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!


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.

Six Degrees of Separation: From Three Women to The Mysteries of Udolpho

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 Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, a book I haven’t read. Goodreads tells me that it’s ‘a record of unmet needs, unspoken thoughts, disappointments, hopes and unrelenting obsessions’. I don’t think I’m interested in reading it, but I know a lot of people have enjoyed it.

Although I haven’t read Three Women, the title immediately makes me think of one of the books I am currently reading – Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister by Jung Chang (1), a biography of the three Soong sisters who became three of the most powerful women in 20th century China. I chose to read this book because I loved Jung Chang’s earlier biography, Wild Swans, which was also about three women (herself, her mother and her grandmother). So far I am enjoying this new one as well, although I think it will take me a while to finish it.

The word sister provides my next link and leads me to The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (2), a novel set in 1850s Oregon and California and telling the story of two hired killers, Charlie and Eli Sisters. I liked this book much more than I had expected to and was so glad I didn’t let the ‘western’ label put me off.

It’s fair to say that I don’t usually choose to read westerns but sometimes it’s good to try something different. Another genre I don’t often read is science fiction, but I’ve enjoyed a few of John Wyndham’s books in the last few years – most recently, Chocky (3), a short but fascinating novel about a boy who appears to have an imaginary friend, which I read for Karen and Simon’s ‘1968 Club’ back in 2017.

Another book I’ve read published in 1968 is Cousin Kate by Georgette Heyer (4). Like many of Heyer’s novels, this one is set in the Regency period but has a slightly different feel from most of the others because of the Gothic elements, which include storms, locked doors, noises in the night and family secrets waiting to be uncovered.

Looking back at my review of Cousin Kate, I said it reminded me of Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (5) which has some of the same elements – and a heroine, Catherine Morland, who loves reading Gothic novels. At one point in Northanger Abbey, Catherine is given a list of seven ‘horrid novels’. I haven’t read any of the horrid novels, which is a shame as I could have used one of them as my next link!

I have, however, read another book which is alluded to several times in Northanger Abbey – Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (6). Published in the 18th century and set in France and Italy, it is the story of Emily St Aubert, a French orphan who is imprisoned in the remote and gloomy castle of Udolpho where she is subjected to lots of seemingly supernatural terrors. I read this before I started blogging, but if you want to see my thoughts on some other Ann Radcliffe books, I have reviewed both A Sicilian Romance and The Romance of the Forest.


Well, that’s my chain for this month, with links including three women, the word sister, books outside my comfort zone, 1968 and gothic novels. Next month we will be starting with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

Top Ten Tuesday: My Autumn TBR

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl, asks us to list ten books on our Autumn 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.

Two books I’m hoping to get to soon for the R.I.P. XIV event:

1. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

2. Tombland by CJ Sansom

A book left over from my 20 Books of Summer List:

3. The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

My Classics Club Spin result, announced yesterday:

4. Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy

Some review copies I haven’t read yet:

5. To Calais, in Ordinary Time by James Meek

6. A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

For the Read Christie 2019 Challenge:

7. Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie

Next in a series started earlier this year:

8. Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb

Non-fiction, because I don’t read enough of it:

9. The Brothers York by Thomas Penn

10. Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor by Phil Carradice


Have you read or will you be reading any of these? Which books are on your autumn/fall TBR?

Six Degrees of Separation: From A Gentleman in Moscow to Poor Miss Finch

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 A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, a book I read a few years ago – it’s not often that I’ve read the starting book in one of these chains and it does make things slightly easier! It tells the story of a Russian Count who is sentenced to spend the rest of his days under house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. I really enjoyed this book and found it quite inspiring that the Count managed to lead such a fulfilling life during his confinement.

Another novel set in and around a hotel, this time in Cyprus, is The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop (1). The story takes place in Famagusta in 1974, when the Sunrise Hotel is evacuated during a Greek military coup and Turkish invasion. I found the book a bit uneven, but loved the setting and the vivid descriptions of the abandoned city.

Famagusta already had a troubled history, long before the events of The Sunrise. In Dorothy Dunnett’s Race of Scorpions (2), the third in her House of Niccolò series, our hero Nicholas arrives in Cyprus in the early 1460s just as the island is torn apart by the conflict between Queen Carlotta and her half-brother James de Lusignan and the city of Famagusta finds itself under siege.

