Sixes

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!

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 Little Shadows by Marina Endicott

What a wonderful story!

It began Canada, to a cold, snowy day in 1912.

Flora Avery took her three daughters – Aurora, Clover and Bella – to an audition. She had been a vaudeville star, before her marriage to a school-teacher, and now she wanted the same for her girls.

I wondered if she was a pushy, show business mother, but she wasn’t. She was a widow, struggling to cope, and doing the best she could for her girls.

Vaudeville was hugely popular in those days, when cinema was in its infancy and television was a long way in the future. But it was very, very competitive.

The girls – The Belle Aurores – sing and dance well, but so do many others. Fortunately though they have Flora’s contacts – and her tenacity – and a little luck to set them on the road.

The three girls will go through many ups and downs as they travel the Vaudeville circuit. And there will be tears and laughter, joy and pain as they all come of age.

Three sisters quite beautifully drawn. I saw so much that they had in common, I saw the ties that bound them together, but I also saw that the three were quite different.

Aurora is the oldest and she is bright, practical, and prepared to apply herself to do what she knows is best for her family.

Clover is a little younger, and she is quieter and more thoughtful than her sisters, but every bit as willing as Aurora to do whatever needs to be done once she has seen things through.

And Bella, the youngest, is vivacious and warm-hearted, but maybe just a little bit headstrong.

They were utterly real, their relationships and their interactions were exactly right, and I loved them all.

Life would sometimes take them in different directions, but the bond between them was unbreakable.

Watching them as the years passed was a little like watching a theatre show: indeed the book is divided into acts, and then those acts are divided into short scenes, sketches, vignettes.

And I saw every detail. Their lives on and off stage, all of the people around them, the theatres, the boarding houses. The picture of their world was so complete that I really did feel that I had stepped into another age.

That isn’t to say that I didn’t have to do a little work: there were times when things were left unsaid, events were left unreported; times when I could only see things from a distance.

I didn’t mind that. It helped to draw me in to the story, whereas if everything had been explained I probably would have just stood back and enjoyed the spectacle.

The story moved slowly at first, but as the three sisters grew from girls into independent young women, as they found new interests, as they formed new relationships, as they had to make difficult choices, it gathered momentum and it was quite irresistible.

Because this isn’t just a wonderfully vivid picture of the world of vaudeville; it’s also a moving account of the lives of four women, moving forward with their lives, supporting and understanding each other, and holding on to the ties that made them into a family.

It’s a book to read slowly, so that you can take in every character, every song, every sight, every little incident. There really is so much to appreciate, and it is all drawn so beautifully.

And now it is over, but I’d like to think that the Belle Aurores are still out there somewhere, still performing …