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.

Chaplin & Company by Mave Fellowes

Chaplin & CompanyAt first I wasn’t at all sure how I should introduce Miss Odeline Milk, but as I thought I realised it was obvious that all I had to say was that you really should meet her.

Odeline was the daughter of a bookkeeper and a circus clown. Eunice Milk was a quiet, capable, solitary woman, with a weakness for slapstick comedy. It was an evening at the circus, an encounter with a clown while she had stars in her eyes, that gave her a daughter, and Odeline inherited the talents of both of her parents.

I was told all of this at the start by a wonderful narrator, a storyteller who knew just what to point put, just what to carefully explain, and just how to move the story forwards. My favourite kind of narrator.

When her mother died and she was left alone on the world, Odeline set off for London, to embark on a career as mime and an illusionist. And to find her father. Her home would be a houseboat, selected for economy and for the belief that her name was a wonderful omen – Chaplin & Company!

It was lovely to see Odeline set off with such confidence, such faith in the future, and to see every detail as she found and settled into her new home. She was young and gauche, focused on honing her skills to the exclusion of everything else, insensitive to the concerns of others, and awkward in social skills. But I did like her, and I thought that it might be interesting to watch her growing up. It was.

But this isn’t just Odeline’s story.

It’s the story of the community she joined on the Grand Union Canal:

  • John Kettle, the alcoholic canal warden at a turning point in his life
  • Ridley, the ponytailed, tattooed traveller, who had seen and learned much.
  • Vera, the refuge from Eastern Europe who kept an eye on Odeline but was anxious that nobody should keep an eye on her.

And it was the story of Chaplin & Company:

  • The boatbuilder whose creation she was
  • The troubled evacuee who had come to love her
  • The couple who used to live on her

Each story was engaging, and there were moments of such emotional honesty that brought a lump to my throat.

And threaded through all of this was Odeline, as she became part of the canalside community and as she learned some of life’s lessons.

The problem though was that the book wasn’t quite big enough to hold all of those stories, and some of them were a little bit squashed. Characters changed a little too quickly, some things weren’t considered as carefully as they might have been, and endings were rushed. There wasn’t a story that didn’t work, there wasn’t a story I’d want to lose, I just wanted them all to have a little more room to breath and grow naturally.

The storytelling was wonderful, I loved the style. And I loved the way that I was swept up into Odeline’s world.

I quickly became attached to all of the characters, and I was sorry to have to say goodbye when I reached the final place.

It was an ending rather than a resolution – and Odeline still has a long way to go – so there’s definitely room for a sequel.

I would love to read a sequel …