27 Brilliant Books You Must Read This Winter
Recommended reading from January to March. UK release dates.
1. Paulina & Fran by Rachel B. Glaser – Out now
Students at a privileged New England art school, Paulina and Fran meet at a house party and begin an intense friendship that flits between enmity and obsession as they drift through the last days of college and into the disappointingly bland adult world.
2. Human Acts by Han Kang – Out now
Gwangju, South Korea, 1980. In the wake of a violently suppressed student uprising – a real event during which as many as 606 civilians were killed – a boy searches for his friend's corpse, a consciousness searches for its abandoned body, and a brutalised country searches for a voice.
3. The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North – Out now
The brilliant and infuriating Sophie Stark makes films said to be "more like life than life itself", but her genius comes at a terrible cost to her husband, to the brother she left behind, and to an actress who knows too much.The Life and Death of Sophie Stark is the story of an enigmatic film director, told by the six people who loved her most. (Paperback edition.)
4. Golden Years by Ali Eskandarian – Out now
In November 2013, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Ali Eskandarian was murdered alongside two members of the Iranian band The Yellow Dogs. In the months leading up to his death, Ali had been in correspondence with a Dutch publisher about his semi-autobiographical novel. Golden Years is that book.
Set in New York, Tehran, and Dallas, Golden Years tells the story of a group of Iranian musicians and our narrator, who is in thrall to the great American Beat writers. Hungry, high, and hopping between beds and lovers, they are romantic exiles devoted entirely to one religion: rock 'n' roll.
5. The Census-Taker by China Miéville – Out now
In a remote house on a hilltop, a traumatised boy tries – and fails – to flee an increasingly deranged parent. His dreams of escape appear futile, until a stranger knocks at his door.
6. Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik – January 14
Sofia Khan is ready to renounce men for good, but her boss persuades her to write a tell-all expose about the Muslim dating scene. Between marriage-crazy relatives, racist tube passengers and polygamy-inclined friends, Sofia seeks out stories for her book, until she realises that she might just be falling in love.
7. American Housewife by Helen Ellis – January 14
They smoke their eyes and paint their lips, listen to erotic audio books while scrubbing the bathroom floor, channel Beyoncé while hoovering, and are quietly capable of burglary, kidnapping, and murder. American Housewife is a collection of darkly comic short stories that explore what goes on behind the scenes in America's homes.
8. The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour – January 14
In a rural Iranian village, Zal's demented mother is convinced she has given birth to a "White Demon" and hides him in a birdcage, and there he lives among birds for the next decade.
Freed from his cage and adopted by a behavioural analyst, Zal arrives to a new life in New York, where he attempts to become human, a task made especially difficult by his penchant for candied insects. As the Y2K meltdown fails to appear, Zal, his misfit friends, and the rest of New York begin hurtling towards the devastation of 9/11. (Paperback edition.)
9. Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs by Lina Wolff – January 14
The sex workers at a run-down brothel in Caudal, Spain, take in stray dogs and name them after famous male writers: Dante, Chaucer, Bret Easton Ellis, feeding them rotten meat whenever a john is cruel. Meanwhile, a teenage girl in Barcelona attempts to trace the peculiarities of her life back to a writer of violent short stories who left Caudal as a girl and never went back.
10. In a Land of Paper Gods by Rebecca Mackenzie – January 28
Atop the fabled mountain of Lushan, 10-year-old Henrietta "Etta" S Robertson attends a boarding school for the children of British missionaries. As her parents pursue their calling to bring the gospel to China's most remote provinces, Etta discovers that she has been singled out for a divine calling of her own.
She enlists her dormmates in the Prophetess Club, and they busy themselves looking for signs of the Lord's intent until rumours of war give the girls' quest a new urgency. As the mystical landscape blurs the lines between make-believe and reality, between good and bad, Etta's pilgrimage begins.
11. Good on Paper by Rachel Cantor – January 28
Shira is a permanent temp with a few short stories published in minor literary magazines and a PhD on Dante's Vita Nuova that she abandoned halfway. When she gets a call from Romei, the winner of last year's Nobel Prize, to help him him translate his new book, Shira envisages a new career as a literary translator, until, that is, Romei starts sending her pages of his book...
12. The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes – January 28
May 1937. A man in his early thirties waits by the lift of a Leningrad apartment block. He waits all through the night, expecting to be taken away to the Big House. Any celebrity he has known in the previous decade is no use to him now. And few who are taken to the Big House ever return.
13. Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta – February 4
During the Biafra war of the late '60s, Ijeoma's world is transformed forever when her father is killed and she is separated from her grief-stricken mother. Lost and alone, she meets another young girl, Amina, and the two become inseparable. Their relationship will shake Ijeoma's faith and test her resolve.
14. The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel – February 2
Lisbon, 1904. A young man named Tomás discovers a journal that hints at the location of an extraordinary artefact that – if it exists – would redefine history. Thirty-five years later, a Portuguese pathologist finds himself at the centre of a murder mystery. Fifty years on, a Canadian senator takes refuge in northern Portugal, grieving the loss of his beloved wife. But he comes to his ancestral village with an unusual companion: a chimpanzee.
Three stories, one question: What is a life without stories?
15. French Concession by Xaio Bai – February 4
An assassin in 1930s Shanghai shoots an important Nationalist Party official and then himself. The official's wife, Leng, disappears in the chaos. Hsueh, a Franco-Chinese photographer who witnessed the shooting, is captivated by Leng’s beauty but he has his own problems: He suspects his Russian lover, Therese, is unfaithful.
