Reading the fine print: the best books to look out for in 2020

January: Wasting no time whatsoever in availing of our New Year’s resolutions, three books being published on Thursday promise to help with the post-Christmas detox of body and mind.

How to Drink Without Drinking (Kyle Books) by The Guardian wine columnist Fiona Beckett offers real alternatives to alcohol, including recipes for ferments, exotic mocktails and non-alcoholic shrubs. The Book of Ichigo Ichie by Hector Garcia and Frances Miralles (Quercus) gives instructions on how to practice mindfulness the Japanese way, while Breaking Up With Sugar by Molly Carmel (Yellow Kite) delivers a 66-day plan to “divorce” sugar for life.

Motherwell (W&N) is the autobiography of Deborah Orr, columnist with The Guardian who died in October. According to The Bookseller, Orr “sets the bar very high” for the genre in 2020. Later in the month is Rolf Dobelli’s Stop Reading the News (Hodder & Stoughton). The blurb says “News is to the mind what sugar is to the body”. Published within a week of Breaking Up With Sugar, maybe the bookshops could do a two-book, body-and-mind deal here?

Those of us already pure in mind and body can just skip straight to the fiction, and again Thursday is D Day (or P Day) for a new Sam Blake thriller and for JM Coetzee’s final volume in his Jesus trilogy. Blake’s Keep Your Eyes On Me (Corvus) is a twisty psychological ‘noir’ about two scorned women seeking revenge, while Coetzee’s symbolic The Death of Jesus (Penguin) revisits David, now aged 10 and leaving his adoptive parents for an orphanage, where he contracts a mysterious, life-threatening illness. Douglas Kennedy’s Isabelle in the Afternoon (Jan Hutchinson) explores the enduring effect of an affair between a young American student and an older, married Parisian woman.

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Paris is a far cry from the remote highlands of Scotland, where Francine Toon’s debut novel Pine (Doubleday) is set. There’s a sense of unease from the start, when a young girl disappears from a remote Scottish community, the same spot from where someone else disappeared 10 years beforehand.

Marita Conlon-McKenna’s famine novel The Hungry Road (Penguin) follows the plight of a family in Co Cork during the famine. Cork is where Billy O’Callaghan hails from and his new anthology The Boatman and Other Stories (Jonathan Cape) is just stunning. Eoin Colfer takes a turn at writing for adults in his latest fantasy Highfire (Quercus), while fellow Wexford writer John Banville, as Benjamin Black, follows the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, evacuated to neutral Ireland during WWII in The Secret Guests (Penguin). Were the royal sisters really safe? Safety is also the quest of Lydia and her son, forced to flee their middle-class life in Acapulco to find themselves among the ‘undocumented’ in American Dirt (Tinder), the most talked-about novel of the new year. Also out in January is Emma Jane Unsworth’s Adults (Borough Press), about hopeless, hapless Jenny’s addiction to social media, and A Good Man by Ani Katz (Penguin), is a debut novel that looks at the problem of toxic masculinity.



Marian Keyes’s much-anticipated novel about the chaotic Casey family, Grown Ups (Michael Joseph) appears on February 6. On the same day, a very different Dublin from that of Keyes’s novels features in Arlene Hunt’s No Escape (Hachette), where two immigrant sisters find themselves trapped in the horrors of Dublin’s gangland.

Also on February 6 comes Andrew Meehan’s imaginative novel about the relationship between Constance and Oscar Wilde, The Mystery of Love (Head of Zeus). Later in February comes Anne Enright’s Actress (Jonathan Cape), the story of a famous Irish actress told from her daughter’s perspective. Colum McCann’s Apeirogon (Bloomsbury) is about two bereaved fathers, one Israeli, one Palestinian, who are close friends. Rachel Donohue’s The Temple House Vanishing (Corvus) is a novel about the disappearance of a teacher and pupil from an elite boarding school, described by Christine Dwyer Hickey as an ‘outstanding debut’. Lucy Foley’s psychological thriller The Guest List involves a wedding party on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland. Not everyone will come back alive.

David Enrich’s Dark Towers (Harper Collins) exposes Donald Trump’s links to Deutsche Bank and the seemingly endless, corrosive consequences, while Unspeakable: The Autobiography (Hodder & Stoughton) by recently retired MP and Speaker of the House, John Bercow, promises to ruffle some well-coiffed feathers in Westminster. Deirdre Bair’s Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir and Me (Atlantic) is a memoir about Bair’s relationship with both of these legendary thinkers who, apparently, hated each other. From legendary thinking to brass tacks and Laura de Barra’s Gaff Goddess (Transworld) promises to make DIY experts of us all, while Prue Leith’s latest recipe book The Vegetarian Kitchen (Bluebird) promises to keep us nourished and meat-free.

Conclusions (Faber), the autobiography of five times Oscar-nominated director John Boorman is published in late February. The Lost Pianos of Siberia (Transworld) a mix of history and travelogue by Sophy Roberts chronicles how pianos, grands and uprights, made their way into Siberia during the 19th Century. It comes heartily recommended by fellow travel writers Paul Theroux and Dervla Murphy.


Two books for music fans appear this month. Tales of Boomtown Glory by Bob Geldof (Faber) includes lyrics to all of his songs, along with reminiscences from his Rats days up to now. Van Morrison’s Keep ‘Er Lit (Faber) also comes out in March, a second volume of his song lyrics spanning a long and enduring career. More rhymes and reasons are to be found in gardener Alan Titchmarsh’s Marigolds, Myrtle and Moles (Hodder & Stoughton), an anthology of poetry and reflections for the green-fingered.

