Every Brilliant Book I Read This Autumn (2020 Edition)
So, just before we kick things off with all my Christmas recipe content on Wednesday (!!!), I thought I’d take a moment to share all of the brilliant books I read this autumn. As ever, for lots more book reviews and reading recommendations do follow my bookstagram account Lilac & Ink, and to find out what I’m reading in real time, check out my Goodreads page.
A little bit of housekeeping before we start: usually here on the blog I mark all my affiliate links as (ad), but as most of the links in this post are affiliate links, Ive marked them with a ‘*’ instead to make things a little tidier. What is an affiliate link, I hear you ask? Basically, if you click on one of these links and buy the book, I get a little money back, which helps pay to keep this blog going, and to pay my mortgage – I need a roof over my head to keep on creating free content for you all every day! All of the books I have received from publishers to review are also marked as gifted.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins*
One to read now so you can experience the book before the ITV adaptation arrives, this one is for you if you either enjoyed reading or watching Alias Grace* on Netflix!
Frannie Langton is a former slave from a Jamaican plantation on trial at the Old Bailey for the murder of the master and mistress of the house where she was a maid. This is Frannie’s story, from plantation to Newgate, written by her own hand, explaining herself. You’d think her tale were a simple confession, a slave confessing to the murder of those who oppressed her, except for one important detail. She swears that she did not kill the mistress she loves.
This book is as you’d expect, but still very clever. I do think it is a little overhyped, but still a fantastic read. You suspect but don’t know for sure the truth of the matter, the details that Frannie herself seems to wish to keep from the audience, and it is really smartly written with the interplay between the court case and the calling of witnesses, and Frannie’s own recollections. This book is perfect if you want a compelling, dark, uncomfortable gothic read full of suspense.
Capturing The Devil by Kerri Maniscalo*
I’ve been trying recently only to include the first books of series in these roundups because I know reading reviews from the middle of a series can be a bit dull, but as this is the last book in such a brilliant series I wanted to feature it here as a gentle nudge that if you’re into Victorian murder mysteries with fun YA characters and a hell of a lot of darkness, to go get the first book Stalking Jack The Ripper* as these are such great books!
Capturing The Devil is addictive, twisty, fun and gloriously gothic, and makes this series really worth reading – I hate it when series have really unsatisfying endings. You realise that the series previously was not just three different mysteries, but that the whole thing was interwoven in the most fantastic way – it is full of surprises, and I think may be the best one yet!
Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalo* (gifted)
And, Kerri Maniscalo started her new series this autumn too, and I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy! While I don’t think they are as brilliant as the Stalking Jack The Ripper* books, Kingdom of the Wicked is still excellent fun and I’m rather excited for the next one.
Twin witches Emilia and Vittoria grew up listening to their Nonna’s stories about the Wicked – the Princes who ruled hell and who had not been seen on earth in 100 years – and helping out in their family restaurant. But when brutal murders start to occur and Vittoria fails to turn up at the restaurant one night Emilia’s quest for vengeance has the power to both unleash the darkness of hell upon their island.
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik* (gifted)
The start of a brand new, dark academic series from the beloved author of Uprooted* and Spinning Silver* A Deadly Education is fantastic fun, like a much, much darker and much much deadlier version of Hogwarts where the very worst of the creatures from the Forbidden Forest have been let loose in the castle.
The Scholomance is a school like no other. There are no teachers, no normal classes, and everyone in attendance is a wizard. Oh, and there is an excellent chance that you won’t live enough to make it to graduation. And then there is the matter of getting through that alive too. There are no friendships at The Scholomance, only alliances necessary for survival. And El, our protagonist, is not exactly popular. But you need allies to make it through graduation, but most of the time she’s too busy trying to prevent her own unique set of powers killing all of her fellow students, quite by accident. You know, a typical school year.
It’s creative, vivid, and has such a twist at the end I am already honestly so excited for the next one to come out already!
Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver*
I’d had this beautifully gothic read on my iPad for ages, and finally got around to reading it as part of the fantastic Book Coveters Book Club – if you love to read historical and gothic fiction, you have an Instagram account and you’re looking for a fantastic virtual book club where you don’t have to read every months book, you can just read the ones that interest you, do consider joining us!
This is the best gothic, spooky, atmospheric, unsettling book I’ve read this autumn. Edwardian Suffolk. A great old house in the edge of a wet woodland fen. A historian with a dark secret who uncovers a painting of a devil in a graveyard that starts (or does it?) is gradual decline into madness. A murder you want to understand, and a young woman kept away from a changing world who is desperate for her own freedom so she can be part of it. And one very black, very curious magpie. This was one of those immersive reads that I read across a weekend, always finding an excuse to settle down with my book once more.
If you enjoyed The Warlow Experiment*, The Familiars*, Bone China* (see below!) or if you’re loving The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix right now (the first thing in ages to actually give me nightmares!) this is the book for you!