When he’s arrested for mysterious reasons and forced to become a police collaborator, he's thrown into a dark underworld of mobsters, smugglers, anarchists, and assassins. Torn between Therese and Leng, he begins to play a dangerous game, hoping to stay alive.
16. My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout – February 4
Lucy Barton, recovering from what should have been a simple operation, is visited by her estranged mother. The visit forces Lucy, who escaped her impoverished childhood in Illinois by moving to New York, to confront her desire to become a writer, her faltering marriage, and her love for her two daughters.
17. Shylock Is My Name by Howard Jacobson – February 4
Booker Prize winner Jacobson retells Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. In Cheshire’s Golden Triangle, wealthy art collector Simon Strulovitch – with an absent wife and a daughter going off the rails – is in need of someone to talk to. So when he meets Shylock at a cemetery, it’s the beginning of a remarkable friendship.
Elsewhere in the Golden Triangle, the rich, manipulative Plurabelle is the face of her own TV series. Amid plastic surgery and lavish parties, she shares prejudices and barbed jokes with her friend D’Anton, whose attempts to play Cupid involve Strulovitch’s daughter – and put a pound of flesh on the line.
18. The North Water by Ian McGuire – February 11
Henry Drax is a harpooner on the Volunteer, a Yorkshire whaling ship bound for the hunting waters of the Arctic Circle. Also aboard is Patrick Sumner, the ship's medic, who is an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation. As the true purpose of the expedition becomes clear, the confrontation between the two men plays out in the freezing darkness of an Arctic winter.
19. Jonathan Unleashed by Meg Rosoff – February 11
Jonathan Trefoil's boss is unhinged, his relationship baffling, and his apartment just the wrong side of legal. His girlfriend wants to marry someone just like him – only richer and more organised, with a different sense of humour.
On the plus side, his two flatmates are determined to fix his life – or possibly to destroy it altogether. It's difficult to be certain as they only speak dog...
20. Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa – February 4
Seattle, 1999. Victor, the homeless, estranged son of the police chief, finds himself pounding the streets with little purpose. Today his father is in charge of one of the largest protests in the history of Western democracy.
Amid the hordes of protesters and threat of violence, two armed police officers will struggle to keep calm, a protester with a murderous past will make an unforgivable mistake, and a delegate from Sri Lanka will do whatever it takes to make it to a meeting that could dramatically change the fate of his country.
In amongst the fray, Victor and his father are heading for a collision too.
21. The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma – March 3
Obioma's Booker-shortlisted novel is set in a small town in western Nigeria, where four young brothers, emboldened by their strict father's absence, go fishing at a forbidden local river. There they encounter a dangerous local man who predicts that the oldest brother will be killed by another, breaking the boys' strong bond and unleashing a tragic chain of events. (Paperback edition.)
22. Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker – March 3
In an unidentified war zone, Captain Tom Barnes leads British troops against local insurgents. In a local village, a young boy pledges his life to fight the infidel. On all sides of this conflict, people are about to be caught up in the violence.
In a unique narrative, their stories are told through the eyes of the objects they carry: shoes and boots, a helmet, a trove of dollars, a drone, a bike, weaponry, a bag of fertiliser, a medal, a beer glass, dog tags, an exploding IED and the medical implements that are subsequently employed – 45 objects in total.
23. Freya by Anthony Quinn – March 3
London, 1945. Amid the wild celebrations of VE Day, 20-year-old Freya Wyley meets 18-year-old Nancy Holdaway, and the pair begin an intense friendship. Freya pursues a career in newspapers, which the chauvinism of Fleet Street conspires to thwart, while Nancy, less self-confident, struggles to get her first novel published. Both friends become entangled with Robert Cosway, a charismatic young man whose own ambition will have a momentous bearing on their lives.
24. Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton – March 8
Dustwalk is Amani's home – the desert sand is in her bones. But she wants to escape, or more than that, needs to. Then a foreigner with no name turns up to save her life, and with him the chance to run. But to where? The desert plains are full of danger. Sand and blood are swirling, and the Sultan's enemies are on the rise. The first in a new YA trilogy.
25. The Living by Anjali Joseph – February 10
Claire is a young single mother working in one of England’s last surviving shoe factories, her adult life formed by a teenage relationship. Arun, a recovered alcoholic, now a grandfather in a western Indian town, negotiates the newfound indignities of old age while returning in thought to the extramarital affair he had years earlier.
Juggling work, responsibility, and the tedium of family life, their days are laced with the joys of old friendship, the pleasure of sex, and the redemptive kindness of one’s own children.
26. The Mountain Can Wait by Sarah Leipciger – March 10
Tom Berry is a man content to live out his days in the wilderness, with just enough ammunition and kerosene to last out the winter. A single father, he has raised his children with the same quiet dedication he brings to the forest, but when his son, Curtis, disappears after a tragic accident, he’s realises that might not have been enough. It falls to Tom, the hunter, to track him down. Whether he can truly reach Curtis is another matter. (Paperback edition.)
27. Hot Milk by Deborah Levy – March 31
A mother and daughter arrive in a Spanish village seeking medical advice and salvation. A mysterious and spontaneous paralysis has confined the mother to a wheelchair, her legs unusable. Her daughter, Sofia, has spent years playing the reluctant detective in this mystery illness.
Searching for a cure to a quite possibly imagined disease, Sofia waits while her mother undergoes the strange treatments invented by Dr Gomez. Surrounded by the oppressive desert heat and entangled in the seductive games of those around her, Sofia finally comes to confront and reconcile her identity.
All dates listed are UK release dates.
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