Six Degrees of Separation: From How to do Nothing to The Great Impersonation

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 How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. As usual, I haven’t read it, but here is the blurb:

This thrilling critique of the forces vying for our attention re-defines what we think of as productivity, shows us a new way to connect with our environment and reveals all that we’ve been too distracted to see about our selves and our world.

When the technologies we use every day collapse our experiences into 24/7 availability, platforms for personal branding, and products to be monetized, nothing can be quite so radical as…doing nothing. Here, Jenny Odell sends up a flare from the heart of Silicon Valley, delivering an action plan to resist capitalist narratives of productivity and techno-determinism, and to become more meaningfully connected in the process.

I don’t think this is a book I would be interested in reading, but if you’ve read it let me know what you thought.

Another word for ‘nothing’ is ‘zero’, so my first link takes me to Towards Zero by Agatha Christie (1), one of only five Christie novels to feature the detective Superintendent Battle. In this book, which I remember enjoying, Battle is investigating the murder of Lady Tressilian in her home by the sea.

Tressilian is also the name of the main character in Rafael Sabatini’s The Sea-Hawk (2). Sir Oliver Tressilian is a gentleman from Cornwall who is betrayed and sold into slavery before being liberated by Barbary pirates who operate from the city of Algiers. I love Sabatini’s books and can highly recommend this one!

Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett (3) is also set partly in Algiers, as well as several other beautifully described locations around the Mediterranean and North Africa. This, and the other five novels that make up Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, are some of my absolute favourites, but if you haven’t read them yet you really need to start with The Game of Kings.

All of the books in the Lymond Chronicles have titles inspired by the game of chess. So does Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle (4), a novel set at the Tudor court and telling the story of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife. The story is told partly from Katherine’s perspective and partly from her maid, Dorothy Fownten’s. Although I think some of Fremantle’s later books are better, I did enjoy this one.

My next link is to another book about a queen – a self-proclaimed queen this time, rather than a real one! Queen Lucia by EF Benson (5) is the first book in Benson’s Mapp and Lucia series; it was my choice for the 1920 Club earlier this year and kept me entertained during the early stages of lockdown when I really needed something fun and light!

Like Queen Lucia, The Great Impersonation by E Phillips Oppenheim (6) was also published in 1920 and is also a lot of fun to read. It has a very clever plot involving a case of mistaken identities and keeps the reader guessing until the end.

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And that’s my chain for this month. My links have included synonyms for ‘nothing’, the name Tressilian, Algiers, chess-related titles, queens and the year 1920. In September we will be starting with Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest novel, Rodham.

Six Degrees of Separation: From What I Loved to Britannia Mews

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 What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt. It’s not a book that I’ve read, but here’s the blurb:

In 1975 art historian Leo Hertzberg discovers an extraordinary painting by an unknown artist in a New York gallery. He buys the work, tracks down its creator, Bill Weschler, and the two men embark on a life-long friendship.

This is the story of their intense and trouble relationship, of the women in their lives and their work, of art and hysteria, love and seduction and their sons – born the same year but whose lives take very different paths.

Like Leo, the heroine of Nicola Cornick’s supernatural time-slip novel, The Phantom Tree (1) finds a painting in a gallery which changes her life. The painting is of Mary Seymour, the daughter of Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr, and Thomas Seymour, whom Katherine married following Henry’s death.

Mary Seymour, born in 1548, disappears from historical records after 1550, but in The Phantom Tree, Cornick imagines that she was raised at Wolf Hall with her Seymour cousins. This provides an obvious link to Wolf Hall (2), the first book in Hilary Mantel’s trilogy of Tudor novels about Thomas Cromwell.

The word ‘wolf’ makes me think of Wolf Among Wolves by Hans Fallada (3), a novel first published in 1937. Set in Germany, it follows a group of people struggling to survive in the aftermath of the First World War with hyperinflation leaving the economy in ruins.

Wolf Among Wolves is translated from the original German. Another German novel I’ve read in translation is The Beggar King by Oliver Pötzsch (4), the third in a series of historical mysteries following the adventures of a 17th century Bavarian hangman and his daughter.

This leads me to The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag (5), one of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce novels, starring an eleven-year-old detective and chemistry genius. In this book, Flavia is investigating a murder which takes place during a puppet show.

In Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp (6), our heroine marries a man who creates wonderful hand-made puppets and she later opens a successful puppet theatre in a coach house in her street, Britannia Mews. I highly recommend this book; I loved watching the changing nature of Britannia Mews and its inhabitants over the course of the novel.

And that’s my chain for July. My links have included paintings in galleries, the Seymours of Wolf Hall, the word ‘wolf’, German translations, hangmen and puppets.

In August we will be starting with How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell.

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.

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.