Six in Six 2019 edition

six

I’m a bit late with this but I’ve decided to join in with Jo at The Book Jotters Six in Six, you can read about it here.

You look over the first six months of the year and choose six books in six different categories. So here goes!

Six Historical Fiction books

The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor
Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
Dunstan by Conn Iggulden
The Steps to the Empty Throne by Nigel Tranter
Stormbird by Conn Iggulden
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel

Six books for children (of all ages)

Mary Poppins Comes Back by P.L. Travers
The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden
Bonnie Dundee by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Exploits of Moominpappa by Tove Jansson
Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery


Six non-fiction books

The Love-charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel
To the River by Olivia Laing
Jane Austen’s England by Maggie Lane
Independence by Alasdair Gray
Off in a Boat by Neil Gunn
A Capital View by Alyssa Popiel

Six books by Scottish authors

The Chronicles of Carlingford by Mrs Oliphant
The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh
Homespun by Annie S. Swan
Gone are the Leaves by Anne Donovan
A Time of Love and Tartan by Alexander McCall Smith

Six crime fiction books

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull
Murder with Malice by Nicholas Blake
Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh
Resorting to Murder edited by Martin Edwards
The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor
The Colour of Murder by Julian Symons


Six classics

Lady Anna by Anthony Trollope
Riceyman Steps by Arnold Bennett
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Transformation by Mary Shelley
The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen

This has been a good exercise for me. I knew that I had been reading more historical fiction than usual over the last six months, but hadn’t really thought that my crime fiction reading had tailed off quite so much. I intend to put that right over what is left of 2019.

Are any of these books favourites of yours?

The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien

The Country Girls cover

The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien was first published in 1960 and it’s a slim read at just 186 pages. It was the author’s first book and there are two other books by her featuring Caithleen, a young girl still at school and her sometime friend but often her bully Baba. Caithleen is smart and gets a scholarship to the supposedly prestigious convent school but Baba’s parents have to pay for her to go there.

Life for females in Ireland has never been easy what with most of the men apparently having a drink problem and being abusive in various ways, the women being downtrodden by their families and the Catholic Church. Until recently it was still like that but is seems to be changing – too slowly.

I loved this one with the two young girls refusing to be ruled by their families and the church, and getting up to all sorts of nonsense. The blurb on the back says: ‘Excellent and highly unusual blend of bawdiness and innocence’Evening Standard.

I don’t often buy books from the internet but I bought the second one in this series Girl With Green Eyes (also titled The Lonely Girls) – so that I could continue reading the adventures of Caithleen and Baba.

Curtain Up by Noel Streatfeild

Curtain Up cover

Curtain Up by Noel Streatfeild was first published way back in 1944. The island of Guernsey had been home for the three Forbes children Sorrel, Mark and Holly. Their father had retired from the Navy when their mother had died, but when war was declared their father had immediately re-joined the Navy and the children moved into their eccentric grandfather’s home. He is a clergyman who is far more interested in writing a book about the animals that appear in the bible than he is about the existence of his grandchildren.

When a telegram arrives saying that their father was ‘missing’ they live in hope that he has been taken prisoner and hasn’t drowned. But then grandfather dies and the children are sent to live in London with their mother’s family who are strangers to them. They’re devastated to be leaving their schools, the one stable thing in their lives.

Things get even worse when they discover that their mother had been part of a large family of well-known actors and actresses, and it’s assumed that the children will go to an acting/dancing school. The children had no idea that their mother had been from an entertainments background and they’re not exactly thrilled by the idea.

This was quite an entertaining read which follows the main rule of children’s books – get rid of those annoying parents as quickly as possible. I can imagine that many of the original 1944 child readers would have been enthralled by the storyline which has the children eventually auditioning for BBC radio.

As you would expect – all’s well that ends well.

Resorting to Murder edited by Martin Edwards

 Resorting to Murder cover

Resorting to Murder edited by Martin Edwards is subtitled Holiday Mysteries and it’s a collection of short stories all of which take place at holiday locations of some sort. and of course it’s published by British Library Crime Classics.

The stories are:

The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot by Arthur Conan Doyle
A Schoolmaster Abroad by E.W. Hornung
Murder! by Arnold Bennett
The Murder on the Golf Links by M. McDonnell Bodkin
The Finger Stone by G.K. Chesterton
The Vanishing of Mrs Fraser by Basil Thomson
A Mystery of the Sand-Hills by R.Austin Freeman
The Hazel Ice by H.C. Bailey
Razor Edge by Anthony Berkeley
Holiday Task by Leo Bruce
A Posteriori by Helen Simpson
Where is Mr Manetot by Phyllis Bentley
The House of Screams by Gerald Findler
Cousin Once Removed by Michael Gilbert

This collection has quite a few stories by authors that I’ve never read before. I’ve never been a big fan of Sherlock Holmes and sure enough – The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot wasn’t a favourite of mine.

I particularly liked the stories by R. Austin Freeman, Anthony Berkeley, Leo Bruce, Helen Simpson and Michael Gilbert.

The design for the cover of this book has been taken from a vintage railway poster for Colwyn Bay.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

One Hundred Years of Solitude cover

Fellow blogger Judith (Reader in the Wilderness) and I were supposed to be doing a readalong of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, beginning on July the 1st and reading it in four weekly chunks. Jack had enjoyed it and it’s one of those books that I thought I should read but sad to say I just didn’t get on with it at all, maybe it’s one of those Marmite things, you either love it or hate it. Judith had the same experience, in fact I don’t think she got any further than page 58, I struggled on to the end, despite the fact that I didn’t like any of the characters, didn’t care what happened to them and I’m not a fan of constant repetition which is really what went on in this book.

Characters’ names travel through the generations and presumably in an attempt to be experimental the author chose to write it with a strange structure, that is, beginning at the end of each section and working his way to the beginning. It’s a circular book and I found the ending to be obvious. Maybe an unusual structure is the way to win a Nobel prize for literature!

Seven generations of the Buendia family are worked through in 422 pages. The setting is Macondo which is a small village which had been founded by Jose Arcadia Buendia. According to the blurb on the back this book is – a blend of political reality with magic realism, fantasy with comic invention and is one of the most daringly original works of the twentieth century.

My Penguin copy was translated from Spanish by Gregory Rabassa and there are some surprisingly clunky bits – such as people being hung to a tree and also Saint Augustine is described as having worn a wool jacket under his clothes when surely it should have been a hair shirt.

Hmm – well I actually bought my copy of this book because of the cover – we already had a different edition that Jack had read. For me the cover of this one is still the best thing about it – but as I’m always saying – “it’s just as well we are all different.”

The cover is a detail of Summer (1981) by Tamas Galambos. One Hundred Years of Solitude was first published in 1967.

You can read Jack’s review of the book here.

I read this one as part of the Back to the Classics Challenge.

A Woman in Berlin by anonymous

A Woman in Berlin cover

A Woman in Berlin by anonymous was first published in 1954 in the US in English and was subsequently published in several languages, including Finnish, but it was first published in the UK in 2005 by Virago. There’s an introduction by the historian Antony Beevor.

The anonymous author begins her diary on Friday 20 April 1945, 4 pm and her last entry is Friday, 22 June 1945 and she identifies herself as a journalist who had travelled widely before the war and had even been to Russia where she had managed to pick up some of the language, something which came in handy when the Russian army entered her neighbourhood. Obviously the women were dreading their arrival as they had heard so many rumours of their behaviour. Young girls were hidden away from the soldiers’ eyes in an effort to spare them from their attentions.

This is a grim read at times but not overly so, I’ve read far worse from Russian women writers writing about their experiences as political prisoners in Stalin’s gulags, and it doesn’t come close to matching what the Nazis did or for that matter the horrific things that are happening to young women abducted by armies in parts of Africa.

Rape occurred but the Russian soldiers spared the old, girls under 18 and young mothers. The author discovered that her neighbourhood had been taken over by what she described as elite troops, and other areas had it tougher with less refined soldiers, not that you could really call any of them gentlemanly. Yes the author was raped several times by various different men, then she realised that she must find an officer to attach herself to, in the hope that that would keep the others away from her. A lack of normal deference within the Russian ranks scuppered that hope to begin with but eventually she was seen as Anatol’s woman, unfortunately he was moved on though so she had to begin again.

