Books

Halloween scares, comedy gems and feminist must-reads: October’s top 10 books

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Francesca Brown
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The best new books for October 2018

Make some shelf space because October is bringing some of the biggest books of the year says Stylist’s books editor, Francesca Brown 

Thursday 4 October is Super Thursday in the books world, where all the big-name biographies and cook books square up for the Christmas market.

It also heralds a month of excellent novels that hit all the sweet spots for book lovers: thinking thrillers, scary tales, stories centred on big-world issues and breakout debuts alongside brilliant non-fiction. Meet the 10 books that are guaranteed great reads… 

The bonkers all-night read: The Bus On Thursday by Shirley Barrett

The Bus On Thursday

Exorcisms, reanimated body parts, possible hot sex with demons, dates that don’t show up when you’re expecting them, oncologists that look George Clooney… Summarising Shirley Barrett’s demented and brilliant The Bus On Thursday is no easy task apart from to say: read it.

Written with joy, verve and one eye on the supernatural, this is the sort of book you pick up idly then find yourself reading four hours later. Capturing a crazy look at small-town Australia and mixing it with one of literature’s most brilliant female protagonists, you really can’t go wrong reading this gem of a book. 

The literary smash: Melmoth by Sarah Perry

Melmoth

So much scrutiny has been placed on Sarah Perry’s third book and the follow-up to 2016’s breakout literary hit, The Essex Serpent. Thankfully, Melmoth more than lives up to the task. Perry’s thesis was in Gothic writing and she revels in creating a strange, unsettling poetic doom that pervades her characters and their worlds.

Based on the myth of Melmoth “the loneliest being in the world”, this is a story that will shake the foundations of your belief system and, if you’ve really taken it on board, leave you sleeping with the light on even though you’re a perfectly successful adult by day… 

The Handmaid’s baby: XX by Angela Chadwick

XX

“After years of controversial research, scientists at Portsmouth University’s Centre for Reproductive Medicine have this morning announced plants to create IVF babies from two women…” Thus launches the enthralling premise of Angela Chadwick’s XX – a new world where women can create their own babies. 

But what does this mean for men? Especially since the technology (two x chromosomes) can only ever lead to female babies… Marrying speculative fiction with the addictive story of two women at the centre of a new and toxic political climate, this is one of feminist novels of 2018. 

Black Mirror meets modern America: Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Friday Black

“If he wore a tie, wing-tipped shoes, smiled constantly, used his indoor voice, and kept his hands strapped and calm at his sides, he could get his Blackness as low as 4.0.” Adjei-Brenyah’s 10 short stories in Friday Black are breathtaking in their ability to marry biting satire with shocking truth.

In Friday Black, retail workers literally brace themselves for the sale of the season (only 129 were killed the year before) while Zimmer Land is an amusement park that lets visitors indulge in racist killing fantasies. However, it’s the first tale, The Finkelstein 5, that’ll leave you punched in the gut as a white man kills five black children loitering outside the library; he’s acquitted due to feeling “threatened”. An absolutely unmissable debut. 

The uplifting one: This Will Only Hurt A Little by Busy Philipps

This Will Only Hurt A Little

Busy Philipps has a tendency to act in TV series that develop cult-like followings: Dawson’s Creek, Freaks And Geeks, Cougartown… so her household status has been pretty much cemented by nailing Instagram where she has 1.2million followers and a nice line self-deprecation and all the feels.

And her book follows the same pattern exploring the tricky path of growing from a girl into a woman, supporting friends through the hardest of times, grappling with motherhood and keeping things on the funny side. She’s a lovely and entertaining voice to spend some quality time with. 

The big issue: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Unsheltered

A new novel from the author of The Poisonwood Bible, Flight Behaviour and The Lacuna is a BIG DEAL. That’s because Kingsolver is all about exploring the big picture of human behaviour from the environment to bigotry and, in Unsheltered, it’s about looking at moments of the past to inform where we’re at right now (on very shaky ground is pretty much the case).

Weaving together two stories from 2016 and 1871, Kingsolver creates a compelling and readable story that also manages to make a statement about how we care for our world and the people in it – for where else can we find shelter? 

 The really enjoyable thriller: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty  

Nine Perfect Strangers

You know how sometimes you just want a really good, throwaway thriller? Then, thank the book gods for Big Little Lies’ author Liane Moriarty. Because, quite frankly, if we need read another psychological plot full of dislikeable stereotypes (main female has white wine problem and is caught in web of self-hatred and, oh, the husband did it), we’re ready to jack the whole genre in.

Instead, Moriarty deposits her nine characters in a luxury spa resort then gives them personalities, back stories you care about before placing them in dire danger so you’re invested in the resolution. If it was summer, this would be your beach read. As it is, settle under a duvet and begin… 

The seasonal mystery: The House On Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell 

The House On Vesper Sands

Set in a ghostly snow-covered London of 1893, strange things are afoot as a seamstress throws herself from the attic of a mysterious aristocrat’s house while another girl goes missing leaving whispers of “Spiriters” across the streets of the city…

Witty, immersive, chock full of atmosphere and setting (hello Victorian London), three-dimensional characters, an addictive plot and snappy dialogue, The House On Vesper Sands has everything you want it in a novel. The character of Octavia and her much-maligned bicycle are worth the cover price alone… If you’re stuck for a book to buy this Christmas, then this could well be it. 

The tell-it-like-it-is essays: Feminists Don’t Wear Pink edited by Scarlett Curtis

Feminists don't wear pink

Uniting some of the most outspoken, informed and inspiring women on the planet (period poverty activist Amika George, Girl Up’s Lauren Woodhouse-Laskonis - royalties from the book will be donated to the initiative – and actress Jameela Jamil to name but a few), this collection of essays curated by writer Scarlett Curtis is a call-to-arms that allows us to unpick what it means to be a feminist in a safe space. To understand the complexities that unite women from all different walks of life, colours and creeds and how to rise up against a patriarchy that wants to dictate what a feminist means. 

It’s not trying to be the definitive book on feminism but it will keep the conversation going L-O-U-D-L-Y. 

 The epic one: Bridge Of Clay by Markus Zusak 

Bridge Of Clay

Eleven years after his multi-million selling hit The Book Thief was published (it spent a decade on the New York Times’ bestseller list), Zusak has returned with this sweeping and compelling family tale. Five orphaned Australian brothers are abandoned by their father to grow up in an adult-free zone only for him to return later in life.

The Dunbar brothers have dragged themselves up fighting and loving but it is the tale of the quiet one, Clay, and his efforts to build a bridge which unravels the truth of the family and its origins. It’s a hefty read of 580 pages and its time-jumping narrative is initially hard work but give it your time and you’ll be repaid with a moving and epic read. 

Images: Supplied

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Francesca Brown

Francesca Brown is books editor for Stylist magazine and Emerald Street; she also compiles the Style List on a weekly basis. She is a self-confessed HBO abuser and has a wide selection of grey sweatshirts. Honestly, you just can’t have enough. @franabouttown

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