Six Degrees of Separation: From Hamnet to Macbeth

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month’s chain begins with Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, the winner of the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction. Set mainly in Stratford-on-Avon, it is historical fiction inspired by Hamnet, Shakespeare’s son. The central theme, though is the grief – the overwhelming and all consuming grief, that the whole family and in particular, Agnes, Hamnet’s mother suffered when he died at the age of eleven in 1596. It’s not my favourite book by O’Farrell but I did find it fascinating.

The first five books that form the links in my chain are shown in the photo below:

The first link:

Hilary Mantel’s third book in her Wolf Hall trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, which was also on the shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2020. I was very keen to read this book when it was first published in February, and began reading it, but for a variety of reasons I still haven’t finished it. It’s the final book in the Wolf Hall trilogy, tracing Thomas Cromwell‘s final years as he fell from power.

The second link:

A biography of Thomas Cromwell and a another book I haven’t read – Thomas Cromwell: the Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Faithful Servant by Tracy Borman. I’d like to read this and The Mirror and the Light this year, but that could easily mean another year could slip by leaving them still on the TBR piles.

The third link:

Thinking about historical figures in fiction and also books I haven’t read yet but have owned for a while (years), the next book in my chain is another of my TBRs . It is Now is the Time by Melvyn Bragg, a novel about the Peasants’ Revolt that took place during just a few weeks in May and June of 1381. The boy king Richard II was faced with a revolt led by former soldier Wat Tyler and John Ball, a preacher.

The fourth link:

is to another book by Melvyn Bragg and also with the word ‘time‘ in the title – In Our Time: a Companion to the Radio 4 series. I have read this book, which contains transcripts of 26 programmes, a selection from hundreds of programmes broadcast over eleven years, including one about the Peasant’s Revolt, and also one on witchcraft.

The fifth link:

Another book featuring witchcraft is Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert. It’s a modern day gothic epic, mixing computer technology with witchcraft, alchemy and the power of the human mind, in the search for enlightenment.

The final link completes the chain making it into a circle by returning to the opening book – a reworking of one of Shakespeare’s plays:

It is Macbeth by Jo Nesbo, a retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Witches in different forms appear in both the book and the play. Inspector Macbeth, an ex-drug addict is the head of the SWAT team, ruled by his passions, violent and paranoid. He is manipulated by Hecate, Shakespeare’s chief witch, here one of the drug lords, a man with a friendly smile and cold eyes.

The links in my chain are the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Thomas Cromwell, TBRs, books with the word ‘time’ in the title and witchcraft/witches.

Next month (February 6, 2021), we’ll start with Anne Tyler’s latest novel, Redhead By the Side of the Road.

Six Degrees of Separation: From Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret to Bring Up the Bodies

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month it begins with a book that is celebrating its 50th birthday this year – Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume. I’ve not read this book, but the title, with my name in it, intrigues me. Margaret Simon, almost twelve, likes long hair, tuna fish, the smell of rain, and things that are pink. She’s just moved from New York City to Farbook, New Jersey, and is anxious to fit in with her new friends.

There are several ways I thought of to go from this book – my name, or the author’s name, or the subject matter of a coming of age novel, or a relationship with God.

After several false starts, I chose another coming , bof age novel. The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch is about Miles O’Malley, a thirteen year old boy and about life, growing up, relationships and love. It’s narrated by an adult Miles, looking back at that summer when he found a giant squid, dying on the mudflats at Skookumchuck Bay, at the southern end of Puget Sound, near his house. That was the summer he had a crush on Angie, his ex-babysitter, and his best friend, old Florence was getting sicker each week.

Moving on to another book about ‘tides‘ to The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Hume set in Scotland on the fictional island of Eilean Iasgaich. Cal McGill uses his knowledge of tides, winds and currents to solve mysteries, which helps in the investigation of the appearance of severed feet in trainers that had been washed on shore on islands miles apart. It’s a story of unsolved mysteries both from the present day and from the Second World War, and of two Indian girls, sold into the sex trafficking trade.

