Six Degrees of Separation: From Normal People to The Ivy Tree

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 Normal People by Sally Rooney. I haven’t read this book and probably won’t, but here is the blurb:

Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in the west of Ireland, but the similarities end there. In school, Connell is popular and well-liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation – awkward but electrifying – something life-changing begins.

Normal People is a story of mutual fascination, friendship and love. It takes us from that first conversation to the years beyond, in the company of two people who try to stay apart but find they can’t.

Thinking of another book with the word ‘people’ in the title leads me to The Good People by Hannah Kent (1), a novel set in Ireland in the 1820s and steeped in legend, folklore and ancient beliefs.

Stories of fairies, changelings and people being swept away to fairyland feature heavily in The Good People, as they do in one of my recent reads, The Ninth Child by Sally Magnusson (2), although this book has a different setting – Scotland during the construction of the Loch Katrine Waterworks.

One of the main characters in The Ninth Child is Isabel, a doctor’s wife. This immediately made me think of the title character in Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s The Doctor’s Wife (3), whose name is also Isabel.

The Doctor’s Wife is a Victorian novel which explores the feelings of a woman who is trapped in a boring, unexciting marriage and dreams of adventure and romance. One of her heroines is Edith Dombey, who appears in Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens (4), the next link in my chain. I read Dombey earlier this year and will try to post a review soon!

I have written in the past about the number of books with ‘daughter’ in the title. Other than Dombey and Son, I can only think of a few books I’ve read with ‘son’ in the title and one of them is The Devil and Her Son (5) by Maxwell March, a pseudonym of Margery Allingham.

The Devil and Her Son is an entertaining novel about a young woman who switches identities with a friend, only to find herself the victim of an even bigger deception. Another book about impersonations and stolen identities is The Ivy Tree (6) by one of my favourite authors, Mary Stewart – a good choice to bring this month’s chain to an end!

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And that’s my chain for June. My links have included the word ‘people’, fairies, doctor’s wives, Edith Dombey, the word ‘son’ and identity switches.

Next month we will be starting with What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt.

Top Ten Tuesday – and Historical Musings #60: Ten reasons I love historical fiction

It’s been a while since I took part in Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl) so I decided I would join in today. This week’s topic is: “Reasons Why I Love…[a favourite book, genre, author etc]”. I didn’t get round to putting one of my Historical Musings posts together for this month – I’m finding that even though I’m on furlough with all the time in the world to read and blog, I somehow seem to be getting less done than ever before – so I’m combining the two here by listing 10 reasons to love historical fiction.

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1. It provides the perfect opportunity to learn about other times and places.
When I read a good historical fiction novel, I am left with the feeling that not only have I been entertained by a great story, I’ve also learned something new. If a subject particularly interests me, I sometimes look for a non-fiction book so that I can add to my knowledge with some factual information, but in many cases my initial introduction to a new historical period or historical figure has been through fiction.

2. I find it much easier to retain facts gained through reading fiction rather than non-fiction.
For some reason, no matter how hard I try and no matter how fascinating the subject, I often seem to struggle to concentrate when I’m reading non-fiction. By the time I reach the end of the book I find I’ve forgotten a lot of the information I’ve just read. I am much more likely to remember names, dates and facts if they are given to me in the form of historical fiction.

3. It’s a great way of escaping from modern life for a while.
Although I do sometimes like to read contemporary fiction, I am usually much happier reading books set in the past (both classics which were actually written in the past and historical fiction). I live in the modern day, so I like my reading to take me somewhere – and sometime – different, especially at the moment with everything that’s going on in the world!

4. Reading historical fiction can be a thoroughly immersive experience.
I love books where the author has clearly gone to a lot of effort to create a complete and believable historical world – and yet the very best authors make it seem so effortless! My favourite historical fiction books often contain maps, family trees, character lists, authors’ notes and other material all of which adds to the world building. I really do like to feel as though I’ve stepped into a time machine and been transported back in time.

5. Understanding the past can help us to understand the present – and maybe even the future.
Just because a novel is set in the past doesn’t mean it can’t incorporate themes which are universal and timeless. When I read Robert Harris’s Cicero trilogy, I was struck by the similarities between modern politics and the politics of the Roman Republic, while Guinevere Glasfurd’s The Year Without Summer draws parallels between the extreme weather of 1816 and the climate change the world is experiencing today.

