The best fiction books offer us a chance to lose ourselves in a new story every time. Reading fiction is pure pleasure, even if the story isn't always sunny.
We love discovering the world and reading about the lives of others in the best non-fiction books, but the best fiction books open up your mind and expand your imagination.
We've chosen some of the best books released this year and we think there's something for every reader. The only difficult decision facing you now is which to read first. So grab a book, or your best eReader, and dive in...
The Dictator's Wife by Freya Berry
Is a wife responsible for her husband's crimes? What if her husband was a feared dictator and she stood by his side: polished, beautiful and waving, the glamorous face of a corrupt and violent regime? The Dictator's Wife, chosen for BBC Two's Between The Covers, looks at one such woman. Marija Popa's husband has been overthrown and she is standing trial for his crimes against the people. But how much is she to blame, and how much is she a victim of the same system that brutalized her country?
Again, Rachel by Marian Keyes
This is the follow-up to one of Keyes’ much-loved early books, Rachel’s Holiday, published in 1998. Back then, Rachel Walsh was living in New York and becoming gradually dependent on drugs and alcohol. The 2018-set sequel shows Rachel back in the Irish rehab facility she first stayed in, but she’s now working as head counselor. This book has Marian Keyes' usual blend of charm and shadow, taking a serious look at addiction and divorce, but still finding time for humor. The latter often comes from Rachel’s sisters, all of whom have been heroines of their own books. Once again Keyes proves that fiction can provide escapism and challenge your worldview at the same time.
The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
The Paper Palace follows Elle Bishop over the course of one day as she tries to make a life-changing decision. As she works through her decision, the novel spans 50 years of family secrets and changing attitudes, allowing the characters to develop while drawing you into the love triangle at the center of the plot.
Longlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction and a New York Times bestseller, The Paper Palace is a perfect summer book that you won't be able to put down. It engages you emotionally but also charms you with descriptions of the paper palace itself - a backwoods Cape Cod summer retreat used by Elle's family for years.
Lessons In Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Elizabeth Zott is a research chemist, or at least she trained as one. At the opening of Lessons In Chemistry, set in 1961, she is hosting a TV cooking show called Supper At Six. Forced out of her career in academia, broken apart from her Nobel Prize-winning former lover, single mother Elizabeth knows that cooking TV dinners pay the bills. But she finds she has something to say to the desperate housewives watching at home. Elizabeth is starting a quiet revolution. Lessons In Chemistry is Bonnie Garmus' debut novel, already a Sunday Times bestseller, and it is fast, funny and startlingly well researched - like Elizabeth, Garmus knows how to mix her scientific knowledge into something very tasty.
How High We Go In The Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu
How High We Go In The Dark is incredible and inventive; both very beautiful and terribly sad. It's one of the best books we have read this year so far. It starts as researchers digging in the melting Arctic permafrost accidentally release a virus that will change the patterns of life on Earth.
Written before the Covid-19 pandemic, the novel is structured as a series of interconnected short stories stretching from the present day to the far future. Through the various protagonists, we see what kind of world the virus has created, including theme parks for the dying and a pig that develops speech and a moral conscience.
But underneath it all are the human relationships, love developing and love lost. How High We Go In The Dark will expand your mind whilst also deepening your appreciation of small, everyday joys.
The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews
The year is 1643 and the English Civil War is raging. But this conflict is only the background to the book: Thomas has left the front lines only to find himself involved in a much bigger battle. The young man is granted leave from the army to return to his family home in Norfolk where his father is seriously ill. He has also been receiving increasingly worrying letters from his teenage sister, peppered with mentions of witchcraft and accusations flung at the servants. The Leviathan pits rational thought against superstition, good against evil. What is Thomas facing up to and can he prevail?
Love Marriage by Monica Ali
Yasmin loves her family, loves her career as a doctor and loves her fellow medic and soon-to-be husband Joe. But when the time comes for her parents to meet Joe's mother, a controversial feminist author, Yasmin starts to get nervous. Monica Ali was nominated for the Booker Prize for her 2003 novel culture clash Brick Lane and with Love Marriage she's back in familiar territory, using the impending wedding to look at race, class, Brexit, the NHS and many other aspects of contemporary Britain. However, this isn't a book that wishes to hit you over the head with politics. It's funny, sharp and connects you to a tangle of human emotions.
