With the arrival of September’s big-name releases, Stylist’s books editor Francesca Brown reveals the titles you can’t miss.
Well, hello September! Featuring some of the biggest names of the year (Margaret Atwood, Edna O’Brien, Nikita Gill, Ann Patchett, Louis Theroux, Joanna Cannon), this month is a bumper crop of some of the best debuts, thrillers, dystopian feminism, memoirs and poetry due out in 2019. Make some space on your bookshelf because you’re going to need it…
(In fact, there are so many good books we’ve gone above and beyond our usual 10 picks because we had to include them all.)
Meet some of 2019’s biggest book releases headed to a shelf near you…
The 2019 blockbuster: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Such is the secrecy surrounding this release, the only way we’d be allowed to read The Testaments in advance is if we infiltrated an underwater maximum security facility and could prove we were closely related to Ms Atwood (or were Booker Prize judges who have already included it on their longlist for this year).
What we do know is that The Testaments takes place 15 years after the original The Handmaid’s Tale and it’s told via the perspectives of three different women in Gilead. Given the amount of recent material (from Trump’s immigrant camps to the rolling back of women’s reproductive rights) and Atwood’s own assertion that sci-fi writers predict the future, The Testaments is set to be a terrifyingly stark and prescient read…
(Out 10 September, Vintage)
The 90s nostalgia: Don’t Look Back In Anger by Daniel Rachel
Whether you were there (and still can’t remember it) or are just a 90s aficionado, Rachel’s oral history of the era when music, models, Young British Artists, New Labour, lads’ mags, football anthems and the Spice Girls came together to define “Cool Britannia” is a hilarious and anti-nostalgic ride into a decade that seemed like it was going to change everything forever (right before the whole thing imploded).
Former spin doctor Alistair Campbell, Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker and Sporty Spice AKA Mel Chisholm are funny and self-aware on what was really happening behind the scenes and the whole thing is a fascinating step back to right before the web, smartphones and streaming changed the face of culture.
(Out 5 September, Orion)
The buzzy spy thriller: The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
There’s something of Mad Men about this book and you can’t get higher praise than that… Set in 1956, Russian writer Boris Pasternak has created his masterpiece, Dr Zhivago. It’s setting the world alight but has been banned in his home country because the powers that be are worried it’ll spark dissent across the Soviet Union. So the Americans decide to smuggle it back in and boost their Cold War chances – using two untrained female secretaries who are chomping at the bit to escape endless typing and lunches in the local diner…
Ambitious in scope and proving that fact can be stranger than fiction, this is the perfect book for some much-needed escapism. Cut yourself off and drink it all in.
(Out 5 September, Cornerstone)
The non-fiction that’ll be everywhere: Breaking and Mending by Joanna Cannon
Before Joanna Cannon became the bestselling author of Three Things About Elsie, she worked in a pub, delivered pizzas and, in her 30s, became a junior doctor (she later specialised in psychiatry). In this brief-but-take-no-prisoners memoir, Cannon explores the moments that defined her time as a medical professional: from talking to a cancer patient without using the big C-word to shakily running a ward 10 days after qualifying.
Like Adam Kay’s brilliant This Is Going To Hurt, Cannon reveals with care and precision just how far medical professionals go to look after their patients. That mistakes and regrets can happen but that kindness and love is what powers our NHS and that we should protect it and the people who give up (almost) everything to keep it going.
(Out 26 September, Profile Books)
The big lit-fic: The Confession by Jessie Burton
“Elise turned and walked away. She looked once over her shoulder, and the woman was following her…” Set over three decades moving from London to LA and back again, The Confession is the story of three women: Elise, Constance and Rose, who are united by love, rejection and self-understanding. What elevates the story is Burton’s writing – like in The Miniaturist and The Muse – this is a book that’ll sweep you along and make you reflect on your own choices in life.
(Out 19 September, Picador)
A Queer Muslim memoir: We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib
Habib’s short but beautifully written memoir begins in Pakistan where her family are forced to flee threats from religious extremists for their Ahwadi beliefs (a sect of Islam that’s persecuted in her home country). Finding refuge in Canada, Habib begins to break out as a teenager moving from Nancy Drew books to Margaret Atwood and Agatha Christie only to discover with dismay that her mother has set up an arranged marriage.
Told with precision and honesty, what follows is a brave and powerful insight into what it’s like to discover you’re a queer Muslim with no set path to follow only to discover a new world – and a Toronto Mosque – that will accept you just as you are and provide a place for you to flourish.
(Out 8 September, Riverrun)
The legend returns: Girl by Edna O’Brien
Aged 88, Edna O’Brien has previously written about everything from Balkan war criminals (in her last book, The Little Red Chairs) to hidden sexual mores in Ireland (her first novel, The Country Girls, was banned upon its publication in 1960) and Girl is just as fearless tackling the kidnapping of girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Written in O’Brien’s signature clear, readable prose but with devastating emotional urgency, it’s the story of a girl who endures horrific brutality but also learns to endure in the face of a nightmare and, beyond that, live in a short-sighted and mistrustful society. It’s also a reminder of a shameful moment in recent global history and the more books that can give voice to the girls who were taken, the better.
