Congratulations! You’ve made it through 2016, one of the most gobsmackingly awful years in recent memory. From the deaths of some of our most-loved cultural icons, to some shocking political developments (we won’t repeat his name), it’s been a bleak, upsetting 12 months.
So give yourself a little hug for coming this far and spend the last few weeks engaging in some much-needed self-care. Why not sit back with a good book? Let’s not forget, 2016 was also the year of
hygge – the perfect excuse to pair a gripping read with an extra- indulgent hot chocolate.
Luckily, 2016 was a great year for publishing, too. These are the books we’ll be diving into head-first to escape from the scary outside world and the craziness of the festive season.
Rich and Pretty
By Rumaan Alam
Female friendships are a complex and beautiful thing. But what happens when your best friend – who has been like a sister to you for nearly 20 years – suddenly becomes someone you're not sure you even like very much anymore?
This delightful debut explores the longtime relationship between Sarah and Lauren, besties who have grown up and apart but still can't deny the tether that binds them. A charming and insightful meditation on what it means to mature and adapt to adult life while holding on to our shared histories,
Rich and Pretty is a perfect pick for book clubs and BFFs – and, of course, for a day at the beach with the most important lady friend in your life. Image: Ecco.
By Yaa Gyasi
At the beginning of Gyasi's epic debut novel, two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born in different villages in Ghana: One is married off to an English slave trader, while the other is imprisoned and sent to America to become a slave herself.
The stories of their families unfurl from those fates, and each chapter in this gorgeous and often heartbreaking book picks up with a new generation of the sisters' descendants, until the novel arrives in the modern moment.
Visceral and haunting,
Homegoing traces three centuries of history, beginning in Africa and wending its way to modern-day San Francisco. If you're going to read one book this festive season, let this be the one: Not only will it stimulate your literary sensibilities, it is an important and timely reminder of the legacy of Black existence in America. Image: Knopf.
By Alexis M. Smith
It's been two decades since a massive earthquake wreaked havoc along the West Coast – and 20 years since Lucie’s father disappeared during an explosion at the Marrow Island oil refinery. After the quake, Lucie and her mother fled the decimated isle to start over on the mainland. But Lucie continues to be drawn to the place where she spent her childhood, on the shores of Puget Sound.
Now, against all odds, Marrow Island has become habitable once again, and Lucie can’t resist going back to explore it for herself. When she arrives on the island, she becomes part of a newly formed community – the Colony – led by a former nun who seems to be working miracles on the once-barren soil. But as Lucie becomes more entrenched, she realises that things aren’t quite as they seem – and that getting to the bottom of the mystery might come at a heavy personal price.
Image: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
By Emma Cline
This is not the story of the Summer of Evil. But you don't have to read too closely to see the tale of the Manson family emerge.
Debut author Emma Cline crafts a thrilling coming-of-age novel imbued with an anxious urgency.
As the drama builds and your eyes widen, it becomes impossible to find a stopping point in this beautifully written book. For that reason, plan to pick it up on a day when you have literally nothing else to do.
This Is Not My Beautiful Life
By Victoria Fedden
Picture it: You're 36, pregnant, and living with your parents in Florida, when one morning the DEA knocks on the door to take your mum and stepdad down. Turns out, they've been masterminding a pump-and-dump scheme, and the only place their grandkid is going to see them for a while is behind bars.
So, what's a new mum to do when her family is barely functioning and she's got a tiny human on her hands? Work her way through it – and this laugh-out-loud memoir tells us how she did it.
By Jessica Valenti
Guardian U.S. columnist Jessica Valenti is well-known for her quick, sharp take on the need for feminism in our daily lives, and in her bold memoir, Sex Object, she turns her focus inward. By delving into her adolescence and young adulthood spent in New York City, she builds up a bleak picture of how entrenched the objectification of women is – and how many of us remain oblivious to it. Expect pain, vulnerability and embarrassment, and to have your feminist consciousness well and truly raised.
The Good Lieutenant
By Whitney Terrell
This modern-day war novel begins with a bang – a literal one, when an operation led by Lieutenant Emma Fowler turns deadly. Several soldiers and one young Iraqi are killed, as is Signals Officer Dixon Pulowski, Fowler’s longtime lover.
But what caused the mission to go so spectacularly awry? To answer that question, Terrell’s novel veers back in time, delving into the story behind that tragic day. With each new perspective and plot twist, a portrait of what truly happened becomes slightly less mystifying. But the search for the truth only leads to more questions – and the realisation that perhaps the only honest thing about war is the tragedy it leaves in its wake.
