1. The Silent Companions

Laura Purcell’s gothic novel, The Silent Companions, centers around a newly widowed woman who goes to live in her late husband’s country estate. After his death and the end of a short marriage, Elsie goes to see her pregnancy through at the dilapidated old house. With only her husband strange and awkward cousin Sarah for company, she finds that there’s more to fear than the resentful servants and hostile village locals. The ladies discover a diary filled with accounts of death and despair, and a strange wooden figure – the silent companion. Soon, new figures start to appear. Are the ladies seeing things or something is going on?

The Silent Companions is a genuinely unsettling novel with its fair share of spirits, mysterious doors and spooky night-time noises that will have you jumping out of your skin. Residing in Colchester, the oldest recorded town in England, Purcell has previously written Queen of Bedlam and Mistress of the Court. She is also known for her spine-tingling Victorian Gothic fiction.

If you are a fan of all things spooky, then this is the book for you. The well thought-out, richly developed plot and well-written storyline put it on high on the list of this season’s must reads.

Author: Laura Purcell

Published By: Bloomsbury Publishing

Price: ₹599

 

2. The Secrets Of My Life

This is the memoir of a one-time Olympic champion and American television personality, Bruce Jenner, who later transitioned into womanhood and was as Caitlyn. The book helps you look at gender in a new light. One of the famous transgender women out there, Jenner’s journey helps you understand the struggle she faced but doesn’t beg for sympathy or pity. She talks about growing up as a male in a conservative family and the joy she got from dressing as a woman in private. She also touches upon her three marriages and her regrets when it comes to her children.

For fans of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, this memoir also offers an interesting behind-the-scenes take on the life of Bruce Jenner and his relationship with wife, Kris.

Though it’s a memoir, the book does a good job of telling a bigger story about transgenders and gender dysphoria. And even though it lags in some places, The Secrets Of My Life offers a great perspective if you stick with it.

Author: Caitlyn Jenner

Published By: Hachette India

Price: ₹799

 

3. Carnivore: Let the Villain Win

The protagonist (21-year-old Leander) is a druggie and a manipulator. He also has a rare condition called synesthesia, which causes the sufferer to see sounds, taste colors, and perceive numbers as having particular hues.  Leander experiences constant pain, which he attempts to counter by renting himself out for some BDSM sex. He explains that he does this only to feel something different.

The reader is thrown into this primal world. Leander’s condition means that at times the text is influenced by the narrator’s clash of senses. This makes the narrative intense and the reader knows if what is described is real or not. It is almost impossible to read the book at a stretch.

And even if the reader manages to keep up, there are points where you don’t know what is happening or who is talking to whom. The content is sexually explicit and there is a gruesome amount of violence. The writing is unapologetic and yet somehow you feel for this anti-hero, a feat that makes the book worth picking up.

Author: Caitlyn Jenner

Published By: HarperCollins India

Price: ₹399

 

4. Every Last Lie

Clara Solberg has a loving husband Nick, an adorable daughter Maisie, and a newborn Felix, whose birth completes her family. One afternoon, her husband and her four-year-old get into a car crash, where Nick dies. She is left to grieve for her dead husband and care for their two young children. Then Maisie begins talking about a bad man and a black car that followed them that afternoon. So, was Nick’s death an accident or was he murdered? Thus begins Clara’s journey in search of the truth.

Mary Kubica, whose earlier works include the bestseller The Good Girl and Don’t You Cry, has managed to weave a gripping tale that will have you hooked. There are enough lies and betrayals to keep you turning pages. The story is told from two perspectives: Nick takes you through the days leading up to the accident, while Clara deals with the aftermath. You never see the whole picture until the end.

Every Last Lie is a quick weekend read. The writing is lucid and succinct, but the author’s strength lies in her ability to keep her characters real. This could be anyone’s story. After all, one never knows what goes inside the dark recesses of our minds.

