Looking for something fabulous to read? Check out my latest book recommendations – both upcoming and recently released titles that I have loved. From meddling Irish grandmas to reimaging historical scandals, here are all the new books I think you should check out.
📌 Looking for more fabulous book recommendations? See my previous book reviews.
The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup
UK release date: 10th January 2019
When a series of women are found murdered in Copenhagen, with a small figurine made out of chestnuts beside them, ambitious detective Naia Thulin is keen to find the killer before they strike again. Unfortunately, she has been lumbered with a new partner, Mark Hess – a burnt out Europol detective who’s back at his old squad under dubious circumstances. Yet, when a fingerprint is found on the chestnut men of a girl who has been missing for a year, the daughter of a politician, they suddenly realise how vital it is that they find a way to work together.
Eeeek – scary, grim stuff. I’m not very good at reading grisly details, especially at night for obvious reasons, but I couldn’t resist reading the new book by the creator of The Killing. It’s really good – very atmospheric and well-paced. Hess’ backstory and the development of Thulin and Hess’ friendship felt a little underdeveloped and just slotted in at times – this definitely could have been done better. But otherwise, I really enjoyed this and would definitely watch a tv series based on it (has to happen, right?).
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She Wants It: Desire, Power, and Toppling the Patriarchy by Jill Soloway
UK release date: 15th October 2018
Even if you don’t know Jill Soloway’s name, then you probably know their work. They’re the award-winning creator behind the TV show Transparent. They also won a directing award at Sundance for the rather lovely/confronting film called Afternoon Delight and have written for and exec produced shows like Six Feet Under and United States of Tara. On an entirely different note, if the rumours this week are true, Jill is apparently dating the Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby of Nanette fame (hello, power couple!). This book tracks the journey from when Jill’s parent came out as trans, inspiring the hit TV show and setting them off on a journey through understanding their privilege, embracing their queerness and discovering their own non-binary identity.
I’m always really interested in stories about people who discover their queerness not in their youth but in middle age or later. Their journeys are so interesting. Jill was rapidly approaching 50 when their parent came out, setting off the chain of events reshaped their life. I really enjoyed how honest Jill was in this book was about some of the decisions they’ve made along the way that they later realised were probably not the best: casting a man to play a trans woman, writing a tv show about this character with no trans writers or actors in the first season, being at the forefront of the #MeToo movement but then finding themselves having a selfish reaction to accusations made towards a man on their own show. More than anything in this book, it is a journey towards Jill discovering their own privilege that shapes this story – in addition to divorcing their husband and embarking on relationships with women and transforming their own identity. A really fascinating read; I’m super interested to see what Jill will create next.
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Future Popes of Ireland by Darragh Martin
UK release date: 20th August 2018
During Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland in 1979, Granny Doyle was struck by a divine desire: that one of her grandchildren would become the first Irish Pope. Sadly for this nanna, her son had only managed to produce was an assertive and quick-witted girl called Peg. So Granny Doyle set a plan in motion, which would backfire in ways she could never have dreamed.
Ah, meddling nannas – there’s nothing quite like them. This was an odd book for me to choose but I quite liked the idea of a grandma getting a little more than she bargained for when trying to shape her family into one she can show off. It’s both a heartwarming and deeply sad story that showcases how much Ireland has and hasn’t changed in the last 40 years, especially when it comes to governing the lives and bodies of women and LGBT+ people.
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A Double Life by Flynn Berry
UK release date: 9th August 2018
Claire doesn’t know where her father is. In fact, no one does since he disappeared the night her childhood nanny was killed. Now a doctor in her 30s, her life is still haunted by the unanswered question: was her father a murderer? Unable to move on, she decides to launch her own investigation and befriend the people who last saw him alive: her father’s friends.
This thriller stays relatively true to the real-life scandal that inspired it: the mystery of Lord Lucan. Up until the end, I found this story very believable – almost understated in the way it built the story to its slightly more improbable ending. If you don’t know anything about Lord Lucan and his recently deceased wife, Lady Lucan, I recommend reading up on it before attempting this book as fact is always much more interesting than fiction. However, I think the writer has done a great job imagining how the child of Lord Lucan could have gone looking for their infamous father now.
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How to Be Famous by Caitlin Moran
UK release date: 28th June 2018
Johanna is an 18-year-old music writer in Britpop-era London, famous for her column under the nom de plume Dolly Wilde. She longs to be with her friend John, an up-and-coming indie musician, but only sees her as a pal. After a degrading one-night-stand with a famous comedian, Johanna finds herself the subject of much mirth in the male-dominated entertainment industry. As she quickly discovers, being a semi-famous woman somehow makes it ok to be publicly sex shamed. Where is her user guide for dealing with this?
