Six Degrees of Separation: From Stasiland to The Lady of the Ravens

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, the book we are starting with is Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder. I haven’t read it, but here is the blurb:

“In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell; shortly afterwards the two Germanies reunited, and East Germany ceased to exist. In a country where the headquarters of the secret police can become a museum literally overnight, and one in 50 East Germans were informing on their countrymen and women, there are a thousand stories just waiting to get out. Anna Funder tells extraordinary tales from the underbelly of the former East Germany – she meets Miriam, who as a 16-year-old might have started World War III, visits the man who painted the line which became the Berlin Wall and gets drunk with the legendary ‘Mik Jegger’ of the East, once declared by the authorities to his face to ‘no longer to exist’. Written with wit and literary flair, Stasiland provides a riveting insight into life behind the wall.”

My first link is a very obvious one: I have chosen a book set in Berlin. Death in Berlin by M.M. Kaye (1) is a murder mystery published in 1955 and set in the aftermath of World War II, when Berlin is largely a city in ruins. Although this is not one of my favourite novels by Kaye, I did find it fascinating because of the setting.

The main character in Death in Berlin is a young woman called Miranda. Miranda is also the name of the protagonist of Anya Seton’s gothic novel, Dragonwyck (2). Despite the title, there are no dragons in the book. However, my next link leads us to a story which does feature dragons…

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb (3) is the first of the Rain Wild Chronicles in which a group of young dragon keepers escort a herd of dragons up the Rain Wild River to the mythical city of Kelsingra. This wasn’t my usual sort of read, but I decided to read it as I’d loved Robin Hobb’s previous books so much and have now read the second book in the series too.

Another novel which deals with a journey upriver is To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey (4). Set in 19th century Alaska, the book tells the story, through journal entries and letters, of Colonel Allen Forrester who is commissioned to lead an expedition to navigate the Wolverine River and chart previously unmapped territory.

I’ve read a lot of books written in the form of journals and diaries; one of the most recent was Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver (5), an atmospheric novel set in an isolated manor house in the Suffolk Fens in the early years of the 20th century.

Coincidentally, books 4 and 5 in my chain both have birds on the cover, so for my final link I have chosen a book which I have just finished reading and which has birds both on the cover and in the title: The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson (6), the story of Joan Vaux, lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth of York. The ravens who live at the Tower of London have an important part to play in the novel.

Well, that’s my chain for this month! The links included Berlin, the name Miranda, dragons, river journeys, diaries and pictures of birds. All of the books in my chain are by female authors this month too, although that wasn’t deliberate!

In May we’ll be starting with The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Six Degrees of Separation: From Wolfe Island to Daphne du Maurier and Her Sisters

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 the book Kate has chosen as our starting point is Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar. I haven’t read it, but this is what Goodreads tells us it’s about:

“For years Kitty Hawke has lived alone on Wolfe Island, witness to the island’s erosion and clinging to the ghosts of her past. Her work as a sculptor and her wolfdog Girl are enough. News of mainland turmoil is as distant as myth until refugees from that world arrive: her granddaughter Cat, and Luis and Alejandra, a brother and sister escaping persecution. When threats from the mainland draw closer, they are forced to flee for their lives. They travel north through winter, a journey during which Kitty must decide what she will do to protect the people she loves.”

Although I haven’t read that book and I don’t think I’m particularly interested in reading it, I have read another one by Lucy Treloar – Salt Creek (1), which is set in the 19th century and tells the story of a family who move from Adelaide to the Coorong region of South Australia after falling on hard times.

Taking South Australia as my next link, The Boy with Blue Trousers by Carol Jones (2) is a novel divided between two narratives: one following a Chinese girl who is forced to leave her home in the Pearl River Delta and travel to the goldfields of Australia; the other following an Englishwoman working as a governess in Robetown, South Australia.

Thinking of other books with ‘blue’ in the title, the first one that comes to mind is an obvious one: Nancy Bilyeau’s historical thriller The Blue (3). Set during the Seven Years War of 1756 to 1763, a Huguenot woman working at the Derby Porcelain Works becomes caught up in a race to find a rare and beautiful shade of blue.

The idea of searching for a colour reminds me of The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale (4), in which a young woman becomes an apprentice to a fireworks maker and helps him to create new colours for his fireworks. The name of the young woman is Agnes and that leads me to my next book…

Agnes Grey (5) Anne Brontë’s semi-autobiographical novel based on her own experiences as a governess. Anne is often (very unfairly in my opinion) overshadowed by her sisters Emily and Charlotte, but I highly recommend reading her books; The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is particularly good.

Another author in the shadow of a more famous sibling was Angela du Maurier, who when she was mistaken for Daphne would reply, ‘I’m only the sister’. This brings my chain to an end with Daphne du Maurier and Her Sisters: The Hidden Lives of Piffy, Bird and Bing by Jane Dunn (6) – a biography of Angela, Daphne and the youngest du Maurier sister, Jeanne, who was an artist.