Rugby fans, and in particular Rory Best fans, will be keen to read Rory Best: The Autobiography (Hodder & Stoughton) which is out this month. Literature fans can look forward to handiwork by Sara Baume (Tramp Press), where the author of Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither and A Line Made by Walking explores what it means to be an artist and a writer. Catherine Belton’s Putin’s People (William Collins) looks at how badly Putin has poisoned his own country and many others.

March is a red-letter month for fiction, too, producing new titles from some very big names. Sebastian Barry’s A Thousand Moons (Faber), a sequel to his 2016 novel Days Without End, follows young Winona’s struggle to make a life for herself in the years following the American Civil War. Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet (Tinder) is a novel based on the short life of Shakespeare’s and Anne Hathaway’s only son, Hamnet, whose name is believed by many to have been borrowed for Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Billed by publisher Zaffre as its big thriller debut of 2020, Kate Bradley’s To Keep You Safe is about a schoolteacher who “kidnaps” a teenage pupil after witnessing an attempted abduction. Another debut novel this month is Irish Times columnist Hilary Fannin’s The Weight of Love (Transworld), a story of a marriage descending into crisis, of which Roddy Doyle says it’s “hard to accept” that this is a debut. Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light (4th Estate) is definitely not a debut but the final volume in her magnificent Wolf Hall trilogy. Anne Boleyn has been executed and all is well with Thomas Cromwell and his king. At least it is for the moment…

Joanna Trollope also has a new novel out this month. Mum and Dad (Macmillan) follows three London siblings, forced into managing their expat father’s vineyard in Spain after he suffers a stroke. Three siblings are, coincidentally, the focus of Liz Nugent’s frosty family saga Our Little Cruelties (Penguin Ireland), about three brothers who are found to be somewhat lacking when it comes to fraternal affection. Late March sees the publication of My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (4th Estate), a chilling debut about a woman forced to review her first love in light of the #MeToo phenomenon.


My Pear Shaped Life by Carmel Harrington (Harper Collins) introduces Greta Gale, forever making fun of her own ample weight until a holiday trip challenges her perspective. Harper Collins will also publish Jane Casey’s latest Maeve Kerrigan crime novel. The Cutting Place follows Kerrigan’s investigations into an exclusive London men’s club, from which a young female journalist has disappeared. As You Were (Harvill Secker) is poet Elaine Feeney’s first work of fiction, already garnering huge praise. Overworked and highly driven Sinead Hynes finds herself in hospital with only two other co-patients for company. And she’s hiding a terrible secret.

Naoise Dolan has been hailed as “a singular new voice” and her novel Exciting Times (W&N), about a love triangle between three Irish expats in Hong Kong, is also published in April. Historical fiction queen Kate Mosse’s new novel The City of Tears (Mantle), an epic saga of loss and revenge, sweeps across 16th-Century Paris, Chartres and Amsterdam, while Burdon County, Arkansas is the location for John Connolly’s latest Charlie Parker novel, The Dirty South (Hodder & Stoughton), where young black women are being slaughtered one by one. Emily St John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel (Knopf) shifts from Vancouver Island to New York in a story of betrayal, crisis and survival. Christina Dalcher’s dark thriller Q follows a mother’s quest to save her daughter from a project involving eugenics.

A collection of the writings of journalist Lyra McKee, murdered in a riot in Derry in April 2019, is being published a year after her death as Lost, Found, Remembered (Faber) comes out on April 2.

The Climate is Changing: Why Aren’t We? by Daisy Kendrink (Piatkus) is a practical manual for how to change our waste-filled lifestyles. Doireann Ni Ghriofa’s A Ghost in the Throat (Tramp Press), billed as a non-fiction work inspired by the great poem A Lament for Art O’Leary, is also published this month. The Secret Barrister’s Fake Law (Picador) looks at the inherent injustices within the judicial system and how these affect ordinary citizens.


Tori Amos’ autobiography Resistance (Hodder & Stoughton) is out this month. Also published by Hodder & Stoughton is John Dickie’s The Craft, a history of the Freemasons, and a history of the Louvre museum by James Gardner, simply called The Louvre (Grove) is published in May. For health-driven home cooks, two new books to watch for are The Hairy Bikers’ Eat to Beat Type 2 Diabetes (Seven Dials) and The Pinch of Nom Food Planner (Bluebird Books).

Stephen King has four new novellas contained in If It Bleeds (Hodder & Stoughton), and Scott Turow, author of Presumed Innocent, follows lawyer Sandy Stern’s final court case in The Last Trial (Mantle). Jeffrey Deaver’s second Coulter Shaw thriller focuses on hate crime in the US, titled The Goodbye Man (Harper Collins), while Joel Dicker of Harry Quebert fame publishes The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer (McLehose Press) later in May. Lionel Shriver’s satire on current fitness trends The Motion of the Body Through Space (Borough Press) appears this month, as does Roisin Meaney’s The Restaurant (Hachette) where a chef opens a radical new restaurant, aimed at single diners only. Sheila O’Flanagan’s The Women Who Ran Away (Headline) is a road trip novel set in France and France is also the location for Connor O’Callaghan’s We Are Not In The World (Transworld), another road trip novel of sorts, where a long-distance haulage driver secretly stows his disturbed daughter on board. “Queen of the Beach Read” Elin Hildebrand’s new novel 28 Summers (Little, Brown) tells of a one-weekend-a-year affair in Nantucket.

Lucy Caldwell’s new anthology of short stories Intimacies (Faber) comes out this month and so does Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell’s latest, titled Utopia Avenue (Sceptre), about “the strangest British band you’ve ever heard of”.

Happy reading!

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