The List of Suspicious Things, by Jennie Godfrey
It’s 1979 and the Yokshire Ripper serial killer has yet to be captured, leaving locals across the county terrified to walk down their own streets. So much so that 12-year-old Miv’s father is considering moving the family ‘Down South’, which would mean leaving her best friend Sharon behind – and this simply won’t do. The pair devise a plan to solve the case of the murders themselves, and they start by listing all the suspicious people and things they come across in their neighbourhood. In the process, they stumble upon more secrets in their town and families than they could have imagined, including why Miv’s mother suddenly fell silent all those months ago. A mystery wrapped up in a story of community and family, The List of Suspicious Things is a gorgeous, page-turning book.
(Hutchinson Heinemann, £14.99)
How the World Made the West, by Josephine Quinn
An astounding 500-page read, How the World Made the West calls for a major reassessment of everything we thought we knew about how western ‘civilisations’ were created. From the Bronze Age through to the Age of Exploration, Quinn charts more than 4,000 years of history in order to reveal a new and much wider picture – one that illustrates how much more interconnected cultures were than was traditionally thought, and underlines the enormous roles that migration and trade played in shaping the world we know today. Both erudite and witty, sweeping and granular, this book is revisionist history at its best.
A Bookshop of One’s Own, by Jane Cholmeley
In Thatcher-era Britain, three women set up a feminist bookshop in Charing Cross, London, and Jane Cholmeley was one of them. Now, in this brilliantly-named memoir, she recalls what it was like to co-found the legendary Silver Moon bookshop, which went on to become Europe’s biggest women’s bookshop and host everyone from Maya Angelou to Margaret Atwood. But this memoir also serves as a slice of social history contemplating the world which Silver Moon found itself in, where it was not only important to champion the works of female writers but also provide a safe space in an atmosphere marred by misogyny and homophobia. Whether you remember the famous bookshop or not, this is a wonderful, rallying read.
The Fury, by Alex Michaelides
Alex Michaelides’ debut novel The Silent Patient was a record-breaking, international bestseller of multi-million copies, so it is little surprise a major film adaptation is in the works. While we wait, the author has returned with another breathtakingly twisty thriller. The Fury centres on a group of seven people who are trapped on a small, private Greek island. Their host is a former movie star, Lana, and one of them is a murderer. On the island, nothing is as it seems – and the same can be said for the novel itself, which takes the classic murder mystery format and twists it into something devious and enthralling and consistently surprising.
(Michael Joseph, £18.99)
Best of the rest
Parasol Against the Axe, by Helen Oyeyemi
This surreal, whimsical novel is narrated from the perspective of the city of Prague, where a hen do has descended and where one of the group has a book whose text changes every time it is opened. Playful, original fun.
Pity, by Andrew McMillan
As their lives fall apart in very different ways, three generations of a South Yorkshire mining family contemplate authenticity, resilience and our capacity to change. The poet’s fiction debut is as lyrical and evocative as you would expect.
Anna O, by Mathew Blake
It has been four years since Anna O was found in a deep sleep next to the bodies of her two best friends, bloodied and holding a knife. Suspected of double murder, she hasn’t opened her eyes since and Benedict Prince is the forensic psychologist tasked with waking her up.
Burma Sahib, by Paul Theroux
George Orwell once stated that ‘here is a short period in everyone’s life when his character is fixed forever’. For the 1984 author himself, this was his years spent as a police trainee in Burma, a time that Theroux has re-imagined with storytelling prowess.
(Hamish Hamilton, £20)
Green Dot, by Madeleine Gray
In Sydney, 20-something Hera’s first job as a comment moderator for a news outlet is exceptionally boring – until she meets and falls in love with Arthur: the older, married journalist who works there. This buzzy debut about growing up and making mistakes also happens to be rip-roaringly funny.
The Fox Wife, by Yangsze Choo
Following her acclaimed bestselling novel The Night Tiger, Choo has penned an enchanting, mythological novel which revolves around the mystery of a woman found frozen in the snow – and the foxes that are rumoured to have the powers to take people’s life force.