6. There’s so much variety!
Historical mysteries, historical romances, historical adventure novels, quick and light reads, long, challenging or ‘literary’ reads, books set in Ancient Greece, books set at the Tudor court, family sagas, classic novels such as A Tale of Two Cities, Romola or The Three Musketeers…the term ‘historical fiction’ encompasses such a wide range of different types of book that it should always be possible to find something to suit your mood.

7. I love to see how different authors portray the past and how they tackle some of history’s greatest mysteries and controversies.
Some people may wonder why I enjoy reading about the same topics over and over again. Well, no two books are exactly the same and every author has a different approach and a different way of interpreting the same historical people and events. One of my favourite periods is the Wars of the Roses and no two novels I’ve read set in that period offer the same opinion on Richard III or the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. Only by reading as much as possible can you begin to put together a balanced picture and to start to form your own views.

8. Historical fiction can give a voice to women who were unable to tell their own story.
History has often been described as written ‘by men, about men’ and fiction can help to redress the balance. For example, I knew nothing about women like Ana de Mendoza, Princess of Eboli until I read That Lady by Kate O’Brien or Lizzie Burns until I read Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea.

9. It’s a chance to get to know historical figures who have been forgotten or ignored.
Following on from reason 8, I have already mentioned some of the lesser-known women who have been subjects of historical fiction; there are also lots of men who have played important roles throughout history but whose names have been largely forgotten. How many people have heard of the Scottish soldier Thomas Keith and yet he had a fascinating life and career which is recounted in Blood and Sand by Rosemary Sutcliff.

10. There are just so many great stories to be told.
From the Thomas Overbury scandal to the Gunpowder Plot, from the Affair of the Poisons to the Pendle Witch Trials, the possibilities are endless!

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Do you enjoy reading historical fiction? Can you think of any other reasons to add to this list?

Six Degrees of Separation: From The Road to Queens of the Conquest

It’s the first weekend 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 The Road by Cormac McCarthy, a book I haven’t read but have heard a lot about. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

A father and his son walk alone through burned America, heading through the ravaged landscape to the coast. This is the profoundly moving story of their journey. The Road boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which two people, ‘each the other’s world entire’, are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

I don’t really want to think too much about post-apocalyptic worlds at the moment, so I will quickly move my chain in a different direction, linking through the words ‘The Road’. This leads me to The Road to Wanting by Wendy Law-Yone (1), a novel about a young woman who arrives at a hotel in Wanting, a town on the Chinese-Burmese border, and during her time at the hotel reflects on the dramatic series of events that have brought her to Wanting.

Hotels provide the link to my next book: The Haunted Hotel and Other Stories by Wilkie Collins (2). Apart from the title novella, which is set in a Venice hotel, the book also contains several other ghostly or supernatural stories, my favourites being A Terribly Strange Bed and Miss Jeromette and the Clergyman.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a big fan of short stories, but there are some authors, such as Wilkie Collins, whose work I love reading in any format. Daphne du Maurier is another. I have read and enjoyed all of her short story collections, most recently The Doll (3), a collection of stories written very early in her career.

I still have some of Daphne du Maurier’s non-fiction to read, but I have now read all of her fiction apart from Castle Dor (4), a novel begun by Arthur Quiller-Couch and completed by du Maurier. I’m hoping to read it for Ali’s upcoming Daphne du Maurier Reading Week.

Another book I’ve read that was started by one author and finished by another is Winter Siege by Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman (5). Samantha Norman is the daughter of Diana Norman (Ariana Franklin’s real name) and she completed the novel after her mother’s death. Winter Siege is set in England in 1141 during the conflict between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda.

The life of Empress Matilda – also known as Empress Maud – is covered in Queens of the Conquest by Alison Weir (6), a biography of five medieval queens. The other four discussed in the book are Matilda of Flanders (wife of William the Conqueror), Matilda of Scotland and Adeliza of Louvain (the two wives of Henry I) and Matilda of Boulogne (wife of King Stephen).

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And that’s my chain for this month. My links have included the words ‘The Road’, hotels, short stories by favourite authors, novels started by one writer and finished by another, and the Empress Matilda.

Next month we are starting with Normal People by Sally Rooney.

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.