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.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell by Susanna Clarke

Nearly ten years after I bought the book I have read every single word, every single footnote, and I am very nearly lost for words. I loved it that much.

jonathan_strangeThe story opens in a world is so very alive, a very real England, an England that I visited many times in 18th and 19th century novels, an England rich in detail, but an England that has been rebuilt with have the history and presence of magic quite beautifully woven in.

A wonderful array of characters, each and everyone with a significant part to play, simply and beautifully drawn, were given names that described them beautifully without ever seeming contrived, and they brought that world, and that story to life.

It began in an England where magic had died after the disappearance of its greatest magician, The Raven King, who had come out of the Land of Faerie to reign in the north. Magic was a dry academic subject, not a practical art.

One man asked why that was, and  events that the Raven King had prophesised began to unfold:

Two magicians shall appear in England.
The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me;
The first shall be governed by thieves and murderers; the second shall conspire at his own destruction;
The first shall bury his heart in a dark wood beneath the snow, yet still feel its ache;
The second shall see his dearest possession in his enemy’s hand.
The first shall pass his life alone; he shall be his own gaoler;
The second shall tread lonely roads, the storm above his head, seeking a dark tower upon a high hillside.
I sit upon a black throne in the shadows but they shall not see me.
The rain shall make a door for me and I shall pass through it;
The stones shall make a throne for me and I shall sit upon it.
The nameless slave shall wear a silver crown,
The nameless slave shall be a king in a strange country.

I don’t want to write about details of plot and character, because I couldn’t possibly do them justice, and if I tried I wouldprobably be up all night, going around and around  in circles.

What I will write about are some of the things I loved:

I loved that the prophecy played out in the story, and that even though I had ideas about what was going to happen I never really knew, and that what did happen was exactly right.

I loved the characters and the relationship of Mr Norrell and Mr Strange, and that even thought their differing natures and view about the history and restoration of magic in England drove them apart, their love of magic pulled them together.

I loved that so much of magic, so much of the heart of the story, was steeped in nature and history, and utterly timeless.

I loved the set pieces, and the drawing in of real figures from history was inspired.

I loved the tone, the wit, the style, the echoes of great novelists; and I was dazzled by the depth of knowledge, by the love of the creator for her creation that shone from the pages, and by the work that she had so clearly done to allow this world so rich in detail, so real and so magical, to live and breathe.

I loved the end of the story echoed the beginning, and that the seeds of that ending were sown very quietly, and very early in the story. And I loved that though the ending was an ending, it might also be the start of something else.

Most of all, I loved that even though the book wasn’t quite perfect, that there were one or two sequences that dragged, it didn’t matter, that I still loved the book as a whole. Because the idea was so wonderful, because its execution was so clever, and because everything came together and worked quite perfectly.

I didn’t want to leave that world, I wanted to know what was happening around the stories when interesting characters were offstage, I wanted to know what had happened before, what would happen afterward, and I so wanted to be part of it all.

How I wish I could visit the library at Hurfew, and read and read and read …..

I’m at a loss now that the story has played out, but I am quite sure that one day I will visit this world again.


Vishy, from Vishy’s Blog, and Delia, from Postcards from Asia have been the hosts of this readalong, and I am so grateful that they inspired me to pick this book up and finally read it right through to the end.

Readalong – Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke – Volume 2 – Jonathan Strange)

The second part of anything that comes in three parts – be it a film, a book or a play – is always the  poor relation of the three.

The first part has the lovely job of introducing the story, the setting and the cast of characters, and of suggesting possibilities and steering a course.

The third part has the glamourous – if tricky – job of bringing together everything that has happened, maybe throwing in a twist or two and bringing things to a close in a fitting manner.

The second part has the hardest and least lauded job, of building on the work done by the first part, and of carrying everything forward and holding the interest, so that the third part can do its job


And so second parts are rarely easy to love as what comes before and as what follows, but it is very easy to admire then, and to appreciate what excellent work they do.

That was the case with my reading of the second volume of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

The focus shifted from Mr Norell, who had been present from the very first chapter of the first volume, to Mr Strange, who was introduced towards the end of that volume. The relationship between the two magicains, the evolution of their relationship, their different attitudes and approaches, and the inevitable parting of the ways was the backbone of the story, and it moved forward beautifully.

The most striking points in the first volume were pieces of magic, but in the second act the finest of the set pieces were the meetings of Mr Strange with real, historical figures. The Duke of Wellington was wonderful, and George III was sublime.

I continued to love everything that I was so smitten with in the first volume. And I began to realise that to build this story must have taken such work and such planning,  as well as the love and imagination that were clear from the very start.

I continued to have ideas about where the story might be going, I have seen some of the pieces fit together and I have ideas about others, but I still don’t know.

