The month sees the long-awaited return of the woman who made granny pants famous. The third installment of Bridget Jones’ Diary is published on the 10th, and we can’t wait. Also out this month is one of the best books of the year, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, a masterpiece of a novel that opens with a terrorist attack on New York. We also have a modern take on Sense and Sensibility from Joanna Trollope, and a memoir that is unlike anything else you’ve read. You won’t need any excuse to stay in and read now the heating is officially on, and luckily there’s plenty of choice.
Words: Stacey Bartlett
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Theo Decker is an affluent 13-year-old whose life is changed forever when he and his mother are caught in a devastating terrorist attack in a New York art museum. Amongst the rubble, in a moment of madness, Theo puts a small painting of a goldfinch – his mother’s favourite – into his bag, and clambers out. His mother does not. In the following years, Theo’s life rotates around that split-second decision as he tries to come to terms with what he has done. Starting with a mysterious address in downtown New York and ending in snow-covered Amsterdam, the painting takes its thief on a journey that will define the rest of his life. The characters – especially Theo’s reckless, lovable sidekick, Boris – are some of the best created in years; the plot is superb, and Theo’s world is so richly drawn it’s almost unbearable to leave behind. Like its namesake, The Goldfinch is a masterpiece.
Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding
When Helen Fielding wrote Bridget Jones’ Diary and charted the not-always-so-glamorous life of a 30-something single woman in 1990s London, she created one of the most popular characters in modern literature. And now the Bridge is back. With a shocking plot spoiler announced last weekend – that Mark Darcy, the father of Bridget’s two children, is dead – fans around the world howled in anguish. Bridget is now 51 and a single mother, but her latest diary promises to be as hilarious as ever: the school run has vetoed the weeknight boozers with Shaz and Jude and a lack of Twitter followers is now the root of Bridget’s social insecurities. But with Daniel Cleaver as her children’s godparent and a new 30-year-old boyfriend called Roxster, something tells us our favourite single lady’s love life will be more interesting than ever.
Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope
Joanna Trollope has reimagined Jane Austen’s novel in this modern take on Sense and Sensibility. Following the broad story of the original, the Dashwood women are cast out of their country pile when father Henry dies. Refusing to find jobs, they are taken in by a distant cousin who just happens to own a spare house. So far, so 19th century. But Marianne, Elinor and Margaret get a taste of ‘reality’ as they fall for and are spurned by a variety of Spencer Matthews-types who drive Aston Martins and await their inheritance under the watchful eyes of their interfering families. Set in the country mansions and Mayfair apartments of the dwindling upper classes, these ‘modern’ heroines will have feminists tearing their hair out – but it’s marvellous fun, darling.
The Good House by Ann Leary
Hildy Good is a very successful estate agent in her quaint Boston town. A direct descendant of a woman executed in the Salem Witch Trials, Hildy knows everything there is to know about Wendover. She is also a “recovering” alcoholic, who spends her evenings with her dogs and at least one bottle of wine, away from the prying eyes of her grown-up daughters. When a new family moves in and causes controversy, Hildy finds herself at the centre of a small-town scandal after befriending the headstrong and mysterious wife Rebecca – as well as falling into a casual relationship with her teenage sweetheart, Frank. The Good House is a quietly gripping novel that wraps you up in its small-town drama, and Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro have already signed up to star in the film adaptation.
Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green
Like most children, Katie Green was a picky eater. But a childhood habit – hiding toast behind her wardrobe and playing with her food – turned into a full-blown eating disorder that nearly killed her. In her raw and heart-breaking graphic memoir Lighter Than My Shadow, Katie charts her darkest days during the disorder that defined her teenage years. From starvation to binge eating to recovery and then back again, Katie illustrates the struggle that consumed her entirely. At times it’s a tough read – when she reveals she was abused by one of her therapists, the chilling illustrations that depict her breakdown, ending in several blank pages, are more impacting than a memoir or novel ever could be. This is a brave book from an astoundingly talented new voice.
Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Everyone knows the story of Peter Pan, the fun-loving boy who refused to grow up – but in Jodi Lynn Anderson’s superbly imaginative Tiger Lily we see a much darker side to Neverland. Before the Darlings came along, Peter’s heart belonged to the native princess we recognise from the original story. Abandoned at birth, Tiger Lily was raised by the Sky Eaters tribe, who are fearful of foreigners and suspicious of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. But Tiger Lily and Peter form an intense bond, which starts to unravel with the arrival of Wendy and her brothers. This is Neverland as you’ve never seen it before; Jodi Lynn Anderson has taken a children’s story and twisted it into a dark and mature tale of love, obsession and loss, centered around colonialism and prejudice. You’ll never look at Peter the same again.
Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson
Seven-year-old Elijah is covered in scars and has a history of disruptive behaviour. His adoptive parents Nikki and Obi believe they are strong enough to give him a good second chance at life, and Nikki hopes that her being white won’t affect her ability to raise a Nigerian son. But Elijah’s birth mother Deborah is never far away, and she is a constant reminder to Nikki that her bond with Elijah will never be the same. Just as Elijah starts to settle in, a devastating event rocks their already fragile set-up, with tragic consequences. Where Women Are Kings is a grief-stricken story of two mothers’ love for the same child. Christie Watson won the Costa prize for her debut novel Tiny Sunbirds Far Away, and her second novel is just as absorbing and powerful.
The Merman by Carl-Johan Vallgren
Translated from the original Swedish, The Merman is a mythical tale set in a small coastal town in Sweden. Nella and her brother Robert have a difficult home life; Robert is bullied at school and Nella has to resort to petty crime to pay off his tormentors. Nella’s friend Tommy listens to her troubles, but she can’t help but notice the mysterious behaviour of Tommy’s brothers, who spend a lot of time out at sea and at their run-down boathouse. When they go out fishing one night and accidentally capture a creature nobody thought existed, Nella’s eyes are opened to an unbelievable secret. The Merman is no fairytale – set in an impoverished neighbourhood with gritty characters, it reads like an urban legend, and is a curious and unique piece of fiction.
Wars of the Roses: Stormbird by Conn Iggulden
In 1437, King Henry V, the Lion of England, is dead, and his young successor Henry VI comes of age and takes the throne. His poor health and vulnerability means Henry relies on his closest aides to run the kingdom, but Richard, Duke of York, believes only a strong king can rule. With rumours of revolt and not knowing whom to trust, Henry and his aides can only watch as the clouds gather. Wars of the Roses: Stormbird is an exceptionally well-written and gripping insight into a fascinating period that was often overlooked until Game of Thrones came along. The battle of Lancaster vs. York was the inspiration for George R.R. Martin’s series, but it won’t just appeal to GOT fans. With love, scandal, murder, betrayal and bucket loads of blood, Stormbird makes the Tudors look like the Royle family.
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love was an international bestseller, but her latest novel is a completely different offering. Set in the 19th century and spanning continents, science and religion, at the centre of the story is Alma Whittaker. Alma’s lifelong love of plants and science lead her to a career in botany, but as her careful studies of moss open her up to theories of evolution, her ideas are challenged by her spiritual lover. Despite their differences the couple have a shared desire to find out about the world, and their journey takes them from London to Peru, Philadelphia and Tahiti. The Signature of All Things is a masterful piece of fiction in the style of a 19th century novel but with a fresh 21st century focus. Expertly researched and wholly absorbing, it is a love letter to knowledge and self-exploration.