Image: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality
By Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell
It's hard to believe that it’s only been a year since the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal across the United States.
Love Wins tells the story of the case at the heart of that legislation: Obergefell v. Hodges.
20 years ago in Ohio, Jim Obergefell and John Arthur fell in love. In 2013, the Supreme Court mandated that the federal government provide gay couples with all the benefits offered to straight couples. Jim and John, who was dying of ALS, flew to Maryland, where same-sex marriage was already legal. But the state of Ohio refused to recognise their marriage; nor would it list Jim’s name on John’s death certificate. What followed was a fight for civil rights – and for the right to love – that changed America forever.
Image: Random House.
Under the Harrow
By Flynn Berry
When Nora arrives at her sister Rachel's family home in the English countryside for a visit, she stumbles on something horrific: Rachel is dead, the victim of a brutal murder.
In the aftermath, Nora becomes obsessed with finding the person who killed her sister. But she doesn’t turn to the police, who bungled their response to her own assault in the past. Instead, Nora decides to go it alone.
But the deeper she gets, and the more she finds out about who Rachel really was, the more danger Nora winds up in herself. This can’t-put-it-down psychological thriller explores the relationship between two women who loved each other fiercely, while lifting the veil on how little we know about the people closest to us.
Image: Penguin Books.
By Michael Chabon
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon’s latest novel is based on the stories of his own terminally ill grandfather, who, thanks to the tongue-loosening effects of his powerful painkillers, told Chabon stories he’d never heard before just before he died in 1989.
Touching on themes as wide-ranging as madness, war and adventure, sex and marriage and desire, existential doubt and, above all, the destructive impact and creative power of keeping secrets and telling lies,
Moonglow is well worth your time.
Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions From A Writing Life
By Kim Addonizio
Somewhere between Jo Ann Beard’s
The Boys of My Youth and Amy Schumer’s stand-up exists Kim Addonizio’s style of storytelling: In her prose as in her poetry, she is at once biting and vulnerable, nostalgic without ever veering into sentimentality, and delightfully contradictory in every way.
With this sharp new essay collection, the National Book Award finalist looks back on her life and work, playfully recounting experiences about falling for a much younger man and spilling secrets about what writers really do all day, among other tales. Addonizio also turns the focus on her own family – a father who encouraged her love of words, her former tennis champ mother, who succumbed to Parkinson’s in her later years, and her own daughter, who as a child chanced upon Addonizio’s erotic lit in
Penthouse magazine – creating a nuanced collage of what it means to be a female writer in the 20th century and beyond. Image: Penguin Books.
A Hundred Thousand Worlds
By Bob Proehl
Valerie Torrey and her son Alex fled Los Angeles for New York six years ago in the wake of a family tragedy, leaving behind her husband and her role in a cult sci-fi series. But now Valerie must confront her past, reuniting father and son: She plunks 9-year-old Alex in the car for a road trip across America, making pit stops at comic-book conventions along the way.
A tribute to the pleasures of fandom – as well as to the special connection between a mother and her only child –
A Hundred Thousand Worlds has been touted as the Kavalier & Clay for a new generation. Equal parts great American road-trip narrative and coming-of-age novel, this brilliant debut is a treat for diehard nerds. Image: Viking.
By Fiona Barton
This is the story we don’t often hear. What’s it like being married to the man on all the front pages, accused of unimaginable evil? Jean Taylor’s life and relationship were great until her husband became that “monster”. But now he’s dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story in her own way.
The Widow is the fastest-selling debut hardback novel since The Girl on the Train and has already been optioned for TV.
By Zadie Smith
Two Black girls want to be dancers when they grow up – but only one of them has the talent to push that dream forward. Though they remain inextricably bound to one another, their friendship ends abruptly in their 20s.
Tracey manages to become a dancer, making it into the chorus line. But her life is a struggle, as well as a kind of arrested development. Her former friend goes on to become an assistant to a famous pop star, leaving her old life behind. But when a twist of fate sends them both to west Africa, the two women are thrown together once again.
All The Single Ladies
By Rebecca Traister
You don’t need us to tell you that single women are a rising political force. You might be one of the
increasing number of unmarried women enjoying an “independent female adulthood”, who are working to shape the future of the U.S. and to ensure it works for them. American author and journalist Rebecca Traister combines history, reportage and personal memoir to suggest that unmarried women are re-writing what it means to put a ring on it.
When Breath Becomes Air
By Paul Kalanithi
Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon and writer who died from lung cancer in March 2015.
