reid Banks does characters so very well. Each and every one is a three-dimensional human being, with a life story, with a rounded character, with strengths and weaknesses …

That made the story so very, very real.

There were moments, particularly near the end of the book, when things fell into place a little too well. But I was caught up by them and so I accepted it.

At times Jane seemed to have a little too much good luck, but things never went entirely to plan. And I think she earned some good luck. By working. By coping. By standing on her own two feet.

This is, after all, just one woman’s story. Others, in the same situation at the same time, must have encountered far more difficulties.

The important thing was that Jane grew up. I met a proud and independent young woman, I followed her though many ups and downs, and I saw her mature and become wiser, and more understanding of the people and the world around her.

In the end she had to leave the l-shaped room that she had made into a real home.

I loved this book when I read it first, in my teens, and I love it still.

I’m curious to remind myself what happens to Jane next. I really don’t remember. But I recall not liking the two sequels as much as this book the first time I read them, so maybe it’s better to go on wondering …