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And that’s my chain for this month! My links included Australia, the word ‘blue’, experiments with colours, heroines called Agnes and sisters who are authors. Next month, we are beginning with Stasiland by Anna Funder.

Six Degrees of Separation: From Fleishman is in Trouble to The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

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 are starting with Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, a book I haven’t read and hadn’t even heard of until now. It’s a novel “about marriage, divorce and modern relationships” and doesn’t really sound very appealing to me.

My first link is to another book about the breakdown of a marriage, Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple (1), in which the arrival of a young Frenchwoman causes trouble for Ellen North and her husband Avery. The edition I read was the Persephone Classic pictured above.

The first book published by Persephone that I ever read was Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson (2) and although I’ve read others since that I thought were much better, I did find that one a lovely, magical story. I would love to have a day like the one Miss Pettigrew has in that book!

South Riding (3) was also written by an author with the name Winifred – Winifred Holtby. South Riding is set in a fictional Yorkshire community in the 1930s and I remember being completely absorbed in the lives of the characters who live there.

Winifred Holtby was a close friend of Vera Brittain, whom she met at university. Testament of Youth (4) is the first part of Vera Brittain’s memoir, covering the years 1900-1925 and describing her experiences as a VAD nurse during the First World War. I highly recommend reading this book if you haven’t already, but prepare to have your heart broken.

The word ‘testament’ leads me to The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson (5), an unusual, imaginative novel about a man who claims to have met the Devil. I enjoyed it, but the book which inspired it is much better…

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (6) also tells the story of a man who meets a mysterious stranger who may or may not be the Devil. I loved this weird and wonderful novel, which was first published in 1824.

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And that’s my chain for February. The links included marriage and divorce, books published by Persephone, authors with the name Winifred, a friendship between two authors, the word ‘testament’ and a meeting with the Devil. Next month, we are beginning with Lucy Treloar’s Wolfe Island – another book I haven’t read.

Six Degrees of Separation: From Daisy Jones & the Six to An Officer and a Spy

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 are starting with Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, a book I read before Christmas and enjoyed, although I still need to post my review. It tells the story of a fictional 1970s rock band and is written in a documentary style, in the form of interviews with the band members. Books written in unusual or unconventional styles often don’t work for me, but this one did.

A book written in an unusual, unconventional style that didn’t really work for me was A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (1), which is also about the music industry. Each chapter is different from the one before: a different narrator, a different time period, even a chapter presented as a series of Powerpoint slides – very imaginative, but I found it overwhelming and confusing.

I haven’t tried any other Jennifer Egan books yet, but eventually I will need to read Manhattan Beach for my Walter Scott Prize Project (I’m reading through the shortlists for that prize and Manhattan Beach appears on the 2018 shortlist). I have still only managed to read one book from the 2018 list and that was Sugar Money by Jane Harris (2), a novel set in the Caribbean in the year 1765.

Sugar is the name of the heroine in Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White (3). I loved that book, which follows the story of a prostitute’s rise through the ranks of society in Victorian London. Crimson is a shade of red and so is scarlet, which leads me to the next book in my chain…

The classic adventure novel The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy (4) is set during the French Revolution. The mysterious and elusive Scarlet Pimpernel is rescuing aristocrats from the guillotine and smuggling them to safety, but who is he and will he ever be caught?

I recently read The Bastille Spy by CS Quinn (5), another French Revolution novel, and couldn’t help noticing the similarities with The Scarlet Pimpernel – something the author definitely intended, as the code name adopted by the spy in the novel is ‘Mouron’, which translates to pimpernel! I will be posting my review of that book soon.

Bringing this month’s chain to an end is another book with the word Spy in the title – the wonderful An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris (6), a fictional account of the Dreyfus Affair, a political scandal that caused great controversy in 19th century France. A book I would highly recommend!

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And that’s my chain for January. The links included unusual books about the music industry, sugar, shades of red, pimpernels and spies! In February, we will begin with Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, a book I know absolutely nothing about.

Top Ten Tuesday: My Winter TBR

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl, asks us to list ten books on our Winter TBR. As usual, I have a lot more than ten books that I’m hoping to read in the next few months, but I have chosen a selection of them to list below.

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1. The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie – This is December’s book for the Read Christie 2019 Challenge and one that I was planning to read anyway as there’s a new BBC adaptation coming in 2020. I’ve enjoyed taking part in the challenge this year and was pleased to discover that it’s happening again next year!

2. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow – I picked this up to start reading a month or two ago, but decided the time wasn’t right. I do still want to read it as I’ve heard so many positive things about it, so it is going to be a winter read now instead of an autumn one.

3. Big Sky by Kate Atkinson – In November I finally managed to catch up with the fourth book in the Jackson Brodie series, Started Early, Took My Dog, and now I have the fifth book, Big Sky, from the library so will need to read it soon.

4. The Wheel of Fortune by Susan Howatch – I don’t do nearly enough re-reading these days, but Susan Howatch’s Penmarric was a re-read for me in 2018 and Cashelmara in 2019, so it makes sense to pull this one off my shelf for a re-read in 2020!