Author: Mary Kubica

Published By: HarperCollins India

Price: ₹350

 

5. Ginny Moon

Fourteen-year-old Ginny must eat exactly nine grapes at breakfast, has to have her watch tell the exact time, and carries a secret she can’t talk to anyone about. Benjamin Ludwig’s debut fiction novel, Ginny Moon, is about a wonderfully quirky world of an autistic child who doesn’t fully comprehend most of the things she does and yet feels compelled to carry them out.

After years of emotional and physical abuse by her drug addict mother, Ginny is passed around foster homes until Social Services finally finds her ‘forever parents’ in Brian and Maura Moon who live in what will come to be known as the Blue House. Here, Ginny experiences a sense of stability.

Things, however, take a drastic turn when Maura gives birth to a baby girl and this triggers disturbing memories for Ginny. It takes her back to when she was living with her birth mother and results in her obsessing over the ‘Baby Doll’ that she left behind.

Ludwig, himself the adoptive parent of an autistic child, brings his own keen experiences to the well-written and engaging book. As a reader, one can’t help but feel drawn into this confusing yet beautiful world.

Author: Benjamin Ludwig

Published By: HarperCollins India

Price: ₹599

 

6. Tin Man

British actor and author Sarah Winman’s novel opens with Dora winning and painting in a raffle, an incident that ignites something in her. The narrative then moves forward in time to see her son Ellis. The story is essentially one of love, loss, and grief, and is told from two viewpoints, that of Ellis, a lonely boy who is rejected by his father, and his friend, and his friend Michael, who pens his side of the story in his diary.

A quick read, Tin Man is about two teenagers growing up between the 1970s and 1990s around a car plant in working-class Oxford. Michael arrives in Ellis and Dora’s life and fits in perfectly, forging deep connections with both mother and son. While the story is largely sad, it’s interspersed with moments of joy and happiness. As the adult Ellis remembers his past loves, he begins to start the process of accepting and loving himself, something that he’d stopped doing years ago. Revisiting the ghosts of his past makes him more aware and appreciative of the present.

Beautifully written with well-etched characters, the book makes you ponder over your own ideas of love, loss, and longing. Winman, who made her writing debut in 2011 with the International bestseller When God Was a Rabbit, seems to have made her mark as an author to reckon with.

Author: Sarah Winman

Published By: Hachette India

Price: ₹399

 

7. Circe

The author’s debut novel, The Song Of Achilles, won the 2012 Orange Prize for fiction. Little surprise then that readers’ expectations for her second book have been high, and Circe definitely makes the wait worth it. A treat for lovers of Greek mythology, the book centers round Circe, the daughter of the sun god, Helios. Neither powerful like her father nor charming like her mother, Perse, she turns to mortals for companionship, only to discover that she does possess power after all – the power of witchcraft, something that is forbidden to the gods. Banished to an island by Zeus, she begins to sharpen her skill further. But being a woman with such power comes with a price of facing the wrath of men and gods, and having to choose between mortals and gods.

Circe will enthrall you with appearances from the Minotaur, Medea, Daedalus, and Odysseus. And for those who know the tale of Circe and Odysseus, the book will still work its magic on you through vivid storytelling and stunning visuals. For those unfamiliar with Greek myths, a quick background search on characters will help you enjoy the book better.

Author: Madeline Miller

Published By: Bloomsbury Publishing

Price: ₹499

 

8. Need To Know

Vivian Miller is a hardworking CIA agent who uncovers Russian spies in America. She seems to have it all – a great job, a happy marriage, and four kids – until she comes across a file of agents within America, which changes everything. She no longer knows who to trust, and this new revelation threatens her family too. This is one of those books where the lesser you know, the better, since anything more gives away the plot. Need To Know succeeds as a spy thriller, with suspense that keeps you turning pages late into the night. Bonus points for an admirable female lead for a refreshing change in this genre. Despite the story being a quick read, it stays with you long after you’ve put down the book.

