Sixes

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!

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Perfect by Rachel Joyce

In 1972 two seconds were added to time, to bring the clock back into line with the movement of the earth. Now two seconds might not seem like very much at all, but they could be very important. Byron was eleven years old, and he knew that.

“Two seconds are huge. It’s the difference between something happening and something not happening. It’s very dangerous.”

He was right, of course. Two seconds can make all the difference; for better or for worse.

Byron and his best friend James talked it over. James was sure that everything would be alright but, though Byron had great faith in his friend, he continued to worry. And what happened one morning, when his mother was driving Byron and sister his sister Lucy to school, proved him right. He saw the second hand of his watch go backwards and then it happened ….

17192373Diana, Byron’s mother didn’t even notice, and so once again Byron consulted James. They launched  ‘Operation Perfect’ to analyse what happened, to manage the repercussions, and to make things right, as they had been before. But they find that things that happen, things that they do, can have unforeseen and unmanageable consequences.

‘Operation Perfect’ changed everything. For ever.

I loved watching Byron and James. I cared about them, and I worried about them. I wanted to reach into the book and guide them, but of course I couldn’t.

But this is really Diana’s story; she was its emotional centre. She was plucked from life as a performer to become the trophy wife of a successful man. A man who seemed to give her everything but his time. She didn’t care for the society of competitive, middle-class mothers, the things that her husband thought important didn’t interest her at all, and at times she struggled to hold on. But she loved her children, she came into her own as a mother, and that was so lovely to see.

‘Operation Perfect’ could make her or it could break her, and my heart rose and fell as events unfolded.

The story was both profound and moving: one for the heart and the head.

And there’s another story. When I realised my heart sank, because the device is over-used, and because I didn’t think the book needed it. But I was wrong, and I was quickly engrossed in both strands of the story. It’s not often you get a twin narrative when either story could have sustained a book on its own …

The second strand was set in the present day, and Jim was trying to get back on his feet, but it wasn’t easy. He had mental health issues, he’d been in and out of institutions, but he had a job and he was living independently. Could he stay on his feet? I really hoped so, and it was lovely to see him find friendship and support can come from the most unlikely of places. He saw new possibilities. But could he take them?

Jim’s story is beautifully observed, and told with such understanding.

I knew that the two stories must be linked, but I didn’t think too much about how. I was too caught up with the characters and the story, and I had every confidence in the author.

This book is a step forward from ‘The Strange Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.’ It’s more sophisticated, more profound, and it speaks so very, very well of what it is that makes us human. The characters and their relationships are beautifully drawn, their stories are cleverly and elegantly constructed, but most of all this is a wonderfully readable book.

Their are so many wonderful details, but I’m not going to spoil them. Because this is a story that can touch your head, your heart and your soul.

And now I am really eager to find out what Rachel Joyce will do with her third book …

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 Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

It all began with a letter …

One day, not so long after he retired, Harold Fry received a letter from somebody he hadn’t heard from for years. Harold and Queenie had been work colleagues, and she had written to tell him that she was terminally ill, and that the end was near.

Harold, of course, wrote a reply, and then went out to take it to the post box. But when he got there he realised that what he had written was horribly inadequate. He didn’t know what to do, and so he walked on to the next post box. And he continued to walk, until a chance conversation made him realise what he should do.

And so Harold didn’t go home and he didn’t post his letter. He went on walking; all the way from his home in Devon to Queenie’s hospital bed in Berwick on Tweed.

And so this is the story of one man’s journey. And a strange mix of fable and realism, held together with lovely storytelling and a clear grasp of just what it is that makes us human.

Harold walked because he believed that his effort, his determination, his faith, would help Queenie. Because he needed a new purpose in life. And maybe because he wanted to escape.

There had been tensions between Harold and his wife, Maureen. And while Harold walked Maureen had to come to terms with what her husband was doing, and decide what she wanted to do.

As Harold walked he remembered many things, he observed the world around him,  he met so many different people. And the quiet, unremarkable man who they didn’t expect to ever see again became the confidante of many.

And much of the joy in the story is in those details. The hedgerow plants that Harold learns to identify. The doctor from Slovakia who can only find work as a cleaner. As Harold walks all of those details paint a picture of the world we live in.

In time Harold becomes a cause célèbre. Others, with very different motivations, want to walk with him. But they don’t really understand, and eventually Harold will leave them behind and the attention of the media will turn elsewhere. It’s uncomfortable and it’s frighteningly believable.

It’s also a distraction from the real stories that are emerging. The story of why Queenie was so important to Harold. The story of what went wrong between Harold and Maureen. The story of how Harold became the man he was. Those stories were completely captivating.

Characters that were at first simply drawn became deeper, fuller as their stories unfolded.

That mixture of fable and reality sometimes felt a little odd, the story sometimes felt a little uneven, but in the end it really didn’t matter.

I had to keep reading. I cared, and I needed to know what happened.

Because this is a story with a heart and a soul, a story that will make you laugh and cry, and a story that will remind you what really is important in life.

And the resolution is quite perfect …