And the next link is the word ‘sea‘ in the title in The Sea Change by Joanna Rossiter set in lost landscapes this is a novel revolving around a mother and daughter caught up in catastrophic events. The lost landscapes are the village of Imber, a Wiltshire village that was requisitioned by the army during World War Two, where Violet had grown up, and the coastal village of Kanyakumari in Southern India, where her daughter Alice was caught up in the tsunami that devastated the area in 1971.

Time’s Echo by Pamela Hartshorne is a time-slip story with an element of mystery and suspense. Grace Trewe is drawn into Hawise Aske’s life, four and a half centuries earlier in York, 1577. Grace likes to travel and although she survived the Boxing Day tsunami she is suppressing her memories of what happened. As she learns how Hawise died it gets to the point where she dreads slipping out of current time into not only Hawise’s past but also into her own as she remembers what happened to her in the tsunami.

Another time-slip novel is The Phantom Tree by Nicola Cornick which alternates between the Tudor period and the present day following the life of Alison Banestre (known as Bannister in the present day) as she moves between the centuries trying to find out what happened to Mary Seymour. It’s a mystery, based on the true story of Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr (Henry VIII’s sixth wife) and Thomas Seymour, who she married after Henry’s death.

Thomas Seymour was Jane Seymour’s brother. Their family home was Wolf Hall, an early 17th-century manor house where Mary Seymour was taken in 1557 as an unwanted orphan and presumed dead after going missing as a child. This brings me to Hilary Mantel’s trilogy, Wolf Hall and specifically to the second book in the trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies, which begins at Wolf Hall, where Henry VIII is visiting the Seymours. And it is at Wolf Hall that Henry begins to fall in love with Jane.

My chain this month includes a coming of age novel, books with tides and seas in their titles, time-slip novels and books in which Wolf Hall features. It begins in America in 1970, moves forward and backwards in time and place to the 16th century in England.

Next month (January 2, 2021), we’ll start with the winner of the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.

Six Degrees of Separation – From The Dogs of Riga to The Mysterious Affair at Styles

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

The chain this month is a wild card – start with the book you’ve ended a previous chain with, and continue from there (for those playing for the first time, start with the last book you finished reading). So my chain begins with The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell, the book that ended my chain in May this year. It’s an Inspector Wallander book. A little raft is washed ashore on a beach in Sweden. It contains two men, shot dead. They’re identified as criminals, victims of a gangland hit. Wallander’s investigation takes him to Latvia.

The First Degree – a book I bought on the same day as The Dogs of Riga in August 2018 from Barter Books in Alnwick. It’s another murder mystery:

A Killing of Angels by Kate Rhodes – the second book in her Alice Quentin series. It’s a psychological thriller. At the height of a summer heatwave, a killer stalks the City of London.The avenging angel leaves behind a scattering of feathers with each body – but why these victims? What were their sins?

The Second Degree – another book with ‘angel in the title:

The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths, a Dr Ruth Galloway Mystery. I like Ruth and enjoy these books, even though they are written in the present tense, which I can find irritating. This one is set in Italy. It’s the 10th Dr Ruth Galloway Mystery and the first one to be set in Italy. I like the mix of archaeology, mystery and crime fiction in Elly Griffiths’s books and also the continuing story of Ruth and the other regular characters.

The Third Degree – another Ruth Galloway mystery:

The first Ruth Galloway mystery I read is The Crossing Places. It’s an interesting mix of investigations into a cold case – the disappearance of Lucy, a five year old girl ten years earlier and a current case of another missing four year old girl. Are they connected and just how does the discovery of a child’s bones from the Iron Age fit in? It’s set in Norfolk  in winter with its immense skies and its remoteness, treacherous mud flats, marshlands and driving rain. Parts of the story involving quicksand reminded me of Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone.

The Fourth Degree – quicksand:

In Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone Rosanna Spearman drowns in quicksand on the marshes. It’s about the theft of a large diamond, originally stolen from a statue of an Indian God and said to be cursed. Collins uses several narrators to tell the story, one of whom is Sergeant Cluff, the detective who loves roses. He leaves the mystery unsolved, but a year later, the culprit is revealed. Years ago I watched a TV dramatisation and the images of the Indians, the jewel, the shifting sands and Sergeant Cuff have remained in my mind ever since.