5. The Sun Sister by Lucinda Riley – This is the sixth book in the Seven Sisters series and is set partly in Kenya. I’ve been putting off starting this one because of the length, but I’ll have some time off work over Christmas so will probably read it then.

6. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – This will be my first Ann Patchett book so I don’t know what to expect, but it does sound good!

7. Greenwitch by Susan Cooper – After enjoying Over Sea, Under Stone and The Dark is Rising earlier this year, I’m looking forward to moving on to Greenwitch, the third book in the sequence.

8. The Brothers York by Thomas Penn – Most of my reading tends to be fiction, but I wanted to include at least one non-fiction book on my Winter TBR too. This book is about one of my favourite periods of history, the Wars of the Roses, so I’m looking forward to reading it.

9. The Hardie Inheritance by Anne Melville – This is the final book in a trilogy and as I loved the first two, both of which I’ve read this year, I’m hoping this will be another enjoyable read.

10. My Classics Club Spin book! I’ll find out on Sunday which book I’m going to be reading from the Spin list I posted two days ago.

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Have you read any of these? What did you think? And what is on your own winter TBR?

Six Degrees of Separation: From Sanditon to The Song of Achilles

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 are starting with Sanditon by Jane Austen. I haven’t read it – I do like Austen but am not as big a fan as many people are and haven’t yet ventured past her main six novels. However, I do know that Sanditon was unfinished at the time of her death.

Thinking about other unfinished novels, The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens immediately came to mind, but I used that one in another Six Degrees post quite recently, along with another, Elizabeth Gaskell’s unfinished Wives and Daughters. This made me think a bit harder and then I remembered Lord Byron’s Fragment of a Novel (1), his attempt at writing a vampire story which he never completed. I’m particularly pleased with this link because apparently Sanditon was also first published under the title Fragment of a Novel.

The stories of Byron and his fellow Romantic Poets, Keats and Shelley, are told in Passion by Jude Morgan (2). I love Morgan’s writing and I thought this was an excellent book, focusing on the roles women such as Mary Shelley, Caroline Lamb and Augusta Leigh played in the poets’ lives.

Another book about poets is Possession by AS Byatt (3), although the poets in this one – Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte – are fictional. The novel follows two modern day academics as they study the lives of Ash and LaMotte, delving into letters, poems, fairy tales and journal entries, which Byatt presents as if they were authentic Victorian documents.

My copy of Possession has butterflies on the cover. So does The Specimen by Martha Lea (4), a book which had many of the elements I usually enjoy in a book – a mystery to be solved, a Victorian setting, strong female characters – yet it turned out to be disappointing. You can’t love every book you read, I suppose.

The main character in The Specimen is a young woman called Gwen who travels to Brazil to study and draw plants and insects. Another book about a woman trying to break into the male-dominated field of natural sciences is Song of the Sea Maid by Rebecca Mascull (5), set in Portugal and the Berlengas islands in the middle of the 18th century. I did love that book!

For my final link, I’m taking the word ‘song’ in the title. I had a few books to choose from here, but decided on The Song of Achilles (6), Madeline Miller’s beautiful retelling of the Iliad, told from the perspective of Patroclus, who is portrayed in the novel as Achilles’ lover.

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Well, that’s my chain for this month. My links included unfinished novels, poets, butterflies and songs. In January, we’ll be starting with Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid which, coincidentally, I just started to read yesterday.

Six Degrees of Separation: From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to Uprooted

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 are starting with the children’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. It’s not often that I have read the first book in the chain, but this is one that I have read several times, although not for years.

The character of Alice was inspired by a real life child, Alice Liddell. Melanie Benjamin’s novel, Alice I Have Been (1), is a fictional account of Alice Liddell’s life, with a focus on her relationship with Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and how her connection with his book changed her life forever.

I have read a few of Melanie Benjamin’s other books and enjoyed them. The Aviator’s Wife (2) is my favourite. It tells the story of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of the famous American aviator Charles Lindbergh and later an accomplished aviator in her own right, as well as a successful author.

Another novel I’ve read about a female aviator, a fictional woman this time, is The Wild Air by Rebecca Mascull (3). Although I’m not particularly interested in aviation myself, I loved Rebecca Mascull’s book – it really made me appreciate just how brave those early pioneers of flying were.

My next link takes the word ‘Wild’ and leads me to The Wilding by Maria McCann (4), a historical mystery set in 17th century England and narrated by a young man who works as a cider-maker.

With its recreation of life in a small rural community and the descriptions of orchards and trees and apple-pressing, The Wilding shares some themes with The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy (5). The Woodlanders is one of my favourite Hardy novels; I loved getting to know the people who built their lives in and around the woods of Little Hintock.

My final link is to another book in which a wood plays an important part in the story: Uprooted by Naomi Novik (6). Uprooted is a fantasy novel set in a village under threat from evil forces gathering in The Wood, a sinister place which is much more than just a collection of trees!

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Well, that’s my chain for this month, with links including Alice Liddell, female aviators, the word ‘Wild’, apples and woods. Next month we will be starting with Jane Austen’s unfinished manuscript, Sanditon.