‘I done it! I done it!’ as Bertha cries joyously in my forthcoming novel Octopus. And I have; I’ve completed my Goodreads 2015 Reading Challenge. Now for a confession: it was only sixteen books—eleven of which were for the Crime & Thrillers group I attend and therefore chosen for me rather than by me—but that’s still double what I might have comfortably read, had I not tried to push myself.
And what a fine crop of books they were! Many thanks to Alice King, who runs my reading group; because of her choices I got to discover the Kate Shackleton series by Frances Brody. The resourceful widowed Kate sets herself up as a private detective in 1920s Yorkshire. I love how Brody manages to ignite the reader’s indignation on her detective’s behalf every time some man or other comes out with a patronizing sexist slight. It’s 1924, so, believe me, “unwitting” slights against women pop up with depressing regularity. It’s part of an author’s stock-in-trade to milk sympathy or gain empathy for his or her protagonist by having them insulted or put down…but I’ve never before seen it used as a way of anchoring a novel in its time!
I also got to discover The Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters. Wow! It’s more than likely that you’ll already know this series, but this was my first introduction. Having researched this period when writing The Scarab Heart, let me just say—and it’s not a spoiler—the real-life archaeologist Flinders Petrie is Peters’s archaeologist Radcliffe Emerson! And look! Could that be his younger brother Walter watching him stride away across the sands?
In 2014 my group read Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, which led me to use his characters in my novel Gooseberry, that was published as a serial throughout the summer on Goodreads and then edited and released as an ebook. This year we read The Woman in White. If anything I enjoyed it even more. It’s Collins at his darkest and most Gothic. The chilling Count and Madam Fosco, and Laura’s effete, malingering uncle, Mr Fairlie are a treat! It is at least based in part on a contemporary scandal, in which Rosina Bulwer Lytton publicly accused her husband, a Member of Parliament, of carrying on an affair with another woman. The result? She was declared insane by two doctors (a necessary requirement) and confined to a lunatic asylum. One of those doctors, L. Forbes Winslow, made his living from such practices. He later tried the same tactics on a woman named Georgina Weldon, no stranger to these pages, whom you can read about by clicking on the link. Fancy a free download of The Woman in White courtesy of Project Gutenberg?. Simply click on the link! I give you fair warning, though: it is L……O……N……G. It should have counted towards the challenge as three books at the very least!
But the title that threatens to rival Collins as my favourite read of the year is in fact one of my own choosing (or rather it was recommended to me by another librarian friend): The Fifteenth Life of Harry August by Claire North. I wrote a review for Goodreads for all the books I read this year, but this one received only one word: Fantastic! Harry August gets to live his life over and over again; indeed he has no choice in the matter. Do not despair: this is not some Groundhog Day, time travel, or reincarnation thing. To some degree, certain events change within each lifetime. This is the existence that Harry’s kind face for all eternity. Then, one day, as Harry lies dying in his hospital bed (and waiting with mixed emotions to be born again—back in the northern railway station where he’s always born), a young girl comes to him with a message: the future is being eroded away and the timeline is rapidly shortening. The Fifteenth Life of Harry August is a thoughtful and thought provoking book, concerning itself as much with history and humankind’s effect on the planet and on our future as it concerns itself with any storytelling. I looked at the reviews on Goodreads and was not surprised to find that it’s a marmite book; like the eponymous yeast extract spread, you either love it or hate it. There’s a plethora of 5-stars sprinkled with the odd 1-star review that often says, simply, “I don’t get it.” It’s a literary work, not an action-packed genre title. And I, for one, loved it.
Starting Friday January 22nd, I will be publishing the first six chapters of my forthcoming novel, Octopus, here on my website in the lead up to its release on March 1st. Why not join me each Friday to catch up on young Gooseberry’s latest instalment! Octopus is available to pre-order now at a never-to-be-repeated pre-order price.
As a small token of my thanks for taking the trouble to find this page, I’d like to offer you a copy of my book Why the Victorians Saw Ghosts – An Illustrated Guide to 19th Century Spiritualism. Download it for free from Smashwords.com. When it comes time to pay, just use coupon code: TD22X. A word of warning: opt for the ePub version if that happens to be a format you can use; for technical reasons beyond my control it is vastly superior to the MOBI on offer.
So. Those were the highlights of my reading year. I’d love to hear your thoughts! Very little remains for me to do except to wish you a very happy new year, and to consider how many books to aim for in this year’s reading challenge. Call me a wimp, but I’m kind of thinking sixteen.
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