The Niccolò series takes us all over 15th century Europe and Africa, but the first book, Niccolò Rising, is set mainly in Bruges. I can’t think of many other books I’ve read that have Bruges as a setting, apart from an obvious one: The Master of Bruges by Terence Morgan (3). This novel is presented as the fictional memoirs of the 15th century artist Hans Memling who becomes acquainted with Edward IV and the future Richard III during their exile in Flanders.

My next link is to another book with Master in the title. There were a few I could have chosen, but I decided on The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (4). I remember feeling intimidated by this book before I started to read it, but I needn’t have worried because I absolutely loved this weird and wonderful Russian classic.

A famous phrase from the book is “manuscripts don’t burn”, which makes my next link a very easy one. A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger (5) follows the poet John Gower as he searches 14th century London for a missing book of prophecies which predicts the death of the King of England. John Gower was a real person and although there’s not much biographical information on him available, we do know that he became blind in later life and in the sequel, The Invention of Fire, we see him trying to cope with his loss of sight.

Poor Miss Finch by Wilkie Collins (6) is a novel with a blind heroine and it handles the subject of blindness in a way that is both sensitive and fascinating. It’s not quite as ‘sensational’ as some of his other novels (and has a very strange subplot involving twins with blue skin), but I still enjoyed it!

And that’s my chain for this month. In October we’ll be starting with Three Women by Lisa Taddeo.

Six Degrees of Separation: From House of Names to Rebecca

Thanks to everyone who wished me luck with my house move last week. I am starting to get settled in the new house but still have a lot to do! I’m a few days late with my Six Degrees of Separation post for August (I usually try to have my post ready for the first Saturday of the month) as I’m still waiting for my broadband to be activated so am having to do things where and when I can, but I’m hoping everything will be back to normal soon.

Six Degrees of Separation is 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 doing something slightly different; instead of Kate giving us the first title, we are starting with the book with which we finished last month’s chain! In my case, that was House of Names by Colm Tóibín, a novel which retells the tragic story of the House of Atreus from Aeschylus’ trilogy, the Oresteia.

I have used the title ‘house of names’ as my first link and have chosen a book with a person’s name in its title. There are lots of those, so I had plenty of choice, but the one I’ve decided on is Grace Williams Says It Loud by Emma Henderson. This is the story of a young woman growing up in the 1950s who struggles to communicate verbally and is sent to live in a residential home for people with disabilities, the Briar Mental Institute. I found it both moving and inspirational – not the sort of book to be easily forgotten.

Another novel about a young woman who is considered to be ‘different’ is Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins (another name in the title too). First published in 1934, it is based on a real life crime which took place in 1877 and is a very dark and disturbing story. It’s published by Persephone and I read it last year for a Persephone Readathon.

There are several other Persephones with names in the titles, including Virginia Woolf’s Flush. Flush is the name of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog and the novel is written from his perspective. It’s a fascinating and creative combination of fact and fiction; I loved it!

Virginia Woolf also wrote Orlando. It was the first of her books that I read and I remember finding it surprisingly accessible and entertaining. Orlando is the name of a very unusual protagonist: a character who lives for four hundred years and changes gender along the way!

Another novel which plays with time in an interesting way is Mariana by Susanna Kearsley. In Mariana, we meet Julia Beckett, who moves into a lonely farmhouse called Greywethers and becomes obsessed with the life of Mariana Farr, a woman who lived in the house during the 17th century.

One of my favourite novels, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, also features a house (Manderley) and a former resident whose presence is still strongly felt. And, of course, the title of the book is a name – which links back to the first book in this chain, House of Names.

And that’s my chain for this month! Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned?

Next month we’ll begin with A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

Six in Six: The 2019 Edition

We’re halfway through the year and I’m pleased to see that the Six in Six meme, hosted by Jo of The Book Jotter, is back again! I love to take part in this as I think it’s the perfect way to reflect on 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 try to fit six of the books or authors you’ve read this year into each category. It’s not as easy as it sounds and I usually find that there’s a lot of overlap as some books could fit into more than one category, but it’s always fun to do.

