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 Degrees of Separation: From Where the Wild Things Are to House of Names

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 children’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

I can’t remember ever reading this book, or having it read to me, as a child. I wondered if I would be the only person to admit that, but having looked at a few other people’s chains today I’m pleased to see that it’s not just me! For my first link, I’m going to choose a children’s picture book that I do remember: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. This means I’ll have to break my own rule of only including books in my chain that I’ve already reviewed on my blog.

It’s the very simplest of stories, but the illustrations, the bright colours and the holes in the pages make it very appealing to a child! I can’t think of any other books I’ve read with a caterpillar connection (although I have just started The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley), so I’m going to use the word ‘hungry’ as my next link instead.

Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier tells the story of five generations of the Brodrick family beginning in 1820 with Copper John Brodrick, the owner of a copper mine in Ireland. The book reminded me of Penmarric by Susan Howatch, another family saga in which a mine plays an important part – in this case, a tin mine in Cornwall.

The lives of the fictional characters in Penmarric closely mirror the lives of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and their sons. Elizabeth Chadwick wrote an excellent trilogy of novels about Eleanor, of which the first is The Summer Queen.

‘The Summer Queen’ makes me think of the woman who was known as ‘The Winter Queen’ – Elizabeth Stuart of Bohemia. She was given that name because her husband’s reign in Bohemia only lasted for one winter (1619 to 1620). Elizabeth is one of the characters whose story is told in Nicola Cornick’s House of Shadows, a novel set in multiple time periods.

My final link is to another book with ‘House of’ in the title. I had a few options here, including House of Glass by Susan Fletcher and House of Gold by Natasha Solomons, but the one I’ve chosen to end my chain is House of Names by Colm Tóibín, which retells the tragic story of the House of Atreus from Aeschylus’ trilogy, the Oresteia.

And that’s my chain for this month. My links have included picture books, the word ‘hungry’, mining, Eleanor of Aquitaine, summer and winter, and ‘house of’ books.

In August, instead of Kate giving us the first book in the chain, we will be starting with the book we ended our chain with this month, which for me will be House of Names.

Six Degrees of Separation: From Murmur to Great House

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 book I haven’t read and know nothing about: Murmur by Will Eaves. Goodreads tells me that “taking its cue from the arrest and legally enforced chemical castration of the mathematician Alan Turing, Murmur is the account of a man who responds to intolerable physical and mental stress with love, honour and a rigorous, unsentimental curiosity about the ways in which we perceive ourselves and the world.”

I struggled to think of how to link this to another book, especially as I prefer to only use books in my chains that I’ve actually read and reviewed. I’ve never read anything else by Will Eaves or anything about Alan Turing and neither the book cover nor the word ‘murmur’ gave me any inspiration either. Eventually, I decided that, as Alan Turing was a mathematician, I would simply choose another novel I’ve read about a mathematician – The Words in My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd.

The Words in My Hand tells the story of Helena Jans van der Strom, a Dutch woman who was in a relationship with the 17th century French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes for more than a decade. The novel explores the significance of the roles they played in each other’s lives and the barriers of class and gender that meant their relationship could never be an equal one.

The story is set mainly in Amsterdam, which is where Helena is working as a maid at the time when Descartes comes to stay in the city. Another book set in 17th century Amsterdam is Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, a novel inspired by Petronella Oortman’s doll’s house which is on display in the Rijksmuseum.

In The Miniaturist, a young woman is given a special wedding present by her husband: a cabinet containing a doll’s house that resembles their own home. She writes to a ‘miniaturist’ asking for some tiny items and figures to put inside it, but when they begin to arrive she is surprised to find how closely they correspond to people and things from her own life. I enjoyed the book but was also disappointed by it because I felt that the mystery of the miniaturist was never fully resolved.

In 2014, The Miniaturist was voted Waterstones Book of the Year, a prize which has been running since 2012. Last year’s winner was Normal People by Sally Rooney, a book I haven’t read, but one that I have read and loved is Stoner by John Williams, which won the award in 2013.

Stoner, published in 1965, is the story of farmer’s son William Stoner who attends the University of Missouri to study agriculture but discovers a passion for literature instead and stays on at the university to teach for the next forty years. Stoner becomes a Professor of English Literature and that makes me think of Edmund Crispin’s detective Gervase Fen, who was Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University. Fen stars in a series of mystery novels, the first of which is The Case of the Gilded Fly.