Newborn, by Kerry Hudson
In Kerry Hudson’s terrific 2019 memoir Lowborn, she explored how poverty shaped her childhood. In Newborn, she reveals the next chapter of her story, which involves finding love, giving birth to a son, and building a family without a blueprint to work from.
(Chatto & Windus £18.99)
Jaded, by Ela Lee
One night after a work event, Jade’s perfectly constructed life comes crumbling down. As the victim of sexual assault, she is caught between people who don’t understand and those who expect her to remain silent. A raw, compulsive and nuanced novel about identity, race and consent.
(Harvill Secker, £16.99)
The Happiest Ever After, by Milly Johnson
After her life falls apart, Polly finds solace in her writing, where she creates a fictionalised version of herself who gets a better ending. Soon, she finds herself living out that exact storyline. You can always rely on Milly Johnson to make you feel good.
(Simon & Schuster, £16.99)
Mad Woman, by Bryony Gordon
A decade on since Mad Girl, Gordon’s bestselling memoir about her experiences with mental illness, she has penned a follow-up on everything she has learned since, be it on sobriety, burnout, binge eating, perimenopause or what she got wrong about mental health in the first place.
The Book of Doors, by Gareth Brown
Cassie Andrews is a bookseller in New York whose life feels directionless until a customer hands her a book filled with mysterious drawings. It transpires to be a book with magic powers, and the adventure that unfurls from there is mesmerising to read.
Fourteen Days, edited by Margaret Atwood and Douglas Preston
It is lockdown in a Manhattan apartment and tenants are gathering every night on the roof to share stories. But this isn’t your typical novel. Fourteen Days is a collaborative project where each character has been written by a different author, from Margaret Atwood to John Grisham, Emma Donoghue to Celeste Ng.
(Chatto & Windus, £20)
Nuclear Family, by Kate Davies
Davies’s 2019 debut In at the Deep End was one of the funniest novels of that year. This follow up, about what happens when a DNA testing kit ends up blowing a family apart, is just as good a comedy of manners.
(Borough Press, £16.99)
Frank and Red, by Matt Coyne
Frank is a grumpy widower who is estranged from his only son; Red is the six-year-old who moves in next door and has an annoyingly noisy trampoline. Still, the pair form an unlikely friendship in this heartwarming novel.
The Story Collector, by Iris Costello
From pre First World War Germany through to present day Cornwall, the lives of three women are inextricably linked by a long-buried secret. When Edie renovates her cottage and comes across a mysterious box that had been hidden in the walls, it finally comes to light.
This Love, by Lotte Jeffs
Mae and Ari first meet outside a gay club in Leeds, where they are both in their final year of university. Over the decade that follows, the pair become one another’s anchors in this beautiful platonic love story about friendship, queerness, found family and connection.
Private Equity, by Carrie Sun
A memoir so gripping and propulsive that it reads like a thriller, Private Equity is Sun’s account of working on Wall Street in one of the most prestigious hedge funds in the world, and a searing indictment of work culture, extreme wealth and power.
Happiness Falls, by Angie Kim
When Mia’s father goes missing, the only witness is her younger brother Eugene – whose rare genetic condition means he cannot speak. Happiness Falls is by turns a riveting mystery and an astute family drama.
The Fetishist, by Katherine Min
This posthumously published book follows a daughter taking revenge on the man she believes drove her mother to her death. Quite the testament to the talent of its author, The Fetishist is a wild, darkly funny ride.
A Sign of Her Own, by Sarah Marsh
A novel that tells the story of a young deaf woman named Ellen Lark and her role in the invention of the telephone, A Sign of Her Own is an enrapturing read about betrayal, community, speaking out, and being heard.
Data Grab by, Ulises A. Mejias and Nick Couldry
How many times have you unthinkingly clicked ‘accept’ on Terms and Conditions? In today’s world, data is the new oil and Big Tech is exploiting it – or so argue the two global researchers behind this insightful book.
