Mental-health memoirs, funny reads and addictive thrillers: meet January's best books

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Francesca Brown
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Discover January 2019’s biggest, must-read books before everyone else.

Welcome to January’s books… 

Always one of the most exciting months of the year, this is where the breakout debuts make some noise; memoirs and non-fiction start off zeitgeisty conversations (see Bella Mackie’s Jog On and Emma Rosen’s The Radical Sabbatical) and quality fiction (Therese Anne Fowler’s A Well-Behaved Woman) makes reading pure pleasure even when the rain is lashing down outside. Enjoy!

The moving thriller: My Sister The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite 

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

“Perhaps a normal person would be angry, but what I feel now is a pressing need to dispose of the body.” Korede is a nurse in Lagos – a highly competent and respected one – and in love with a kind doctor named Tade. She also has a beautiful, charismatic sister called Ayoola who has now killed three of her boyfriends and caught Tade’s eye… 

Mixing black comedy (Korede explaining that Ayoola shouldn’t be posting pictures of food on Instagram after her boyfriend has gone missing is particularly funny) with easy, spellbinding writing, Braithwaite has created a debut novel that is utterly addictive and a pure joy to read. Exploring everything from sibling rivalry to family violence and sisterly protection, My Sister The Serial Killer packs one heck of a punch in fewer than 250 pages. Braithwaite is a name to watch this year. 

(Atlantic, out 3 January)

The mental-health memoir: Jog On by Bella Mackie

Jog On by Bella Mackie

In journalist Bella Mackie’s open and honest account of how running saved her mind, it’s how she got started that conjures up one of the most enduring images: slowly-but-surely she took herself to a dark side street near her house (any further would induce a panic attack) and she’d just start running. For a few seconds to begin with… stopping if she saw another human being but from such small steps, she found salvation. 

Tackling the mental health issues which afflict so many of us – from generalised anxiety and panic disorder to OCD – Mackie has created a book of real hope and one that will truly inspire you to stick on some trainers. 

 (William Collins, out now)

The absorbing lit fiction: A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler

A Well Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler
A Well Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler

What makes a feminist? In Alva Belmont’s case it was marrying into the new wealth of the Vanderbilt family, fighting to get them a prominent place in New York society then turning a blind eye to her husband’s constant infidelities until she could lie to herself no more.

And, in the wonderful writing hands of Therese Anne Fowler, Alva’s life – from acquiescent daughter and wife to one of the leading figures of US suffrage – has been elevated into a fascinating tale of liberation and self-sufficiency that conjures up the work of Edith Wharton (thankfully Alva has a much happier ending than that of Lily Bart in The House Of Mirth) and a wholly absorbing tale that transports the reader to the Gilded Age of the 1800s. It’s the perfect Sunday afternoon-in-bed read. 

(Two Roads, out 24 January)

Properly funny feminism: We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby

We are never meeting in real life book cover

Samantha Irby is a no-holds-barred comedian, blogger and writer and this new collection of essays is pure genius. In need of some proper belly laughs? Irby totally has you covered while embracing everything from politics, health and mental issues, sex and poverty to being a woman of colour.

Whether trying out a strap-on (her cat promptly starts clawing it to pieces) or putting herself forwards for The Bachelorette (“35ish but I could pass for 47 to 52, easily; sixtysomething if I stay up all night”), Irby tells things as they are. She’s also not afraid of laying bare her vulnerabilities or the rubbish life can throw at people – making for wise and poignant notes that elevate this collection into something truly special. She’s someone we’d really like to hang out with… 

(Faber, out 17 January)

The moving read: When All Is Said by Anne Griffin

When all is said by Anne Griffin

Warning: it is impossible to read the last chapter of this book without weeping copious tears. In an ingenious narrative, Griffin tells the life story of 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan who’s spending the night in a hotel bar in County Meath. Raising a glass to each of the five people who have influenced his life (from his brother to his wife, Sadie), Hannigan reflects on a life of regret, happiness, stubbornness, loss and love while slowly revealing a decades-old secret related to a missing coin Edward VIII had made for Wallis Simpson.

