As October rolls around, there’s nothing more satisfying than stocking up on a pile of shiny new autumn reads.
Although I’ve always been a bit of a bookworm, I’ve found that this year – with no travel obligations or daily commute to deal with – I’ve had much more time to really dive into this year’s best reads. It’s something that has, in fact, proved to be the perfect escape from the bleak headlines that have come to dominate 2020.
Having already ploughed through a fantastic pile of lockdown reads over the summer, it wasn’t long before I needed to restock my pile; this time investing in the latest autumn reads.
Wandering the aisles of Waterstones and selecting five newly released books, I hoped that my latest haul would at least see me through to Christmas. However, it turns out that my choices were that good, that I finished these fantastic autumn reads within a month.
As I enjoyed each of these autumnal reads so much, I thought I’d share with you my small selection. Offering escapism, colourful characters and a little bit of food for thought, I hope that these top autumn reads will see you through these darker, colder months.
Five New Book Releases & Perfect Autumn Reads
‘The Vanishing Half’
Although ‘The Vanishing Half’ was released (to critical acclaim) earlier in the year, it wasn’t a book I got around to reading until September time.
A story intricately built around the issue of race and identity, ‘The Vanishing Half’ was perhaps my favourite autumn read – particularly as conversations continue around the Black Lives Matter movement.
Beginning in 1968, the story is based on the lives of two identical twins, Stella and Desiree, who grow up in a small, black town in Louisiana. Despite being an apparent black town, Mallard is also a post-slavery town that prides itself on its populations’ light skin. In fact, so ‘light’ are the twins’ skin that they could ‘pass’ for white.
With this cultural contradiction setting the scene, the story follows the twins as they decide to run away together to New Orleans (in search of a more adventurous life). Their lives, however, end up taking two very different paths as Stella vanishes without a trace, leaving Desiree alone in the city.
While Desiree ultimately ends up returning to Mallard with her child, who the population deem as too dark skinned, Stella chooses to reinvent herself as a white, upper-class Californian. Taking on an entirely different life and identity, Stella marries a white man, lives in a predominantly white neighbourhood and has a white child.
The story is exquisitely written and intergenerational storylines intertwine; bringing the twins back together through the lives of their children.
I adored this book and read it cover-to-cover over the course of a weekend. Not only an excellent storyline in general, ‘The Vanishing Half’ encourages readers to consider the role that race plays in directing the course of a life; including access to opportunities and privilege.
‘The Midnight Library’
As a fan of Matt Haig’s books, particularly How to Stop Time, I pre-ordered his new release, ‘The Midnight Library’, with eager anticipation.
A story set in the ‘in-between’ of life and death – in the Midnight Library – we follow our lead character, Nora, as she wrestles with the decision of whether to live or die, having committed suicide.
With the help of her former school librarian, Nora has the opportunity to explore just a few of the almost infinite other lives she could have lived, if only she’d made different choices.
Wracked by feelings of guilt regarding her former life, Nora attempts to find her ‘perfect’ alternative, in which she had made different decisions. However, and along the way, Nora begins to realise that undoing the regrets that she originally came to the library with, might not be as easy as she thought.
The perfect easy autumn read, this book had me pondering life and the surreal concept of parallel universes. Sweeping me away from reality, ‘The Midnight Library’ was a comforting (if not slightly predictable) read.
Don’t let this put you off, however. I did really enjoy this book as a light, thought-provoking book and it helped see me through a tough week of depressing headlines and new restrictions.
‘The Thursday Murder Club’
Written by TV presenter and producer Richard Osman, I was intrigued to read ‘The Thursday Murder Club’ after hearing that, along with being a ‘record-breaking’ Sunday Times Number One Bestseller, the book’s film rights had already been secured by none other than Stephen Spielberg.
Set in a well-heeled retirement village, the story follows four septuagenarians who meet weekly in the ‘jigsaw room’ to discuss unsolved crimes. One day, however, Ibrahim, Joyce (my favourite character), Elizabeth and Ron find themselves investigating a real-life murder that’s taken place on their very doorstep.
Each possessing their own unique skills and experience, these sharp eighty-somethings set about solving the crime, alongside a slightly bemused local police force.
I found ‘The Thursday Murder Club’ an easy-going, warm and unputdownable new autumn read. Full of humour, witty characters, underlying themes of love and loss, and a cracking murder plot, I was pleasantly surprised by the talents of its celebrity writer.
Fortunately, ‘The Thursday Murder Club 2’ is available for pre-order and I cannot wait to see the original book adapted into film.
‘Big Girl, Small Town’
Set in a fictional small town in Northern Ireland, some ten years on after the Good Friday Agreement, ‘Big Girl, Small Town’ follows the life of a 27-year old, routine obsessed, Majella. Set over the course of a week, we follow Majella as she moves between her work at the fish and chip shop and her clutter filled home, where she lives with her alcoholic mother.
Despite being cruelly nicknamed ‘Jelly’ by locals, Majella appears happy enough with her lot: working at the local shop, watching Dallas re-runs and enjoying a fish and chip supper (washed down with a can of Coke in bed) each night.
Although wanting to keep her life as small and private as possible, we join Majella as she finds herself at the centre of the town’s intrigue, due to the recent murder of her grandmother – and the past history of her father, who disappeared during The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Given a possible opportunity to escape her small life, there is a building sense of anticipation throughout the book, as we wait to see whether Majella will choose to break from her routine.
Shortlisted for the Comedy Women in Print prize, this book had me smirking throughout at the dry, dead pan reactions and thoughts of Majella, and the colourful characters that frequent her life.
I adored this new autumn read and found it full of warmth, intrigue and genuine hope for Majella.
‘The Water Dancer’
Scouring the shelves of my local bookshop, a review by Oprah Winfrey caught my eye. “I knew early on the book was going to cut me up. I ended up with my soul pierced,” she said of the new autumn release, ‘The Water Dancer’.
Already gripped, I pulled the book off its shelf and turned to the synopsis.
In this autumn read, we follow the story of Hiram Walker, our young protagonist who is sold to slavery shortly after his mother’s death. Working for his father, a white plantation owner in Virginia, Hiram nearly drowns in a river – an incident that provokes him to believe in his own mysterious powers.
After his near-death experience, Hiram realises he can no longer live a life dominated by injustice and prejudice; instead deciding to run away to claim both love and freedom.
His (at times, terrifying) journey takes him from guerrilla cells in the wild, to underground wars helping to free the enslaved from their slavers. His apparent supernatural ‘power’ follows him throughout this journey.
Before beginning ‘The Water Dancer’, I had read reviews suggesting the writing was a little too dense and drawn-out at times – and having jumped to this from ‘Big Girl, Small Town’, it did take me a little time to adjust.
Over time, however, I took to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ poetic and detailed writing style and become deeply invested in Hiram’s story. This is an excellent autumn read for 2020; and provides readers with a thorough education of slavery and racial injustice in the US.