But it wasn’t all bad news, the neighbours went from starvation to having plenty to eat, thanks to being able to loot the nearby German barracks and getting gifts of food from the Russian soldiers. The few German men who were around kept a very low profile, some of them had been demobbed from the army and they believed that the Russian soldiers would shoot them, but it was Herr Pauli who infuriated me. He was a lodger in the author’s building, lodging with a widow who lived on the ground floor. The author had moved in with them as her attic room on the fourth floor was dangerous while the battle for Berlin was ongoing. Pauli grudged every morsel that the author ate, and I just longed for her to say to him that if it wasn’t for her they would have had nothing to eat at all, but the German women must have been so used to seeing German men as superior beings that she never did give the lazy so and so a piece of her mind. She realises that looking back when all of the soldiers came home on leave they were pampered by the women, despite the fact that they had been living in areas of Europe that hadn’t been getting bombarded by bombs the way Berlin was.

Later in the book the author realised that if she had stayed on the upper floors of the building she would have been safe from the soldiers as they never went up to the higher floors, her theory on that was that as they were nearly all farm boys they weren’t used to stairs and didn’t like climbing up them.

The widow was eventually raped a few times, despite being 50, albeit a young looking 50, however she seems to have been rather pleased by the experience and went around telling everyone that according to her rapist she had a better figure than the Ukrainian women he was used to!

One woman states that if Hitler had been finished off on 20 July 1944, he would have kept some of his aura. That’s absolutely true as he still had plenty of supporters in modern Germany, if he had been a martyr it would only have made that situation worse.

Towards the end of the book the women discover that the Russian army didn’t give their soldiers home leave so many of the men had never seen their wives for over four years, they thought it went some way to understanding their behaviour, especially when they were drunk.

The identity of the author was obviously known to her publisher but she didn’t want this book to be republished in her lifetime as it had caused controversy when it first was published in Germany in 1954, presumably the women in particular didn’t want to admit to themselves what had happened during the Russian occupation. She outlived the publisher but his wife knew her identity and she apparently lived to be over 90 and died in 2001.

The Steps to the Empty Throne by Nigel Tranter

 Bruce Trilogy cover

The Steps to the Empty Throne by Nigel Tranter was first published in 1969 and it’s the first of a Bruce trilogy. I do think though that Tranter was a bit generous with what is known of the history regarding Robert the Bruce, at one point Bruce comes to the aid of William Wallace at the end of a battle, something which almost certainly didn’t happen. In the early days Bruce was known for not being where he should be – when it came to battles. I suspect this was because he had had quite a close relationship with Edward I of England – before Edward became known as ‘The Hammer of the Scots’.

Scotland had always been an independent country but when King Alexander III fell off his horse and died at Kinghorn in Fife (see his memorial at the location here) and then his daughter (The Maid of Norway) – who had been his heir died, that left a power vacuum and that’s what this book is about. The Scots made a huge mistake in asking their neighbour King Edward of England to help to choose between the candidates. Edward decided that John Balliol should get the top job but he had decided to take over himself in Scotland and Balliol was really just Edward’s puppet. As you can imagine this didn’t go down well with the Scots who ended up getting rid of Balliol and signed a treaty with France, always England’s enemy. Edward took this as an excuse to invade Scotland and so began the Wars of Independence. As ever though the Scots were as much at each other’s throats as at war with the English.

A few battles are fought but the book is much more than that. Bruce is a widower but by the end of the book he has remarried so there’s romance too, despite Edward’s manipulations. There’s the difference between William Wallace’s guerrilla warfare and Bruce’s chivalric leanings which he had to give up when Edward’s dirty tricks led to Bruce’s defeat in battles. The manner of Wallace’s execution also enraged so many Scots – so the gloves were off. Bruce had always been keen to avoid being excommunicated by the pope, but inevitably that happens, he was reminded that the Scottish church had originally been a Celtic church and it had been obliterated by Queen Margaret (King Malcolm’s wife) who replaced the Culdees with the Benedictines that she had grown up with. Suddenly excommunication didn’t matter any more.

