I decided at the end of 2016 that I needed to read more British books this year. I’m so glad, because I’ve discovered some great reads I might have missed otherwise — and now I get to recommend them to you!
Unconventional by Maggie Harcourt
Lexi Angelo has helped her dad run fan conventions for years; she loves it, and, armed with her clipboard, she’s good at it, at least when she’s not being distracted by the hot young author who turns up at one of them. The novel is populated with colourful characters and I love the delightful awkwardness of the interactions between Lexi and Aidan, which feels so much more authentic to me than the instant fireworks and perfect kisses of some (often American) YA novels. You’ll have to smuggle this one across the pond via bookdepository or a benevolent friend, since the American publishing gods have not, for reasons that remain mysterious to me, smiled on this one (yet). But it’ll be worth it, I promise.
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan
I keep telling everyone to pack this in their beach bag — it’s a lovely epistolary novel set in an English village during World War II and full of characters I either loved or loved to hate. It reminded me of another favourite, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
First Love by Gwendoline Riley
I binged this in a day — yes, it’s short, but I’m a slow reader, so it’s rare that I do this. It’s a beautifully written exploration of an imperfect marriage, more kaleidoscope than story as it jumps back and forth through time. I was excited to see it shortlisted for the prestigious Baileys Prize.
Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
Late to the party on this one, but I loved it. My skint twenties are far enough behind me now that I can laugh at the traits I share with Becky Bloomwood and almost think fondly of an earlier era, despite the fact that I, too was shoving unpaid and unpayable bills in a drawer in the hope that if I couldn’t see them, that meant they didn’t exist.
I asked my fellow Book Riot contributors what the best British book they’ve read this year is, and here’s what they said.
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
This satire of upper-class social relations in a 1930s village is very English and very funny, without being cruel. In diary form, the narrator recounts all the tribulations of her daily life: a frenemy named Lady B, a dull husband, a budget that doesn’t stretch to the latest fashions, her speaking engagements at the Women’s Institute, and a niggling worry that her children aren’t quite as charming as others. In short, it’s fluffy stuff–not quite commenting on the ridiculousness of the entrenched English class system, but showing how (charmingly) useless many members of the upper crust are.
NW by Zadie Smith
I picked up this book because it’s set in the neighbourhood I live in. NW follows the lives of a group of friends from a council estate in North West London as they struggle with identity, race, crime, sex, and the mundane but painful realities of adulthood. But what enchanted me more than the characters was the descriptions of their setting. London itself feels like the main character in this book described in hugely accurate detail, making it the perfect window into a very real and very British London.
Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik
Sofia Khan is Not Obliged is a bit like Bridget Jones meets a Muslim protagonist. It follows Sofia trying to write a Muslim-dating book after a recent break-up (as she laments if it counts as a break-up at all). And even though Sofia has sworn-off marriage now, her book requires a little research that leads her (and her myriad Muslim and brown – and often both – friends) to various shenanigans. The book is hilarious – as you expect it to be. But it also has many touching moments that pull at your heartstrings. It’s also so totally British, and also very Pakistani – especially when you get to Sofia’s obsessions with Lemon Puffs and tea.
The Birdwatcher by William Shaw
Totally satisfying mystery from the first page to the last. A police sergeant in Kent, William South, is assigned a murder case but doesn’t want to take it. Turns out he’s a birdwatcher who doesn’t want to miss the migrating birds arrival. Oh, and he doesn’t think he should take the case because he himself is a murderer. And that’s the first page of the book and where I was 100% sucked in! Being that he can’t say this to his boss he gets put on the case and discovers the murder victim was a neighbor and friend. But how well did he know his friend? Great characters and story–including South’s childhood in Northern Ireland–if you’re a procedural fan don’t miss this one!