Thursday, 22 October 2015

Recommended Reads (and Drinks) for Autumn

As the evenings draw in and the clocks go back, I always find myself reaching for the same kind of books. These are usually the kind that are perfect for snuggling up with - crime novels, romances, thrillers - the kind of books that make you glad it's blowing a gale and raining sideways outside, so you can stay in and keep reading. Here I've recommended some of my favourites for the season, and a drink to accompany them as you read away the dark autumn days (well, you've got to keep yourself hydrated, right?):

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
I love reading this book especially in autumn because I always imagine Manderley, the house where most of the story occurs, is shrouded in the kind of mists you only get at this time of year. It is, essentially, a ghost story, which is perfect for the season – the narrator is haunted by the memory of Rebecca, her predecessor as the wife of Maxim de Winter. Everything about this book is full of tension and foreboding, from the narrator’s first view of the great house to the descriptions of the stormy night that Rebecca died. Throw in the menacing Mrs Danvers and you’ve got a Gothic romance that, sometimes, is as creepy as a true-blue ghost story like The Turn of the Screw.
Recommended Drink: A large glass of red wine, to help calm your nerves whenever Mrs Danvers appears on page.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Another novel in a setting I always imagine as foggy, The Miniaturist is the tale of another young bride, Nella, arriving at her new husband’s house, apprehensive but hopeful. What she finds, however, is a household run by her intimidating sister-in-law, where all the inhabitants appear to be keeping something from her. A distraction arrives in the form of a doll’s house replica of her new home, which she sets to furnishing with the help of an unseen Miniaturist, who quickly becomes a menace when un-ordered items arrive that seem to foretell the future. Before long, Nella is unravelling her new family and home’s secrets, all the while unsure of whether the Miniaturist is an ally or an enemy. It’s not quite a thriller, nor a mystery, nor a historical novel, but a good mix of the three and perfect for curling up with.
Recommended Drink: The story is set in Amsterdam, so I’m going to suggest a beer – a proper one, mind, none of this Fosters business.

I get the train every day, usually at the same time, along the same route, and rarely does the countryside look as beautiful as it does in early morning autumn sunshine. The Girl on the Train takes place in the summer, so really it’s just the connection of trains that gets this book a place in this list – that, and Rachel’s (one of our narrators) familiarity with her own commute route. She’s a little too familiar with it, actually, concocting a backstory for a couple she espies from her train every day, and becoming so involved in her fantasy that, when she sees something that threatens it, she begins to insinuate herself into the couple's lives. It’s got a great pace and hooks you into the story pretty quickly, so it’s perfect to start on a grey Sunday afternoon as day seeps into night.
Recommended Drink: Given the alcoholism of one character, it might be in poor taste to recommend alcohol, so I’m going to go with a virgin mojito (it’s a thing…)

The Secret Place by Tana French
Bit of a hollow connection here, but this is set in a school, autumn is the season of going back to school, etc. After a boy is found murdered in the grounds of a prestigious all-girls school, the police throw all their resources into solving it – but the cliques of teenage girls are a hard nut to crack and the murder goes unsolved. Until, that is, a pupil finds a note tacked in The Secret Place – a noticeboard that allows pupils to spill secrets anonymously – stating only, ‘I know who killed him.’ The story is told in the popular dual format – part of the story comes from the perspective of a young officer helping re-investigate the murder, and the other is a third-person narrative detailing the lives of a core group of girls in the years and events leading up to the murder. It’s a bit slow-going at times – at over 500 pages it might be a bit overlong – but French keeps you guessing all the while, and the climax is worth slogging through the duller patches.
Recommended Drink: Cider, to help get you back into the mindset of being a teenager.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
What better companion to a wild and windy night, than a murder mystery? And what better murder mystery than the Queen of Crime’s best work? Ten strangers, with no apparent connection to each other, are lured to a house on a remote Devonshire island under false pretences – it’s not until one of their number drops dead and a record plays that they realise the true reason for their presence. With no escape, numbers dropping fast and suspicion breeding distrust and paranoia, the inmates of the house find themselves driven close to insanity as they struggle to identify their assailant in time to save their own skins. It’s as creepy as any traditional ghost story and incredibly tense, so carve out an afternoon for this one – you won’t want to put it down.
Recommended Drink: It’s got to be a classic cocktail, to match the time period – a gimlet, perhaps?

The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
A warming romance now, featuring Henry de Tamble who, due to a rare genetic condition, frequently finds himself displaced in time, physically returning to events that have already occurred. This is how he meets his future wife, Claire, an artist whose early years and teens are haunted by a man who claims to know her in the future. It’s a bit dodgy on the science front – obviously – and I did sometimes get the heebie-jeebies thinking about how Henry spends a lot of time hanging around with a child he later marries. But ultimately it’s sweet, poignant and clever, dividing time equally between the man who can never stay in one place, and the woman who gets left behind.
Recommended Drink: A big steaming mug of tea, to compliment the warmth of the story.

This is a great book to read on a cold day when you’re all toasty-warm inside. Set in Alaska in the early years of the 20th century, Jack and Mabel are hoping to get a second chance at life after a personal tragedy. But the bleak Alaskan landscape, the hardness of the farming life and the weight of the past threatens to destroy everything they hoped to build. It’s not until they’re befriended by their nearest neighbours, the hardy Esther and George, and the mysterious girl Faina appears from the woods, that their new life seems possible. It’s a fairy tale that’s not afraid to address loss and depression, and the origins of Faina is a tantalising mystery that keeps you guessing throughout the novel.
Recommended Drink: Hot chocolate, made with milk (NOT hot water), with marshmallows in.

Any particular books you always find yourself reading at this time of year?

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