Sarah Shaffi is a freelance journalist and event chair. Here she tells stylist.co.uk the 20 books that should be on your radar for 2018.
If you can, just cancel everything you’re doing in 2018 so you can spend the entire year reading, because trust me when I say 2018 is full of literary gems.
First things first, Stylist releasing its very own fiercely feminist book, Life Lessons from Remarkable Women: Tales of Triumph, Failure and Learning to Love Yourself. Featuring essays from 25 of the brightest and best women, including actress Romola Garai, award-winning journalist Christina Lamb OBE and beauty entrepreneur Bobbi Brown, Life Lessons will hit bookshelves in March, just in time for International Women’s Day.
But what else should we be adding to our reading lists? Well, while picking just 20 titles is an almost impossible task, the books here cover all kinds of fiction and non-fiction, and they’re all a guaranteed good read.
There’s something for everyone - the first adult novels by YA writers Louise O’Neill and Holly Bourne, powerful life stories by Tara Westover and Afua Hirsch, epic adventures by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi and Kate Mosse, plus many more besides.
Almost Love by Louise O’Neill
O’Neill’s first adult novel - after the searing Only Ever Yours and the shattering Asking for It - is as pointed and insightful as her YA work. In the present, Sarah is with Oisin, a warm, kind man. But she can’t get over Matthew, an older man she was in a relationship with when in her early 20s. Matthew kept Sarah a secret, and never gave her quite what she wanted, but love isn’t supposed to be easy, is it? Featuring a selfish, complicated, damaged protagonist, this is a depiction of obsessive love that will hit a nerve with all readers.
Quercus, £14.99, March 8. Pre-order it here.
The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin
In 1831 Hester White is struggling to get by, when by chance she encounters the Brock family and is taken to their country seat. There, under the pretence of being uneducated, she forms a close bond with Rebecca Brock. The two find themselves drawn into the mystery of London’s rapidly disappearing poor, uncovering something truly wicked. The Wicked Cometh is Carlin’s debut, and she’s great at conjuring up an image of darkest 1800s London, while her female characters are both of their time while also being witty and modern.
Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99, February 8. Pre-order it here.
How Do You Like Me Now? by Holly Bourne
Tori Bailey is living her best life - she’s inspired millions of women around the world with her self-help memoir, and is living with the guy of everyone’s dreams. But when Tori’s last single friend falls in love, Tori is forced to confront the reality behind her picture-perfect life. I loved Bourne’s YA novels, and with How Do You Like Me Now?, Bourne brings her talent for writing relatable female characters to adult fiction. There are no easy romantic tropes employed in this book; How Do You Like Me Now? is an honest and unflinching look at being 30 and fearing being left behind.
Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99, June 14. Pre-order it here.
Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch
“Where are you from? No, where are you really from?” Those are familiar questions for people of colour living in Britain, Hirsch among them. In this highly personal look at race, Hirsch recounts her search for her identity - the daughter of a Jewish dad and a Ghanaian mum, Hirsch never felt like she quite belonged in England, yet moving to Ghana didn’t make her feel Ghanaian. Hirsch looks at what identity is, and how perhaps what it means to be British needs to be rethought.
Jonathan Cape, £16.99, February 1. Pre-order it here.
Lullaby by Leila Slimani, translated by Sam Taylor
I defy you to read the disturbing opening sentences of Slimani’s Prix Goncourt winning novel and not be compelled to read on. In Paris, French-Moroccan lawyer Myriam and her husband Paul employ Louise, who seems like the ideal nanny - their two children love her, and Louise makes Myriam and Paul’s life so much easier. But as the couple’s life becomes more entwined with Louise’s, jealousy, resentments and suspicions arise, with tragic consequences.
Faber & Faber, £12.99, January 18. Pre-order it here.
A False Report by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong
In 2008, 18-year-old Marie reported that she had been raped by a masked man who broke into her home. Just days later, following suspicion by the police and her own friends and family, Marie said she had made her story up. Two years later, two female detectives from nearby towns banded together to investigate separate cases of rape, and along the way discovered the rapist had more victims. A timely story, this book examines not only the crimes at its heart, but also the way in which women who report being raped are often placed under suspicion themselves.
Hutchinson, £16.99, February 6. Pre-order it here.
Circe by Madeline Miller
Miller, the author of the award-winning The Song of Achilles, returns with the story of Circe, arguably best known as the witch who turned Odysseus’ men into pigs in Homer’s The Odyssey. In Circe, Miller gives depth and history to the title character, how it was she came to be on her island, and her struggles as an independent woman. The “heroes” of Greek myths - the gods, Odysseus and so on - get shoved to the side, as Miller brings to the forefront a fascinating, captivating female character. This is wonderfully detailed and well worth the more than five year wait since The Song of Achilles.
Bloomsbury, £16.99, April 19. Pre-order it here.
Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce
There are many Second World War-set novels, but Dear Mrs Bird is different. Yes, the hallmarks of a war novel set in London are all here, but this book also features a joyfully plucky protagonist in Emmeline Lake, who wants nothing more than to become a Lady War Correspondent. Thinking she’s landed a plum job at a London paper, she instead finds herself typing up letters for a problem page, and throwing away more that her ornery boss Mrs Bird deems as containing unpleasantness. Unable to ignore women in need, Emmeline starts writing back to some of the correspondents…
Picador, £12.99, April 5. Pre-order it here.
Educated by Tara Westover
Westover grew up in rural Idaho, the daughter of a deeply religious, radical, survivalist father. This extraordinary memoir recounts her childhood - she had no birth certificate until the age of nine, never went to school, and her parents don’t believe in medicine beyond homeopathy (the book recounts a stunning number of horrific accidents that befell members of her family, hardly any of which were treated with more than herbs). And it tells the story of how Westover’s determination to access knowledge changed her life. It’s a powerful, jaw dropper of a book.
