What to read in October, according to The Weekly: The Sun Walks Down, Sister Stardust, and more great reads

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Stuck without a good book to read for the coming month? The Australian Women’s Weekly has you sorted with our selection of best reads for October.

Each title has been reviewed by our respected book reviewers, Katie Ekberg and The Weekly’s editor at large Juliet Rieden.

Starting out with our Great Read for this month, The Sun Walks Down by Fiona McFarlane, we have something to suit every kind of book worm.

So settle in with one of these Women’s Weekly recommended reads, all available through Booktopia.

Want more book reviews from The Australian Women’s Weekly? Sign up for our e-Newsletter!

The Sun Walks Down by Fiona McFarlane, Allen & Unwin

The Sun Walks Down by Fiona McFarlane, Allen & Unwin. BUY NOW

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The sun, a ball of burning orange, dominates like a powerful, all-seeing deity in this masterful tale of a how the disappearance of a young boy, lost on the great Flinders Ranges, tests a community. It is September 1883 and in the melting pot of cultures rubbing along in the South Australian country town of Fairly, there is a low hum of disquiet.

As the tale opens a vast dust storm kicks off, creating a shroud of gritty red. Minna Baumann is getting married to Constable Robert Manning when the rush of ruddy dirt comes through and six-year-old Denny, the youngest son of a local family, is out in the fields while his sisters attend the nuptials. When the wind calms he is gone.

As the town scrambles to search for the lad, every character has a story – from the Indigenous trackers to the Afghani cameleers, the shearers, schoolteachers, landowners and the pathetic local vicar. The hours tick over into days and Denny’s mother becomes increasingly distraught as her family and the local officials head off into the traditional ranges that surround the comparatively recent farming settlement in pursuit of much-loved Denny.

Newcomers – a Swedish artist with a charm we soon mistrust and his English wife – are also out there somewhere trying to capture the magic of a landscape they barely understand. In Swedish the sun doesn’t set, “it walks down”.

Author Fiona McFarlane says she was “inspired by the disquieting beauty of the Flinders Ranges, which is littered with the stone ruins of the colonial farms and towns that failed to thrive there in the late 19th century. I found the landscape extremely unsettling, and was struck by the appropriateness of that word: I was encountering a place with a long history of unsettlement, beginning with the violent dispossession of the land’s traditional owners.”

Fiona’s engrossing tale is drenched in that eerie landscape and pulsates with drama not just for finding Denny but for the rich seam of subplots bubbling as colonialism treads its own treacherous path.

“My novel doesn’t set out to tell one authoritative story about the past: it’s full of the many people and voices that make up our history.”

PRE-ORDER NOW at Booktopia. On sale October 5.

Sunbathing by Isobel Beech, Allen & Unwin

Sunbathing by Isobel Beech, Allen & Unwin. BUY NOW

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Beautiful, breathtaking, unflinching, Beech’s debut novel is unsurpassable. Opening on a train travelling to Abruzzo, Italy, delayed “due to human accident”, the scene is set. Staying in an “elevator-sized” hotel room, the shrieks, singing and smashings of a Saturday night settle our bereaved Australian, on her way to stay with friend Giulia and husband-to-be Fabrizio.

She will hole up in the “birthing room” used by generations of Fab’s family, where the grief-stricken daughter of a father she worshipped, who suicided, will delete her apps. Her guilt, regrets and anger whirl under fruit trees, grapefruit-coloured skies, snow-capped mountains – a place where she felt “as though she was in another realm”.

Giulia’s devotion to her vegetable garden is a diversion; they water together with handfuls from the laundry sink. Noble, wise Giulia’s silence on asking what happened to her friend’s father, speaks volumes. She will scatter his ashes one day; a sky full of fireflies descending at night. “Lucciole,” says Fab, as they light up the sky. The wedding feast is delectable as friends and farmers, gather for an unforgettable celebration.

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Cassoulet Confessions by Sylvie Bigar, Hardie Grant

Cassoulet Confessions by Sylvie Bigar, Hardie Grant. BUY NOW

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Swiss food writer Bigar embarks on a journey from her New York home to the Occitanie region of southern France, birthplace of the meat and bean cassoulet.

She leaves her son and daughter with husband Michael, on an unexpected emotional reliving of an exotic and disturbing childhood. The middle of her three elder sisters was mentally disturbed and taken to an asylum in a straitjacket, after wielding a carving knife. Her father imposed points at meal-times; if they got three it meant bed and no dinner.

Little Sylvie, however, was fed by waiter Joachim in his uniform, kneeling to ensure she got her favourite crispy meat, one white-gloved hand behind his back. The climax is meeting Eric Garcia of the Academie Universelle du Cassoulet, who safeguards the dish’s traditions. He was horrified by the tide of “all-you-can-eat-cassoulet for eight euros”. A Chocolat-style Cassoulet movie?

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The Uncaged Sky by Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Ultimo

The Uncaged Sky by Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Ultimo. BUY NOW

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In September 2020 Doctor Kylie Moore-Gilbert was about to board a plane to Australia from Iran after research as part of her Melbourne University PhD on the Bahraini Shi’a community. Her baggage withdrawn from the flight, she was arrested and accused of spying by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

She would be holed up for 804 days in a 2 x 2 metre ‘box’ cell, as she lay on her back watching the flight of birds above. A scam trial sentenced her to 10 years, but she held hunger strikes and leant on the support of female prisoners, with whom messages were passed, and food treats shared. Her initial surrender to despair swelled into a defiant escape attempt, and finally freedom in a prisoner exchange negotiated by the Australian government.

