1. What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Short stories can be tough as crowd pleasers; it’s very rare to read a collection by a
single author where every story is as satisfying as the last and that maintains the
momentum to get an emotional response equivalent to a novel. With What It Means
When a Man Falls From the Sky, Arimah has managed this and then some. Each story
is a gem in itself, but you can read the collection from beginning to end and have an
entirely engrossing reading experience. The stories are unpredictable in the best
possible way; moving from magical realism to the fiercely contemporary, but all of them
are exquisitely written, surprising, and moving. Regularly coming back to themes of
cross-generational relationships, and women and girls, be prepared for some gut-
wrenching, heartbreaking moments, as well as touches of magic and wonder.
2. Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
Initially taking shape as a crowd-funded project, this illustrated collection of the stories
of real life women has been become a fully fledged publishing sensation. Turning the
traditional stories of princess and damsels in distress on its head, the writers have
selected 100 women who have changed history and written their stories in a modern
once-upon- a-time style. Covering much of the world, and history, the women range from
politicians to artists to activists to sportswomen. Each story is accompanied by a full
page illustration by a huge array of upcoming female artists. A must for girls and
women, and boys and men, of all ages who fancy a bedtime story that’s a little different.
3. Little Deaths by Emma Flint
If you’ve ever wondered whether a psychological thriller can ever be truly feminist then
here’s your answer. In Little Deaths, Flint has created a fiercely intelligent, thought-
provoking, twisty thriller inspired by the real life case of Alice Crimmins, who was
charged with the murder of her two young children despite an overwhelming lack of
evidence. In Little Deaths we follow Flint’s creation Ruth Malone, a newly single mother
and cocktail waitress in a similar situation, whose guilt is presumed due to her lifestyle,
job, and refusal to act the way the police and the media want a woman to. A brilliant,
provocative thriller that will have you hooked until the final pages. (A hint: You will want
to have someone on hand to discuss the ending with.)
4. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
I’m still getting over the fact that this didn’t make the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction
longlist, let alone the shortlist. An outstanding debut novel that more than lives up to the
hype that surrounded its release, it traces several generations of one family from 18th
century Ghana to modern day America looking at the horrifying legacy and impact of
slavery, and the way the smallest of decisions or events can have devastating ripple
effects. The book takes the form of several sections moving forward in time, giving
snapshots into the lives of the descendants of two half-sisters, Effia and Esi. Gyasi
manages to make you care for every single descendant we meet, as well as bringing
the whole thing to a moving, satisfying conclusion. A must read for fans of The
Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.
5. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
At its heart, Exit West is the sort-of- love story of Saeed and Nadia, a couple who meet
in an unnamed city that is crumbling under the weight of terrorism, extremism and an
ever-mounting number of refugees. But just as you think you know what story he is
telling, Hamid takes an unexpected turn as doors start appearing around the world
allowing people to travel to new cities and countries in a fraction of a second. Tackling
tricky, topical issues of freedom of movement and the refugee crisis, Hamid has created
a novel that manages both to be an intensely zoomed in portrait of one relationship and
a novel of big ideas, thoughtfully explored. It will both move you and make you think, as
the best books do.
6. Gnomon by Nick Harkaway
I can promise you that Gnomon is unlike anything you’ve ever read before. It opens in a
future version of the UK where a benevolent dictator of a surveillance system called The
Witness looks after everything, but it quickly takes in the kidnapped widow of a saint, a
Greek banker obsessed with a shark, and a future consciousness travelling back
through time to commit a series of assassinations. An ambitious, audacious novel full of
huge ideas, structural and linguistic playfulness, dark humour and wildly unpredictably
plot twists, it’s an adventure, a mind-trip, and possibly the most fun you’ll have reading a
book this year (while also thoroughly terrifying you at where we’re headed).
7. Dear Friend, From My Life I Write To You In Your Life by Yiyun Li
A memoir told through a series of essays exploring ideas of selfhood, language, and art.
It’s profoundly beautiful, incredibly intelligent, sometimes playful, and will make you
think hard about the things that make you who you are, and the role art - particularly
reading and writing - have to play. After a period in a mental hospital following a suicide
attempt, Li interrogated why reading and writing mean so much to her and how she
uses them as a crutch, an escape, and a form of recovery. She uses this experience as
In the evening a base to explore big ideas and personal experiences, and she’s created a book that’s
both intensely personal and reassuringly universal.
8. The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill
If you liked La La Land, but wanted it to be darker, sexier and weirder then this is the
book for you. It opens in 1914 in Montreal at an orphanage, where Rose and Pierrot
meet for the first time. Despite, or because of, hardships past and ongoing, they form an
intense bond that continues as they grow up and encounter eccentric patrons and circus
folk alongside intense poverty and misogyny. A pitch black story told in soaring, lovely
language, it’s a darkly whimsical, fiercely intelligent feminist fairytale.
9. Winter by Ali Smith
Although a little slower to get started, Winter builds on the brilliant foundation that Ali Smith created in Autumn and grows into something truly extraordinary with a piercing finale. A fierce, beautiful, and sharp book that takes in Brexit, lost love, Christmas, Trump, family and even the Grenfell Tower tragedy. If we have to be living through this bit of history, at least we've got Ali Smith writing about it.
10. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
If you’re a reader and spend any time at all on the Internet, you’ll no doubt already be
aware of this YA juggernaut. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, debut author
Angie Thomas has created a sparkling cast of characters in a warm but provocative
read that thoroughly deserves all the attention and praise it’s attracted, not to mention
the upcoming film starring Amandla Stenberg. It follows sixteen-year- old Starr in the
aftermath of her witnessing the fatal shooting of her unarmed friend by a police officer.
It’s a heart-breaking and powerful exploration of race and privilege, but it’s also a funny
and tender look at friendship, first love and family.
Anna James writes for Lush Life as a correspondent - you can find her here online!