Six in Six: The 2021 Edition

We’re more than halfway through the year and Six in Six, hosted by Jo of The Book Jotter, is back again! I love taking part in this as I think it’s the perfect way to look back at our reading over the first six months of the year.

The idea of Six in Six is that we choose six categories (Jo has provided a list of suggestions or you can come up with new topics of your own if you prefer) and then fit six of the books or authors we’ve read this year into each category. It’s more difficult than it sounds, especially as I try not to use the same book in more than one category, but it’s always fun to do.

Here is my 2021 Six in Six, with links to my reviews:

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Six Agatha Christie novels read for the Read Christie 2021 challenge

1. JANUARY – A story set in a grand house…The Body in the Library
2. FEBRUARY – A story featuring love…Sad Cypress
3. MARCH – A story featuring a society figure…Sparkling Cyanide
4. APRIL – A story set before WWII…Murder in Mesopotamia
5. MAY – A story featuring tea…A Pocket Full of Rye
6. JUNE – A story featuring a garden…Nemesis

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Six mysteries, thrillers or crime novels NOT by Agatha Christie

1. The Pact by Sharon Bolton
2. The Deadly Truth by Helen McCloy
3. The Royal Secret by Andrew Taylor
4. The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji
5. Hare Sitting Up by Michael Innes
6. Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

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Six non-fiction books read this year

1. Myself When Young by Daphne du Maurier
2. The Killer of the Princes in the Tower by MJ Trow
3. Live Alone and Like It by Marjorie Hillis
4. The Light Ages by Seb Falk
5. The Fall of the House of Byron by Emily Brand
6. The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale

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Six books that took me on a tour of Europe

1. The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potocki (SPAIN)
2. Ashes by Christopher de Vinck (BELGIUM)
3. Ariadne by Jennifer Saint (GREECE)
4. Still Life by Sarah Winman (ITALY)
5. The Missing Sister by Lucinda Riley (IRELAND)
6. The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles (FRANCE)

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Six books with titles connected to rivers, seas and storms

1. The Land Beyond the Sea by Sharon Penman
2. Islands of Mercy by Rose Tremain
3. A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago
4. The Drowned City by KJ Maitland
5. River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay
6. The Wrecking Storm by Michael Ward

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Six books I’ve enjoyed reading this year but couldn’t fit into another category

1. Good by Stealth by Henrietta Clandon
2. The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
3. China by Edward Rutherfurd
4. The Metal Heart by Caroline Lea
5. The Hardie Inheritance by Anne Melville
6. The Last Daughter by Nicola Cornick

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I was pleased to find that I’d read six non-fiction books so far this year – it’s not often that I’ve read enough to fill a whole category. However, I’m disappointed that I haven’t read six classics (apart from the classic crime). I’ll have to make up for that between now and December!

Have you taken part in Six in Six or are you planning to? Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned?

Six Degrees of Separation: From Eats, Shoots & Leaves to The Diary of a Provincial Lady

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 Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. I own a copy of this non-fiction book about the importance of punctuation and read it years ago. I was working as a proofreader at the time, so it was quite appropriate! Here is the description from Goodreads:

Everyone knows the basics of punctuation, surely? Aren’t we all taught at school how to use full stops, commas and question marks? And yet we see ignorance and indifference everywhere. “Its Summer!” says a sign that cries out for an apostrophe, “ANTIQUE,S,” says another, bizarrely. “Pansy’s ready,” we learn to our considerable interest (“Is she?”), as we browse among the bedding plants.

In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss dares to say that, with our system of punctuation patently endangered, it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them for the wonderful and necessary things they are. If there are only pendants left who care, then so be it. “Sticklers unite” is her rallying cry. “You have nothing to lose but your sense of proportion – and arguably you didn’t have much of that to begin with.”

This is the book for people who love punctuation and get upset about it. From the invention of the question mark in the time of Charlemagne to Sir Roger Casement “hanged on a comma”; from George Orwell shunning the semicolon to Peter Cook saying Nevile Shute’s three dots made him feel “all funny”, this book makes a powerful case for the preservation of a system of printing conventions that is much too subtle to be mucked about with.