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The Paris Mystery by Kirsty Manning, Allen & Unwin

The Paris Mystery by Kirsty Manning, Allen & Unwin. BUY NOW

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Roll up to the magnificent new Manning mystery series. Charlotte (“just Charlie”) James is the latest Times correspondent in Paris. Her French mother, Sylvie, and leading Sydney prosecutor father bestowed her with the necessary qualifications. Carrying the divorce papers which ended her marriage to unfaithful husband Finn, she needs to impress editor George Roberts fast.

Her first assignment is the burlesque circus charity ball at Lord and Lady Ashworth’s villa. Guests include the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson. When a piercing scream draws the curtain on the throat slashing of Maxime Marchand, prominent merchant banker and philanthropist, Harpers Paris correspondent Millie Goldsmith staggers out holding a bloodied knife.

Inspired by real-life Paris events of the 1930s surrounding outstanding female foreign correspondents such as Dorothy Lawrence, who served as a male sapper to report from the frontline.

Ripe for TV adaptation!

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The Half Life of Valery K by Natasha Pulley, Bloomsbury

The Half Life of Valery K by Natasha Pulley, Bloomsbury. BUY NOW

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In 1956 prisoner 745, nuclear specialist Valery Kolkhanov, begins his 10-year sentence in a grim Siberian gulag for living in capitalist Berlin as a student. Six years in, he is picked up by the KGB and driven at speed through dying forests to a laboratory in a new town.

There is coffee, bread, butter and cheese in abundance and here he is put to work studying radiation effects on animals. But soon he starts to question what is happening on the town’s outskirts, where there is a contaminated exclusion zone. Inhabitants were initially removed but, starving, they’ve returned unaware of the risks. A woman hanging washing has a baby on her back with no eyes. And Valery is also in danger in a government cover-up that could kill them all.

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A Recipe for Family by Tori Haschka, Simon & Schuster

A Recipe for Family by Tori Haschka, Simon & Schuster. BUY NOW

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Sydney’s affluent Northern Beaches are the setting for this microscope on the au-pair trend. Stella is the second wife of actor Felix; “thankless task of stepmother” to his daughter Georgie, 14, and mother to their daughter, Natalie. After seven years Stella “still hasn’t made it into the Beaches world”. Her mother-in-law is a staunch feminist and disapproves when Stella decides to recruit an au pair. Bereaved American Ava is recommended by another au pair, but no-one knows that her mother has recently died.

Wine flows at gatherings in Curl Curl – both among parents and partying au pairs. One girl is spotted with a husband; another befriends a troubled daughter who nearly dies falling while taking a selfie on a cliffside.

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Sister Stardust by Jane Green, HarperCollins

Sister Stardust by Jane Green, HarperCollins. BUY NOW

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A blinding reimagining of the life of socialite Talitha Getty, wife of millionaire Paul Getty, who died in 1971 of a heroin overdose aged 30. Told through character Claire, who leaves sleepy Dorset for a job in the ribbon section of a fashion department of a London store.

But she yearns for work at the iconic trend-setting shop, Biba. Embarking on a dangerous yoghurt diet, her puppy fat drops away and “Cece” is reborn. Hooking up with the hip in-crowd of models and rock stars in Marrakesh, Morocco, she bonds deeply with Talitha at her palace of dreams, drugs and alcohol. One day her own daughter, Tally, asks to go into her attic to find a chair for her daughter, Lizzie. Open sesame on a wild and sensationally secret life.

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Pomegranate & Fig by Zaheda Ghani, Hachette

Pomegranate & Fig by Zaheda Ghani, Hachette. BUY NOW

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A deeply affecting debut novel which began as the hand-written diary Ghani wrote at age nine, after arriving in Australia as an Afghani refugee. Home “Herat” is “the most pleasant of cities” where Henna and sisters Nargis and Roya live with mother Koko and father Fakhoja, who carves sculptures for public places.

Henna is close to brother Hamid, who does not see her fragility, but “a girl who will be someone”. At 17 she is honoured as an outstanding pupil in her school. She becomes a teacher and weds gentle lawyer Rahim, who believes in keeping beloved Herat crime-free.

They have a son, Tariq. But politics are unstable and when there is a Russian coup – “a year of darkness” in 1979 – the family goes into exile.

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Angels of the Pacific by Elise Hooper, HarperCollins

Angels of the Pacific by Elise Hooper, HarperCollins. BUY NOW

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Fleeing the American Depression, Esther Abbott is renamed Tess by fellow newly-posted nurse Sally, who proceeds to cut Tess’ waist-long hair into a Rita Hayworth movie-style. The nurses are heading to Manila for a Christmas gala at the Officers’ Club. “A few gin-soaked hours of jitterbugging” is just what they need.

Tess meets George, the love of her life, this night. But soon after, the Japanese bomb Hawaii and celebrations are off the agenda in this superbly structured novel. The real-life “Angels of Bataan” were imprisoned at Manila’s Internment Camp for four years. Alongside Filipina medics, who joined the resistance, they faced torture and the realisation, “Our guys aren’t coming.” Yet.

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