One Day I Shall Astonish the World by Nina Stibbe
You might expect a story of a 30-year female friendship to be one of support and sentiment, or, failing that, one of a vicious falling out. One Day... is neither. Instead, the relationship between Susan and Norma goes through closeness and changes as real friendships do. The two meet working in a Leicestershire haberdashery shop, The Pin Cushion - an appropriate name, as Stibbe's words are as sharply funny as they were in her previous two novels and her autobiography Love, Nina.
Violeta by Isabel Allende
This is the story of a life, the story of 100 years. Acclaimed Chilean-American writer Isabel Allende, has been writing novels since 1982 but Violeta is her masterpiece.
Violeta's life is extraordinary and is touched by most of the events of the last century. She was born in 1920, just as the Spanish flu pandemic reaches home in South America. By the 1930s, her wealthy family has lost everything in the Great Depression. Life winds on, taking in wars, revolutions and the fight for women's rights. It's history, but it's also one woman's personal story.
The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell
A domestic crime thriller that will keep you turning page after page. The Night She Disappeared starts with two teenage parents who go out to a party and vanish. Although they are young parents, they are not irresponsible and Kim, the mother of the missing girl Tallulah, knows her daughter would never abandon the baby. With no evidence, however, Kim cannot continue the search for her child. Two years later, a sign saying ‘dig here’ is attached to a tree near to where Tallulah was last seen. The case is reopened.
Lisa Jewell is always a compelling writer and this brilliant thriller novel shows she's still at the top of her game.
Moonlight And The Pearler's Daughter by Lizzie Pook
It's an unusual trade with unusual risks, but there's real money to be made in pearling, as the people of Bannin Bay in Western Australia know. Lizzie Pook's debut novel, set in 1880, takes us inside the community, following Eliza Brightwell whose father captains a successful pearl fishing boat. One day Charles Brightwell goes missing at sea, surrounded by rumors of mutiny. Eliza refuses to believe he has been murdered and sets out to discover the truth, challenging the conventions of the town and bringing secrets to light.
Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James
Sogolon is a witch, a sorceress and no man will tell her what to do. But was she always that way? In Moon Witch, Spider King fantasy and literature collide. This is a tale of swords and magic written by a Booker Prize winner and set in a fictional, magical version of Africa that feels as ancient as the mountains, but as modern as Sologon's need to define herself.
The book forms part of a trilogy, with the first being 2019's Black Leopard, Red Wolf, but the books can be read in any order as they deal with similar events from different perspectives. This is a great adventure story told in beautiful language.
The Candy House by Jennifer Egan
What happens when everyone's memories can be accessed for a small monthly subscription fee? This is the rough idea behind Jennifer Egan's The Candy House, a follow-up (of sorts) to her Pulitzer Prize-winning debut A Visit From The Goon Squad. It's hard to resist the pull, but privacy is becoming a thing of the past. Egan explores her world through various characters, who tell their human-sized stories of love, addiction, and compulsions against the backdrop of the latest technological revolution.
The Impulse Purchase by Veronica Henry
Veronica Henry's latest novel is well-named: it's perfect for buying on the spur of the moment, sitting back and being thoroughly charmed. The story splits between three protagonists, Cherry, Maggie and Rose. Cherry is a former model in her early 70s, Cherry's daughter Maggie is a widowed food PR in her mid-40s and her daughter Rose is an unsure 20-something with a talent for growing things. Cherry, just into an inheritance and angry at her husband, buys a country pub on a whim and the three women begin to restore and revive it. It's a treat to see everything coming together for the likable family and also a treat to see women in mid-life and beyond written as cool, sexy and fashionable.
Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho
Fiona and Jane are two young Taiwanese-American women living in LA. Most importantly, they are friends - at least until Fiona moves to New York and their friendship becomes strained and faded. The two women measure their lives against one another, holding on to what was precious in their youth. The characters of Fiona and Jane have won over many US literary critics, but the themes of alienation and friendship work just as well for international readers.
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Isabelle Broom is the author of eight escapist fiction novels. She won the Romantic Novelist’s Association Best Contemporary Romance Novel award in 2019 and The Great British Write Off short story competition in 2015, with her winning entry, The Wedding Speech, later being adapted into a short film.
As well as heading off on adventures abroad—a pastime she now gets to call ‘research’—Isabelle is lucky enough to write book reviews and travel features on a freelance basis.
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