Karen Cleveland was a former CIA analyst and her expertise shows in the narration. This may be her debut novel, but the story is powerful enough to be picked up by Universal Pictures for an upcoming spy thriller, starring Charlize Theron. Fingers crossed, the movie will live up to the hype of the book.

Author: Karen Cleveland

Published By: Penguin Random House

Price: ₹599

 

9. The Only Story

Paul Roberts, 19, falls for Susan Macleod, a married woman of 48. The story, divided into three parts with each told through a different voice, begins in the 1960s in Surrey (UK). a young Roberts, who is unimpressed by the conventionality of his parents’ generation, meets Macleod at a tennis club. Their romance causes scandal in the village, but a naive Roberts believes that love will conquer all.

Three years later, in part two, Roberts and Macleod leave the village, and start a life together in London. But Macleod is unhappy, and her love for Roberts is now clouded by an awareness that he will leave her. In the last part, Roberts has moved on, but still reminisces about his love affair with Susan as the “only one story to tell”. The Only Story finds a parallel in Barnes’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Sense Of An Ending.

In the end, readers are left moved by the story of a man who mulls over the meaning of love and loss with a simple question: “Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less and suffer the less?”

Author: Julian Barnes

Published By: Penguin Random House

Price: ₹699

 

10. Norse Mythology

Gods, fiery giants, dragons… The Norse myths are filled with magic and mystery. This 2017 book is being re-released with a different cover art. Here, Gaiman retells the thrilling tales in his eclectic style – beginning with the shapeless mist and fire worlds, all the way to Ragnarok, the final destiny of the gods. Along the way you are treated to The Apples Of Immortality (which ironically, involve quite a bit of death), The Mead of Poets (which will have you grinning widely the next time you read a crappy rhyme) and Freya’s Unusual Wedding (talk about bridezilla).

No Norse myth is complete without the trio of Odin, Loki, and Thor. Those who have grown up thumbing through The Mighty Thor, the Marvel comic series that is now a blockbuster movie franchise, will be mighty surprised by Gaiman’s imagining of him as a red-bearded, not-particularly-bright god. As for the tale on Ragnarok, we can already hear you asking where the hell is Hela?!

Author: Neil Gaiman

Published By: Bloomsbury Publishing

Price: ₹399

 

11. The Seven Deaths OF Evelyn Hardcastle

This one’s a page-turner, to say the least. It features a highly complex and intriguing murder mystery that starts at a gala party thrown for Evelyn Hardcastle by her parents at Blackheath. The celebration ends in a tragedy as Evelyn, the young and beautiful daughter of the house is murdered under exploding fireworks. But she doesn’t die just the once. Aiden Bishop, a guest summoned to Blackheath for the party, finds himself trapped in a nightmarish Groundhog Day-type of a situation, destined to relive the day of Evelyn’s murder until he solves the crime.

The novel has a brilliantly original concept, but the constantly changing characters and plot lines make it a bit challenging. Keeping up with the consequences of Bishop waking up as a different character everyday kind of hinders a complete understanding of the novel.

Author: Stuart Turton

Published By: Bloomsbury Publishing

Price: ₹599

 

12. The Chalk Man

Switching between the past and present – more specifically between the years 1986 and 2016 – The Chalk Man is set in an idyllic little English village. The events of 1986 revolve around adolescent Eddie and his friends who while away their days cycling around and looking for a break from the mundane. They make chalk signs and draw little stick figures, all of which make up a secret code. One unsuspecting day, their naive and innocent world is turned upside down when a mysterious chalk man leads them straight to a dismembered body.

Fast forward to 2016, when 42-year-old Eddie receives a letter from an unknown person and is shocked to discover that it’s the chalk man again. All his friends have received similar letters and when one of them ends up dead, things get dark.

The book follows through the complex tale with some great twists and turns, and is punctuated with a bit of comic relief of the blackest kind. A recommended read, for sure.

Author: CJ Tudor

Published By: Michael Joseph

Price: ₹599

 

To Recommended Reads for December, click here.