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!


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


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


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


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


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


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


Do think about putting your own sixes – it’s a great way of perusing your reading, and I’d love to read more lists.

When Nights Were Cold by Susanna Jones

I was intrigued by the idea of a novel about Edwardian lady mountaineers, and I was even more intrigued when I placed the name of the author. Because I recalled that Susanna Jones specialises in dark storytelling, unreliable narrators, and psychological drama.

I hoped that When Nights Were Cold would be something rather special, and it very nearly was.

When Grace Farringdon was growing up, she and her father followed the polar explorations of Ernest Shackleton and his contemporaries, studying every detail they could find.

It was only supposed to be a diversion for a little girl; Grace and her sister were expected to grow up into obedient women who would look after their parents and find good, respectable husbands.

They both wanted more, and their parents tried to clip their wings. They succeeded with Catherine, but not with Grace. She escaped, after using covert means to secure a place at an all-women college.

It was wonderful to watch, and my heart rose for Grace and fell for Catherine. There’s a fine line between realism and pastiche, and another between drama and melodrama. Susanna Jones walks both rather well.

It was wonderful to arrive at university with Grace. What a wonderful world it was: a world full of women seeking knowledge that no man may enter; a world where women were freed from social conventions, and addressed only by their surnames; a world of cocoa evenings, social clubs, new friendships, and so many wonderful possibilities.

Grace was inspired and, full of confidence, she formed forms the Antarctic Exploration Society to follow, and maybe even to emulate, their adventures.

Three other women joined Grace’s new venture: Leonora Locke, the confident and sociable daughter of liberal parents who wants to experience everything college can offer before she steps out into the world; Winifred Hooper, who is apprehensive about possible adventures, but curious and unwilling to be left out of any adventures that might present themselves before she settles into the traditional roles of wife and mother; and Cecily Parr, who is clever, forthright, knowledgable, and eager to take the lead.

A diverse quartet indeed, and that confirmed the idea I had that all of this was a little bit contrived. But the relationships between the four had a very interesting dynamic and the story had so many possibilities.

There would be adventures, there would be tragedies, and there would be repercussions. It was compulsive reading!

In the end Grace would be the only survivor, living alone in the family home that she had hated.

The stories of her friends, of her family, of just how she got there are complex, and quite extraordinary. And as those stories unfolded I began to question Grace’s sanity, and to question just how reliable her account of her life really was.

She was a wonderfully storyteller, catching the dark atmosphere of her home, the cold intensity of her adventures, the tangled relationships that surrounded her, so very, very well.

The story became more and more intense, more dark and claustrophobic, before winding up with a wonderful twist.

I loved it, but still I have to quibble a little.

Early in the story I loved the way Susanna Jones pitched her story between realism and pastiche, and between drama and melodrama. But later I began to wish that she would take her story one way or the other, and embrace that direction wholeheartedly.

And I wish some of her ideas had been developed a little more, and some of the story opened out a little more. She had four women, undergraduates, with opposing views on women’s suffrage and I wanted to hear them argue, but I didn’t. I wanted to spend more time with the Antarctic Exploration Society, to follow every detail of their activities.

It isn’t that this wasn’t a really good book – it was – it’s just that I have a feeling that it could have been just a little deeper and richer.