Books

The 10 books you need to add to your 2019 reading list

Posted by
Francesca Brown
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From big authors and breakout debuts to essential non-fiction, say hello to next year’s biggest titles

2019 is already shaping up to be a watershed year for books. With much-anticipated titles from thriller queen Tana French and Man Booker winner Marlon James plus breakout debuts that have been snapped up by Reese Witherspoon for big-budget series (Daisy Jones & The Six) and the big screen (The Flatshare), there is a lot of buzz surrounding fiction for the next 12 months.

Throw into the mix some serious new British talent such as Candice Carty-Williams, whose book Queenie is going to be everywhere in the spring and this is the year of the breakout bookworm. These are the unmissable titles you need to know…

Stylist’s pick for 2019: Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Funny, relatable and heartbreaking: Carty-Williams has self-assuredly created a totally new voice in fiction. Because 26-year-old Queenie is a disaster area: she’s split up with her boyfriend and dealing with it by indulging in questionable sex with one hideous loser after another; she’s on warnings at work; she’s got issues with a mother who was caught up in abusive relationship and she’s not listening to her own warning signs. Plus, she’s had to move back in with her grandparents who won’t let her have a shower without mentioning the water rates.

She’s also one of the funniest, most winning heroines who’ve hit books in about decade. From white men’s treatment of black women to the complexity of What’s App friendship groups and squalid flatshares, Queenie is the smart, fallible and complex heroine we’ve been looking for.

(Trapeze, out 11 April)

The must-read non-fiction: It’s Not About The Burqa edited by Mariam Khan

In 2016, then-PM David Cameron linked the radicalization of Muslim men to the “traditional submissiveness” of Muslim women. Writer Khan didn’t know a single Muslim women who fitted this description but it did make her think: “When was the last time you heard a Muslim woman speak for herself without a filter? Or outside the white gaze? On her own terms?”

And, that’s what It’s Not About The Burqa does: it brings together diverse Muslim voices that explore everything from women’s activism to representation, queer identity, mental health, sex and on-off again relationships with the hijab by writers including journalist Coco Khan, researcher Jamilla Hekmoun and solicitor and podcaster Raifa Rafiq. It’s about pushing past the stereotype placed on Muslim women and hearing the individuals themselves; it’s required reading.

 (Picador, out 21 February)

The most highly anticipated thriller: The Wych Elm by Tana French

Creepy and dense, Tana French has stepped away from the Dublin mysteries to create a standalone thriller in which addled memories, family secrets and self-deception make for one of the darkest plots we’ve come across in a long time…

Toby Hennessy is a cocky and confident PR with an adoring girlfriend but a vicious attack at his home leaves him reeling. Then, while convalescing at his dying uncle’s house, his young niece and nephew discover a human skull in a gnarled elm tree and Toby’s misremembered teenage history begins to surface. 

As Toby tries to piece his past and his personality together – things get seriously bleak leading to a tragic denouement. Written with the same intensity as Donna Tartt’s Secret History, this proves French to be one of the most brilliant contemporary thriller writers working right now. 

(Penguin, out 21 February)

The one with small-screen buzz: Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

With a Reese Witherspoon TV deal and a 13-episode series coming to Amazon, Daisy Jones is one of the most hyped books for next year. And it’s easy to see why… using the structure of an oral history (and we love an oral history – Vanity Fair’s Friends one being the ultimate in the genre), Taylor Jenkins Reid creates a detailed back story for the titular fictional 1970s rock band (there’s even lyric notes at the back of the book).

With shades of Fleetwood Mac, Janis Joplin and Almost Famous, Daisy Jones is the singer with a natural charisma and talent who only finds her way once she joins songwriting forces with the simmering lead singer of The Six, Billy Dunne. However, the pair and the band are blighted by the usual issues: drugs, drink, fame, resentment and creative differences. Filled with the glamour and excess of the late 70s US music scene, prepare to become obsessed.

(Hutchinson, out 7 March)

The thinking lit: Louis & Louise by Julie Cohen 

So what difference does being male really make? Cohen cleverly explores the idea by creating Louis and Louise. Two babies born on the same day in Maine, 1978: one female, one male. Keeping their Sliding Doors’ narratives tightly under control, author Cohen explains she was motivated by how our genders – and people around us – define us: “This book is about how gender changes everything… and nothing.”