Here is my 2019 Six in Six, with links to reviews where possible (I’m behind with reviews and will be posting the rest of them eventually).


Six classic crime novels

1. The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie
2. Death of a Doll by Hilda Lawrence
3. Who Killed Dick Whittington? by E and MA Radford
4. A Knife for Harry Dodd by George Bellairs
5. The Secret of High Eldersham by Miles Burton
6. And Death Came Too by Richard Hull


Six books with a touch of fantasy

1. Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
2. The Binding by Bridget Collins
3. Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb
4. The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick
5. The Alchemist of Lost Souls by Mary Lawrence
6. The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo


Six books that are not novels

1. The Mysterious Mr Quin by Agatha Christie (short stories)
2. Margaret Tudor by Melanie Clegg (non-fiction)
3. The Return of Mr Campion by Margery Allingham (short stories)
4. The Afterlife of King James IV by Keith John Coleman (non-fiction)
5. The Doll by Daphne du Maurier (short stories)
6. Amours de Voyage by Arthur Hugh Clough (narrative poem – I know this could be classed as a novel in verse, but I needed a sixth book!)


Six books set in different countries

1. The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea (Iceland)
2. Cashelmara by Susan Howatch (Ireland)
3. Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh (India and Italy)
4. Casanova and the Faceless Woman by Olivier Barde-Cabuçon (France)
5. The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See (Korea)
6. Death in Kenya by MM Kaye (Kenya)


Six authors read for the first time this year

1. E Phillips Oppenheim (The Great Impersonation)
2. Sarah Moss (Bodies of Light)
3. John Buchan (The Thirty-Nine Steps)
4. Michelle Paver (Wakenhyrst)
5. Alex Reeve (The House on Half Moon Street)
6. Samantha Harvey (The Western Wind)


Six of my favourite books so far this year

1. The Way to the Lantern by Audrey Erskine Lindop
2. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
3. The Devil’s Slave by Tracy Borman
4. Things in Jars by Jess Kidd
5. Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer
6. Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper


Have you read any of these books? Will you be taking part in Six in Six this year too?

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters who share my name

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl, is a ‘Character Freebie’ (any topic of our choice that deals with book characters).

I thought it might be fun to list some characters who have the same name as me (Helen). I wondered whether I would be able to think of ten, but it turned out to be easier than I expected – in fact, I could have included more!

1. Helen Burns – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

The saintly Helen Burns was Jane’s best friend at Lowood School and although her role in the novel is short and tragic, she has a lasting influence on Jane’s life.

2. Helen Irvine – Fair Helen by Andrew Greig

Helen of Kirkconnel Lea was the heroine of a famous ballad and her story is told in this beautifully written historical fiction novel.

3. Helen of Mar – The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter

The daughter of the Earl of Mar, Lady Helen falls in love with Scottish hero William Wallace in Jane Porter’s 1809 novel.

4. Helen Franklin – Melmoth by Sarah Perry

This secretive Helen becomes fascinated by the story of Melmoth the Witness and discovers that the legend holds a personal significance.

5. Helen Schlegel – Howards End by E.M. Forster

The younger and more impulsive and passionate of the two Schlegel sisters in Forster’s classic novel.

6. Helen of Troy – For the Most Beautiful by Emily Hauser

I’m sure this famous Helen needs no introduction!

7. Helen Fong – China Dolls by Lisa See

One of three young women who become friends after meeting at an audition for dancers at a San Francisco nightclub in 1938.

8. DCI Helen Rowley – Sacrifice and the Lacey Flint series by Sharon Bolton

A recurring, though minor, character throughout Bolton’s Lacey Flint series (as Dana Tulloch’s partner) and also has a bigger role to play in the standalone novel Sacrifice.

9. Helen Giniver – The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

This Helen is one of several characters whose lives and relationships are explored in Sarah Waters’ World War II novel.

10. Helen Huntingdon – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

A Brontë character started my list so another Brontë character will finish it! Written in diary format, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall describes Helen Huntingdon’s marriage to an abusive, drunken husband.


Can you think of any other literary Helens? Are there any fictional characters who share your own name?