Quick book picks for June

Only a few books this month, mostly a very modern and relevant selection, as well as one mostly set in flashback in the nineties. They all look at some intense situations in different ways and styles, making them engrossing reads for ignoring the sun/World Cup/anything else.

  • Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton – An emphatic recommendation for anyone who likes literary thrillers like American Psycho or The Talented Mr Ripley, but wishes they were more female-led and up to date. Social Creature presents a New York millenial hell as Louise is pulled into the money- and party- filled world of Lavinia and then things start to go wrong.
  • Promising Young Women by Caroline O’Donoghue – Another one this month exposing the modern world, as the London workplace is dissected and its effects upon mental health and upholding a male-dominated culture are shown through Jane’s sudden promotion at an advertising job.
  • Run, Riot by Nikesh Shukla – This is a young adult book that tells the story of twins Taran and Hari and their fight to expose the injustice in the system that is putting them, their friends, and the tower block they call home at risk. It is like a British version of The Hate U Give, showing that YA fiction can highlight racism, gentrification, and police corruption sometimes more powerfully than novels aimed at adults.
  • A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better by Benjamin Wood – A distinctively written novel that tells the story of trauma and how it continues to affect an individual, as Daniel looks back on the violence of his father during an erratic road trip.

Quick book picks for May

Only a few for this month, but a good bunch of fiction featuring some historical, some globe-spanning, and some very focused on the personal.

  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer – A bittersweet comic novel about a struggling writer who takes up invitations to strange events around the world in order to avoid his ex-boyfriend’s wedding.
  • House of Gold by Natasha Solomons – Europe poised on the cusp of World War One is the setting for this historical novel, about the Goldbaum family and how rebellious Greta attempts to reclaim her own life. Mixes the personal with the large scale history surprisingly well.
  • We Are Young by Cat Clarke – Another tense YA novel from Cat Clarke, this one focuses on how a car accident can bring various issues in a community to the forefront, from the perspective of the girl whose new stepbrother is the sole survivor.
  • The Pharmacist’s Wife by Rebecca Tait – A dark historical novel set in Victorian Edinburgh, where  Rebecca Palmer’s pharmacist husband tries to control her using heroin and manipulation.
  • Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey – This novel tells the story of a girl who goes missing and then is found a few days later, unwilling to discuss what happened. Told from the perspective of her mother, it looks at depression and how a biased viewpoint can lead to assumptions.

Quick book picks for April

With a whole load of books out this month, it was actually hard to pick out some recommendations. These are a mixed bunch aimed at a variety of audiences, but not limited to those audiences. Click on the title links to full reviews for more details.

  • I Still Dream by James Smythe – A novel about a girl who builds an AI to listen to her problems and how that AI becomes so much more, but also stays as her personal friend and confidant. Proof that books about tech can also be about memory, loss, and the minutiae of people’s lives.
  • The One Who Wrote Destiny by Nikesh Shukla – A story of three generations of the same family, and how their different cultural experiences in Kenya, Keighley, and beyond and their differences of opinion and life shape how they interact.
  • Clean by Juno Dawson – Exciting whilst also hard-hitting, Clean is a young adult novel about addiction, but also about privilege, what makes people different, and how you can have sympathy for abrasive characters. Treats the subject matter seriously, but is also witty and clever.
  • Circe by Madeline Miller – Miller turns from the Iliad to the Odyssey in this rewriting of the story of Circe that weaves together a great deal of stories, showing the tension between gods and mortals from the perspective of an outcast.
  • The Chosen Ones by Scarlett Thomas – The next book in Thomas’ charming magical children’s series that imagines a world where electricity is no longer reliable and magic and books become crucial.
  • Macbeth by Jo Nesbo – The next book in the Hogarth Shakespeare series takes Macbeth and gives it a crime thriller treatment that strips that magic and retains the paranoid corruption. Undoubtably will be popular in libraries.

Quick book picks for March

The weather hasn’t exactly become Spring-like yet and though I did tire of seeing endless ‘Snow day? Read one of our newly published books’ tweets (this may have been because I was at work), that was also the only idea I had for introducing this month’s new books. A rich bunch this month, with links to full reviews as usual (if you like short/flash/‘damp gothic’ fiction, I advise you to not skip past Mayhem & Death).

