This year has been a bumper year for novels so there’s plenty of choice.
Whether you like gripping page-turners or literary novels that give you something to discuss over the dinner table, there’s something for everyone.
Our main stipulations were that the novels should be original, compelling and superbly written – the kind of books you’ll want to recommend to your friends.
We’ve chosen a mix of established writers and debut novelists. Kate Atkinson and David Nicholls are two of the UK’s most successful authors and they both have highly anticipated books out this summer – Big Sky by Atkinson, which continues the story of private investigator Jackson Brodie, and Sweet Sorrow by Nicholls, the account of a boy’s first love affair.
Debut novelists are represented by writers like Alex Michaelides, whose The Silent Patient topped The New York Times Best Seller list earlier this year, and Beth O’Leary, who wrote The Flatshare on her train journey to and from work.
The subjects covered in this year’s crop of novels are wide-ranging too – from Clare Mackintosh’s thought-provoking story of a couple faced with an impossible choice about their terminally ill child to Elizabeth Gilbert’s vibrant account of showgirl life in 1940s New York.
So what are you waiting for? Settle back and enjoy these novels.
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‘Big Sky’ by Kate Atkinson, published by Doubleday: £20, Amazon
Jackson Brodie’s back. Fans have been counting the days to read the fifth in Kate Atkinson’s literary crime series about the tough ex-soldier turned private investigator and Big Sky is well worth the wait. This time round Brodie has moved to a quiet seaside village in the northeast, occasionally joined by his tricky teenage son and his ex-partner’s ageing Labrador. But once again he gets drawn into a sinister investigation and old secrets come to the fore. Superbly written and utterly readable, this novel is a delight from start to finish.
‘Sweet Sorrow’ by David Nicholls, published by Hodder & Stoughton: £20, Amazon
Sweet Sorrow is another of this summer’s most eagerly awaited novels. David Nicholls, who recently won a Bafta for his TV adaptation of the Patrick Melrose novels, made his name with One Day and excels at writing tender, funny books about love and friendship. This coming of age novel tells the story of 16-year-old Charlie Lewis and his love affair with a girl he meets when he reluctantly gets involved in a production of Romeo and Juliet. It’s poignant and insightful but the most affecting scenes focus on Charlie’s relationship with his dad, whose life has imploded in a disastrous way.
‘Machines Like Me’ by Ian McEwan, published by Jonathan Cape: £12.17, Amazon
From the case of a young boy who refuses medical treatment on religious grounds (The Children Act) to the angst of a young couple honeymooning on the Dorset coast (On Chesil Beach), Ian McEwan’s choice of subjects is never predictable. Machines Like Me, his 15th novel, is set in an alternative 1980s London.
Charlie, who’s drifting through life and avoiding full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a clever student with a terrible secret. When Charlie suddenly comes into money he decides to buy Adam, one of the first-ever synthetic humans – and a love triangle begins. Original, and as always with McEwan’s novels, beautifully written.
‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney, published by Faber & Faber: £8.99, Foyles
Sally Rooney’s Normal People has won a host of awards, including both the top prize and fiction book of the year at this year’s British Book Awards, the Costa novel award and Waterstones Book of the Year. The 28-year-old Irish novelist has been described as “a millennial writer with millennial concerns” but readers of all ages will enjoy her story of two college friends who try to stay apart but find they can’t. We can’t wait to see what she does next.
Crime and thrillers
‘The Silent Patient’ by Alex Michaelides, published by Orion: £12.99, Foyles
Alex Michaelides was inspired to write his debut novel while he was doing a postgraduate course in psychotherapy and working part-time at a secure psychiatric unit. It’s the tale of Alicia Berenson, a painter who lives with her fashion photographer husband Gabriel on the edge of Hampstead Heath. But when Gabriel returns late one night from a fashion shoot Alicia shoots him dead. Psychotherapist Theo Faber is fascinated by the fact that Alicia has never spoken since the shooting and five years on is determined to discover exactly what happened. A smart, sophisticated psychological thriller.
‘Those People’ by Louise Candlish, published by Simon & Schuster: £10.99, Waterstones
Louise Candlish won the crime and thriller book of the year for Our House and her latest novel is equally gripping. Lowland Way in south London is a suburban paradise, with friendly neighbours, convivial chat and children playing in the street. Everything seems perfect till Darren and Jodie move in and cause havoc and upset with their loud music, multiple cars and disruptive building work. A clever, pacy novel that will keep you guessing right until the end.
‘The Sleepwalker’ by Joseph Knox, published by Doubleday: £9.35, Amazon
Former bookseller Joseph Knox is an exciting new name in crime fiction. The Sleepwalker is the third of his series about Aidan Watts, a flawed Manchester detective with a complex family background. As the novel opens, Waits is on duty in an abandoned hospital ward, sitting with a dying murderer and hoping he’ll reveal the location of his final victim before he dies. Dark, gritty and compelling, this will have you turning the pages until the early hours of the morning.
