October is always a great month for books, and this year is no different. So we’ll skip the obligatory mention of pumpkin-spiced lattes and get to the good stuff. From rediscovered classics to stand-out debuts, taking us from the jungles of Vietnam to plantations of southern Virginia, here’s what’s on offer this season.
The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
(9781912987191, World Editions, £9.99)
Carol Shields’ Pulitzer Prize winning novel with a new foreword by Margaret Atwood.
Widely regarded as a modern classic, The Stone Diaries is the story of one woman’s life; that of Daisy Goodwill Flett, a seemingly ordinary woman born in Canada in 1905. Beautifully written and deeply compassionate, it follows Daisy’s life through marriage, widowhood, motherhood, and old age, as she charts her own path alongside that of an unsettled century. A subtle but affective portrait of an everywoman reflecting on an unconventional life, this multi-award-winning story deals with everyday issues of existence with an extraordinary vibrancy and irresistible flair.
Play The Red Queen by Juris Jurjevics
(9780857304094, No Exit Press, £9.99)
The posthumous masterwork by critically acclaimed author, storied publisher, and Viet Nam veteran Juris Jurjevics.
Vietnam, 1963. A female Viet Cong assassin is trawling the boulevards of Saigon, catching US Army officers off-guard with a single pistol shot, then riding off on the back of a scooter. Although the US military is not officially in combat, sixteen thousand American servicemen are stationed in Vietnam “advising” the military and government. Among them are Ellsworth Miser and Clovis Robeson, two army investigators who have been tasked with tracking down the daring killer.
The Piano Student by Lea Singer
(9781939931863, New Vessel Press, £12.99)
A riveting and sensitive tale of musical perfection, love, and longing denied, with multiple historical layers and insights into artistic creativity.
The Piano Student centres on an affair between one of the 20th century’s most celebrated pianists, Vladimir Horowitz, and his young male student, Nico Kaufmann, in the late 1930s. Based on unpublished letters by Horowitz to Kaufmann that author Lea Singer herself discovered in Switzerland, the novel portrays the anguish that the acclaimed musician felt about his never publicly acknowledged homosexuality and the attendant duplicity of his personal life.
A More Perfect Union by Tammye Huf
(9781912408894, Myriad Editions, £12.99)
This epic love story between an Irish immigrant and a black slave set in the pre-Civil War Southern state of Virginia in 1849.
When Henry O’Toole escapes the Irish famine and sails to America, he doesn’t expect the anti-Irish prejudices that await him. Determined never to starve again, he changes his name to Henry Taylor to secure a job and safeguard his future. Traveling south to Virginia, he meets Sarah, a slave woman torn from her family and sold to another plantation. There she must navigate the power system of the white masters, as well as the hierarchy of her fellow slaves.
The Republic of Birds by Jessica Miller
(9781922268044, Text Publishing, £6.99)
A land of forbidden magic. A book of ancient maps. And a story of courage and sisterly love.
Magic is banned in Stolitsa. Any girl showing signs of being magical is whisked away to Bleak Steppe – to a life, so the stories go, of unspeakable horror. So when strange things begin to happen to Olga, she knows she has a dangerous secret, one she must guard with great care. But then the birds take the thing most precious to her, and Olga knows she must summon all her courage to go into the Republic of Birds to get it back. It’s an impossible task – unless she can find a way to unlock her hidden magic.
Men and Apparitions by Lynne Tillman
(9781913512002, Peninsula Press, £12.99)
A quirky take on current issues of toxic masculinity and media culture from one of the US’s most renowned cultural commentators.
Ezekiel Hooper Stark is a cultural anthropologist nudging forty. His interest is family snapshots. At home, he is absorbed by his own family’s idiosyncrasies, perversities, and pathologies, until romantic betrayal sends him spiralling into a crisis. All the old models of masculinity are broken. Zeke embarks on a new project, studying the “New Man”, born under the sign of feminism. What do you expect from women? he asks his male subjects. What do you expect from yourself?
The Earth Wire by Joel Lane
(9781910312575, Influx Press, £9.99)
Love and death. Sex and despair. The Earth Wire is a thrilling, disturbing examination of the means and the cost of survival.
Joel Lane (1963-2013) was one of the UK’s foremost writers of dark, unsettling fiction, a frank explorer of sexuality and the transgressive aspects of human nature. With a tight focus on the post-industrial Black Country and his home city of Birmingham, he created a distinct form of British urban weird fiction. His debut collection, The Earth Wire was first published in 1994 by Egerton Press and is reissued in paperback by Influx Press for the first time in over twenty-five years.
Shades of Deception by Jacqueline Jacques
(9781912905218, Honno Welsh Women’s Press, £8.99)
Wathamstow, 1902: Archie and his police sergeant pal Frank Tyrell investigate the disappearance of teenage Lilian and the discovery of a corpse in the River Lea — Eleanor ‘Nell’ Redfern. Did her father’s ambitious plans to marry her to a rail magnate cause her to run away to her watery doom? And what about Lilian Steggles, a star swimmer with her eye on the 1908 Olympics — what prompted her to disappear from home and where is she now? Archie uses his artistic skills to identify Nell and thence to track down her story and that of the other victims of a dastardly scheme to exploit young girls for the benefit of lascivious older men.
Farewell, Ghosts by Nadia Terranova, translated by Ann Goldstein
(9780995580732, Seven Stories Press, £12.99)
A poetic and intimate novel that explores what it means to build one’s own identity whilst also confronting the past.
Ida is a married woman in her late thirties, who lives in Milan and works at a radio station. Her mother wants to renovate the family apartment in Messina, to put it up for sale and asks her daughter to sort through her things — to decide what to keep and what to throw away. Surrounded by the objects of her past, Ida is forced to deal with the trauma she experienced as a girl, twenty-three years earlier, when her father left one morning, never to return.
The Sword and the Spear by Mia Couto
(9781912987122, World Editions, £12.99)
A powerful evocation of love, loyalty and war in 19th-century Africa.
Mozambique, 1895. The last days of the so-called Gaza Empire. After an attack on his quarters, defeated sergeant Germano de Melo is taken by his bright, young love Imani to the only hospital within reach — an arduous river journey. Meanwhile, war rages all around: Emperor Ngugunyane’s warriors fight the Portuguese occupiers with swords and spears, until the arrival of the machine gun ensures European domination.
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