In The Case of the Gilded Fly, Fen is investigating a locked room murder which takes place during rehearsals for the premiere of a new play. An Egyptian-style gilded ring is found on the dead woman’s finger. The word ‘gilded’ in the title leads me to Gilded Splendour by Rosalind Laker, a fictional account of the life of the 18th century cabinet-maker and furniture designer Thomas Chippendale.

Despite the cover, I didn’t find this a very romantic story, especially as I really disliked the hero and wished the heroine would just forget about him! However, I did love the descriptions of Chippendale’s work and the techniques he used to create his furniture. I particularly enjoyed reading about a doll’s house that he built and furnished in miniature – which of course links this book back to an earlier book in my chain, The Miniaturist!

I need one more link to finish the chain, though, and I have chosen another novel where an item of furniture plays an important part. Great House by Nicole Krauss consists of several stories set in different times and places which are all linked by a writing desk with a dramatic and complex history.

And that’s my chain for this month! My links have included mathematicians, Amsterdam, prize winners, English professors, the word ‘gilded’ and items of furniture. Have you read any of these books?

In July, we will be starting with the children’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

Six Degrees of Separation: From The Dry to The Red House Mystery

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 beginning with The Dry by Jane Harper. I haven’t read that book, but I know that a lot of bloggers whose opinions I trust have enjoyed it so I would like to give it a try. The story is set in a fictional Australian community during a drought. The opposite of a drought is a flood, so for my first link I have chosen Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh. This was the third book – and probably my favourite – in Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy, set in India, China and at sea during the period of the First Opium War.

Opium provides the link to the next book in my chain, which is The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. In the opening scene of the book, we see Edwin Drood’s uncle, the choirmaster John Jasper, visiting a London opium den run by a mysterious woman known as Princess Puffer.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood was the novel Dickens was working on when he died and was unfortunately left unfinished. I enjoyed it and do recommend reading it, but the fact that it ends before the mystery is solved is as frustrating as you would expect! Another classic novel that was unfinished at the time of the author’s death is Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, although I found the ending of that one much more satisfying.

I want to move the chain away from classic Victorian novels now, so I have selected a very different type of book for my next link, but one which also has ‘Wives’ in the title: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin. The novel describes a polygamous marriage through the stories of Nigerian businessman Baba Segi and his four wives, who each take their turn as narrator.

I’ve read a few other books set in Nigeria, the most memorable being Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a beautiful, emotional novel which follows the lives of several characters before and during the Nigerian-Biafran War of 1967-1970.

To bring my chain to an end, I have chosen another book with a colour in the title, not yellow this time but red. That book is The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne. Although Milne is best known for the Winnie the Pooh stories, he also wrote this detective novel, published in 1922, which I thought was great fun to read!

And that is my chain for this month. My links included droughts and floods, opium dens, unfinished novels, wives, Nigeria and colours!

In June we’ll be starting with Murmur by Will Eaves, another book I haven’t read.

Six Degrees of Separation: From How to be Both to Bitter Greens

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 chain begins with How to be Both by Ali Smith, which is a book I’ve never read or considered reading. It does sound interesting – a novel written from two perspectives, one a contemporary teenager and the other a Renaissance artist, where the two narratives are printed in a different order depending on which version you buy. I suspect it wouldn’t be my sort of book, though I could be wrong.

How to be Both won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2015. I don’t make a point of deliberately reading the winners of this prize, but I appear to have read quite a few of them over the years anyway. However, I haven’t yet read last year’s winner, Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie – although I have read another of her books, A God in Every Stone.

A God in Every Stone is set mainly in Peshawar during and after the First World War and two of the main characters – Vivian and Najeeb – are archaeologists. Another book I’ve read about archaeologists is Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters, the first in a series of mysteries featuring Amelia Peabody, a Victorian Egyptologist.

I have still only read the first two books in the Amelia Peabody series, although I really enjoyed them and have no idea why it is taking me so long to get round to reading the third. Another historical mystery series that I started a few years ago but have still only read the first two books is Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, which begins with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

The word apprentice in the title leads me quite naturally to Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb – a very different sort of apprenticeship from beekeeping, but I suppose they could be equally dangerous! Assassin’s Apprentice is the first book in the wonderful Farseer Trilogy, which I highly recommend.

I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but I do always enjoy Robin Hobb’s books. Another fantasy author I’ve enjoyed reading recently is Katherine Arden. Her Winternight trilogy begins with The Bear and the Nightingale and is inspired by Russian myths and fairy tales. I loved the setting and the characters and thought each book in the trilogy was better than the one before.