‘No Way Out’ by Cara Hunter, published by Penguin: £6.32, Wordery
From Brideshead Revisited to the Inspector Morse books, Oxford is the setting for some remarkable novels. Cara Hunter is the latest novelist to set her books in the city – to striking effect. No Way Out is her third novel about detective inspector Adam Fawley and it’s a cracking read. It’s the Christmas holidays and two children have just been pulled from the wreckage of their home in upmarket north Oxford. The toddler is dead and his elder brother is fighting for his life – but why were they left alone? Switch off your phone and settle down on the sofa. You won’t be able to put this book down until you’ve found out what happened – and who’s responsible.
‘The Garden of Lost and Found’ by Harriet Evans, published by Headline: £16.99, Waterstones
In 1919 Liddy Horner discovers her celebrated artist husband, Ned, burning his best-known painting. Known as The Garden of Lost and Found, the picture depicts his two children on an idyllic day, playing in the garden of Nightingale House, the family’s Cotswolds home. Almost a century later, the couple’s granddaughter Juliet is sent the key to Nightingale House out of the blue and starts to unravel the tragic secrets of the past. Harriet Evans’s 11th novel is a spellbinding story, brimming with flowers and paintings, loss and courage.
‘After the End’ by Clare Mackintosh, published by Sphere: £9.33, Amazon
Ex-police officer Clare Mackintosh has won legions of fans for her clever crime novels, I Let You Go, I See You and Let Me Lie. Her new book, After the End, is a radical departure, but just as powerful. Max and Pip are devoted to each other but when their young son Dylan is diagnosed with a brain tumour they face an impossible choice – and they can’t agree. This moving and thought-provoking theme is one that’s close to Mackintosh’s heart. As she explains in a note at the end of the book, in 2006 she and her husband had to decide whether to keep their critically ill son alive or remove his life support.
‘The Flatshare’ by Beth O’Leary, published by Quercus: £7.99, Waterstones
Beth O’Leary’s first novel is feel-good fiction at its best. The two protagonists, Tiffy Moore and Leon Twomey, are immensely likeable and the comic situation they find themselves in is entirely believable. Tiffy works in publishing and needs a cheap flat while palliative nurse Leon works nights and needs extra cash. The pair agree to share a one-bed flat, with Tiffy sleeping there at nights and weekends and Leon using it by day. It sounds simple, but with Tiffy’s horrible ex-boyfriend, demanding clients at work, Leon’s wrongly imprisoned brother and the fact that they still haven’t met the situation gets more complicated by the day.
‘Queenie’ by Candice Carty-Williams, published by Orion: £10.99, Foyles
Candice Carty-Williams wrote her debut novel after bestselling author Jojo Moyes offered her the use of her rural cottage to finish the book, choosing her from more than 600 applicants. Queenie Jenkins is a young black woman who’s just broken up with her long-term boyfriend, Tom. Her boss at the newspaper where she works doesn’t appreciate her and her family never listens (they’re not interested unless the conversation is about Jesus or water rates). A fresh, funny and at times painful read.
‘The Doll Factory’ by Elizabeth Macneal, published by Picador: £9.99, Foyles
It’s astonishing to discover that this accomplished book is Elizabeth Macneal’s debut novel. Macneal is a writer and potter and worked in the City for several years before completing a creative writing MA at the University of East Anglia. Set amid the squalor and chaos of Victorian London, The Doll Factory is the tale of aspiring artist Iris, who becomes a model for Pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost on the condition that he teaches her to paint. But she’s also been noticed by Silas Reed, a sinister collector who is obsessed by strange and beautiful things. An atmospheric book that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.
‘City of Girls’ by Elizabeth Gilbert, published by Bloomsbury: £14.99, Waterstones
Elizabeth Gilbert is best-known for Eat Pray Love, the 2006 memoir that chronicled her journey across Italy, India and Indonesia. In City of Girls, her third novel, she turns her attention to 1940s New York and a rundown, midtown theatre called The Lily. Nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has dropped out of her sophomore year at Vassar and her despairing parents send her to stay with her unconventional Aunt Peg, who owns The Lily. Once there, Vivian makes firm friends with the showgirls, throws herself into their hedonistic lifestyle and learns some tough lessons. Glamorous and vivid, with fascinating historical detail.
‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller, published by Bloomsbury: £5.59, Wordery
Madeline Miller won the Orange prize in 2012 for her first novel, A Song for Achilles and earlier this year Circe, her long-awaited second novel, was one of the six shortlisted contenders for the Women’s Prize for Fiction (previously the Orange Prize). Miller takes the legendary story of Circe, who appeared in ancient Greek texts like Homer’s The Odyssey, and brings it alive for a 21st-century audience. A captivating book that races along with verve and panache.
The verdict: Books of 2019
Kate Atkinson never disappoints and Big Sky, her fifth Jackson Brodie novel, is the standout read of the summer. It’s a masterclass in brilliant writing and whether you’ve read the earlier books in the series (Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News? and Started Early, Took My Dog) or not you’ll enjoy it. Our other top reads are David Nicholls’s Sweet Sorrow, a nostalgic coming of age story, and Elizabeth Macneal’s dazzling debut, The Doll Factory.