Punctuation used incorrectly or not at all is something that always annoys me. Rather than single one book out for criticism, I’m going to move away from the subject of punctuation entirely and continue the chain with a completely different link. The cover of Eats, Shoots & Leaves has a ladder on it and this reminds me of the title of a John Boyne book I enjoyed a few years ago: A Ladder to the Sky (1), a novel about an aspiring author who can’t think of any stories of his own so decides to steal other people’s. John Boyne is an Irish author and I read this book in March 2019 for the Reading Ireland Month hosted every year by Cathy and Niall.

For a previous Reading Ireland Month in 2016, I read The Children of Dynmouth by William Trevor (2). This dark and unsettling novel is set in an English seaside town in the 1970s and follows the story of Timothy Gedge, a lonely and disturbed teenager who wanders the streets of Dynmouth intruding into the lives of people who don’t want him there.

Another book with ‘children’ in the title is The Children’s Book by AS Byatt (3). I loved this long and complex novel about the Wellwood family and all the social and cultural changes going on in the world around them during the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. One of the main characters, Olive Wellwood, is a writer of fairy tales and some of the stories she writes for her children are incorporated into the novel.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton (4), a novel with multiple narratives and settings, moving between England and Australia and covering a period of more than a hundred years, also features a character who is a writer of fairy tales. Her name is Eliza Makepeace and some of her tales are also included in the novel. The title of the book refers to a house on the coast of Cornwall with a hidden walled garden, surely inspired by The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I can think of quite a few other novels about gardens or featuring a garden, but the one I’m going to link to is Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim (5). This novel from 1898 is written in the form of a diary in which the narrator takes us through a year in her life, describing all the changes she sees in the garden of her home in northern Germany.

I’m going to finish my chain with another novel written in diary form: The Diary of a Provincial Lady by EM Delafield (6). I had put off reading this for a long time because I wasn’t sure it would be my sort of book, but I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would – a perfect choice if you’re in the mood for something light and funny! I must read the other Provincial Lady books soon.

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And that’s my chain for this month. My links have included ladders, Irish authors, the word children, fairy tale writers, gardens and diaries.

In August we will be starting with Postcards From the Edge by Carrie Fisher.

Six Degrees of Separation: From The Bass Rock to The Last Summer

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 Bass Rock by Evie Wyld. I haven’t read this book, but it sounds like one I might enjoy:

Surging out of the sea, the Bass Rock has for centuries watched over the lives that pass under its shadow on the Scottish mainland. And across the centuries the fates of three women are linked: to this place, to each other.

In the early 1700s, Sarah, accused of being a witch, flees for her life.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, Ruth navigates a new house, a new husband and the strange waters of the local community.

Six decades later, the house stands empty. Viv, mourning the death of her father, catalogues Ruth’s belongings and discovers her place in the past – and perhaps a way forward.

Each woman’s choices are circumscribed, in ways big and small, by the men in their lives. But in sisterhood there is the hope of survival and new life. Intricately crafted and compulsively readable, The Bass Rock burns bright with anger and love.

I’m not feeling very creative this month, so I have chosen an obvious link to start with: witchcraft. Thornyhold by Mary Stewart (1) is the story of Gilly Ramsey, who inherits a cottage in the countryside which belonged to her mother’s cousin. On arriving at the cottage, Thornyhold, Gilly discovers that Cousin Geillis had a reputation as a witch and has left behind her collection of magic spells and herbology books. Despite the witchcraft theme, though, this is a lovely, gentle read!

Lesley Frewen, the heroine of The Flowering Thorn by Margery Sharp (2) also relocates to the countryside. Lesley is a London socialite who finds herself volunteering to adopt Patrick, a four-year-old orphan, and decides to start a new life for them both in a cottage in Buckinghamshire. I had already linked to this book through the country cottage setting before I noticed that the title also contains the word ‘thorn’ – a double link!

The next book in my chain is by another author called Margery. The Oaken Heart (3) is crime writer Margery Allingham’s memoir in which she writes about life in her village (Tolleshunt D’Arcy in Essex, renamed ‘Auburn’ in the book) during World War II. I found it particularly interesting that the book was written in 1941, so Allingham would have had no idea while she was writing it how much longer the war would last and what else might happen to the people of Auburn before it was over.

I don’t read a lot of authors’ memoirs, but another that does come to mind is Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee (4), the first in Lee’s autobiographical trilogy. I still haven’t read the other two books, but in this first volume he looks back on his childhood, his school, his friends and family and the village of Slad in which he grew up. It’s a beautiful portrayal of a world on the brink of change and a way of life about to disappear forever.

The cover of Cider with Rosie reminded me of the cover of The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson (5) – similar colours, pictures of nature, figures in silhouette. The war referred to in the title is the First World War and the novel follows the story of Beatrice Nash, a young woman who starts a new job as a school Latin teacher in the summer of 1914.

The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn (6) is also set during that same idyllic summer with war just on the horizon. Through the story of seventeen-year-old Clarissa Granville, the novel shows us the effects the outbreak of war will have on society, class structure and the life Clarissa has always known. Although I didn’t do it deliberately, it has just occurred to me that all of the books in my chain this month are about people starting new lives or seeing the world around them beginning to change.

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And that’s my chain for June! My links have included: witchcraft, moving to the countryside, the name Margery, memoirs, similar covers and the summer of 1914.

Next month we’ll be starting with Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.

Six Degrees of Separation: From Beezus and Ramona to The Duke’s Children

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.

Having a little sister like four-year-old Ramona isn’t always easy for Beezus Quimby. With a wild imagination, disregard for order, and an appetite for chaos, Ramona makes it hard for Beezus to be the responsible older sister she knows she ought to be…especially when Ramona threatens to ruin Beezus’s birthday party. Newbery Medal winner Beverly Cleary delivers a humorous tale of the ups and downs of sisterhood. Both the younger and older siblings of the family will enjoy this book.

This month we are starting with Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary, who sadly died in March this year. This book was the first in her Ramona Quimby series for children and was published in 1955. I read some of the Ramona books as a child and although I can’t remember anything about them now, I know I used to enjoy them!

I’m sure I won’t be the only Six Degrees participant to use books about sisters as my first link this month, but as there are so many to choose from I’m hoping that nobody else will have linked to this one: Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister by Jung Chang (1). This is a biography of the three Soong sisters, all of whom played an important role in 20th century Chinese politics. Ei-ling or ‘big sister’ became one of China’s richest women through her marriage to the banker HH Kung, ‘little sister’ May-ling was First Lady of the Republic of China, and ‘red sister’ Ching-ling was a supporter of the Communist Party and the wife of revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen.

I’m sure I have used books with ‘red’ in the title in a previous chain, so I’m going to link now to a book with a different colour in the title. There were lots of options here, but I’ve gone with blue and The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie (2). This is a Poirot novel in which an heiress is murdered for her jewels during a train journey through France. I don’t think it’s one of Christie’s stronger novels (and in fact it was apparently her own least favourite), but it’s still quite enjoyable.

This makes me think of another novel set on a train, The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White (3), the book on which Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes was based. There are a lot of differences between the book and the film but they share the same basic plot: a young woman makes a new friend during a train journey who later disappears, only for the rest of the passengers to deny that she ever existed.

The idea of a wheel spinning leads me to Fortune’s Wheel (4), one of Rhoda Edwards’ two novels about Richard III. This book covers the earlier part of Richard’s life, taking us through the reign of his elder brother, Edward IV, and ending with Richard’s marriage to Anne Neville in 1472. I enjoyed it, but thought the second novel, Some Touch of Pity, was much better.

There’s a picture of a crown on the cover of Fortune’s Wheel and also on the cover of The Poisoned Crown by Maurice Druon (5). First published in French in 1956, this is the third book in the Accursed Kings series telling the story of Philip IV of France and his descendants, a line of kings “cursed to the thirteenth generation” by the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, whom Philip sent to burn at the stake. George R.R. Martin has described this series as the inspiration for his A Game of Thrones.

I haven’t finished The Accursed Kings yet; there are seven books in the series and so far I have only read the first five of them. It’s not the only series I’ve started and haven’t finished – I still need to read the final book in Anthony Trollope’s Palliser series, The Duke’s Children (6). I nearly always love Trollope but the length of his books sometimes puts me off. This one is on my Classics Club list, so I’m hoping to get to it soon.

And that’s my chain for this month! My links have included: sisters, colours, trains and wheels, pictures of crowns and an unfinished series.

In June we are starting with The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld. Will you be joining us?

Six Degrees of Separation: From Shuggie Bain to A House of Pomegranates

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 Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, winner of the 2020 Booker Prize. I haven’t read it and I’m not planning to, but this is what it’s about:

It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things: a house with its own front door and a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect, but false, teeth). But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and soon she and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest.

Shuggie is different. Fastidious and fussy, he shares his mother’s sense of snobbish propriety. The miners’ children pick on him and adults condemn him as no’ right. But Shuggie believes that if he tries his hardest, he can be normal like the other boys and help his mother escape this hopeless place.

It can be difficult to know where to start with a chain when you haven’t read the first book and have no interest in reading it, but the word that jumped out at me in the blurb was Glasgow, so I will begin by linking to another book set in Glasgow – Gillespie and I by Jane Harris (1). The novel is narrated by Harriet Baxter, an elderly woman looking back on her relationship with the artist Ned Gillespie, whom she met while visiting the International Exhibition in Glasgow in the 1880s. The 19th century setting and clever plot twists reminded me of the Victorian sensation novels I love by authors such as Wilkie Collins, so it’s no surprise that I loved this book too.

The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart (2) also features a character whose name is Harriet – or ‘Lady Harriet’ as she prefers to call herself. Lady Harriet is a fascinating character who lives in the palace of Dar Ibrahim near Beirut and models herself on the legendary Lady Hester Stanhope, wearing male Arab dress and living in seclusion with only her servants and saluki hounds for company. I always enjoy Mary Stewart’s suspense novels and I think this is a particularly good one!

Hounds are dogs, of course, so this leads me straight to The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (3). This post-apocalyptic novel set in Colorado several years after a flu pandemic kills most of the world’s population was not my usual sort of book at all, but I found it much more interesting than I’d expected. I certainly wouldn’t want to read it now, though! What seemed like pure science fiction a few years ago feels uncomfortably close to reality now.

Another post-apocalyptic novel I found surprisingly enjoyable, if unsettling, was The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (4). In this book, it’s not a pandemic that brings an end to the world as we know it, but a meteor shower which leaves almost everyone blind, followed by an invasion of triffids – giant killer plants with long, stinging arms.

Susan Fletcher’s House of Glass (5) is the next book in my chain and is also a book about plants – nice normal plants this time, you’ll be pleased to hear! Our heroine, Clara, is an amateur botanist who is offered a job working in the gardens of Shadowbrook, a large estate which appears to be haunted. Although the book seems to be a typical ghost story at first, it turns out to be something slightly different. An impressive and beautifully written novel.

My final link this month is to another book with ‘house of’ in the title: A House of Pomegranates (6), a collection of fairy tales by Oscar Wilde. There are four stories in the book and although each one has a moral and a message, they are also very entertaining! Like many fairy tales, they are quite dark in places, but I think they’re suitable for both children and adults. I must get round to reading Oscar Wilde’s other similar collection, The Happy Prince and Other Tales, which has been on my TBR since reading this one back in 2011.

And that’s my chain for April! My links have included Glasgow, the name Harriet, dogs, the end of the world, plants and ‘house of’ titles.

In May, we’ll be starting with Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary.

Six Degrees of Separation: From Phosphorescence to The Name of the Rose

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 Phosphorescence by Julia Baird. I haven’t read it, but it is described as:

A beautiful, intimate and inspiring investigation into how we can find and nurture within ourselves that essential quality of internal happiness – the ‘light within’ that Julia Baird calls ‘phosphorescence’ – which will sustain us even through the darkest times.

I’m going to take ‘light’ as my first link and feature a non-fiction book by Seb Falk that I read earlier this year: The Light Ages (1). In this book Falk looks at some of the advances in science, mathematics and astronomy during the medieval period and tries to dispel the idea that the Dark Ages were a time when progress stood still. A fascinating book, but I can’t claim to have understood everything in it!

Another book – fiction this time – in which the history of science plays a part is Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson (2), the first volume in his Baroque Cycle. The protagonist Daniel Waterhouse is a 17th century natural philosopher who befriends Isaac Newton and becomes involved in the work of the Royal Society. I had been looking forward to reading this book, which sounded like the sort of thing I would usually love, but unfortunately I didn’t get on very well with it at all. I persevered through all 900 pages but was pleased to reach the end!