(Out 5 September, Faber)
The creepy story: Bone China by Laura Purcell
Anyone familiar with Purcell’s previous novels will know she’s an expert at bone-rattling tension (the dragging noise in The Silent Companions will stay with you for life and make unwelcome visits to your brain at 3am for those with a nervous disposition) and Bone China is just as eerie.
With two narrative threads set 40 years apart in a gothic house in Cornwall, Purcell weaves together a story of consumption, controversial medical trials, Cornish folklore and isolation that also touches on real-life inspirations. Written with an atmosphere of real foreboding, this is a sensational late autumn read as the evenings close in.
(Out 19 September, Raven Books)
The perfect present: Great Goddesses by Nikita Gill
We love this book so much. The retelling of ancient myths and monsters from a feminist perspective is the gift that keeps giving (Pat Barker’s The Silence Of The Girls and Madeline Miller’s Circe are both essential reading) and Gill’s inimitable retakes of Persephone, Gorgon (A Letter to the Patriarchy), Gaia and Hera are fun, illuminating and will leave you exploring the original legends from a new perspective.
Written in a mix of poetry and prose and illustrated with Gill’s own hand-drawn illustrations, there’s a lot of joy to be had and, quite frankly, this book is the perfect gift for all the women in your life.
(Out 5 September, Ebury)
The must-read: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
There are some books that conjure up the sheer joy of reading: that moment when you just want to get lost in a story. That when you’re not reading said book – it’s the characters you’re thinking about. We’re happy to report that the very buzzed-about The Dutch House hits the reading sweet spot with the tale of a family who seems to have it all…
Set in Pennsylvania, a successful property developer buys a genteel and stunning house for his wife but, in doing so, everything the family holds dear falls away. Sister Maeve (whose wit and personality shine throughout the book) and dependent brother Danny move into adulthood but for reasons that won’t be spoiled here feel utterly removed from the dreams that went before. An excellent autumn holiday read, people.
(Out 24 September, Bloomsbury)
The thinking thriller: Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke
The second book in Locke’s Highway 59 series (the first was the stunning Bluebird, Bluebird) features black Texas Ranger Darren Matthews investigating the disappearance of a young boy; the missing child also happens to be the son of an Aryan Brotherhood of Texas gang captain. Set against a backdrop of a Trump-whipped up state where racial violence, the spectre of recent slavery and simmering tension permeate every level of society, this is both an urgent, prescient take on the current state of America and a brilliant thriller.
Plus, Darren Matthews is one of the genre’s most compelling characters – wrestling with a marriage to a woman he loves and haunted by the death of his brother – he’s a complex investigator in an even more complex and brutal world and we are ready for many, many more of the series.
(Out 12 September, Profile)
The indie gem: Against Memoir by Michelle Tea
Michelle Tea is an author, feminist, poet, queer activist, presents a TV show about urban witches and is an all-round brilliant and entertaining writer. In these 24 essays, she takes on a range of BIG subjects (including transgender rights, alcohol and even Prince) with non-nonsense, witty writing that looks easy but is anything but…
Discussing her own miscarriage is both relatable and heartbreaking but filled with hope (“The upside of this, if I must wrangle one, is that women are much more likely to have a full-term pregnancy after a miscarriage”). Tea is here for all of us.
(Out 3 September, & Other Stories)
The comic eye-opener: Living My Best Life by Claire Frost
If you’re in need of frank and funny novel that is also a takedown of the rubbish social media can fill our heads (and our hearts) with, then Claire Frost’s debut is for you. Bell is recovering from the break-up of a decade-long relationship while Millie is an Insta-influencer and mum who’s basically blagging a #blessed life that in no way resembles reality. Written with verve and a real sense of generosity for her characters, this is the perfect escapist read and antidote to our somewhat grim times.
(Out 5 September, Simon & Schuster)
Autumn’s big biography: Gotta Get Theroux This by Louis Theroux
On the title alone, Theroux has basically won the battle of the heavyweight autumn biographies (take that referendum organiser, Dave Cameron). Once again, this is one of the big releases that’s under lock and key but what we do know is that it’ll follow how a nervous would-be journalist was given a TV slot by documentary-maker Michael Moore and ended up fronting some of the BBC’s most controversial investigative programmes featuring Afrikaner separatists and apocalypse survivalists.
He’ll also be tackling how one of his interviewees, Jimmy Savile, was such an elusive subject and the fallout of revelations about Savile’s child abuse after his death. (May we also recommend you pre-order October release, Unfollow by Megan Phelps Roper, who left the aggressively homophobic and anti-Semetic Westboro Baptist Church and her family after appearing on Theroux’s show.)
(Out 19 September, Pan Macmillan)
Images: Alessia Armenise/PR provided