17 Books To Add To Your Reading List This Year

This week, it was announced that Bart van Es had won 2019’s Costa Book Prize for The Cut Out Girl. Here’s why The Cut Out Girl – plus the 16 very different books on the shortlist – should make it onto your must-read pile…

Launched in 1971, the Costa Book Awards honour some of the most outstanding books of the year written by authors based in the UK and Ireland. There are five categories – ‘First Novel’, ‘Novel’, ‘Biography’, ‘Poetry’ and ‘Children’s Book’ – with one of the five winners chosen as Book of the Year, unveiled at an awards ceremony in London every January.

This week, it was announced that Bart van Es had won for The Cut Out Girl. Hailed by the judges as a "hidden gem" and as "sensational and gripping", The Cut Out Girl was a unanimous winner. BBC news presenter, Sophie Raworth, who chaired the panel of judges, praised the book saying: "It’s an incredibly important book, it’s very moving, it’s an extraordinary collaboration. It changed both their lives."

Costa Book Of The Year Winner

The Cut Out Girl by Bart van Es – Costa Biography Award winner

The last time Lien saw her parents was in The Hague, when she was collected at the door by a stranger and taken to a foster family far away to be hidden from the Nazis. What was her side of the story, wondered Bart van Es – a grandson of the couple who looked after Lien. What really happened during the war, and after? So began an investigation that would consume and transform both Bart van Es’s life, and Lien’s. The Cut Out Girl braids together a powerful recreation of Lien’s harrowing childhood story with the present-day account of Bart’s efforts to piece that story together. And it embraces the wider picture too, for Holland was more cooperative in rounding up Jews for the Nazis than any other Western European country. This is a story about the powerful love and challenges of foster families, and about the ways in which our most painful experiences – so crucial in defining us – can also be redefined.

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Costa Book Of The Year Shortlist

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – Costa First Novel Award winner

At a party thrown by her parents, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed – again. She’s been murdered hundreds of times, and each day Aidan Bishop is too late to save her. The only way to break this cycle is to identify Evelyn’s killer. But every time the day begins again, Aidan wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is desperate to stop him ever escaping Blackheath...

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Normal People by Sally Rooney – Costa Novel Award winner

Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland, but the similarities end there. In school, Connell is popular and well liked, while Marianne is a loner who has learnt from painful experience to stay away from her classmates. When the two strike up a conversation in Marianne’s kitchen — awkward but electrifying — something life changing begins.

Read SheerLuxe’s full review here.

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Assurances by J.O. Morgan – Costa Poetry Award winner

A war-poem both historic and frighteningly topical, Assurances begins in the 50s during a period of vigilance and dread in the middle of the Cold War: the long standoff between nuclear powers, where the only defence was the threat of mutually assured destruction. Using a mix of versed and unversed passages, Morgan places moments of calm reflection alongside the tensions inherent in guarding against such a permanent threat. This is an intimate, dramatic work for many voices – lyrical, anxious, fragmentary and terrifying; a poem about nuclear stalemate, the deterrent that is still in place today, how it works, how it might fail, and what will vanish if it does.

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The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay – Costa Children’s Book winner

Clarry and her older brother Peter live for their summers in Cornwall, staying with their grandparents and running free with their charismatic cousin, Rupert. But normal life resumes each September: boarding school for Peter and Rupert, and a boring life for Clarry at home with her absent father, as the shadow of a terrible war looms ever closer. When Rupert goes off to fight at the front, Clarry feels their skylark summers are finally slipping away from them. Can their family survive this fearful war?

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Costa First Book Award Shortlist

Pieces of Me by Natalie Hart

Emma did not go to war looking for love, but Adam is unlike any other. Under the secret shadow of trauma, Emma decides to leave Iraq and joins Adam to settle in Colorado. But isolation and fear find her, once again, when Adam is redeployed. Torn between a deep fear for Adam’s safety and a desire to return there herself, Emma copes by throwing herself into a new role mentoring an Iraqi refugee family. But when Adam comes home, he brings the conflict back with him. Emma had considered the possibility her husband might not come home from war. She had not considered he might return a stranger.

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An Unremarkable Body by Elisa Lodato

When Katharine is found dead at the foot of her stairs, it is the mystery of her life that consumes her daughter, Laura. The medical examiner’s report, in which precious parts of Katharine’s body are weighed and categorised, motivates Laura to write her own version of events; to bear witness to the unbearable blank space between each itemised entry. It forces her to confront a new version of the woman she knew only as her mother: a woman silenced by her own mother and wronged by her husband. A woman who felt shackled by tradition and was unable to love freely. An Unremarkable Body reveals an overwhelming desire to make sense of an unfulfilled life – and to prove an unremarkable body does not mean an unremarkable life.