(WH Allen, £22)
Alphabetical Diaries, by Sheila Heti
Author Sheila Heti is known for pushing the boundaries in her work, and never more so than her new memoir, which takes 10 years’ worth of her diaries and re-organises every sentence alphabetically. The result of this experiment is surprisingly compelling.
(Fitzcarraldo Editions, £10.99)
What Will Survive of Us, by Howard Jacobson
Lily, a filmmaker, and Sam, a writer, are brought together by work and despite being married to other people, are kept together by romance. What begins as a tale of a midlife affair turns into a profound study of love, desire and ageing from the Booker Prize winning author of The Finkler Question.
(Jonathan Cape, £20)
The Ladder, by Cathy Newman
The presenter’s compendium of life lessons from inspiring women who have scaled their fair share of ladders includes wisdom from activists, scientists, politicians and leaders. An empowering read.
(William Collins, £18.99)
Blessings, by Chukwuebuka Ibeh
When Obiefuna is caught with another boy by his father, he is banished to a strict Christian boarding school. This Nigeria-set debut is both a brutal and tender coming of age story, marking Ibeh as a major new literary voice.
The Painter’s Daughters, by Emily Howes
Before she passed away, Hilary Mantel described this debut as ‘beautifully written…I raced through it’. It tells the story of painter Thomas Gainsborough’s two daughters, and is a rich evocation of secrets, art, sisterhood and class in 18th century Britain.
Butter, by Asako Yuzuki
This Japanese novel, which has become quite the cult phenomenon, is nothing short of ingenious. Inspired by a real case, it tells the story of a female cook who murders lonely businessmen – and of the journalist desperate to crack the case.
(Fourth Estate, £14.99)
‘Everything can change in an instant’
Every Smile You Fake, by Dorothy Koomson
Since she published her debut novel The Cupid Effect, Dorothy Koomson has gone on to sell 2.5 million copies of her books in the UK alone, been translated into 30 languages, and in the process, become the biggest-selling Black female writer of adult fiction in the country.
From The Ice Cream Girls to The Brighton Mermaid, My Other Husband to All My Lies Are True, she might be known (and loved) for being “the queen of the big reveal”, but her success lies in the fact that Koomson’s books are more than just your average thriller. They are thought-provoking – even powerful – reads, in which moral dilemmas and complex relationships are consistently explored.
“I find humans intriguing and I find the things we do when we’re put in challenging situations even more fascinating,” she explains. “I love to drop my characters into a difficult spot and then work out how they’re going to navigate it. I put them through hell and they’re not always – actually very rarely – guaranteed the kind of happy ending we’ve come to expect.”
Koomson’s latest, Every Smile You Fake, follows Kez Lanyon, a profiler and therapist, who finds a baby on the backseat of her car one night with an unsigned note. She suspects the mother is popular social media star Brandee, who (if the online rumours are true) is in danger. The novel explores the sinister impact of social media, and asks, in an age of AI and deep fakes, whether we can trust what we see online.
“I started with the premise of: ‘What if you came back to your car and found a baby on the back seat?’ and went from there,” she says. “As I tried to work out who would be forced to leave their child in such a way, the idea of uncovering the real world secrets of a social media influencer came up. And with that, the idea of the disconnect between our reality and the fakery of our online lives blossomed and kept blossoming.”
In her 20 years of being an author, Koomson has learned a lot. “It is virtually impossible to boil it down to one lesson, but if I was pushed, I think I’d say my biggest lesson is accepting the fact that anything and everything can change in an instant; nothing stays the same,” she muses. “If you can initiate that change before it’s forced on you, all the better. With this change, you have to try to stay true to who you are and what you do.”
This, she thinks, is part of the reason why her books are constantly evolving. “I’m always striving to keep my writing and storytelling fresh; I always challenge myself to make sure the next book is better than the last.”
(Headline Review, £16.99)