Another book I loved that was inspired by a fairy tale was Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, which combines a retelling of Rapunzel with the story of Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force, the 17th century woman who wrote the original tale on which it was based.

So those are my links for this month: Prize-winners, archaeology, unfinished series, apprentices, fantasy and fairy tales. Have you read any of the books in my chain?

Next month we will be starting with The Dry by Jane Harper.

Six Degrees of Separation: From The Arsonist to Seven for a Secret

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 begin with The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper. I haven’t read this book – in fact, it isn’t out in the UK until the end of May – but it does sound like an interesting Australian true-crime book about ‘Black Saturday’, the day in February 2009 when a man lit two fires in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.

For my first link, I have chosen another book on a fire-related subject, although this one is fiction: The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor, a historical mystery set in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London. This is part of a series featuring the characters of Cat Lovett and James Marwood (I used the first book, The Ashes of London, in a previous Six Degrees post) and the next book, The King’s Evil, is on my shelf waiting to be read soon.

My next link is to another historical crime novel written by an author whose name is Andrew. He is Andrew Hughes and the book is The Convictions of John Delahunt. Set in Dublin in the 1840s, this is a dark, atmospheric novel with an unusual and intriguing narrator. I remember loving it.

Another book set at least partly in Dublin – in the early twentieth century this time – is Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor, the story of the Irish actress Molly Allgood and her relationship with the playwright John Millington Synge. I thought this was a beautifully written novel, but I still haven’t read any of Joseph O’Connor’s other books yet.

Despite the title, Ghost Light is not actually a ghost story. A novel with the word ‘ghost’ in the title that really does feature ghosts is The Ghost Writer by John Harwood. The main character discovers that his great-grandmother, Viola Hatherley, was a writer of ghost stories and some of the tales she had supposedly written are incorporated into the plot.

This leads me to another book which uses the story-within-a-story concept, but in a very different way: the wonderful Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. The novel includes, almost in its entirety, an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery written by a fictional author called Alan Conway.

My final link is to Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye, the middle book in her Timothy Wilde trilogy which I loved and was sorry to see come to an end. It can be linked to the previous book in the chain in two ways – as well as having birds pictured on the cover, the title refers to the famous rhyme about magpies (One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told).

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

In April we will be starting with How to be Both by Ali Smith.

Six Degrees of Separation: From Fight Club to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

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 Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. I’ve never read this book (or seen the film) and I’m not really interested in reading it, but I can see from Goodreads that it’s about an ‘enigmatic young man who holds secret after-hours boxing matches in the basement of bars’.

For my first link, I’ve chosen another book about a fighter – Warwyck’s Wife by Rosalind Laker. The protagonist (I refuse to call him a hero) is a boxer in the 1820s and although I have little interest in boxing, I did find it fascinating to read about what the sport involved in its early days.

At the beginning of the book he buys a woman at auction who has been put up for sale by her husband, a custom which, unfortunately, really did take place in the 19th century. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy opens with a very similar scene in which Michael Henchard sells his wife at a country fair, an impulsive act which he quickly regrets.

Like most of Hardy’s novels, The Mayor of Casterbridge is set in his fictional Wessex, based on the real landscape of south and south-west England. Another Victorian author who set several of his books in an imaginary region is Anthony Trollope. His Chronicles of Barsetshire take place in and around the fictitious English county of Barsetshire and its cathedral town of Barchester. The first book in the series is The Warden.

The warden of the title is the Reverend Septimus Harding (one of my favourite Trollope characters). Another novel with a clergyman as the main character is The Mysteries of Glass by Sue Gee, which I remember as a beautifully written, though very slow-paced, novel. Looking back at my review, I said at the time that “Although I was reading this book in July, I could still picture the cold, wintry landscape.”

Today, I don’t need a book to show me a snowy landscape – I can see plenty of snow just by looking out of my window! Thinking of other novels that have a wintry setting and atmosphere, though, leads me to the next book in my chain: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, a magical story inspired by a Russian fairy tale.

Staying on the same theme, another book with the word ‘Snow’ in the title is Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. This one is not a wintry read, though – it’s a novel set in 1820s China in which a girl communicates with her friend through messages written on a silk fan.

That’s my chain for this month! My links have included boxing, wife-selling, fictional lands, the church and snow.

In March we will be starting with The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper.