Books

The best new books for February: thrillers, poetry, rom-coms and future prizewinners

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Francesca Brown
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The best books for February 2019

Stylist’s books editor Francesca Brown presents the new book releases to energise your #amreading

It’s official: February has your back, reading-wise. In a month that’s packed full with highly anticipated new titles (see our 2019 round-up of the new Tana French, Marlon James and Mariam Khan-edited book of essays here), there are also some astounding new thriller novels, brilliant poetry, some hilarious new fiction and fascinating non-fiction and memoirs that’ll be changing discourse around sex, love and self-perception plus some incredible debuts you really need to know about. 

Let your month of reading voraciously start here… 

The grown-up rom-com: In At The Deep End by Kate Davies

In At The Deep End by Kate Davies
In at the Deep End by Kate Davies.

This book nails sex. Pardon the phrasing but where a lot of rom-coms fade out at the point of consummation, Kate Davies’ is a frank, very funny and, at times, filthy exploration of sex, love and self-understanding. And it’s brilliant…

Julia is single and on a sex drought. After an recognisably awful one-night stand (“I felt as though I was pumping a particularly resistant bicycle tyre”) with a pretentious east London male in his crummy room, she falls in love with another woman, Sam. But, while Sam is confident in the realms of open relationships, swapping parties and sex shopping, is she the one to make Julia happy? A frank and brilliant modern-day take on what it’s like to be single or otherwise…

(Out 21 February, Borough Press)

The buzzed-about debut: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Man alive, this book has some buzz and rightly so… it’s got it all: the Pendle witch trials of 1612, female bonding, an addictive mystery and a story based on real events (always a winner).

Fleetwood Shuttleworth is pregnant for the fourth time after a series of losses and is unlikely to survive this one (which she only finds out after discovering a letter to her husband from a male – natch – doctor) but then she meets the midwife, Alice Grey, who promises to help her deliver a healthy baby. However, Grey’s powers of healing make her a target of the brutal and patriarchal powers-that-be who are currently running one of history’s most indiscriminate witch hunts. Enjoy, people, enjoy!

(Out 4 February, Zaffre)

The literary prizewinner: The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

One by one, sleepers in the Southern Californian town of Santa Lora fall asleep… and don’t wake up. The town is quarantined and panic spreads and their dreams take over. “At first, they blame the air. It’s an old idea, a poison in the ether, a danger carried in by the wind.”

This book first caught my eye on Twitter as reviewer after reviewer waxed lyrical about how much they loved it – which is no easy task as they’re discerning lot. But The Dreamers really is something very special thanks to Thompson Walker’s writing that both captivates, devastates and transports the reader while exploring both an end-of-days scenario and what makes us human. This’ll be all over the prize longlists, mark our words…

(Out 7 February, Simon & Schuster)

2019’s big new poetry: Magical Negro by Morgan Parker

Magical Negro by Morgan Parker

In her third anthology of poetry (which follows up the genre-defining Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night and There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé), Parker rips away at the very fabric of black experience mixing together pop culture, folk tales and everyday idioms to reveal violence, sadness, humour and stereotypes that fuel past and present America.

From riffing on the white privilege and given safety of Nancy Meyers’ films to fried chicken in Scandal, she exposes the personal and political with such verve and confidence, it’ll leave you reeling. 

(Corsair, out 7 February)

The book club thriller: Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce 

Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce

It’s a great month for thrillers (The Lost Man by Jane Harper and The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides are ones to grab), and this is your Marmite whodunnit for the month. Some people (Stylist’s own Lucy Mangan, for one) have LOVED it, others not so much, but it is for that very reason that you need make your own judgement. Trust me; if you’re rocking a Book Club then this IS the read you’re looking for. 

Ostensibly, Blood Orange reads like yet another domestic noir with shades of Apple Tree Yard and The Girl On The Train (think intelligent female protagonist in a downward spiral of lies, sex, too much wine, and self-hatred), but it’s also about abuse, power and the lies we perpetuate. We’d love to tell you more, but saying another word will give too many twists away…

(Wildfire, out 21 February)

The heartbreaker: If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman

If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman

There are certain pieces of fiction that are so-well written, acted, directed and created that the characters and their fates become stitched into the fabric your life. You worry about them, you think about them long after the final credits or page, carrying them with you and returning to them months or even years after you’ve parted ways. And, Beckerman’s tale of mother, Audrey, and her two girls, Lily and Jess, does just that…

Seamlessly moving between timelines, viewpoints while tackling incredibly emotive issues, If Only I Could Tell You is a deeply stirring read but also an uplifting one that’s full of optimism. Written with care, this is one book you’ll read in a couple of sittings and be so grateful that you did.

(out 21 February, Orion)

The new Game Of Thrones: The Priory Of The Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

The Priory Of The Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

This is an incredibly strong month for YA (Angie Thomas’ follow-up to The Hate U Give called On The Come Up arrives on 7 February while #everydaysexism’s Laura Bates makes a foray into the genre with the brilliant The Burning) and Samantha Shannon is a pioneer of the genre’s crossover appeal. Despite being only 27, she’s sold half a million copies of her Bone Season books, with The Priory Of The Orange Tree her first standalone title.

Heralded as a “feminist Game Of Thrones”, this 804-page doorstopper comes with its own character index, timeline and glossary. And, it’s also a spot-on book description for a change as this has warring kingdoms, disputed heirs and even some dragons. Thinking escapism at its finest – Shannon, we salute you.

(out 26 February, Bloomsbury)

The breakout talent: Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler

Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler

In a world where the terms ‘borders’ and ‘migrants’ are becoming increasingly hijacked by politics, Rodrigues Fowler’s debut novel is a timely exploration of what it means to understand past and present and the delicate balance of embracing two cultures simultaneously. It’s also not afraid of exploring the trauma and politics of being female.

Written in short, sharp bursts of poetry and prose, Rodrigues Fowler unites a very English culture with a Brazilian heritage turning a unstinting eye on the all-too-familiar conversations that second generations wearily face (“What a lovely name. Where is it from? Brazil. And are you – ? Yes. But you sound so – Well yes I was born here Right In London, in South London actually).

Original and thought-provoking, this is a book that’s well worth your time.

(out 21 February, Fleet)

The essential memoir: Don’t Hold My Head Down by Lucy-Anne Holmes

Don’t Hold My Head Down by Lucy-Anne Holmes

Founder of the No More Page 3 campaign, Lucy-Anne Holmes was in her mid-30s when she realised she didn’t actually understand or fulfil her own sexual needs or desires. From masturbation, sex, porn and beyond, everything she knew about her own physicality was via the lens of men’s gratifications and hard-wiring.

In this no-holds-barred memoir, Holmes tackles what happens when a woman takes the time to explore what’s important to them and also to have faith in themselves for finding out. Enlightening, inspiring, funny, shocking and brave, every woman should get a copy.

(out 7 February, Unbound)

Cat Person’s big follow-up: You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian 

You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian

With 4.5 million views on the New Yorker (its most viewed piece of fiction), Roupenian’s bad sex short story Cat Person became a viral sensation in December 2017 and led to a $1.2 million publishing advance for the 12 short stories in You Know You Want This (plus an HBO deal). With this sort of high-profile pressure riding on Roupenian, it’s inevitable that critics have got their knives sharpened for this collection… so is it any good?

Well, it is if you put your preconceptions aside and read the stories for what they are: tales exploring the intimacies and insecurities of adults (in The Good Guy, she writes about sex; “[Anna] just seems so dutiful. She looks like she is taking medicine, or eating vegetables”). Roupenian is not setting herself out to be the greatest short story writer who’s ever lived (despite the exterior hype) but she has got a talent for writing humans at their most fallible.

(out 7 February, Vintage) 

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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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