Funnily enough though it’s Louise’s story that truly captivates – an incident in the pair’s teenage years defines the rest of her life in a way that leaves Louis less affected. And, as a consequence, she becomes the more intriguing character. And yet, they both find natural paths. It’s a fascinating and confident read that’ll have you scrutinising the two protagonists’ lives for days after you’ve finished it.

(Orion, out 24 Jan)

The new Gatsby: Cape May by Chip Cheek 

It’s 1957 and Henry and Effie are on their honeymoon at off-season Cape May, New Jersey. Totally out of their depth at married life, they slowly circle each other as they begin to discover what sex and relationships are about. But then, they meet the decadent and glamorous Clara and Max along with Max’s half-sister, Alma…

As gin, late nights and parties begin to infiltrate these two innocents’ lives, things begin to unravel as Henry pursues risky sexual encounters with Alma leading her on about their future in the process. With shades of F Scott Fitzgerald, Revolutionary Road and even Mad Men, this is one of those books that transport you to a different era and leaves you mesmerised by bad behaviour and human failings. It is so, so good.

(W&N, out 30 April)

The welcome rom-com: The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

OK the concept sounds corny: Tiffy and Leon not only share a flat but a bed (this is after all modern-day London – it’s not that surprising) and they’ve never once met. Tiffy works days and Leon works nights. Their main method of communication is Post-Its and, well, you can probably guess what happens next…

However, despite the concept raising the hackles of our most cynical self, The Flatshare is utterly charming. Written with care and love for her characters, O’Leary manages to conjure up a Richard Curtis rom-com that also has its feet firmly planted in real life (Tiffy is escaping from a destructive relationship and tentatively finding her self-belief again; Leon is kind but also wary of the world due his brother landing himself in prison). The concept isn’t stretched beyond credibility (they do meet at a believable juncture) and, above all else, it’s funny and winning. A real treat.

(Quercus, out 10 April)

The “African Game Of Thrones”: Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

In 2015, James won the Man Booker prize for A Brief History Of Seven Killings – the dense-but-thrilling story of an attempt on Bob Marley’s life that read like The Wire in West Kingston (there’s still talk of an HBO series). So the long-awaited Black Leopard, Red Wolf is one of the most anticipated books of 2019.

The first in a trilogy, James has drawn from African mythology and history to create a mesmerising fantasy world that at first seems bewildering (there are four pages of character listings) but slowly-and-surely draws in the reader as Tracker (a hunter who can track any human’s scent) joins forces with eight mercenaries to locate a missing boy. Visceral, stomach-turning, addictive and unlike anything else, it’s one hell of a read.

(Penguin, out 28 February)

The feminist dystopia: The Farm by Joanne Ramos

Exploring everything from white privilege to surrogacy, The Farm is set to be one of the biggest books for 2019 (Ramos bagged a six-figure deal for the story). Run by the sharp and ambitious Mae Yu, Golden Oaks Farm offers women everything they could want: a free luxury retreat of organic meals, beautiful surroundings and on-tap care. The only rule is the women who stay there must act as Hosts to surrogate babies – carefully nurturing their growing charges in order to receive a large sum of money on delivery from very rich would-be parents.

Stepping into this all-too-believable world is Jane from the Philippines who’s desperate to find a way out of poverty for her daughter and Reagan, an idealistic graduate. Smart and thought-provoking, it’s a book that tackles so much more than its obvious themes holding up a mirror to our own society where the 1% own half of the world’s wealth.

(Bloomsbury, out 7 May)

Zombies with brains: Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff

“Ruined eyes roll in decayed sockets and its proboscis, pink smeared with black, throbs in the dark cave of its mouth.” Last Ones Left Alive is not for the faint-hearted conjuring up The Road, Station 11 and The Walking Dead to name a few as zombie-like ‘skrake’ fester across post-apocalyptic Ireland.

Trying to find a cure for her bitten sister Maeve is Orpen – the self-sufficient, brave and single-minded heroine – who’s been trained by her family to withstand the terrifying skrake. With her ill sister in a wheelbarrow and her dog for company, Orpen is the book’s heart and spirit elevating this familiar tale into something else altogether. You’ll be terrified, fascinated and, above all, uplifted by Orpen – a heroine to rival Philip Pullman’s Lyra or The Passage’s Amy.

(Headline, out 7 April)

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Francesca Brown

Francesca Brown is books editor for Stylist magazine and Stylist Loves; she also compiles the Style List on a weekly basis. She is a self-confessed HBO abuser and has a wide selection of grey sweatshirts. Honestly, you just can’t have enough. @franabouttown

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