It’s Maurice’s toast to his late wife that will leave you reeling though. Here is a man who deeply loved a woman but just didn’t know how to show it (often held back by his own parsimony), stifling her in the process until one day she rebels in the smallest but most moving of ways. When you read that page, you might want to get the tissues at the ready… 

(Hodder & Stoughton, out 24 January)

The buzzed-about mystery: The Last by Hanna Jameson

The Last book cover

There’s something of Stephen King’s The Stand about this book – strange goings on, a post-apocalyptic backdrop and strangers thrown together for survival… And like any King novel, we defy you to pick up The Last, read the first page then put it back down again.

The story follows a man named Jon staying in a remote hotel in Switzerland. On the first day of the book, Washington is destroyed by a nuclear bomb, London and Berlin follow suit then all contact with the outside world is lost. Guests start killing themselves and the 20 survivors become increasingly distraught. And, just when things can’t get darker, a body is found in the hotel’s water tank…

Ambitious and disturbing, this is British writer Jameson’s fourth novel and one that will make a lasting impression. The perfect thriller to read in one gulp – and also make you appreciate civilisation (such as it is). 

(Penguin, out 31 January)

The breakout debut: Golden Child by Claire Adam

Golden Child by Claire Adam

The Golden Child is Sarah Jessica Parker’s second acquisition for her SJP for Hogarth imprint in the US and is being published in the UK simultaneously by Faber. And it’s not surprising that Adam’s story of a family in 80s Trinidad is causing such a buzz – beautifully and lyrically written, it’s also a gut-punch of a tale that evokes Greek tragedies or a lament for a lost love.

Peter and Paul are 13-year-old twins but they are nothing alike. Peter is considered a genius destined for amazing things; Paul is an odd boy that leaves his parents, Clyde and Joy, baffled (“even from here, twenty or thirty feet away, Clyde can tell that it’s Peter, not Paul. Paul tends to slink around – like he playing invisible”). Then one day, Paul goes missing and, as his father attempts to find his whereabouts, Clyde is forced to make a sacrifice that will have shocking repercussions. Keep an eye on Adam – she’ll be turning up prize selections all over 2019.   

(Faber, out 17 January)

The epic new fantasy: The Binding by Bridget Collins 

The Binding by Bridget Collins

“A shudder when through me: I was either going to vomit or please with Pa to take me home.” Emmett Farmer has had a calling – taken from his family, he’s to become an apprentice for the Bookbinder. However, this is no ordinary bookbinding business, each volume he creates will contain a memory (something you want to forget, a trauma to be erased or something you need kept secret) and be safely stored away…

With a twisting narrative that explores humans’ darkest moments and morals, Collins has created a fascinating fantasy world that evokes the atmosphere of Sarah Waters’ books with a nod to Philip Pullman. And, with a love story holding much of the story’s emotion together, this is definitely a book you’ll want to lose yourself to for hours on end. 

(HarperCollins, out 10 January)

Surreal short stories: Picnic In The Storm by Yukiko Motoya

Picnic in the storm by Yukiko Motoya
Picnic in the Storm by Yukiko Motoya

One of Japan’s most lauded and talented writers and theatre directors, Yukiko Motoya is a writing talent who’s not afraid of doing things her own way. In this first English translation of her work, 11 mind-bending short stories tackle everything from a married couple whose faces are slowly becoming identical to someone unable to concentrate on a conference meeting thanks to a slight bulge in a curtain.

Mixing the absurd with the psychological, Motoya takes the reader on flights of fancy that also seem to capture the bizarreness of our own minds, preconceptions and concerns. If you feel like reading something that little bit different this year then these stories are the perfect place to start. 

(Little, Brown, out 10 January)

The millennial handbook: The Radical Sabbatical by Emma Rosen

The Radical Sabbatical by Emma Rosen
The Radical Sabbatical by Emma Rosen

Rosen is not happy. Buying a house, leaving uni without a mountain of debt, job security – all the things that were given to previous generations are being denied to Millennials (and then patronisingly blamed on one too many smashed avocados). But she’s got a plan and it’s all about finding a job (and a life) that makes you happy (she points to the astounding statistic that 72% of Millennials want to change their career completely).

Rosen herself took this search for a job she loves to extreme levels – she jacked in her stable, well-paid career then tried out 25 different jobs via work placements before she turned 25. From archaeology in Transylvania to letting flats in London, she took insight and inspiration from each of her placements and has transformed them into a practical and inspiring guide that’ll leave you planning a whole new achievable future. Lady, we salute you.  

(John Catt Educational, out 10 January)

Images: Supplied


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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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