It was Jo’s idea a couple of years ago, and now it’s become an annual event – 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 I’ve read and the books I’ve discovered.

Here are my six sixes:


Six books illuminated by wonderful voices from the twentieth century

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield
The English Air by D E Stevenson
The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goodge
Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter


Six books from the present that took me to the past

The Visitors by Rebecca Maskell
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey
Turning the Stones by Debra Daley
The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric
Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray


Six books from the past that pulled me back there

Wired Love by Ella Cheever Thayer
Esther Waters by George Moore
Griffith Gaunt by Charles Reade
Nine Pounds of Luggage by Maud Parrish
The Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas
Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope


Six books that introduced me to interesting new authors

Wake by Anna Hope
Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin
The Lie of You: I Will Have What is Mine by Jane Lythell
Mr Perrin and Mr Traill by Hugh Walpole
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
None-Go-By by Mrs Alfred Sidgwick


Six successful second meeting with authors

The Auction Sale by C H B Kitchin
The Twelfth Hour by Ada Leverson
A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon
Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
Mrs Westerby Changes Course by Elizabeth Cadell
Her by Harriet Lane


Six used books added to my shelves

The Heroes of Clone by Margaret Kennedy
The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken
Portrait of a Village by Francis Brett Young
The West End Front by Matthew Sweet
The Stag at Bay by Rachel Ferguson
Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Boorman


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: 100 Years of Books

100 Years of Books

I’m ten years into 100 Years of Books project and so I think it’s time to take stock.

I’d hoped to be at this point a little sooner, but I’ve had a busy couple of months and I’ve been a little distracted by The Count of Monte Cristo – I’m 33 hours in and I have 19 hours to go!

But I’m not going to worry about it – I’m going to read what I want to read, keeping an eye on the years in need of books, and it will be done when it’s done.

Here are the first ten.

(It wasn’t planned but I’m pleased I’ve read five books from the 19th century and five books from the 20th century)

1854 – Ruth Hall by Fanny Fern

“It begins beautifully, with Ruth, our heroine, looking out at the night sky on the eve of her wedding. Her mother had died when she was very young and her father, a man who was both wealthy and parsimonious, had sent her away to boarding school. He would be glad to have his daughter off his hands. And she was happy, because she was in love and the future seemed full of promise.”

1863 – The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley

“Tom had to learn to live with the other water creatures. He had to learn not to tease, he had to learn to make friends, and he had to learn what to do when there was conflicts between his friends. I think that this was my favourite part of the story; everything was so nicely described, but not over described, and the characters of the creatures – some real and some fantastic – were drawn subtly and well.”

1879 – Wired Love by Ella Cheever Thayer

“She was trying to take down a message that was being sent far too quickly for her to transcribe, she was being interrupted by  a customer asking foolish questions, and then she upsets a bottle of ink all over herself. Of course she had to ask “C” – who was sending that message from another telegraph office – to stop and repeat quite a  few times. “C” lost patience with her , but when “N” stood up for herself and explained exactly what she was having to deal with  “C”  understood. The pair went on chatting over the wire – in Morse code – whenever things were quiet in their respective offices.”

1886 – A World of Girls by L T Meade

“My sympathies shifted as the story unfolded. It took in  practical jokes, midnight feasts, competition for honours, an adventure with gypsies, and though I had an idea how things would work out I was never sure quite how the story would get there, and I always wanted to keep reading.”

1894 – Esther Waters by George Moore

“Esther’s story began as she left her home and family to take up a new position, as a kitchen maid in a big house on a country estate. She was apprehensive, but her pride made her hold her head up, and her spirit made her stand up for herself when the cook suggested she get straight to work without changing her dress, which might have been shabby but it was the best that she had.”

1907 – The Twelfth Hour by Ada Leverson

“Ada Leverson wrote with such wit and such humour; she laughed at her characters, their foibles, their situations, and it was lovely because it was the laughter of a friend. I never doubted that she knew them well, that she understood them completely, and that she cared about what happened to them.”

1924 – Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin

“Lucian recognised Juliana’s description of Jane; he knew that she was the intriguing woman she had seen, maybe in a dream, maybe in an altered state, maybe though some supernatural power. He realises that Juliana might be offering his only chance of seeing her again. And he is desperate to seize that chance …..”