The Fifth Degree – a book about a real detective who Wilkie Collins used as the model for Sergeant Cluff:

In The Suspicions of Mr Whicher Kate Summerscale describes how writers like Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins used real life police detectives as models in their novels – for example Bleak HouseThe Moonstone, and The Woman in White. This is nonfiction about the brutal murder of Saville Kent, aged three, with all the suspects of a classic murder mystery – the original country house murder. 

The Sixth Degree – another country house murder mystery:

One of my favourite Agatha Christie novels The Mysterious Affair at Styles, her first novel. In it she created Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective and introduced Captain Hastings and Inspector Japp. Old Mrs Inglethorp is found dying in her bedroom and although by the end of the book I guessed who had murdered her, I was completely bamboozled most of the way through the book by all the clues and false trails.

The links in my chain are all murder mysteries of one type or another, taking me from Sweden and Latvia to a country house somewhere in England.

Next month (December 5, 2020), we’ll begin with a book that is celebrating its 50th birthday this year – Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume. I’ve not read this book, but the title, with my name in it, intrigues me. I may have to read it!

Six Degrees of Separation from The Turn of the Screw to A Jealous Ghost

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

The chain this month begins with a book I’ve read, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. But is it a ghost story or a psychological study? Either way there are creepy, disturbing things going on. It’s a story within a story, told as a ghost story to a group of people as they sit gathered round a fire in an old house. It tells of two children and their governess. She has been employed by their uncle who wants nothing to do with them. Their previous governess had died under mysterious circumstances (was it in childbirth?).

There’s a very different kind of ghost in Robert Harris’s book, The Ghost – a ghostwriter, employed to finish writing the memoirs of recently retired prime minister of Great Britain, Adam Peter Benet Lang. The ghostwriter soon discovers that Lang has secrets in his past that are returning to haunt him – secrets with the power to kill.

There’s also a different kind of ghost in Mortmain Hall by Martin Edwards, which begins, ‘The ghost climbed out of a hackney carriage‘. Rachel followed the ghost as he entered a funeral train run by the London Necropolis Company for privileged first-class passengers. Set in 1930 this is a complex murder mystery with several plot lines.

There’s a ‘real’ ghost in Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch – Nicholas Wallpenny, who has been dead for at least a hundred and twenty years – he is a ghost. This is an urban fantasy set in the real world of London, a mix of reality and the supernatural.

There’s ghost in a stained glass window in The Glass Guardian by Linda Gillard. Ruth has inherited a dilapidated Victorian house on the Isle of Skye: Tigh na Linne, the summer home she shared as a child with her beloved Aunt Janet. As she attempts to sort through her aunt’s belongings it becomes clear that there is more about her aunt and her family history than she ever knew before. And then she realises there is someone else in the house and there is a stained glass window behind a large wardrobe, which she never knew existed. From there on Ruth is unsure whether she is in her ‘Sane Mind’ or her ‘Insane Mind’, as she hears the wardrobe being dragged from its position in the dead of night.

Next, a ghost in a cathedral in Broken Voices by Andrew Taylor, set in an East Anglian cathedral city just before the First World War when two schoolboys are left at the cathedral school during the Christmas holidays. They lodge with Mr Ratcliffe, a semi-retired schoolmaster, a bachelor now in his seventies. The two boys are entertained by the ghost stories that Mr Ratcliffe tells them. There was an ancient tragedy connected with the cathedral bells, the tower and a Canon who had been commissioned to write an anthem to mark the occasion when the bells were recast. The cathedral is full of shifting shadows, and the bell tower is haunted by fragments of melody, which one of the boys can hear.

A N Wilson’s book, The Jealous Ghost, brings us back full circle in the chain, because it’s a re-writing of The Turn of the Screw. Sallie Declan is a young American in London, obsessed with Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, the subject of her PhD. thesis. She leaves her studies for a temporary job as a nanny in a large country house and builds a fantasy about her emotional future there. Surely she can see it is all delusion? But a progressively darker reality unfolds leading inevitably to a terrible and shocking climax. I enjoyed this book, but prefer the original.