  • Sal by Mick Kitson – A different kind of wilderness survival story, this novel follows two sisters who escape their mum’s abusive boyfriend by following survival tips that Sal, the elder sister, learnt off YouTube. Powerful with a vivid voice.
  • The End of Loneliness by Benedict Wells – Translated from German into English, this book travels across Germany, France, and Switzerland to show snapshots from the often melancholy lives of three siblings in a film-like way.
  • Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala – A memorable and timely novel about telling the truth, friendship, race, and sexuality. Niru is a top student at his Washington D.C. school, but he’s keeping a secret from his attentive and proud parents, and when they find out he is gay, the fallout will change everything.
  • The Zero and the One by Ryan Ruby – A literary thriller set between Oxford, Berlin, and New York, this has dashes of The Secret History, Patricia Highsmith, and the Netflix series The Good Place and will appeal to those who like dark fiction centred around intellectual obsession and twisted relationships.
  • Mayhem & Death by Helen McClory – A collection of short pieces of writing and one novella which are filled with mystery, sea, birds, gothic, and irregularity. Read for the atmosphere, a fantastic poem about loneliness, and the sense of short writing that is exciting and fresh.
  • The Trick To Time by Kit de Waal – After My Name Is Leon, it was exciting to see another novel by Kit de Waal; this one focuses on grief and life spanning across decades that will appeal to fans of everyday character-led fiction.

Quick book picks for February

Escape the bleakness of February with some new books. Many of my choices are tackling some hard-hitting subjects in varied and interesting ways. Titles link to full reviews as usual.

  • The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara – A raw novel about LGBT life in NYC from the 1970s to the 1990s that weaves together characters whilst placing them firmly in real LGBT history (a good pick for February being UK LGBT History Month).
  • The Hoarder by Jess Kidd – The story of a woman who works as a carer for an eccentric old man and is drawn into the mystery surrounding him in his weird house.
  • Restless Souls by Dan Sheehan – A road trip tragicomedy about friends dealing with PTSD, war, and traumatic childhood events, which often feels like a specific kind of indie film.
  • Home by Amanda Berriman – This novel about the housing crisis and sexual assault told from the point of view of a four-year-old is a tough but also sweet look at life using a distinctive voice.
  • Eat Up by Ruby Tandoh – A quirky book about food and eating, with a style that won’t suit everyone but will appeal to Tandoh’s many Twitter fans.

Quick book picks for January

We’ve all remembered that time continues to pass and prepared to blame a different numbered year for our troubles, so now it’s time for more books. The usual random mixture with some modern folk tradition reimagining, dystopian gangster noir, a painful story of trauma, and a biography of Mary Shelley for the anniversary of Frankenstein’s publication.

  • Swansong by Kerry Andrew – A lyrical novel about a twentysomething escaping to the Highlands from London which combines folk tradition and modern issues.
  • This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel – A novel about a big family in which the youngest child is transgender, and how they all keep secrets and try to make their lives work.
  • The Earlie King & the Kid in Yellow by Danny Denton – A literary dystopian noir set in an always raining Dublin, in which a boy steals a baby amidst gang war.
  • In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein by Fiona Sampson – A biography of Mary Shelley that tries to look beyond the picture usually painted of her, whilst also doing a bit of questioning the cultural idea of Frankenstein itself as a novel.
  • Peach by Emma Glass – Short and visceral story of a girl who has been assaulted, shown with immediacy through her perspective.

My Favourite 2017 Books (In Order of When I Read Them)

Ended up as a top nineteen.

  • Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo – A book about hope and a couple in Nigeria who dream of having children, told from both their perspectives (full review).
  • The Lonely City by Olivia Laing – A multi-layered non-fiction book about art, LGBT history, and loneliness in New York City (full review).
  • All The Good Things by Claire Fisher – A moving and relevant novel about Beth, a young woman in prison, who is trying to document the good things in her life whilst remembering how she got where she is (full review).
  • A Line Made By Walking by Sara Baume – In the new genre ‘millenials, mental health, and escaping to the country’ sits this novel (full review).
  • The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel – A twisted story of a family with dark secrets that has hints of (and an epigraph from) Lolita (full review).
  • New Boy by Tracy Chevalier – From the Hogarth modern Shakespeare retellings series comes Othello in a single day in a Washington schoolyard, a version that gives new light to the original (full review).
  • Girlhood by Cat Clarke – The setting is a boarding school in the Scottish countryside, where everything feels more intense to the girls who live and study there, and a newcomer puts everyone on edge (full review).
  • My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent – The unnerving and intense story of Turtle, her apocalypse-obsessed father, and her fight for survival (full review).
  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – A novel about trauma and ways of seeing the world that follows Eleanor as she tries to navigate her life according to the strict rules she has set herself (full review).
  • Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney – Frances and Bobbi are performance poets and exes who are drawn into the complicated moneyed world of an older journalist and her husband in this fresh and distinctive novel (full review).
  • Good As You: From Prejudice To Pride by Paul Flynn – An account of British gay culture from the 1980s until the present day and some of the milestones in music and TV that showed change and progress (full review).
  • The Gender Games by Juno Dawson – A funny, clever, and often informative book that is part memoir and part guide to navigating gender (full review).
  • Hings by Chris McQueer – Weird and hilarious Scottish short stories feat. drink, drugs, and knees on backwards (full review).
  • A Change Is Gonna Come by various – An anthology of diverse YA fiction written by both established and new voices (my fave is a great story about living with OCD) (full review).
  • English Animals by Laura Kaye – A touching and wry novel about a Slovakian woman who goes to work in a rural English country house, gets into taxidermy, and falls in love with the wife (full review).
  • If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio – Short description: the Shakespearean Secret History (featuring a group of obsessed actors, death, and a fair amount of quotation) (full review).
  • The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst – Hollinghurst’s new book is an expected delight, the story of complicated relationships spanning from Oxford during the war to the 21st century (full review).
  • The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee – My new ‘enthuse about this to everyone’ book, this is the story of a debauched young 18th century aristocrat who goes on a grand tour with his best friend Percy (who he is in love with) and his secretly rebellious sister and they get into a bunch of scrapes (full review).
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – A vital YA novel about a black girl torn between her posh school and the area in which she grew up.

Best non-2017 books I read in 2017

I know it’s ‘end of year lists’ season because I have enough of a Buzzfeed habit to now be seeing the same tweets I’ve seen all year in new lists that use the year in their title. And whilst there are a lot of reading days left of 2017, I realised that to get in more than one list of books from this year, I’d have to start now.

First up is the nebulous category ‘books not published in 2017 that I read for the first time in 2017’. I’m going for things not published new in hardback or paperback in the UK in 2017 as far as I know. Seeing as I spent so much of 2017 reviewing upcoming books or reading very new ones, this list may seem a bit random.

  • Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon – This dual biography moves between their lives a chapter at a time, not only drawing parallels but giving a real sense of the mother and daughter who didn’t get to meet. It is packed full of detail and is worth it for not feeling overwhelmed by the author’s judgements about people who turn up in their lives, unlike many biographies of Wollstonecraft or Shelley.
  • If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo – A powerful and sweet young adult novel about being the new girl at school, falling in love, and being transgender. It really focuses on finding friends who support you as well as navigating teenage life and rituals whilst dealing with your own and your friends’ secrets.
  • Room by Emma Donoghue – Obviously I’m very behind having only read Room this year, Donoghue’s incredible novel from the point of view of a five year old imprisoned in a single room with his Ma. The way that the style captures the character and his worldview makes it a crucial read.
  • Byrne by Anthony Burgess – I’m including Byrne almost solely because I’m annoyed Burgess wrote it, stopping me writing a story that has a structure that’s a Byron joke: a poem in ottava rima that slips into Spenserian stanzas and back again. You might have to specifically care about that to read it (or just be a huge Burgess fan) as it’s the story of an ageing Don Juan-esque composer written in verse.
  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin – I read most of Giovanni’s Room on my birthday (1st Jan) in the bath, so it only just counts. A classic short love story about two men in 1950s Paris. If you haven’t read it, do.
  • The People In The Trees by Hanya Yanagihara – I wasn’t sure whether to include this one because A Little Life is so much better (but I read that at the end of last year), but I think her earlier novel is worth a read too. It’s about a young doctor who goes on an expedition to find a lost tribe, gains fame from what he discovers there, and things don’t go well from there. If you’ve read A Little Life, you won’t be surprised it can be horrible at times, but very interesting as well.

So you want to give impressively up to date book presents?