Hutchinson, £14.99, February 22. Pre-order it here.
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
Big things are expected of The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, a debut novel that was won by Harvill Secker following a 10-way auction in the UK. Set in 1785, it follows merchant Jonah Hancock, who acquires a mermaid that becomes the talk of the town, and Angelica Neal, a courtesan. A story of obsession and curiosity, this book is all the better for its rich detail, thanks to Hermes Gowar’s impeccable research.
Harvill Secker, £12.99, January 25. Pre-order it here.
The Colour Of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J Harris
This comes from the publisher of 2017’s hit novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and introduces us to another great protagonist in Jasper, who has synaesthesia. His world is painted in a series of colours no one else can see, and he’s just discovered a new colour - the colour of murder. Jasper is sure something has happened to Bee Larkham, his neighbour, but no one else is taking her disappearance seriously. Will Jasper be able to work out the truth about what happened to Bee?
HarperCollins, £12.99, May 3. Pre-order it here.
Bookworm: A Memoir Of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan
Stylist columnist Mangan has always been a reader, travelling from Narnia to Wonderland via Kirrin Island, learning about death from Charlotte’s Web and boys from Judy Blume. In Bookworm Mangan revisits her childhood reading - looking at the ways books shape our lives - picks a few forgotten treasures to inspire a new generation of bookworms, and uses books to tell her own story.
Square Peg, £14.99, March 1. Pre-order it here.
The Illumination Of Ursula Flight by Anna-Marie Crowhurst
Every Sunday in the Emerald Street newsletter Crowhurst sweeps us away and gives us a glimpse of her world. She’s now turned her hand to fiction, and in her debut novel sweeps us away to the world of Ursula Flight, wannabe actress and playwright in 17th century Britain. Ursula is a spirited and funny protagonist whose story - of a girl who goes against the convention of the time by getting an education and having ambitions beyond being a wife and mother - is intercut with the humorous and sharply observed plays she has written.
Allen & Unwin, £12.99, May 3. Pre-order it here.
Things Bright and Beautiful by Anbara Salam
Bea Hanlon and her preacher husband Max are on a mission on Advent Island in the Pacific. The remote island is inhospitable, but to everyone’s surprise Bea gradually adapts to life on the island, and begins to enjoy herself, until the arrival of an unwelcome house guest - Marietta, who was the island’s missionary before the Hanlons arrived. Examining the true nature of religious missions and a marriage in crisis, this is a vividly drawn and powerful novel.
Fig Tree, £14.99, April 5. Pre-order it here.
In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne
Gunaratne’s debut is set on a council estate in London over the course of 48 hours. It’s a blistering novel that follows Selvon, Ardan and Yusuf, who grew up together under the towers of Stones Estate. After the killing of a British soldier, riots are spreading across London. Selvon and Ardan remain focused on their own obsessions (girls, grime), but Yusuf is caught up in a wave of radicalism that surges through his mosque and threatens to take his troubled brother Irfan with it.
Tinder Press, £12.99, May 3. Pre-order it here.
Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
Kintu begins in 2004, with the death of Kusi Kamu, before taking us back to 1750 and Kamu’s ancestor, Kintu Kidda. On his way to pledge allegiance to the new leader of Buganda Kingdom, tragedy strikes, and Kintu unleashes a curse that will plague his family for generations. This is an epic in the vein of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing (one of my favourite books of 2017), blending both the history of a country - Uganda in this case - and the story of a family through the generations.
Oneworld, £12.99, January 25. Pre-order it here.
The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
I really love an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, but sometimes I yearn for something a little more. Enter The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, where the titular character is killed at a ball at her home and one of the guests, Aiden, must solve her murder. So far, so Christie. But every day Aiden doesn’t find the killer, he wakes up and relives the day of Evelyn’s murder again. And if that wasn’t enough of a twist, every day Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest. An original and high concept murder mystery, this is welcome rescue in a sea of psychological thrillers.
Raven Books, £14.99, February 8. Pre-order it here.
The Wonder Down Under by Nina Brochmann and Ellen Stokken Dahl
Think you know everything you need to about your vagina? Think again. The Wonder Down Under is set to do for the vagina what Guilia Enders’ Gut did for our digestive system a few years ago. Packed full of fascinating facts and practical advice by medical students Brochmann and Stokken Dahl, The Wonder Down Under will demystify a part of the body many don’t know enough about.
Yellow Kite, £14.99, March 8. Pre-order it here.
The Little Book Of Feminist Saints by Julia Pierpont and Manjit Thapp
Published for International Women’s Day 2018, The Little Book of Feminist Saints continues the (very welcome, in my opinion) trend of highlighting brilliant women. Write Pierpont and artist Thapp create short biographies of “saints” - women who championed strength and progress. Featured are people including Billie Jean King, Nina Simone and Harriet Tubman.
Virago, £12.99, March 8. Pre-order it here.
The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse
Mosse returns to historical fiction with her much anticipated trilogy The Burning Chambers, the first book of which is released in 2018. The trilogy span three centuries, beginning in 1562 in Carcasonne where 66 Huguenots are murdered outside the city walls. As the Wars of Religion begin to take hold, a young Catholic girl and a Huguenot believer find themselves in possession of a priceless treasure, and set upon a quest to uncover a long buried secret hidden in the mysterious Chateau de Puivert. I haven’t read anything from this year, but Mosse is sure to deliver.
Mantle, May 3. Pre-order it here.
Images: Courtesy of publishers