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Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson

When Tina Hopgood writes a letter of regret to a man she has never met, she doesn’t expect a reply. When Anders Larsen, a lonely museum curator, answers it, neither does he. They’re both searching for something – they just don’t know it yet. Anders has lost his wife, along with his hopes and dreams for the future. Tina is trapped in a life she doesn’t remember choosing. Slowly their correspondence blossoms as they bare their souls to each other with stories of joy, anguish and discovery. But then Tina’s letters suddenly cease, and Anders is thrown into despair. Can their unexpected friendship survive?

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Costa Novel Award Shortlist

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

When her city falls to the Greeks, Briseis's old life is shattered. She is transformed from queen to captive, from free woman to slave, awarded to the god-like warrior Achilles as a prize of war. And she's not alone. On the same day, and on many others in the course of a long and bitter war, innumerable women have been wrested from their homes and flung to the fighters. The Trojan War is known as a man's story: a quarrel between men over a woman, stolen from her home and spirited across the sea. But what of the other women in this story, silenced by history? In this historical novel, Pat Barker charts one woman's journey through the chaos of the most famous war in history, as she struggles to free herself and to become the author of her own story.

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The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

Rome, 1955. A rollicking party in a Roman palazzo. Everyone crowds around the special guest, Bear Bavinsky, a great of modern art, as legendary for his roguish behaviour as for his wildly-coloured, sexualised paintings. The story that follows is not Bear’s. Rather, it’s the life of his son, Pinch, and what becomes of him. Trying to live up to his father’s name, Pinch never succeeds. Yet by the end of a career of twists and compromises, Pinch will enact an unexpected rebellion that will leave his mark forever on the Bear Bavinsky legacy.

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From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan

Farouk’s country has been torn apart by war. Lampy’s heart has been laid waste by Chloe. John’s past torments him as he nears his end. The refugee. The dreamer. The penitent. From war-torn Syria to small town Ireland, three men, scarred by all they have loved and lost, are searching for some version of home. Each is drawn towards a powerful reckoning, one that will bring them together in the most unexpected of ways.

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Costa Biography Award Shortlist

To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine

Viv Albertine has always been obsessed with the truth: the truth about family, power, and her identity as a rebel and outsider. But at what cost? In this gaping wound of a memoir, she excavates the fear, loneliness and anger that always lie beneath. With the brutal honesty that made her debut book Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys unique, she relentlessly exposes human dysfunctionality, the impossibility of intimacy, and the damage wrought upon us by secrets and revelations, siblings and her parents.

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The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

In one devastating week, Raynor and her husband Moth lost their home of 20 years, just as a terminal diagnosis threatened to take away their future together. With nowhere else to go, they decided to walk the South West Coast Path: a 630-mile sea-swept trail from Somerset to Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall. This ancient, wind-battered landscape strips them of every comfort they’d previously known. With very little money for food or shelter, Raynor and Moth carry everything on their backs and wild camp on beaches and clifftops. But slowly, with every step, every encounter and every test along the way, the walk sets them on a remarkable journey.

Read SheerLuxe’s full review here.

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The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah: The Autobiography by Benjamin Zephaniah

Benjamin Zephaniah is a pioneer of performance poetry. His talent as a lyricist and storyteller emerged at a young age, helping him to survive the racism he faced growing up in 60s Birmingham. A vibrant music scene in the form of roots reggae and the sound system culture of the 70s provided the backdrop to a teenage life that was, at every turn, encountering institutional racism. This award-winning playwright, lyricist and much-loved poet has been a voice of reason and resistance for almost four decades. His memoirs provide a vivid portrait of an extraordinary life that celebrates the power of poetry and the importance of pushing boundaries.

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Costa Children's Book Award Shortlist

The Colour of the Sun by David Almond

One hot summer morning, Davie steps boldly out of his front door. The world he enters is very familiar – the little Tyneside town that has always been his home – but as the day passes, it becomes ever more dramatic and strange. A boy has been killed, and Davie thinks he might know who is responsible. He turns away from the gossip and excitement and sets off roaming towards the sunlit hills above the town. As the day goes on, the real and the imaginary start to merge, and Davie knows that neither he nor his world will ever be the same again.

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Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay

More than 100 years ago, a boy named Samkad thinks he knows everything about the world. He knows the mountains he lives in. He knows his people. He knows his blood enemy, the Mangili. And he wants to become a man, to be given his own shield, spear and axe to fight with. His best friend, Luki, wants all the same things – except she is a girl, and no girl has ever become a warrior. But everything changes when a new boy arrives in the village. He calls himself Samkad’s brother, yet he knows nothing of the ways of the mountain. And he brings news of a people called ‘Americans’, who are bringing war and destruction right to his home.

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Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

Sarah has played many roles: dutiful daughter, talented gymnast, persecuted Jew, lost orphan. But now she faces her most challenging role of all; now she must become the very thing she hates. Aided by her British Handler, Sarah must infiltrate the Bund Deutscher Mädel and win a place at Rothenstadt, a prestigious finishing school for the daughters of the Aryan master race in Nazi Germany. There she must befriend the daughter of a top nuclear scientist by becoming a monster like them. A monster who can destroy them all. The Nazis think she is just a little girl. But she is the weapon they never saw coming.

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