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Four new novels to read in February
From family sagas to crime dramas, here are the books you need to read next.
It’s the shortest month of the year but there’s no shortage of excellent reads out this February. In fact, I think these four books might be my favourite selection since I started the newsletter.
Each novel is so unique and yet so gripping in a different way. I’ve been desperate for them to be published so that I can discuss with other people.
And the good news is: they’re all out now! I would very much like you to read them and then tell me what you think by replying to this email.
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Four brilliant new books to read in February
What a Shame by Abigail Bergstrom
Mathilda Manning is grieving for both the brutal end of her relationship and the death of her father, and when she hasn’t taken off the same pair of dungarees for months on end, her friends decide it’s time to step in. With their encouragement, Mathilda tries a variety of increasingly unorthodox healing measures - from a spiritual bath to a psychedelics retreat - and slowly begins to face up to parts of her past that she’s buried.
What a Shame is an absorbing experience; the story is strange yet brilliant. It kind of reminded me of Sorrow and Bliss in the way that it’s dark and raw and funny, with a woman on an emotionally engulfing journey at its centre, but at the same time it’s totally different - more like Sorrow and Bliss on acid, perhaps. Anyway, it’s a real gem.
Read it if you like: Supper Club by Lara Williams, Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth, Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, or My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh.
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
Here’s a rule for life: when Oprah chooses a novel to be adapted into a TV series, you take note, and read that novel. Black Cake opens with two estranged siblings, Benny and Byron, coming together for the first time in years when their mother dies. She’s left behind a piece of traditional Caribbean black cake for them to ‘share when the time is right’, and an explosive voice recording revealing long-held secrets that will upend everything they thought they knew about their family.
The story spans multiple generations and countries, and features everything from a murder to a love story. Its short chapters and compelling characters also make it an addictive read that had me grappling between the ‘need to know what happens’ rush and ‘don’t want this to finish’ feeling. It’s going to make a brilliant TV show.
Read it if you like: books by Brit Bennett or Taylor Jenkins Reid.
Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka
This is a crime thriller unlike any I’ve read before. Ansel Packer is a serial killer on death row in Texas, with 12 hours of his life remaining. Chapters counting down the time to his execution are interspersed with the stories of three women whose lives Ansel affected: his mother, his ex-wife’s twin sister, and the detective who spent decades on Ansel’s tail.
Haunting and unbearably tense, I’m actually struggling to find the words to express how much of a masterpiece this book is. Utterly unforgettable.
Read it if you like: books by Megan Abbott, Stephen King or Lisa Jewell.
Love Marriage by Monica Ali
Those of you who have subscribed to Well Read since the beginning will know that I tend to gravitate towards shorter books, and at 500 pages, Love Marriage is certainly not in that category. However, I read this novel surprisingly quickly and it was 100% worth the way in which it weighed down my bag when I took it out with me.
It tells the story of hospital doctors Yasmin and Joe whose very different families must come together when they get engaged. Yasmin comes from a ‘chaste’ Muslim household, while Joe’s single mother is a radical feminist who talks about sexual freedom and poses for naked photos. But as the wedding approaches, betrayals and secrets come to light in this richly layered novel full of twists and turns. I predict many awards and prizes.
Read it if you like: White Teeth by Zadie Smith, Ordinary People by Diana Evans, or Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff.
I really enjoyed this short story in The New Yorker about a couple’s reunion in Rome. It’s called Long Distance and ironically I listened to the audio version while on a painfully long run as part of my training for a half marathon, but I suggest you listen to it when out for a walk, in the bath or cooking a nice dinner.