I vowed not to do another gift guide like everyone else, but then I changed my mind. I decided to lend a helping hand to people who want to buy books as gifts, but also want to seem up to date and ‘with it’ by giving books that came out this year (and also hoping that the recipient is less up to date and hasn’t read these recent books yet).

This is not my top books of 2017 list. For starters, there’s still a month of 2017 to go, so I refuse to make any judgements until then. Instead, this is just some suggestions for who might like different books that came out this year.

  • For the beleaguered twentysomething: One of the vague sub- sub-genres I’ve noticed this year is the ‘twentysomething cannot cope with life, retreats to countryside or makes a bad life choice to reflect on how shit the world is’. Because art doesn’t imitate life at all. There’s A Line Made By Walking by Sara Baume, which is exactly that description. Sally Rooney’s distinctive Conversations With Friends stays in the city, but very much captures this spirit. English Animals is about culture shock, love, and hipster taxidermy. And straying further away, I’ll Eat When I’m Dead by Barbara Bourland is the American Psycho for the social media world and shows the toxicity of fashion in these conditions.
  • For the person who likes to dip into things: What do you buy the person who has limited time to sit down with a huge tome? Sure, you could go for a novelty comedy book that requires no memory of previous plots, or maybe something more original. For short stories, Chris McQueer’s Hings offers the surreal, the drug-fuelled, and the downright weird. From the same publisher (404 Ink) you can offer intersectional essays about being a woman in the twenty first century with Nasty Women. Bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward is modern and concise poetry that cuts deep and can be enjoyed by adults and teenagers.
  • For the character-focused reader: If you’re buying for someone who likes engrossing and quirky characters, there’s plenty of options from the past year. All The Good Things by Clare Fisher tells the story of a young woman in prison and how she ended up there. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman offers a surprisingly uplifting story of coping with trauma whilst seeing the world differently The Book of Luce by L.R. Fredericks is a weird tale of a gender defying rock star and the obsessive fans that surround them.
  • For the ‘dark and tense, but not actually crime’ fans: It’s a specific-sounding genre, I know, but there’s so many people who want dark and dramatic literary fiction. Offer them My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent, about a girl called Turtle who has to fight to survive, or The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel, about a family with twisted secrets (and featuring an epigraph from Lolita, to suggest the tone). For the Shakespeare or The Secret History fans, there’s If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio, about a group of actors who fall apart after one of them dies.
  • For the YA fans: Note that I didn’t say ‘for the teenagers’, because not only could teenagers enjoy other books on this list, but anyone can enjoy young adult books. Girlhood by Cat Clarke shows contemporary older teenage girls at a remote boarding school in Scotland and what happens when a new girl turns up who seems to be just like the protagonist. Stephanie Perkins’ There’s Someone Inside Your House is like tense modern Point Horror with a complicated main character, and One Of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus takes the concept of The Breakfast Club and spins it on its head in a story about death and secrets. For something a little lighter, there’s The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, about a girl who thinks she’s unlikeable and her sweet family.

Quick book picks for November

Now that we are in the midst of autumn and I am sat here drinking smoky lapsang souchong (as if I don’t all year round), it’s time for a new list of books out this month. Here’s some portraits of American memoirs, an endearing memoir, and a weird book about Nabokov (with links to reviews in the titles).

  • Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner – The creator of Mad Men writes the story of a girl, her family, and what happens in their orbit. Summaries can’t capture the strange atmosphere Weiner creates.
  • Demi-Gods by Eliza Robertson – A stylistic and unnerving novel about growing up in the 1950s and 60s in Canada and the US, told in episodes.
  • Trans Mission by Alex Bertie – This YouTuber’s memoir about his life so far as a trans man combines humour and emotion and is perfect for older children and teenagers, but also parents and other adults who want to be more understanding or know more.
  • The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth by William Boyd – A collection of stories of varying length about flawed characters at decisive moments in their lives and relationships.
  • The Future Won’t Be Long by Jarett Kobek – The 80s and 90s America novel that wasn’t written then. Kobek tells the story of a gay guy and a straight girl who become friends and try to survive America, featuring comic books, drugs, clubs, AIDS, money, famous authors and artists, and a metafictional awareness of what came next.
  • Insomniac Dreams by Vladimir Nabokov – A book on Nabokov and dreams that uses a combination of Nabokov’s own words in dream diaries and his published works alongside Gennady Barabtarlo’s notes and commentary.