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My six degrees are full of ghosts of different types, some literal, some literary, some in a supernatural sense and some psychological. From spooky and creepy to loving and urban fantasy fun. All of them haunting tales in one sense or another.

Six Degrees of Separation from Rodham to …

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

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The chain begins this month with Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld, a partly fictional account of Hillary Clinton’s life, imagining what would have happened if she hadn’t married Bill Clinton. As I’m not keen on fictionalising a real person’s life, especially when that person is still alive, this book doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t much like ‘what if …’ novels either.

I’d rather read a biography or an autobiography.

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And as it happens I do have Hillary Rodham Clinton’s book, What Happened, in which she reveals what she was thinking and feeling during one of the most controversial and unpredictable presidential elections in history. I haven’t read it yet.

But I have read the next book in my chain. It’s another autobiography – Agatha Christie’s, simply called An Autobiography.

As well as being a record of her life as she remembered it and wanted to relate it, it’s also full of her thoughts on life and writing. She wrote quite a lot about her writing methods, writing criticism, hearing your own voice, economy in wording, writing detective stories, adapting plays and writing them herself, and about the joy of creation.

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The one book that satisfied Agatha Christie completely is not one of her detective books but one she wrote under the name of Mary Westmacott – Absent in the Spring. I loved this novel and I was thoroughly absorbed in the story of Joan Scudamore who was stranded in the desert, after visiting her daughter in Baghdad. It is a complex and in-depth character study, with a growing sense of tension. 

Cards on the Table

But of course what she is most famous for are her crime fiction novels. Cards on the Table is one of my favourites. Mr Shaitana is murdered whilst his guests are playing bridge. Two games were set up – one made up of the four people he considered were murderers and the other in a separate room made up of the four detectives or investigators of crime, including Hercule Poirot. Poirot, of course was the only one who worked out who the murderer was.

Agatha Christie was writing her books right up until her eighties when she wrote her last novel, Postern of Fate. It was published in 1973, and it’s rambling and repetitive, with very little in the way of mystery. It’s the fourth of the Tommy and Tuppence Beresford mysteries and it begins with the ageing couple, now retired and living in a new home. Tuppence is bemoaning the fact that they have so many books and there isn’t enough room to shelve them. She reminisces about the books she/Agatha had read as a child. If you haven’t read any of Agatha Christie’s books please don’t start with this one. It’s not one of her best!

Which brings me to the last book in my chain with one of Agatha’s/Tuppence’s favourites – Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, which was also one of my favourites when I read it at school.

On a stormy night off the coast of Scotland, young David Balfour faces his most terrifying test yet. He’s been double-crossed by his wicked uncle, tricked into a sea voyage and sold into slavery. When the dashing Alan Breck Stewart comes aboard, he finds a brave friend at least, and the pair fight back against their treacherous, black-hearted shipmates. But then the ship hits a reef, it’s every man for himself, and David must battle against the raging sea itself!

My chain is not very varied this month! Beginning with a fictional biography I moved on to a couple of real autobiographies which lead me to one of my favourite genres – crime fiction – with three of Agatha Christie’s novels, finishing the chain with one of her favourite childhood books.

Next month (October 3, 2020), we’ll start with The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.

Six Degrees of Separation: from How to Do Nothing to A Walk in the Woods

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with – How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell, a an author and a book I’ve never come across before, nor have I heard of the attention economy. From the title it sounds like a self-help book, and the cover, although very colourful, doesn’t give me many clues, except to suggest it’s about flowers or gardening. However one of the reviews is more helpful – it ‘is a self-help guide for re-learning how to look at the world. The book braids threads of ancient philosophy together with contemporary visual and technological culture, and weaves an original route to re-wilding the mind.’

It doesn’t immediately appeal to me, not like the first book in my chain, another ‘How To‘ book, but definitely not a self-help guide:


It is How To Stop Time, a novel by Matt Haig, which caught my imagination right from the start. It’s about Tom who has a condition is called ‘anageria’, in which, whilst he is actually ageing very slowly, he doesn’t appear to be getting any older. He was born in 1581 when people suspected his mother of witchcraft. Tom tells his life story in flashbacks, switching back and forth in time between the present day and the past.