1926 – Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

“As her nieces and nephews grew up Laura began to feel the gap in her life, and the country and its traditions began to call her back. All she could do though was fill the house with flowers. Until one magical day when the stars aligned, and Laura realised that she could have the life she wanted, a life of her own.”

1930 – The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield

“I loved the way the diary seemed to capture her thoughts almost as she thought them, almost as she might have reported events on her own head. And I loved that it was witty and funny in the friendliest of ways. I never doubted that the Provincial Lady understood, that she cared, and that she poked fun at herself just as much as she did at others. “

1949 – The Auction Sale by C. H. B. Kitchin

“Miss Alice Elton was attending the sale, because she had many happy memories of Ashleigh Place, just ou
Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflatem. She had been secretary to Mr Durrant, and she had become companion and dear friend to his wife. That part of her life was over, but she remembered it with such love. For the people for she knew, and for the timeless beauty of the house itself. She just wanted to see it again, to remember, and to bid on one of two lots that held particular memories.”

Next up – 1932!

Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin

I had always thought of Margaret Irwin as a writer of historical fiction, but when I spotted this book I realised that it was a little different, and I was to discover that she had spun a very different, slightly magical, slightly ghostly, story around a story set back in history.


‘Still She Wished for Company was published in 1924, and it moves between that era and the 1770s, and between two lovely heroines.

Jan Challard was a modern – but not too modern – young woman who lived and worked in 1920s. She liked her life, but she was beginning to find her office job, and the eligible young man who was courting her, just a little bit dull.

A century and a half earlier, Juliana Clare, the youngest daughter of an aristocratic Berkshire family, was finding life a little dull too. She tried to fill the long hours, busying herself in the house and the garden, writing in her journal, but she longed for something to happen, and she knew that something wasn’t marriage to one of the eligible young men that her mother thought were so suitable.

Two charming young ladies, quite alike, and certainly both rather inclined to daydream

Life does change for Juliana when her father dies and her eldest brother, Lucian, returned from a long sojourn abroad, to take his father’s title, his father’s estate, and her father’s position as head of the family.

Lucian was wicked, he was dissipated, and his father thrown him our and to barred him from the house and from contact with his family, and denounce him from his deathbed. In exile Lucian had reached out for everything life had to offer, and it had left him jaded and bored. His family didn’t want him back but Julia, who barely remembered him was curious to meet and talk to her mysterious brother.

She confided in him that she had seen ghosts, among them a strangely dressed young woman, maybe a girl dressed up as a boy.

That was Jan, who had visited the grand old country house when she was on holiday. Jan had seen Juliana too, and thought that she must be a ghost. Though she looked too content, too alive, to be a ghost.

Lucian recognised Juliana’s description of Jane; he knew that she was the intriguing woman she had seen, maybe in a dream, maybe in an altered state, maybe though some supernatural power. He realises that Juliana might be offering his only chance of seeing her again. And he is desperate to seize that chance …..

That’s as much as I should say about the story – except that what remains is fascinating, unexpected, and exactly right.

This is a very small book, and it simply tells the story of its twin heroines, without elaborating, without backstories, and without the stories of others.

Nearly all of the story belongs to Juliana, and it was so very effective. Margaret Irwin so clearly knew and loved the 18th century, and she pulled out just the right details, had just the right lightness of touch, to bring Julian and her world to life, and to make them intriguing.

Jan was very much a supporting player and, though she did nothing that was really wrong, I sensed that Margaret Irwin was less confident writing about her own age, and that the earlier era was her natural home. The 1770s are not my favourite period, but she made me feel at home there and made me understand what it was that she loved.

She handles her unusual story – the drama, the mystery, and the romance – beautifully, raising the intensity and then bringing her story to a quiet, and beautifully judged, conclusion.

It has a certain simplicity – and I’ve noticed that it has been published as a Peacock book, for young adults – but it has more than enough about it to appeal to a rather more grown-up reader. The kind of reader who likes history, romance, and a dash of something mystical.

The 17th century story on its own would have been lovely, but the magical, ghostly, wrapping turned this book into something very special.

And now, I think, I’m going to have to find a copy of my own, to replace the book I have to give back to the library …..