Be the first to pick up February’s must-read books.
Congratulations – you’ve made it through January. And your reward is a stuffed February of incredible reads from some brilliant writers. Marian Keyes, Eimear McBride, Jenny Offill and Lucy Foley all return with excellent books while debuts including Layla F Saad’s Me And White Supremacy and Rye Curtis’ Kingdomtide will blow you away.
It’s a short month so cancel your weekend plans, grab a cosy blanket and lose yourself in some of 2020’s best fiction, memoirs, thrillers and more…
Discover the incredible books that will be out this February.
The escapist joy: Grown Ups by Marian Keyes
What makes a grown up is at the core of Marian Keyes’ latest book as she delves into the lives of the three Casey brothers and the women who love them (or don’t in certain cases). Beautifully drawing an extended family that’s beset by rubbish parents (each of the brothers struggles with the legacy of their critical mum and dad), complex behaviours (overspending, cheating, bulimia) and the natural disorder that comes with being each other’s nearest and dearest, this is Keyes at her best: capturing everyday voices with humour and empathy with writing that you’ll devour in a weekend. Just pure and simple joy.
The non-fiction must-read: Me And White Supremacy by Layla F Saad
“I can count on one hand the number of times I experienced overt racism. But in countless subtle ways, every day, it was felt indirectly.” At a point when British society seems to be asking the question: “Yes, but is it racist?” across morning TV, award shows, political debates and in countless newspaper columns, Layla F Saad’s book comes at a much-needed time.
Explaining what white supremacy and white privilege is and how it manifests itself across lives, institutions and belief systems, Saad makes a compelling and urgent case outlining why it’s so vital that everyone (especially white people) recognise and start to dismantle the oppressive worlds we all live in.
The whipsmart thriller: The Guest List by Lucy Foley
There are quite a few thrillers out this month (some of which we threw across the room and will not be mentioning here) and quite frankly the winner has to be Lucy Foley’s The Guest List (out 20 February) which is a terrific follow-up to her 2018 breakout hit, The Hunting Party.
As a glamorous wedding descends on the wilderness of a windswept island off the coast of Ireland, all hell breaks loose as old tragedies resurface and people begin to lose their minds surrounded by howling gales, a bog full of historic bodies and the crashing of waves. With a few cleverly scattered red herrings and a slow-ticking reveal of who’s done what to each other, this is a very British crime novel…
The lit fic essential: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Absolutely brutal but beautiful, Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Mercies is based on actual events in 17th century Norway. After all of the able-bodied menfolk of Vardo are killed in a fishing accident, the remaining women and children forge a new life learning to become self-sufficient. But their hard-won freedoms are endangered by the arrival of Absalom Cornet – a religious man who’s got a past history of burning women as witches…
Chilling and sinister but also a fascinating exploration of what women can give to each other, this is one of those books that’ll be popping up across book clubs and reading lists in 2020, so get ahead of the obsession now.
The classic short stories: Hitting A Straight Lick With A Crooked Stick by Zora Neale Hurston
With a new foreword by Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage, this collection of short stories by Zora Neale Hurston (out 20 February) weaves together her tales from the Harlem Renaissance, published in one gorgeous volume for the first time.
A writer who worked across the 1920s-30s producing books (including the iconic Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1937), screenplays and films, Neale Hurston slipped into obscurity before writers such as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison began to raise her profile from the mid-70s onwards. A vital writer who captured an era when African-Americans were moving north from the rural South in what’s known as the “Great Migration”, her stories are fascinating, harrowing and beautifully written.
The immersive tale: Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride
Eimear McBride will always favour the reader who can’t quite leave a book behind. From A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing to The Lesser Bohemians, her words and characters squirrel their way into your soul so you carry them with you on a daily basis then find yourself idly worrying about them one day on a rainy bus journey.
Strange Hotel is a similar beast in that once read, you’ll be digesting and mulling it over for weeks afterwards. It’s a bit complex and a bit confusing as an unnamed woman travels to different hotel rooms around the world and struggles with her own inner voice and past trauma. But, it’s also magnetic and fascinating, and something you’ll want to come back to when your brain least expects it.
The uplifting writing: Weather by Jenny Offill
The author of the brilliant Dept. Of Speculation (2014) returns with the story of Lizzie Benson who works as a librarian but is also an observer of life, supporter of family and generally just trying to make her way through the craziness of our modern world (climate change, right-wing terror of liberals).
In Weather (out 13 February), Offill builds a story paragraph by paragraph with offbeat throwaway one liners that’ll make you chuckle, reread and want to hug her (“Outside the library, the woman who is always on the bench is talking about Thanksgiving. She’s had enough, she doesn’t want to go anymore, she tells someone. It’s May but I think she’s smart to plan ahead.”). Offill must be one of the most innovative and delightful writers around so do yourself a favour and buy this book.
The Virago legend: A Bite Of The Apple by Lennie Goodings
In 1978, young would-be book publisher Goodings joined the new feminist imprint Virago. She would go on to work with Maya Angelou, Margaret Atwood, Sarah Waters and Marilynne Robinson. In this instantly engaging memoir (out 27 February), she captures the restraints of old-school publishing and how Virago – with its commitment to women’s writing – became a formidable agent for change (its founder Carmen Callil noted, “There is a specialist publishing imprint for almost everything, except for 52% of the population – women”). Jumping from the books and authors themselves to the burgeoning of Virago’s much-needed impact, this is a fascinating read for anyone who loves books.
The atmospheric mystery: Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis
There’s something of Cormac McCarthy about Curtis’ captivating and, at times, bewildering Kingdomtide. After a plane crash, 72-year-old Cloris Waldrip is lost in the Montana wilderness with only a Bible and some sweets to keep her alive. Meanwhile, a slightly-broken-but-tough Merlot-drinking park ranger by the name of Debra Lewis decides it’s her mission to rescue the woman… Personal histories, tragedy, resilience, superstition and inner strength intertwine leaving the reader swept up in the current of its haunting and magnetic writing.
Images: courtesy of publishers, Getty
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
Recommended by Francesca Brown
Margaret Atwood has unveiled her latest project, and it’s coming in November
Everything you need to know about the BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People
9 best bedtime stories for a peaceful night’s sleep (if you can put them down)
Late Prozac Nation author Elizabeth Wurtzel’s legacy