Witchcraft is the link to the next book. The Witchfinder’s Sister, historical fiction by Beth Underdown, based on the life of the 1640s witchfinder Matthew Hopkins and his sister, Alice. As well as a good story it is a fascinating look at life in England during the Civil War, set in 1645, a time of great change and conflict in politics, religion and philosophical ideas, coinciding with a growth in the belief in witchcraft.

My next book is the one I’ve just finished, Thin Air: a Ghost Story by Michelle Paver. It’s also about siblings, brothers Kit and Stephen, who set out to conquer Kangchenjunga in the Himalayas in 1935. It’s an eerie story, full of unease, dread and horror. It is fiction but based on expeditions by real mountaineers who had climbed in the Himalayas and/or attempted the summit of Kangchenjuga. The mountain is the 3rd highest mountain on earth.

Reading Thin Air reminded me I haven’t read Cairngorm John: a Life in Mountain Rescue by John Allen. Allen was a Team Leader in the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team. ‘Cairngorm John’ was his call sign when in contact with Search and Rescue helicopters. I bought this book after we’d had a holiday in the Cairngorms. My husband has read it and said it is fabulous, not a word he uses lightly, or very often.

And this leads me on to yet another mountain in John Grisham’s novel, Gray Mountain.

Gray Mountain by John Grisham – this book is just as much a campaign against injustice and the misuse of power, about the good little guys against the big bad guys as his earlier books are. In this case it’s the big coal companies that come under the microscope, companies that are  ruining the environment by strip-mining in the Appalachian mountains.The main characters are Donovan Gray and Samantha Kofer, lawyers, who are taking on cases against the coal companies.  

And then I was reminded of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and his hike along the Appalachian Trail, the longest continuous footpath in the world. I was fascinated by the whole book – Bryson’s observations about the people he met, the difficulties of walking with a huge backpack, and his relationship with his friend Katz, who struggled to keep up with him. I know what that feels like, hiking with people fitter than you and seeing them march off in front of you, waiting for you to catch up and then setting off again – I felt sorry for Katz.

The books in my chain are linked by titles – ‘How to …’, witchcraft, siblings, and mountains, from the Himalayas to the Cairngorms to the Appalachians.

Next month (5 September 2020), the chain begins with Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest novel, Rodham.

Six Degrees of Separation: from What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt to

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt a book I read and loved some years ago.

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.

Keeping the World Away by Margaret Forster – this is the story of a painting, a variant of Gwen John’s The Corner of the Artist’s Room in Paris, as over the years it passes from one woman to another. Her room was the image of how her lover, Rodin, wished her to be and she painted a sunlit corner of it where it was “all peace and calm and serenity” in contrast to Gwen herself who “radiated energy”.

Theft by Peter Carey is set in the art world, about forgeries and details of the international art scene. The book ranges from Australia to Japan and America, with the two Boone brothers, Michael the artist, and Hugh his ‘broken’ brother, who he is ‘looking after’.

Peter Carey is an Australian author, as is Jane Harper. Her book The Lost Man is set in the Queensland outback, hundreds of miles from anywhere and revolves around the death of Cameron Bright, one of the three Bright brothers. They are part of a dysfunctional family. Cameron is found dead, lying at the the base of the headstone of the stockman’s grave. It was the location Cameron had painted – a painting that had won him a prize.

Another dysfunctional family, is the subject of Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver. This is set in a remote hamlet in the Suffolk Fens, an eerie waterlogged landscape where Edmund Stearn, a historian, and his family live in a large manor house, Wake’s End. Edmund eventually went mad and spent the rest of his life in an asylum, where he created three paintings that astonished the world – grotesque paintings full of colour and tiny malevolent faces leering out of the canvas, the stuff of nightmares.

Another manor house is the setting of The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton. Beginning in 1862, when a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor in rural Berkshire. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins. it’s a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss.

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal is about Iris, a young woman who worked painting dolls in Mrs Salter’s Dolls Emporium, but who dreamed of being an artist. It tells of her involvement with the Pre-Raphaelite artists and the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was a time when the young artists who had recently formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, were challenging the art world with their vivid paintings.