This leads me to another very long novel that I was glad to finish: Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (3). I read this 18th century classic as part of a year-long readalong with other bloggers and this definitely helped me get through what turned out to be a very repetitive and slow-paced novel. Still, I did appreciate the quality of the writing and found myself really enjoying parts of the book – and I felt a sense of accomplishment when I turned the final page.

Clarissa is an epistolary novel consisting of letters – 537 of them – in which Clarissa Harlowe’s correspondence with her friend Anna Howe reveals the story of how she defies her parents’ plans for her marriage only to fall into the clutches of the notorious ‘libertine’ Robert Lovelace. A much more recent book I’ve read which is also written mainly in the form of letters is The Queen’s Rival by Anne O’Brien (4), which tells the story of Cecily Neville, mother of Edward IV and Richard III.

Joanna Hickson’s Red Rose, White Rose (5) is another novel about Cecily Neville and the part she plays in the Wars of the Roses. I preferred this one to the Anne O’Brien book as it is written as a straightforward narrative rather than in letter form and I think it’s always interesting to see how different authors choose to portray the same historical characters.

To finish my chain, I’m going to link to another book with the word ‘rose’ in the title. There are a few I could choose from, but I’ve decided on The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (6), a book I decided to re-read a few years ago as there was so much I missed the first time I read it. It can be described as a medieval murder mystery but is so much more than that with its themes of religious and political conflict and descriptions of monastic life.

And that’s my chain for March. My links have included: light, science, very long novels, epistolary novels, Cecily Neville and roses.

In April we will be starting with Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters with theatrical jobs

This week’s topic for Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl) is “Characters Whose Job I Wish I Had”. As Jana says we can put our own unique spin on each topic and as I wanted to join in with Lory’s Reading the Theatre month, I have chosen ten characters who have jobs connected with acting and the theatre. These are not all jobs I would like to have myself, but some of them sound fun!

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1. Commedia dell’Arte actor
In one of my favourite books, Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini, Andre-Louis Moreau takes the role of Scaramouche the clown in a Commedia dell’Arte troupe as part of an elaborate plan to avenge his murdered friend.

2. Puppeteer
Adelaide Culver, the heroine of Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp, finds a collection of wonderful hand-made puppets created by her late husband and opens a successful Puppet Theatre in an old coach-house.

3. Theatre manager
In Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor, Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, meets the famous Shakespearean actor Sir Henry Irving and becomes manager of his Lyceum Theatre.

4. 6th century actress
Theodora by Stella Duffy is a novel based on the life of Empress Theodora of the Byzantine Empire. Before marrying the Emperor Justinian, Theodora receives training as an actress, dancer and acrobat.

5. Music hall star
Becoming Belle by Nuala O’Connor is a fictional retelling of the life of Belle Bilton, a star of the Victorian music hall who becomes the Countess of Clancarty through marriage and finds herself involved in a controversial court case.

6. Aspiring actor and con artist
The wonderfully entertaining The Way to the Lantern by Audrey Erskine Lindop follows the story of a young actor, pickpocket and con man whose various fake identities lead him into serious trouble during the French Revolution.

7. One of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men
In Fools and Mortals, Bernard Cornwell creates a fictional story for Shakespeare’s brother Richard, imagining that he is an actor with The Lord Chamberlain’s Men and must prevent rival London acting companies from stealing William’s plays.

8. A member of an acting family
The Savage Brood by Martha Rofheart is a multi-generational family saga taking us from Tudor England to 20th century Hollywood and encompassing just about every type of acting you can think of!

9. Pantomime Cat
Who Killed Dick Whittington? by E and MA Radford is a Golden Age crime novel in which a murder takes place on stage during a traditional British pantomime. Suspicion falls on the actor in the Cat costume!

10. Drama teacher
In Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood, Felix Phillips loses his position as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival and gets a new job teaching drama and literacy to the prisoners at Fletcher Correctional, directing them in a production of The Tempest.

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Have you read any of these? Can you think of any other books you’ve read with characters who work in the theatre? There were a few more I could have included on my list, but I had to limit myself to ten!