The Quickening by Rhiannon Ward*
The year is 1925 and Louisa has lost her first husband to WWI, and both of her young sons to the Spanish Flu. Remarried to a man she does not love as much as her first husband and pregnant with her third (and only living child) she takes a job photographing the antiques in an old country house ready for auction. Clewer Hall is the site of a famous seance attended by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and before the sale – during Louisa’s stay – the family are intent on recreating the seance with the original guests before they leave for a new life in India. Predictably, things become rather strange and unsettling, and dark family secrets start to unravel…
It is a gripping, unique gothic mystery come ghost story with a great strong female protagonist and just enough spook to make you wonder if what Louisa is seeing is real, or just someone with something to hide.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng*
This is not the sort of book I usually read (there is no magic, it happened in the past 100 years and there is nothing disturbingly gothic about it!) but I picked it up in the Audible sale as I’d loved the Amazon Prime adaptation of another of Celeste Ng’s books, Little Fires Everywhere* during lockdown.
Bone China by Laura Purcell*
This, the third of Laura Purcell’s wonderfully spooky gothic novels is the first of two on this list, it is still not as good as one of my all time favourite gothic reads, The Corset*, but I did enjoy it a lot more than her best selling first novel The Silent Companions* which I enjoyed but found a little overrated.
Consumptives nursed in a remote Cornish cave by a father and daughter who lost the rest of their family to the sickness. A ladies maid with a chequered past fleeing from her previous posting under a fake name, headed for a remote house out on the cliffs where here mistress spends her days, silent and unspeaking, sitting in a room full of blue and white Bone China. A sinister servant who rules over the household.
Realistically, this book should not have been this enjoyable. It jumps a lot between different narratives that you can’t quite string together, and I have to warn you that the last page I think provides a very unsatisfying ending (what did you think?) However, when the truth of a lot of things you’ve been shown start to come together— such as the true origin of some of that bone china once Creeda had ‘taken care’ of it – make for a book you can’t regret reading, and the sort of spiral down that is perfect for the darker, danker months!
The Shadow Wand by Laurie Forest*
Okay, so I do have another book that is part of a series in here, but I honestly don’t think The Black Witch Chronicles* have enough people shouting about them!
The latest instalment in this brilliant epic fantasy series is everything I could have possibly wished for. There was tension, magic, romance and war. There was also the same vivid descriptions of Laurie Forest’s beautiful world that you’ll already have come to love if you’ve even just read once of these books, and our hero Elloren finally started to hold her own, and of course, there are more beautiful dresses.
Honestly, I can’t gush about The Black Witch Chronicles enough – if epic (I’ll say it again, these books are seriously huge but very enjoyable) young adult high fantasy books with some of the richest world building I’ve seen since Harry Potter are your thing, go start things off with the first book, The Black Witch* (the Kindle edition is only £1.99 or free with Kindle Unlimited!). Then let me know what you think!
Madam by Phoebe Wynne* (gifted)
A nice pre-order to get now and forget about and get a nice surprise when it arrives, as Madam* is not out until February but I already think it will be one of the best books out next year – it is sinister, unsettling, and in some parts absolutely outrageous!
Rose – Head of Classics – is the first new teacher remote Scottish girls boarding school Caldonbrae Hall as seen in over a decade. At first she struggles to fit in with the strange new traditions of such a historic school but when she starts asking questions no one will answer about her predecessors abrupt departure she realises things are it quite what they seem as she starts to uncover the schools sinister secret – and her own unwitting part in it.
There are parts of the book that are so perfectly pitched, as you’d expect from a former teacher she’s got her girls boarding school down to a tee – regardless of the sinister goings on in the book, there is something about the way a bunch of girls all living together in that environment that really causes some personality types to thrive, others to wither. Madam is a book that makes you think.
The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell* (gifted)
Another one to pre-order and enjoy this January, yes lovers of all things gothic and creepy Laura’s next book is fantastic! While my all time favourite gothic novel (though Madam* might just knock it off the top spot, I’m not sure yet!) will always be Laura’s second book The Corset*, this new read is just as twisty and unexpected.
Agnes is a struggling silhouette artist struggling to keep her business afloat to support her family after severe illness. Pearl is a child spirit medium living with her bossy half sister who keeps using her in seances and her dying father. When Agnes’ customers start turning up dead, she’s desperate to find out who the culprit is in order to save her business – even if it means turning to Pearl for help contacting the victims from beyond the grave. The truth is something you’d never expect, and something so much darker than you could possibly imagine. If anything, you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security. You’ll enjoy this if you like your reads very very dark, very atmospheric, and with endings you simply won’t see coming!
Imperfect Alchemist by Naomi Miller* (gifted)
This is a very beautiful book. It’s not one I’d recommend if biographical historical fiction from a female perspective is not already your thing, but if it is for you like it is mine you’ll really enjoy this. If you create, as in if you write, paint, draw, if you create art this book will also speak to that part of you in a way that surprisingly few books do. It manages to be so much more than a record of the life of two extrodanary women, one real, one fictional, it’s a book about writing, about art, and about creation. It’s about carving a path for yourself while still confirming to the role life has felt you, and it is about carrying on in the face of sometimes terrible loss. And, even if, like me already you know something of the life of Mary Sidney, it will still surprise you.
Mary Sidney is your typical Elizabethan noblewoman; what is expected of her is to make a good marriage that benefits her family. She is, also, however, ones of the greatest literary minds of her generation and a keen alchemist. Rose is a young girl whose mother was dunked for witchcraft – Rose learnt the art of healing with herbs at her mother’s knee – who also has an incredible talent as an artist, not something to be nurtured in a girl of her station. However, when she is sent into service at Wilton House she finds herself with a mistress willing to nurture her talents.
A nice calm and collected book to finish with.