I’m really looking forward to the next one in this trilogy The Path of the Hero King.

The Exploits of Moominpappa by Tove Jansson

The Exploits of Moominpappa cover

The Exploits of Moominpappa (described by himself) by Tove Jansson was first published in 1952, but I don’t recall ever reading any of the Moomin books as a child, or even to my own boys when they were wee. I thought I should have a look and see what they are about as I know the books are very popular, so when I saw this Puffin paperback in a second-hand bookshop in Edinburgh – I bought it.

I suspect that this one isn’t your usual Moomin book though, I have no idea what age the books were aimed at but this one seems more suited to adults really, certainly not very young children – not that there’s anything untoward in it. It reminded me of the craziness of Alice in Wonderland – Jansson obviously had a great imagination.

The Preface begins: I, Moominpappa am sitting tonight by my window looking out into my garden, where the fireflies embroider their mysterious signs on the velvet dark. Perishable flourishes of a short but happy life!

Moominpappa was abandoned as a youngster on the doorstep of an orphanage which was ruled over by a Hemulen – a very strict personage. Eventually, when he’s old enough he runs away and builds his own house, by a brook and soon he meets Hodgkins who has a houseboat called Oshun, Oxtra, it was supposed to be The Ocean Orchestra but the Muddler painted it and spelling isn’t his strong point and before long they sail off and meet up with various others on their adventure. It was a fun read, but I’m not sure that this one is a typical Moomin book. Have you read any of them?

The Sea for Breakfast by Lillian Beckwith

The Sea for Breakfast cover

The Sea for Breakfast by Lilian Beckwith was first published in 1961 and it’s a sequel to her The Hills is Lonely. The setting is still Skye where ‘Miss Peckwitt’ is having to move out of her lodging in Bruach as her room is needed for some of the members of Morag her landlady’s extended family. Lilian decides to take the plunge and buys a croft which has been abandoned for some years. The house is in need of a lot of work and her neighbours are happy to help out, and we’re introduced to a few more of the eccentric locals.

Some of the animals are a bit confused and when Lilian takes her in season cow to the bull the cow is perplexed when the bull bends down and sucks at her udder, not at all what was required or expected!

The standard of morality and double standards are not at all what is expected on the mainland of Scotland at this time as can be seen by the excerpt below.

‘You’ll know him, of course?’ she asked doubtfully. ‘He lived outside the village but he goes to my own church regularly.’

‘I know that Netta had a baby by him a little while ago,’ I admitted.

‘Oh yes, indeed. But he’s done the right thing by her. He’s made sure the baby was registered under his own name.’

‘But if he admits he’s the father and wants the baby in his own name, why on earth didn’t he marry the girl?’

The teacher looked at me in shocked surprise. ‘Oh, Miss Peckwitt,’ she hissed reproachfully, ‘he’s a good-living man and he’s hoping to be a missionary some day. He could never marry a girl like that.’

Hilarious in a way but that attitude to women rings so true and of course it was always other women who were the most judgemental of other females – at the same time as revering the men.

This was another good read with laugh out loud moments.

Trinity by Conn Iggulden

 Trinity cover

Trinity by Conn Iggulden is the second book in his Wars of the Roses trilogy and it was published in 2014.

The date is 1454 and King Henry VI is still haunted by a mystery illness which has him in a vacant and sleepy state for months on end, unable to take any part in ruling of his kingdom. Inevitably this has led to those who are close to the throne casting their eyes in that direction. The actual heir to the throne is Henry’s small son and his mother Queen Margaret fears for the future, but she’s no shrinking violet and is determined to keep control of the realm while King Henry is out of commission. Men and families are taking sides, either supporting the King or Richard, Duke of York, who is supposedly the Protector of the Realm. Lancaster or York, which side are you on?

I really loved this one although there is a lot of fighting in it. I was particularly interested in the Battle of St Albans with soldiers crashing through houses and gardens to get to the enemy. It’s a place I haven’t been though and I wonder if they have interesting historical notes carved into the paving stones – as they do in Worcester where fighting went on within that town in a later time of English conflict.

I’m really looking forward to reading the last in this series.