Six Degrees of Separation: From Elizabeth and Her German Garden to Stormy Petrel

It’s the first Saturday of the month which means it’s time for another Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate of Books are my Favourite and Best. The idea is that Kate chooses a book to use as a starting point and then we have to link it to six other books of our choice to form a chain. A book doesn’t have to be connected to all of the others on the list – only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month we’re starting with the book that finished last month’s chain! This will be different for everyone, but in my case it’s Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim.

From my review:

Published in 1898, the book has an autobiographical feel and is written in the form of a diary in which the narrator, Elizabeth, takes us through a year in her life, describing her love for the garden of her home in northern Germany and the changes she sees as the seasons go by.

There were so many different options I could have chosen for my first link – diaries, Germany, the name Elizabeth – but while I was trying to decide I came across this quote from Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie (1):

Gardening was her passion. Her favourite literature was bulb catalogues and her conversation dealt with primulas, bulbs, flowering shrubs and alpine novelties.

The character being described here is Dolly Bantry. It sounds as though she would get along well with Elizabeth! Dolly Bantry appears in several of Christie’s other Miss Marple novels, including The Body in the Library and The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side, but only has a small part to play in Sleeping Murder, which is one of my favourite Marples. I love the eerie atmosphere Christie creates in this book.

Next, I’m linking to another book with a sleepy title: Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson (2), a psychological thriller in which a woman wakes every morning to find she has lost her memory and doesn’t recognise the man who says he is her husband. This wasn’t really my usual sort of read but I found it completely gripping, as well as very unsettling – poor Christine was in such a frightening and vulnerable position.

Near the beginning of The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett (3) a character is suffering from amnesia, but is he genuine or is he pretending? As with so many things in Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, we can’t be sure. In fact, we aren’t even told the character’s name in this scene and have to work out for ourselves who he is. Set in 16th century Scotland, this is one of my favourite books (and series); it can be challenging for a first-time reader, but so rewarding when you reach a certain point where everything – sort of – begins to make sense!

Chess is often described as ‘the game of kings’ and all six of the Lymond Chronicles have titles that refer to chess pieces or moves. Another book with a chess-related title is Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle (4) – not to be confused with the recent Netflix series, which is something completely different! This Queen’s Gambit is the story of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife. Katherine may not have had such a dramatic life as some of the other queens, but I find her the most likeable and I enjoyed this book.

Elizabeth Fremantle’s last few books have been published under the name E.C. Fremantle. An author who went from using her initials to using her full name is SJ Bolton, now publishing as Sharon Bolton. I love her books, particularly her Lacey Flint series and her early standalones, which have stronger Gothic elements than her later ones. The first of these I read was Sacrifice (5), a dark and mysterious murder mystery set in Shetland. I really enjoyed the way Bolton incorporated Norse myths and legends into the plot.

From Shetland to another Scottish island for my final link. Stormy Petrel by Mary Stewart (6) is set in the Hebrides on the island of Moila, which I believe is fictional but so vividly described I’m sure she must have based it on a real place. Published in 1991, this was one of Stewart’s final novels and like her other later books (Rose Cottage and Thornyhold) it has a gentler feel than her earlier, more suspenseful ones.


And that’s my chain for this month! My links have included gardens, sleeping, amnesia, chess-related titles, authors using their initials and Scottish islands. In October we’ll be starting with Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller.

22 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From Elizabeth and Her German Garden to Stormy Petrel

  1. margaret21 says:

    Ha! The only thing I remember about Dorothy Dunnett is that years ago, it was the very first choice for the very first meeting of the first reading group I joined … and not one of us managed to finish it. I think Stormy Petrel or Before I go to Sleep are the books I might like to look out first from this very interesting chain.

    • Helen says:

      I love Dunnett, but I know she’s not for everyone! The problem with that particular book is that there’s so much of it that doesn’t make a lot of sense until you’re almost at the end. Stormy Petrel and Before I Go to Sleep are both enjoyable in their different ways – in fact, I enjoyed all of the books in my chain this month!

  2. Mareli Thalwitzer says:

    I love your selection of books this month and will easily read them all. I need to think about the plot for Sleepy Murder now… I think it’s time to reread the Miss Marple stories.

    And Mary Stewart… Gosh how I loved her books when I was young. I haven’t read a lot of her later work, will take a look.

    Have a wonderful September!

    Elza Reads

    • Helen says:

      I still have two or three more Marple novels to read, but I think Sleeping Murder is one of the best that I’ve read so far. I love Mary Stewart’s books – the later books are less exciting than her earlier ones but still have beautiful settings.

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