Stuck for gift inspiration? These literary and page-turning treats will be the perfect presents for the loved ones in your lives - or for you, if you fancy something special. Short version: BUY DEMON COPPERHEAD FOR GOD’S SAKE.
1 - Wahala (Nikki May, Penguin)
Boo, Simi and Ronke are best friends, enjoying gossipy lunches in their local down-at-heel Nigerian café. When glamorous, loaded Isobel enters their lives, she turns everything upside down. An unputdownable tale of Nigerian-British culture and female friendship.
2 - Mad About You (Mhairi McFarlane, HarperCollins)
Harriet's destructive, gaslighting ex Scott, Madchester wannabe and all-round toxin, spots her taking photographs at a wedding. When she tries to warn his new girlfriend about his ways, Scott outs *her* as the abuser, throwing her life into chaos. Thankfully, someone might be able to help…
3 - Again, Rachel (Marian Keyes, Penguin)
Welcome back, our beloved Rachel Walsh - older, wiser and still an unreliable narrator (with a micro-addiction to trainers). Now working as a counsellor, Rachel’s life seems to be going well, until two new patients stir up memories that force her to face up to the past.
4 - Our Wives Under The Sea (Julia Armfield, Pan Macmillan)
Miri’s wife Leah, a marine biologist, is stranded on a research trip that takes months rather than weeks, and when she returns, it becomes clear that something’s wrong. This powerful, claustrophobic debut novel is a Gothic body-horror, full of the anticipation of loss.
5 - Factory Girls (Michelle Gallen, Hachette UK)
Teenage warrior queen Maeve Murray is keen to have a taste of independence before her A-level results, counting down the days before she leaves her beleaguered Northern Irish town for London. I would bet that this novel includes the word 'flaps' more often than any other literary fiction of 2022.
6 - You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty (Akwaeke Emezi, Faber and Faber)
When young widow Feyi follows friend-with-benefits Nasir to the paradise where he and his sister grew up, she is hoping to achieve her artistic dreams as part of an exhibition there. She isn’t expecting to fall hard for Alim Blake, Nasir’s charismatic father. A magical, sensual novel full of life-force.
7 - I’m Sorry You Feel That Way (Rebecca Wait, Hachette UK)
Still the main contender for '2022's Sorrow and Bliss,’ this book will make you fall in love from the start with awkward Alice and her eccentric family. The plot revolves around Hanna, Alice's twin, and their mother's experience of growing up with Katy, her schizophrenic sister. Lovely, funny and sad.
8 - This Time Tomorrow (Emma Straub, Penguin)
On her fortieth birthday, Alice has a few too many drinks and wakes up next day in her childhood bed, sixteen again and ready for a day of hanging out with her dad. Alice tries out some new paths her life might have taken – including what would have been if she’d married the boy who got away.
9 - Demon Copperhead (Barbara Kingsolver, Faber and Faber)
Demon Copperhead is raised in a holler with his best friend Maggot (a gay Goth-in-training) and discovers comic art, high-school football - and hard drugs. Inspired – and seemingly possessed – by the spirit of Charles Dickens, Barbara Kingsolver finds a new voice that makes this Appalachian coming-of-age tale the best thing she’s done since The Poisonwood Bible.
10 - Bournville (Jonathan Coe, Penguin)
Deliciously British as Bournville’s signature chocolate, this state-of-the-nation novel views the latter half of the twentieth century through one Birmingham family, from VE Day to the lockdown, covering the life of Mary Lamb and her three sons: happy-go-lucky Brexit voter Jack, closet gay musical prodigy Peter, and Martin, who falls in love with a Black woman at the Bournville factory.
11 - The Exhibitionist (Charlotte Mendelson, Pan Macmillan)
While a dysfunctional family prepares for an exhibition of their patriarch’s work, mother Lucia, the sculptor and real talent, is being courted both by the Venice Biennale committee and a gorgeous, precisely drawn female politician. Another extraordinary novel of motherhood and mysteries from Charlotte Mendelson.
12 - In Love (Amy Bloom, Granta)
The mistress of relationship stories turns her focus to her own life. This short, touching memoir covers her relationship with second husband Brian, and his choice to end his life at Dignitas after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Get some tissues.
13 - Lessons in Chemistry (Bonnie Garmus, Doubleday)
This glorious book is apparently going to be adapted as a TV programme and I can absolutely see the very talented Brie Larsen as Elizabeth Zott, a straightforward scientific woman who loves cooking and rowing on the erg machine, surrounded by mediocre men.
15 - The Secret Lives of Church Ladies (Deesha Philyaw, Pushkin Press)
Two parish spinsters meet once a year for a night of passion and potato salad. Five sisters and their bossy grandmother write to the half-sister they've never met. A lesbian couple from the South struggle with the snow in their new home. Sexy, and as tasty as the peach cobblers and crab-bakes in its pages, Philyaw's church ladies are frank, bawdy and frequently lustful.
16 - Idol (Louise O’Neill, Penguin)
Samantha Miller is an influencer with millions of fans and a murky past. When high-school best friend Lisa makes an allegation against her, she goes back to her home town to salvage her career. A brilliant journey into darkness, recently paralleled by real-life events in the publishing and media worlds.
17 - The School for Good Mothers (Jessamine Chan, Simon and Schuster)
Like The Handmaid's Tale crossed with Orange is the New Black, this bold book follows frustrated single mother Frida into a female-only world of incarceration and trauma. When Frida has a bad day and leaves her baby daughter alone for several hours, she finds herself sentenced to an upstate social experiment.
18 - Memphis (Tara M. Stringfellow, Hachette UK)
Hazel is nine months pregnant when her beloved husband Myron is lynched. Almost forty years later, their daughter Miriam returns to Memphis with her two young girls Joan and Mya in tow, to stay with her half-sister August, the best singer and hairdresser in town. Can they heal together?
19 - This is Not a Pity Memoir (Abi Morgan, Hachette UK)
I have recently become addicted to Abi Morgan's The Split. If this had happened to one of her characters, it would have seemed like a stretch, but it's true - and compelling.
20 - And finally, Shrines of Gaiety (Kate Atkinson, Transworld)
Shrines of Gaiety takes the reader through the Soho underworld of the 1920s, run by close-mouthed businesswoman-criminal Nellie Coker and her brood of children (Niven, the WWI veteran; two 'lightly' Oxbridge-educated divas; Ramsay, a failing novelist with queer leanings; and Kitty, the afterthought).
Honourable mentions to some very promising debut writers; Sukh Ojla, Henry Fry, Louisa Reid and Lily Lindon. Looking forward to seeing what you all do next!