When Breath Becomes Air is his unforgettably powerful and heartbreaking memoir. It delves into some of the biggest questions we ponder as humans: What makes life worth living as we approach death? What do you do when your future is suddenly in doubt? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away? Tissues at the ready!
The Goodness of Dogs
By India Knight
The perfect gift for that friend or relative who you suspect prefers dogs to you. Written by the very funny
Sunday Times columnist, India Knight, the book is dedicated to her dog Brodie, and written on the opening page is: "For Brodie, for when he can read" – which tells you all you need to know about the serious dog love in this book.
It's a practical, heartwarming, hilarious book about dogs; whether you should get one, how you will love it, what you will have to sacrifice for it, and the unspeakable moment where you realise you chose the wrong puppy...
The Lonely City
By Olivia Laing
As increasing numbers of us opt for solo living, it’s worth thinking about what loneliness means, both for us as individuals and as a society. That’s where Olivia Laing’s
The Lonely City comes in. When she moved to New York in her mid-30s, Laing found herself lonely and ashamed. But instead of letting it get the better of her, she channelled it into this remarkable work of memoir, biography and cultural criticism. A must-read for everyone, not just the loners among us.
The Couple Next Door
By Shari Lapena
A page-turner for fans of
Gone Girl, The Couple Next Door follows Anne and Marco Conti, a couple who seem to have it all: a perfect home, great relationship and a beautiful baby girl – until one night, a frightening crime changes their lives.
The deeper the investigators delve into the details of the Conti's lives, the clearer it becomes that everything is not as it seems. Expect surprises and secrets – lots of them.
By Jenny Lawson
New York Times bestselling author Jenny Lawson’s latest book is a hilarious memoir that chronicles her lifelong struggle with mental illness. Believe it or not, crippling depression and anxiety can be funny. Reading between the lines, it becomes clear that the book is unequivocally about joy and embracing happiness wherever and whenever we find it. That sounds like something we should all be doing a little more often.
By Jenny Blake
If you’re stuck in a career rut and want to make some changes in 2017,
is for you. Written by careers strategist and the co-creator of Google’s Career Guru Program, Jenny Blake, the book removes the feelings of confusion and panic that often come with trying something new. She teaches you how to move from one career to another in our rapidly evolving economy. Refreshingly, Blake’s philosophy is all about building on your existing strengths rather than the need to become a whole new person. Result! Pivot
By Lisa Owens
If you’ve ever struggled with finding your place in the world or working out where your true passion lies, Lisa Owens’ debut novel is for you. While everyone around narrator Claire Flannery appears to have their life under control, our lovable protagonist can’t stop wasting her time entering online competitions. Anyone who’s ever worked from home or outside of a typical nine-to-five will empathise, while those stuck in a demanding job will find the book an enlightening exploration of how the other half lives.
Feminist Fight Club
By Jessica Bennett
“If this were an equal world, this book wouldn't have to exist,” says the author of
Feminist Fight Club. Journalist Jessica Bennett had had enough of micro-aggressions, unconscious bias, colleagues 'manterrupting' her in meetings and men 'bro-propriating' her ideas, so she created this seriously useful guide for battling workplace sexism.
Endorsed by Facebook COO and
Lean In author, Sheryl Sandberg, Feminist Fight Club is a perfect gift for the friend who just needs a little push to start standing up for herself.
By Ali Smith
Described as the first “post-Brexit novel”, the peerless Ali Smith may have written her latest work extraordinarily quickly but you’d never know it.
Autumn is set in a divided Britain after a politically historic summer and asks the question: in a world where borders and walls (cc: President-elect Trump) are springing up all over the place, what do richness and worth really mean today? Autumn is the first of a seasonal quartet of books so we can expect another bountiful harvest from Smith soon.
The Bricks That Built The Houses
By Kate Tempest
The debut novel by groundbreaking, award-winning poet and rapper Kate Tempest is a multi-generational story that will plunge you straight into southeast London: drugs, desire, violence and dead-end jobs galore. Three friends set about leaving the city in an old car with a suitcase of money to escape their demons.
The Bricks That Built The Houses is a vivid meditation on contemporary city life through a powerful moral lens.
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours
By Helen Oyeyemi
This collection of short stories is a treat for the senses. Oyeyemi’s tales stretch over multiple times and landscapes and tease the boundaries between coexisting realities. Hone your imagination and lose yourself in a beautiful, sensuous world of lost libraries and locked gardens, of marshlands where the drowned dead live and a city where all the clocks have stopped. A perfect book for when you need to escape.
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