If you’ve read Caitlin Moran’s amusing memoir/well of wisdom How To Be A Woman, then you’ll recognise that much of the set-up of this story is similar to her own: Johanna is from Wolverhampton, moves to London in the 90s at a young age and writes for a music magazine. I suppose you should write what you know, right? But that does make it a little unnerving at times as you wonder how much of this is based on her life. None of it is though, obviously, as this is fiction (well, I hope to high heavens none of this happened to Moran!). Johanna is put through a really awful amount of sex-shaming and somehow manages to find her own voice in a situation she is made to feel she has no control and no right to object. This is a very believable scenario, and even though the story is set in the early 90s, it feels very relevant to the misogyny of our digital age (upskirting, revenge porn, hacking and release of personal images, non-consensual filming). Despite the serious subject matter, this is a very lovely read about friendship and support.
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How Not to Be a Boy by Robert Webb
UK release date: 8th June 2018
Robert Webb is best known as Jeremy “Jez” Usborne in the cult UK tv series Peep Show, bumbling through his awkward and anxiety-inducing existence alongside comedy partner David Mitchell. They also have their own suitably absurd sketch show, That Mitchell and Webb Look, that is filled with parodies and spoofs of pop culture and British life. If you haven’t seen either of these shows before, I definitely recommend catching a couple of episodes on Netflix before reading this book.
I’d never really paid that much attention to Robert Webb before – mainly because he’s been overshadowed by David Mitchell, who must have now appeared on every UK panel show around (and we are all the richer for it). So, I didn’t really know what to expect from this book. I’ve watched both his shows before but as the style of comedy tends to make me insanely anxious (especially Peep Show), it’s generally not a fun experience for me. I was, however, very interested in all the press attention this book was receiving because it wasn’t your typical memoir from a male writer/actor/comedian. If you’ve stumbled across this book too because of what you’ve heard, then I definitely recommend you give it a go. This is a very personal and tender account of what it’s like to grow up as a man, the expectation to perform this tired and toxic concept of masculinity, and the struggle to have meaningful relationships with family, friends, partners and children while trying to uphold this. It’s also laugh-out-loud funny, pretty much the entire way through the book. One of the loveliest things about this book for me was reading it in tandem with my male partner on our beach holiday; not only was he chortling the whole way through this book but, being only a couple of years younger than Webb, he identified a lot with what was being described. A really wonderful read.
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More books I’ve read recently
Three-Way Split by Elia Winters (UK release date: 27th October 2018)
Probably one of the best M/M/F polyamourous erotic romances I’ve read so far! Most of the time in books like this, I ended up hating the characters but in this one, I didn’t so that was a major plus. They are all likeable, believable and interesting. However, it does have my pet hate of male character/s somehow saving the female character/s (usually financially). Why does this always happen in every single book like this I read? I’d love to see the reverse happen one day. Otherwise, a great read – looking forward to the sequels.
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (UK release date: 30th August 2018)
Ugh. I really wanted to like this book but it was difficult to get through. Partly because of the subject matter (barely a page goes by without describing or referring to rape) and partly because it the story became increasingly boring. This book is a retelling of key events in the Trojan war through the eyes of the mythical queen Briseis. When her city falls to the Greek, she is turned into a ‘prize of war’ and given to Achilles as his sex slave. Whilst, the ownership of her as a slave drives the plot of Homer’s Iliad, she has no control over her own life, no real say in what happens (hence the title). She is simply something to be owned by Achilles and Agamemnon, and hence an observer to much of what happens. This could have made a retelling of such a classic story from her perspective very powerful, but sadly it was so boring I nearly gave up 3/4 of the way through. What a shame.
Women by Chloe Caldwell (UK release date: 8th March 2018)
This short book is as New York/Brooklyn/achingly hipster as the lead quote from Lena Dunham suggests. Now that we’ve established this, it’s still worth a read. Like most interesting stories, this one doesn’t depict a very healthy relationship. Had I read this in my early 20s, I would have lapped it all up with glee. Instead, I read this in my late 30s with my hands over my eyes, like listening to your much younger friend recount the car crash of mixed messages and a lack of boundaries young love creates. Ah, young love. Yes, I’m probably too jaded for this book, but let’s be clear: Finn sounds like a right wanker. A sexy wanker, but a wanker none the less – which makes this all very believable. An easy, fun and only slightly infuriating/eye-roll worthy read.
Bitter by Francesca Jakobi (UK release date: 3rd March 2018)
I sought out this book after I read a recommendation in the Guardian that compared it to Notes On a Scandal. I think perhaps that set the bar a bit too high for me, which this book wasn’t able to live up to but it is still worth a read. Set in 1969, Gilda is a divorcee in her late 40s (I think?) who is fixated on her emotionally distant son. As she grows increasingly desperate and obsessive, she resorts to stalking him and his pretty blonde wife, as we gradually learn more about why their relationship soured. This story left me feeling very sad and frustrated; a good reminder as to why it is important that women have control over their own lives.
