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.

A Commonplace Killing by Siân Busby

Siân Busby died last year, and she left an extraordinary book behind her. A book that brings a time, a place, a community to life; a book that pulls the reader back there to see and understand what is happening, and why it is happening.

17164631The war ended in 1945, and Britain celebrated. But after the Victory speeches, after the street parties, after the reunions life had to go on. There were painful consequences as life went on.

Many men came home to find wives who had thought that they would never return. Wives had been unfaithful, wives who had changed as they had to work, as they had to cope with the consequences of war on the home front. Many women lost their jobs, lost their independence, when they had to give way to men who had come home. They still had to cope with rationing and shortage. They still had to live among bomb sites, in temporary accommodation, in houses with bomb damage.

Britain had changed, and in 1946 there were consequences.

In north London, two school-boys found a woman’s body on a bomb site. At first police thought that they were dealing with another sex crime, but they came to realise that they were dealing with something rather different.

Lily felt that she was doing everything, holding her family together. She kept house, she looked after her frail mother, she queued and queued for what little food there was. Her husband bored her; her lodger, who hadn’t given her any rent since she lost her job, infuriated her, but she didn’t have the heart to turn her out. She took a pride in her appearance, in her few nice things, her occasional nights out.

An ordinary, unremarkable woman. Whose life ended when she was strangled on a bomb site.

I couldn’t say that I liked her, but I accepted that she was what she was, that she was what life had made her. A real fallible woman, made of flesh and blood, with hopes, dreams, desires …

I did like the man who lead the enquiry into the circumstances of her death. DDI Jim Cooper was a veteran of World War I, and one of oh so many who thought he had fought in the war to end all wars. he hadn’t, and he had observed and understood the consequences of the next war as he did his job on the home front.  His instinct told him that he would find the explanation for Lily’s death close to  her home.

The pictures that Sian Busby paints of Lily’s world and of the investigation of her death are clear, vivid, rich in detail, and utterly, utterly real. The people, the places, the times, lived and breathed, and I had such confidence in the author. It was so clear that she had studied, that she had cared, and most of all that she had understood.

The story that emerged was psychologically perfect; the consequence of characters and their circumstances. And though it was natural, the final revelations still hit me hard.

It isn’t a comfortable story, but it is compelling, illuminating, and horribly believable.

A rare instance too of murder mystery, social history and literary fiction working together, quite beautifully.

Library Loot

I have had an excellent week at the library. Two long awaited reservations arrived ,and I spotted two more gems on the shelves. All are historical, so please come with me on a journey through time:

We start in the 14th century:

The Owl Killers

The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland

“England, 1321. Deep in the heart of countryside lies an isolated village governed by a sinister regime of Owl Masters – theirs is a pagan world of terror and blackmail, where neighbour denounces neighbour and sin is punishable by murder. This dark status quo is disturbed by the arrival of a house of religious women, who establish a community outside the village. Why do their crops succeed when village crops fail; their cattle survive despite the plague? But petty jealousy turns deadly when the women give refuge to a young martyr. For she dies a gruesome death after spitting the sacramental host into flames that can’t burn it – what magic is this? Or is the martyr now a saint and the host a holy relic? Accusations of witchcraft and heresy run rife while the Owl Masters rain down hellfire and torment on the women, who must look to their faith to save them from the lengthening shadow of Evil … a shadow with predatory, terrifying talons.”

Karen Maitland’s debut was one of my favourite books of last year and I have been looking forward to this one. Doesn’t it sound wonderful? And isn’t the cover lovely?

And then we travel forwards, to the middle of the 19th century:


McNaughten by Sian Busby

“The winter of 1843 is one of bitter strife for England. The nation is on the brink of ruin and revolution, the government struggling to stand firm against the rising chaos.
Out of this apocalyptic landscape emerges a young Scotsman, Daniel McNaughten. He has been on a journey, a descent into his own despair, mirroring the tribulations of society at large. His journey will end in London, with the death of an apparently innocent man. One freezing day in January, he takes a shot at the Prime Minister’s Private Secretary, Edward Drummond, as he makes his way to Downing Street. The incident rocks the nation. Has the assassin perhaps mistaken Mr. Drummond for the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel? And who is this McNaughten? A dangerous political radical – possibly the agent of an entire network of revolutionaries – or a religious fanatic? Is he a lunatic, or merely a victim of the collective madness that surrounds him?”

I love the period and this is based on a true story I know nothing about.

On now to the early years of the 20th century:

The Crimson Rooms

The Crimson Rooms by Katharine McMahon

“Evelyn is a young woman who has defied convention to become one of the country’s pioneer female lawyers. Living at home with her mother, aunt, and grandmother, Evelyn is still haunted by the death of her younger brother James in the First World War. Therefore when the doorbell rings late one night and a woman appears, claiming to have mothered James’s child, her world is turned upside down. Evelyn distrusts Meredith at first, but also finds that this new arrival challenges her work-obsessed lifestyle. So far her legal career has not set the world alight. But then two cases arise that make Evelyn realise perhaps she can make a difference. The first concerns woman called Leah Marchant whose children have been taken away from her simply because she is poor. The second, Stephen Wheeler – a former acquaintance of Daniel Breen, her boss – has been charged with murdering his own wife. It is clear to Breen and Evelyn that Wheeler is innocent but he won’t talk. After being humiliated in court, Evelyn is approached by a dashing lawyer called Nicholas Thorne. She is needled by his privileged background and old-fashioned attitudes, but despite being engaged, he cannot seem to resist sparring with this feisty young female. In the meantime, Meredith makes an earth-shattering accusation about James. With the Wheeler case coming to a head, and her heart in limbo, Evelyn takes matters into her own hands.”

Another period I love. I like the sound of the story and I’m hoping to learn a little about how women established themselves in the legal profession.

And finally, a few decades forward, to the years just after the war.

A Little Stranger

A Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

“In a dusty post-war summer in rural Warwickshire, a doctor is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once grand and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become entwined with his.”

This must be one of the most anticipated books of the year. I was tempted to rush out and buy a copy, but I restrained myself and placed an order at the library instead. It arrived a couple of days ago, reading is well underway and I’ll be writing something at the weekend.

And then, with just a hop, a skip and a jump, we are back in the present day.

Do you like to travel in time? Do you have a favourie period?


Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?

And what did you find in the library this week?

See more Library Loot here.