Freelance literary journalist Sarah Shaffi recommends the 10 books out in March you should add to your bookshelves.
Among my recommendations this month is Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading, which makes the perfect book for readers.
But anyone who enjoys books - whether you’re an avid reader or a more casual one - will also love the nine other tomes on this list, which are all heavily skewed towards female authors and protagonists. With International Women’s Day falling this month, it’s the perfect time to showcase women (and if you haven’t already, add Stylist’s Life Lessons from Remarkable Women, which shares the wisdom of 25 of the best and brightest women, to your reading list).
Leni Zumas’ Red Clocks is a barely-dystopian look at female reproductive rights in a future America. Luckily, to counter Zumas’ scary but all-too-plausible vision, there’s The Wonder Down Under by Nina Brochmann and Ellen Stokken Dahl, a non-fiction book that aims to empower women by giving them knowledge about “down there”.
There’s some really captivating fiction this month: Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists examines what people would do if they knew the exact date of their death, while Louise O’Neill’s first foray into adult fiction, Almost Love, is about all-consuming love and obsession.
Kit de Waal’s The Trick to Time and Donal Ryan’s From a Low and Quiet Sea are both about love and loss, with unexpected conclusions. Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry also draws together disparate threads in an entertaining, intelligent way, while Cathi Unsworth’s That Old Black Magic is a crime story with a twist.
And finally, I don’t often include YA, but Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone is this year’s big YA fantasy release, and it’s such a fun read, I couldn’t not.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
In 1969 four siblings - Simon, Klara, Daniel and Varya - visit a fortune teller who reveals to each of them the exact date they will die. Years later, we join the siblings: youngest child Simon escapes to San Francisco looking for love, Klara becomes a magician, Daniel is an army doctor, and Varya, the oldest, seeks solace in science and solitude. Once I started reading The Immortalists, I resented every moment I had to spend away from the book until I’d finished. It’s an extraordinarily moving, beautifully told and, at times, almost unbearably tense read, and it forces you to consider what you would do if you knew exactly how long you’ll live for.
Red Clocks by Leni Zumas
The US has banned abortion, its border with Canada is now a pink wall (any woman caught crossing on her way to have an abortion is sent back and charged with attempted murder) and the country is about to introduce Every Child Needs Two, a federal law which means no single person can adopt. Against this backdrop, in a small town in Oregon, four women - a biographer and teacher who is desperate for a child, a teenager who gets pregnant, a mum-of-two stuck in a listless marriage, and a reclusive herbalist - question what their lives are for. This is a fearless novel with a frightening premise that seems plausible. One for fans of Naomi Alderman’s The Power.
(The Borough Press, £16.99)
Almost Love by Louise O’Neill
O’Neill, whose brilliant YA novels Only Ever Yours and Asking For It explored consent and the way women are seen by society, now turns her hand to adult fiction. Almost Love is a love story of sorts, but in true O’Neill style it’s not a simple one. Sarah is in a relationship with Oisin, a warm, kind man, but can’t forget about Matthew, an older man she “dated” when in her early twenties. To the reader, Matthew clearly never treated Sarah well, but O’Neill captures how sometimes, even when we know people are bad for us, we stay obsessed with them and crave their validation. Sure to hit a nerve with readers, this is a compelling novel that shows O’Neill can write for adults as well as, if not better than, she does for teenagers.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
You’re going to be hearing a lot about Adeyemi’s debut YA novel, which is poised to be this year’s big fantasy breakout. In Orisha, magic has disappeared, but those who had the potential to be magic are marked out by their distinctive white hair. These include Zelie, an impatient young woman still haunted by her mother’s death at the hands of the king’s guards. On a visit to the market, she helps Orisha’s princess, Amari, escape from her father. The pair, along with Zelie’s brother Tzain, find themselves in a race against time to restore magic to the kingdom. But on their tail is Amari’s brother, Inan, who Zelie finds herself drawn to. I loved this epic story of family, love and magic, especially its surprising plot turns.
(Macmillan Children’s Books, £7.99)
From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan
I’m not quite sure how he does it, but Ryan has the ability to shatter your heart into a million pieces with every book he writes - and even have you welcome the pain. His latest novel follows three men who are all broken in their own ways - Syrian refugee Farouk has lost his family, Lampy’s heart was broken by his ex-girlfriend, and John is on the verge of death and confessing his sins. From a Low and Quiet Sea introduces you to the three men in separate sections, and then brings them together in an way that’ll have you holding your breath as the pieces fall into place before you. Just make sure you have plenty of tissues to catch your tears.
The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal
Maud runs a doll shop in a southern coastal English town, but when she first moved from Ireland to England in the Seventies she lived in Birmingham. It was there that she fell in love with and married William. Then tragedy struck. This is an elegantly told story that flits between the past - where we learn what happened to Maud and William - and the present - where Maud approaches her 60th birthday. De Waal has a knack for creating fully rounded characters, and drawing you into their world. I read The Trick to Time wanting to speed ahead so I would know what had happened, while also simultaneously wanting to savour every moment.
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
In Asymmetry’s first section Alice, working for a publishing company in New York, begins an affair with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ezra Blazer, who is much older than her (the storyline is loosely based on Halliday’s own romance with the novelist Philip Roth). In the second section, Amar, an Iraqi-American economist, finds himself detained at Heathrow for the weekend. The two sections (there is a third, in which Ezra Blazer appears on Desert Island Discs) are seemingly unconnected, but something draws the characters together. This is a literary, clever novel, but it’s accessible, and a fascinating read.
Bookworm: A Memoir Of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan
Starting with her earliest memories of reading, Stylist columnist Mangan takes us on a journey through her bookish life, imparting personal stories as well as delving into the tales behind the books she read. Mangan looks at well-known books including The Tiger Who Came to Tea, the Narnia series and I Capture the Castle, as well as some less well-known titles, such as the terrifying sounding Shockheaded Peter. Here’s a book for people who love books, by a person who loves books. Bookworms unite (or just sit in our separate corners and read!)
(Square Peg, £14.99)
That Old Black Magic by Cathi Unsworth
In January 1941, a medium at a seance gets a vision of a woman named Clara dying in a wood. That same month, police officer Ross Spooner goes undercover to find a singer named Clara, who MI5 suspect of being a witch using her powers to help the Germans in the Second World War. Two years later, Spooner is on the trail of a German spy ring who have been using black magic to cause mayhem across England. The body of a woman is found in a tree, and graffiti starts appearing across the Midlands, asking: “Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?” This is a great crime novel with a supernatural twist that will keep you guessing until the end.
(Serpent’s Tail, £12.99)
The Wonder Down Under by Nina Brochmann and Ellen Stokken Dahl
In this book, Brochmann and Stokken Dahl tell you just about everything you need to know about how the vagina works. Written in a chatty, accessible way, but full of stats and still authoritative, The Wonder Down Under is about demystifying a part of the body many don’t know enough about. It lets you know what is usual and unusual, and reassures you that your body is perfectly normal.
(Yellow Kite, £14.99)
Main image: Steve Huntington