Little Me: My life from A-Z by Matt Lucas (UK publication date: 3rd October 2017)
I’ll admit I didn’t know that much about Matt Lucas before reading this. I mean he’s rarely in the press and I was unaware of him before Little Britain. Turns out, he’s just working his ass off – and not doing much else. He touches on the death of his partner, Kevin, nearly a decade ago throughout the book but explains at the start that he wouldn’t be discussing it in any great detail, which I really respect. There’s a lot of correcting mistaken perceptions and prolonged apologies for behaving like a bit of a twat, in Matt’s own words. I feel like he did more than a little reflecting (as you would) when writing this and saw it as the opportunity to set the record straight in retrospect. And why not? This memoir feels really genuine, a little raw but genuinely upbeat and cheeky – exactly what you would expect from Mr Lucas. A really lovely read.
Villanelle is uniquely suited her job. She can change her identity easily, slip across borders and kill efficiently and without remorse. When she takes out a Russian political agitator on British soil, Villanelle suddenly becomes the sole focus of Eve Polastri. After failing to prevent the killing, Eve loses her job at MI5 but is secretly recruited to head up a team that is pursuing Villanelle. But when one of her team is brutally murdered in the streets of Shanghai by their target, Eve decides she will let nothing stop her hunting this assassin down, even if it means losing everything she loves or even her own life.
This is a joint review for Codename Villanelle and No Tomorrow, the basis for the TV show Killing Eve. Having watched the TV series, it’s kind of weird to read these books because they contain a few of the same characters but aside from that are pretty different. It’s like reading a parallel universe version of the show: it starts off at a similar point but then goes off in a different direction. I really enjoyed reading these books though because I just loved spending time with these characters – and the tv show sadly does not have the amazing exploding butt plug scene. I think Luke Jennings has created some amazing characters here and Phoebe Waller-Bridge has done a masterful job developing their relationship for TV. I wonder what I would have thought of the books if I’d read them first? Either way, I think they are definitely worth a read.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth (UK release date: 3rd August 2017)
If you’re yet to see the award-winning film that is based on this book, then I strongly urge you to read it first. Although that said, some of the reasons I didn’t love the film (even though it is very good) was because I had read the book. But I still recommend reading it either way. Set in early 90s Montana, this richly detailed coming of age and coming out story detours in a sudden and ugly direction when an overtly Christian aunt discovers her niece is a lesbian. The first half of the book is set in the country town where she grows up and the second half is set at the Christian gay “conversion” camp where she is sent to be “cured”. The book isn’t perfect, but it’s beautiful and surprisingly different in a number of ways to the film.
The Cows by Dawn O’Porter (UK release date: 6th April 2017)
This was another book I gave up on early on and then thankfully gave it another shot later. The way the story is established with these women and their very relatable issues and stresses made me quite anxious and a little depressed, so I had to put it down. I did pick it up again after a few weeks and found the story picked up in quite a lovely way. Funnily enough, the incident that launches the story was totally something I could imagine happening to me, so I read this book both in amusement and through fingers over my eyes while I cringed for the character. In fact, this book reminded me a little of Caitlin Moran’s recent How To Be Famous in that it looked at the very public sex shaming of women. I feel like this is something that’s resonating with a lot of women right now, especially in our digital age, and both authors really captured how we need to rethink how we deal with such situations when they are forced upon us. A great read.
The Power by Naomi Alderman (UK release date: 27th October 2016)
A friend bought me this book as a birthday present – but as I was drunk at the time I’ve never known who it was, so thank you whoever you are! It then spent a year at another friend’s house who picked it up that night and only finally gave it to me a few months ago. Suffice to say, this book went on one long journey to get to me. When I finally got around to starting it this summer, I read the intro and gave up. The inversion of our world all felt a little too obvious and simplistic at the start. But thankfully I gave it another try and then I was hooked. This book is well handled, not dazzlingly clever but still has an important message about how much we do ourselves a disservice when we say that women would do things differently. It shows that it’s better for neither gender to have any more power over the other. In fact, it highlights how much we construct our perceptions of gender difference – so isn’t it time we did away with the gender binary completely?
Maestra by L. S. Hilton (UK release date: 10th March 2016)
My friend Hayley passed me a copy of this when I visited her recently. I devoured it quickly in 24 hours as it’s an easy and tasty read: fun, a little trashy and filled with sex and danger. I’m yet to read Codename Villanelle (the book that Killing Eve is based on), but I imagine it’s similar – except for one thing: I think that the people behind Killing Eve actually like women. This author, not so much. The language she uses to describe other female characters aside from the protagonist didn’t sit well with me at times, but I still may read the other books when I’m in the mood for some more sexy, schlocky fun.
📌 Looking for more fabulous book recommendations? See my previous book reviews.