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The books in my chain are all linked by art, beginning in New York and moving to London, via Berkshire, the Suffolk fens, the Australian outback and Paris. Other links are the authors’ nationality, dysfunctional families and manor house settings, in both historical and crime fiction.

Next month (1 August 2020), the chain begins with – How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell, a book I’ve never come across before.

Six Degrees of Separation: from Normal People to The Inheritance of Loss

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with Normal People by Sally Rooney. This is one of my TBRs. I did begin it but it didn’t appeal to me. I’m in the minority, though, as I know it is very popular, many people love both the book and the TV series and it  has won several awards. It’s the story of two people who try to stay apart but find they can’t.

Normal People

Sally Rooney is an Irish author, as is Maggie O’Farrell, whose book Instructions for a Heatwave was shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award. Robert Riordan tells his wife Gretta that he’s going round the corner to buy a newspaper. He doesn’t come back. The search for Robert brings Gretta’s children – two estranged sisters and a brother on the brink of divorce – back home, each with different ideas as to where their father might have gone.

Also shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award was All the Birds, Singing by Australian author Evie Wyld, a book I would like to read. This is a novel, using reverse chronology techniques, telling the story of Jake Whyte who lives on an unnamed island off the coast of Britain, tending her flock of sheep with her dog, Dog. Someone, or something, is killing her sheep, and her investigations lead her and the reader back to her time in Australia to the ‘original sin’ that sets everything in motion.

Another novel featuring the killing of sheep is Seeking Whom He May Devour by French author, Fred Vargas. It’s set in the French mountains. Johnstone, a Canadian is living there whilst he films a documentary about wolves. The problems start when more and more sheep are found with their throats torn out. This is the second in her Commissaire Adamsberg series. I thought it was quite quirky with touches of humour.

Thinking about wolves reminded me of Stef Penny’s novel, The Tenderness of Wolves, another Costa Award winning book. It’s set in Canada in 1867 beginning in a small place called Dove River on the north shore of Georgian Bay, narrated in part by Mrs Ross. It begins as she describes the last time she saw the French-Canadian trapper, Laurent Jammet alive.  He was the Ross’s closest neighbour and the next time she saw him was in his cabin, lying dead on his bed, his throat cut and he had been scalped.

Next I thought of another book set in Canada, The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson. This is a beautiful book set in  in Northern Canada about two brothers, Arthur and Jake Dunn who grow up on a small farm near Struan (a fictional town) in the 1930s. Arthur is older, shy, dutiful, and set to inherit his father’s farm. Jake is younger and reckless, a dangerous to know. When Laura arrives in their 1930s rural community, an already uneasy relationship is driven to breaking point. It was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2006.

And that brings me to the last book in the chain – the winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2006 was Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss. This is set in the Himalayas where a judge and his granddaughter live in a dilapidated mansion. The judge, broken by a world too messy for justice, is haunted by his past. His orphan granddaughter has fallen in love with her handsome tutor, despite their different backgrounds and ideals. The cook’s heart is with his son, who is working in a New York restaurant, mingling with an underclass from all over the globe as he seeks somewhere to call home.

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The books in my chain are linked either by the authors’ nationality, prize winning books and books about the killing of sheep! 

Next month (July 6, 2020), the chain begins with What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt – a book I loved!

Six Degrees of Separation: from The Road to The Dogs of Riga

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

The Road film tie-in

This month the chain begins with The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This is one of my TBRs. It’s one of those books that I’m wary of reading and maybe now is not the right time – it’s a post-apocalyptic novel about a father and son walking alone through burned America, heading through the ravaged landscape to the coast.

So I’m beginning my chain by linking to the word ‘road’ in the title – Where Three Roads Meet by Salley Vickers. It’s one of the Canongate Myths series, modern versions of myths told by a number of different authors. It’s the Oedipus myth as told to Sigmund Freud during his last years when he was suffering from cancer of the mouth.

Another book that retells ancient myths is The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie. These were set for the Hercules by King Eurystheus of Tiryns as a penance. On completing them he was rewarded with immortality. Hercule Poirot sees himself as a superior modern day version of Hercules.