And there was a shock, a change of direction maybe, at the end of this volume …

There is so much more that I want to say, but I’m saving it all for next week, when my first journey through this book will be complete. I say first journey, because I already know that it is a book I will want to read again.

I’ve already begun to read the third volume, and now I really must get back to it …..


Vishy, from Vishy’s Blog, and Delia, from Postcards from Asia are the hosts of this readalong.

Reviewing the Situation

I have a bad habit of picking up books, starting them, and then being distracted by something else. It generally works well; I have several books in progress and I pick the right one for the moment. But sometimes it gets too much and I have to stop and take stock to see where I’m going.

This is one of those times.

2014-01-22_20-18-01_70Starting from the bottom:

I bought a copy of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell when it was a brand new hardback, and I’ve started reading a few times and drifted away. But a read-along came along at just the right time – and at just the right pace – and I’ve read more than ever before, I have the momentum to see me through to the end. it’s love.

I planned to read The Goldfinch over Christmas, but I was later than I planned finishing my Century of Books, and then other books started calling me. I loved the opening chapters, but then it seemed to wobble a bit, and the adolescent years seem interminable. I want to see it through and I will get back to it. I think …..

I loved How To Be A Heroine: Or, what I’ve learned from reading too much as soon as I saw that title and I placed an order as soon as it appeared it library stock. It’s as wonderful as I hoped, and I’m not going to want to give it back to the library but I’ve been reading at lot of my own books and I really need to make some space on my ticket.

I picked up Red Pottage because it’s on my Classics Club list, because it worked for my 100 Years of Books, and because I’ve spotted others with great taste on books loving it. I followed a trail from Lisa to Hayley to Simon. I loved the first few chapters, but I’ve put it on hold until I’ve caught up with one or two other books.

I pulled The Beth Book off the Virago bookcase for the same reasons, and I didn’t mean to pick it up yet but I loved the first chapter and I had to carry on.

I’m reading The Game of Kings with a group – one of the Lymond novels every two month, so we’ll have read the series by the end of the year. So many people love Dorothy Dunnett, and I’m beginning to see why, but I’m not entirely smitten yet. Time will tell …..

And I’m reading Clarissa in real time. I started a couple of years ago but I fell off the read-along. It was the year my mother was ill and moved into a nursing home, and I didn’t have electronic means then and it just wasn’t practical to carry such a big book around with me. But now I do and so I’m trying again, with a Twitter read-along.

And that’s it.

Everything else has gone back on the shelf, to be started again one day in the not too distant future.

My plan I to keep reading the big books at a steady rate, and to read the smaller books along the way.

I’ll finish the second volume of Strange & Norrell tonight, and I’m going to be ‘Doing Dunnett’ at the weekend.

Then I’ll see where I am. And pick up one or two other books.

Sometimes I wish I was the kind of person who picked up one book at a time, to read from cover to cover before picking up another, but I’m not. I do like my system, I just have to bring it under control.

What works for you?

What are you reading? What are your plans?

Readalong – Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke – Volume 1 – Mr.Norrell)

Well, here we are at the end of the first week of the readalong and – to my great surprise – I find myself way ahead of schedule and well into the second book already.

It is, most definitely, love.


What do I love?

I love that though this very big book, divided into three volumes, looks so much like a take on a Victorian novel, it is set somewhat earlier, during the Napoleonic Wars. And while I have seen it suggested that the style of some wonderful authors – Austen, Trollope and Dickens are the names I have seen most often – and while I can see all of those influences, none of them dominate. The style suits the period, suits the story, and it is the style of a storyteller with a keen eye, a gentle wit, and perfect control of her material.

I love that the world of this book is so very alive, that it is a very real England, overlaid with the history and presence of magic. The detail is wonderful, and the love that the architect of that world has for it shines from the pages.

I love that such a wonderful array of characters from that world have been presented to me, and that they are so very well drawn with just a few simple strokes. It seems that each and every one has a part to play, and there is no one I won’t be glad to see come to the fore. I shall be particularly pleased to see a little more of Mr Segundus and Mr Childermas …. and that reminds me that I am very taken with the names, which are distinctive without being gimmicky, and fitting without ever feeling contrived.

I love the magic, that has been so beautifully woven into real history and that is so nicely understated. The set pieces have been wonderful, and one of the things that I love most of all is that nearly all of the magic draws on the natural world. It would have been easy to overplay the magic, but that hasn’t happened. This remains a human story set in a real world where magic just happens to have a part to play.

I love that I have some idea where the story is going, but I don’t know too much, and I am so curious to know.

Most of all I am thrilled that I have found a book that appeals to both my childish love of a magical world and my grown up love of period fiction, that it is a book that has pulled me into a world that I don’t want to leave.

And I think that is reason enough for me to stop writing and start reading again …..


Vishy, from Vishy’s Blog, and Delia, from Postcards from Asia are the hosts of this readalong.