In this week’s edition of ‘books by the fireplace’ as I am now calling it, I’m looking back on some of my favourite reads from October and looking ahead to what is on my TBR list for November.
Matrix, by Lauren Groff
I found this book difficult to get into at the start because it all just looks so bleak for our protagonist, Marie. Banished from Queen Eleanor’s court, where she never really fit in due to her looks and background, to live out her days as prioress of a royal Abbey. Its 1158 and everything is cold and damp and miserable. The other nuns don’t know what to make of her and she longs to be back with Eleanor but, as time goes on, a determination and ambition develops in Marie, and soon she brings the abbey back to such a state of wealth that even Eleanor has to notice what is going on.
Eleanor laughed at Marie’s refusal of her favour, mocked her. But but but. Did Marie truly think she would one day be married off? She, a rustic gallowbird? Three heads too tall, with her great rough stomping about, with her terrible deep voice, her massive hands and her disputations and her sword practicing? What spouse would ever accept Marie, a creature absent of beauty or even the smallest of feminine arts? No, no, this was better, it had long ago been decided, back in the autumn, and her entire family agreed. Marie knew how to run a large estate, she could write in four languages, she could keep account books.… Which was, of course, to say that the abbey where Marie would be installed as prioress was so poor they happened just now to be starving to death, alas. They had fallen out of Eleanor’s pleasure some years earlier and had suffered grave poverty ever since.Matrix, by Lauren Groff
So, worth sticking through all the freezing nights in the abbey, the diseased nuns and dead birds at the start.
The Mercies, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
This was a truly engrossing thriller that started off slow, each day an age, and then gathered up speed as we begin to realise the danger that the two main characters are hurtling towards.
Set in the early 1600s on a remote island in Norway, where all the adult men are killed at once in a freak storm as they are out fishing, the women left have to learn how to live with their grief and survive in the harshest of environments. But, news of their island has spread and the King sends a new Commissioner to the women to seek out any evil that may be lurking among them.
As she watches, a final flash of lightning illuminates the hatefully still sea, and from its blackness rise oars and rudders and a full mast with gently stowed sails, like underwater forests uprooted. Of their men, there is no sign.
It is Christmas Eve.The Mercies, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
This is one of those books where just have to sit back and praise the author for coming up with such an incredibly detailed plot and then have written it so beautifully.
The Lonely Fajita, by Abigail Mann
This book was a joy to read from start to finish. Simple, easy-going and completely heart-warming: I recommend this to anyone who needs a little boost of happiness.
Elissa’s life is falling apart: she has a rubbish job working for a creepy boss, her boyfriend has just told her she needs to move out of their flat share and her bank account is empty. She applies to join the ElderCare Companionship Scheme, asking volunteers to move in with elderly members of the community to offer them friendship and help in the home. When she moves in with Annie, Elissa finds herself exactly where she needs to be.
‘When he went away, I didn’t miss him. Not really. I missed rolling into the warm spot he left behind in the bed each morning, and falling asleep to a film on Sunday afternoons, and eating fajitas together.’ My throat gets prickly and I have a lukewarm sip of coffee…. ‘Suki, there’s nothing sadder than constructing a fajita on your own.’The Lonely Fajita, by Abigail Mann
A Slow Fire Burning, by Paula Hawkins
Another great thriller by Paula Hawkins who also wrote The Girl on the Train. Her books are always engrossing, surprising, and contain a slew of deeply untrustworthy characters we don’t know if we should pity, dislike or distrust. A Slow Fire Burning is no different.
A man is found dead on a houseboat in London. A woman, who the police believe has a motive to do it, leaves the scene of the crime with blood on her clothes. But, was she the killer?
As with The Girl on the Train, the story is told through multiple narratives which are expertly intertwined giving away snippets of what may or may not have happened, as years of grief, anger and loneliness come to the surface.
‘Laura.’ She could hear Egg’s voice, concerned, reprimanding. ‘Laura, come on, don’t do this…’ But she wanted to do this, she wanted to fight. She wanted them to grab her, to throw her to the ground, to knock her out. She wanted oblivion.A Slow Fire Burning, by Paula Hawkins
The Glass Woman, by Caroline Lea
Set in Iceland in 1686, Rósa leaves her home village to join her new husband Jón in Stykkishólmur. But when she arrives in her new village, Rósa finds the inhabitants wary of her and Jón who’s first wife, she discovers, died suddenly in the night. To further suspicions, he buried her, alone, before anyone else could see the body.
The more Rósa tries to get to know her new neighbours, the more Jón tries to force her stay within the walls of their home. Except, when he is out for the day farming the land or fishing, she is certain she can hear strange noises coming from the loft above her bedroom.
The day the earth shifts, a body emerges from the belly of the ice-crusted sea. Bone-white fingers waving, as if alive.The Glass Woman, by Caroline Lea
This book has been sat on my shelves for a while and I’m so glad that I finally got round to picking it up. It was perfect for this time of year with just the right amount of spookiness.
The Vanishing Year, by Kate Moretti
It’s not in the photo, but I managed to sneak one more book in before the end of October: The Vanishing Year, which turned out to be a real page-turner! Following her mother’s death and falling in with a criminal gang, Hilary runs away from San Francisco to New York to take up an entirely new life. Newly married and going by the name Zoe, she tries to forget her past life, but it keeps threatening to re-appear. Who can she go to for help? Her husband, Henry, does not know about her life before him and he has his own trauma to deal with. But, as Zoe begins to realise, is he protecting her from it or is he part of the problem?
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, gulping it down in twenty-four hours because I wanted to know what was going to happen to Zoe. I actually manged to guess the twist, which is rare for me, but didn’t it dampen the big reveal. This is perfect for those who like twisty thrillers where you don’t know who is telling the truth and who is lying.
We have been married nearly a year and have the rest of our lives to “complicate things.” I think about couples who giggle and share their pasts, their childhood memories and lost loves. Henry thinks all these conversations are unnecessary, trivial. He is the kind of person whose life travels a straight path, his head filled with to-do lists and goals. Meandering is for slackers and dreamers.The Vanishing Year, by Kate Moretti
Next up, what I am hoping to read in November:
Anything is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout
Rainbirds, by Clarissa Goenawan
How to Kill Your Family, by Bella Mackie
What have you read and enjoyed this month? What else should I add to my ‘Up next’ list?