Also by Agatha Christie is Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie. The main character is Bobby Jones who is playing golf with Dr Thomas on a golf course on a misty day by the sea. They find a dying man, who had fallen off a cliff. He has no identification on him so Bobby has to discover the dead man’s true identity, with the help of Inspector Williams.

There is also a character called Bobby in Saving Missy by Beth Morrey – this Bobby is a dog, a splendid companion to Missy, a lonely old lady. But can Missy let go of the past and the guilt that is crippling her emotions?

Another book that looks at loneliness is After the Fire is Henning Mankell’s compelling last novel, set on an isolated island in the an isolated island in the Swedish archipelago. Fredrik, a retired doctor, is devastated by the fire which destroyed the house he had inherited from his grandparents. The main focus is not on crime but on Fredrik’s reflections on life, death, ageing, and loneliness.

Henning Mankell brings me to the last link in my chain –  and to a more traditional crime fiction novel – The Dogs of Riga It’s an Inspector Wallander book. A little raft is washed ashore on a beach in Sweden. It contains two men, shot dead. They’re identified as criminals, victims of a gangland hit. Wallander’s investigation takes him to Latvia.

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My chain began with a dystopian novel and moved to books retelling ancient myths to crime fiction and books about loneliness.

Next month (June 6, 2020), the chain begins with Sally Rooney’s best seller (and now a TV series), Normal People.

Six Degrees of Separation: from Stasiland to A Lovely Way to Burn

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Stasiland

This month the chain begins with Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder – the winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2004. It is a book I have not read but I’m wondering whether I will. It sounds both interesting and shocking.

My first link is Black Dogs by Ian McEwan, a novel about the aftermath of the Nazi era in Europe, and how the fall of the Berlin Wall in the late 1980s affected those who once saw Communism as a way forward for society. The question of the black dogs is not really answered though – were they symbolic of evil, or an expression of Churchill’s term for depression, or real creatures?  Part set in Berlin with Bernard, when the Wall came down in 1989 and part set in 1989 at the family house at St Maurice de Navacelles in Languedoc in southern France

There’s another character called Bernard, and also set partly in the Languedoc area in Carcassonne, in The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse. Bernard Joubert, a bookseller had been imprisoned accused of being a traitor and a heretic after he had let slip information about a secret will. It’s a complicated story of war, conspiracies, love, betrayal, forgery, torture and family secrets.

Another book about a bookseller is The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett. Peter Byerly is an antiquarian bookseller. His wife has recently died and when he opens an eighteenth-century study on Shakespeare forgeries, he is shocked to find a Victorian portrait strikingly similar to his wife tumble out of its pages. He becomes obsessed with tracking down its origins. it becomes a chase around England, similar to a cross between a Dan Brown novel, an Enid Blyton Famous Five book and a murder mystery.

And that brings me to my next link – Dan Brown’s books. For pure escapism I really like them. They’re not great literature but they are great entertainment, even though they follow the same formula – a breathtaking race against time as Robert Langdon follows  clues as in The Lost Symbol. This book is set within the hidden chambers, tunnels, and temples of Washington, DC. as Langdon searches for his friend, Peter Solomon, a Mason.

And so to the next link, using the author’s name, Dan, brings me to Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year a novel about one man’s experiences of the year 1665, in which the Great Plague or the bubonic plague – known as the Black Death – struck the city of London.

Thinking about Defoe’s book reminded me of A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh, an apocalyptic novel in which a  new and unidentified virus, known as ‘the sweats’ sweeps the globe and London quickly descends into chaos – supermarkets are looted, roads are gridlocked as people try to flee the infection, then society just crumbles as people look out only for themselves, rioting and eventually succumbing to the mysterious illness and dying. Let’s hope the current corona virus pandemic doesn’t descend into this!

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My chain began in Berlin and moved to France, then to Britain, America and ended back in Britain. It covered a variety of genres and time periods, including contemporary fiction, historical and crime fiction. The links are through places, words in the titles and authors’ names. And there is also a link that runs through the chain with the use of the letter ‘B’ either in the book titles, in the authors’ names, or in significant words in the descriptions.

Kate writes: ‘Given the current pandemic, the obvious choice for next month (May 2, 2020) is The Road by Cormac McCarthy.’