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Fiction Hot Picks for 2012

Having now finished my own novel, I’m really looking forward to what 2012 may bring and I think readers of fiction are in for a great year with some very exciting new releases.  I had a difficult but interesting time deciding what to include in my Hot Picks for 2012, but these are the ones which promised something special to me.  They reflect my love of American writing, literary fiction, and the magical place where literary and commercial genres overlap.  6/10 are debuts and several (I won’t say which!) are tipped to be huge bestsellers.  I’ve had a look at two of them already and can’t wait to read them all.  I hope you find something to add to your own ‘To Be Read’ list here, and that you’ll be back for my reviews.

(In order of publication date)

Jubilee by Shelley Harris, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 29 December 2011

It is 1977, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, and a photographer captures a moment forever: a street party with bunting and Union Jacks fluttering in the breeze. Right in the centre of the frame, a small Asian boy stares intently into the camera. The photograph becomes iconic, but the harmonious image conceals a very different reality. Amid the party food and the platform shoes, the pop music and the punk, there are tensions in the Cherry Gardens community. Fast forward to the present and the boy, Satish, has become a successful cardiologist, saving lives, respected by those around him. But he is living with a secret. When Satish is asked to take part in a reunion of those involved in that Jubilee photograph, he must confront the truth about that day, and the events that changed his life.

The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood, Simon & Schuster, 2 February 2012

Bright, bookish Oscar Lowe has escaped the urban estate where he was raised and made a new life for himself amid the colleges and spires of Cambridge. He has grown to love the quiet routine of his life as a care assistant at a local nursing home, but when he meets and falls in love with Iris Bellwether, a beautiful and enigmatic medical student at King’s College, Oscar becomes embroiled in the strange machinations of her brilliant but troubled brother, Eden, who believes he can adapt the theories of a forgotten Baroque composer to heal people with music. As Eden draws his sister and closed circle of friends into a series of disturbing experiments, Oscar realises the danger facing them all.

 A Good American by Alex George, Amy Einhorn Books, 2 February 2012

Set in a fictional Midwestern town and spanning more than a century, the novel tells the story of three generations of the Meisenheimer family. Beginning with an improbable love affair ignited by the power of song, the story follows an unorthodox young couple as they flee to America in search of a new life together.  From bare-knuckle prizefighting and Prohibition to sweet barbershop harmonies and the Kennedy assasination, the family is caught up in the sweep of history as they find their place in their adopted country. Accompanied by a chorus of unforgettable characters, from a chicken-strangling church organist to a malevolent bicycle-riding dwarf, each new new generation discovers afresh what it means to be an American.

The English Monster by Lloyd Shepherd, Simon & Schuster, 1 March 2012

An historical thriller with a supernatural twist, The English Monster tells the intertwined stories of the Ratcliffe Highway murders, which opened the 19th century in a terrible burst of bloodletting, and of young Billy Ablass, who sets sail on England’s first official slaving voyage, in a ship owned by Queen Elizabeth herself. On a sun-blasted islet in the Florida Cays, Billy is to be himself enslaved for the rest of his accursed days. The English Monster is a voyage across centuries, through the Age of Discovery and down onto the streets of Regency Wapping.

Life! Death! Prizes! by Stephen May, Bloomsbury, 29 March 2012 

Billy’s Mum is dead. He knows – because he reads about it in magazines – that people die every day in ways that are more random and tragic and stupid than hers, but for 19 year-old Billy and his little brother, Oscar, their mother’s death in a bungled street robbery is the most random and tragic and stupid thing that could possibly have happened to them. Now Billy must be both mother and father to Oscar.  The boys’ new world, where bedtimes are arbitrary, tidiness is optional and healthy home-cooked meals pile up uneaten in the freezer, is built out of chaos and fierce love, but it’s also a world that teeters perilously on its axis. And as Billy’s obsession with his mother’s missing killer grows, he risks losing sight of the one thing that really matters.

The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler, Chatto & Windus, 3 April 2012 

Crippled in his right arm and leg, Aaron has spent his childhood fending off a sister who wants to manage him. So when he meets Dorothy, a plain, outspoken, independent young woman, she is like a breath of fresh air. Unhesitatingly, he marries her, and they have a relatively happy, unremarkable marriage.  But when a tree crashes into their house and Dorothy is killed, Aaron feels as though he has been erased forever. Only Dorothy’s unexpected appearances from the dead help him to live in the moment and to find some peace. Gradually he discovers, as he works in the family’s vanity-publishing business, turning out titles that presume to guide beginners through the trials of life, that maybe for this beginner there is a way of saying goodbye.

Arcadia by Lauren Groff, Heinemann, 5 April 2012

In the fields of western New York State in the 1970s, a few dozen idealists set out to live off the land, founding what would become a Utopian community in a ramshackle mansion called Arcadia House. Arcadia follows this dream from its hopeful start through its heyday and beyond. Arcadia’s residents  include Handy, a musician and the group’s charismatic leader; Astrid, a midwife; Abe, a master carpenter; Hannah, a baker and historian; and Abe and Hannah’s only child, the book’s protagonist, 13-year old Bit, who is born soon after the commune is created.  While Arcadia rises and falls, Bit, too, ages and changes. If he remains in love with life in Arcadia and deeply attached to its residents, including Handy and Astrid’s troubled daughter Helle, how will he make his way in the world outside where he must eventually live? 

The Playdate by Louise Millar, Pan, 26 April 2012

Single mother Callie has come to rely heavily on her best friend Suzy. But Callie suspects Suzy’s life isn’t as simple as it seems. It’s time she pulled away – going back to work is just the first step towards rediscovering her old confidence. So why does she keep putting off telling Suzy about her new job?  The two women live close to each other on a typical cramped, anonymous London street. Neighbours seem to move in, and move on, before you have even learned their names. Callie’s increased sense of alienation leads her to try to befriend a new resident on her street, Debs. But Debs is anxious, odd. You wouldn’t trust her with your child – especially not if you knew anything about her past.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, Simon & Schuster, 21 June 2012

What if the 24-hour day grew longer, first in minutes, then in hours, until day becomes night and night becomes day? What effect would this slowing have on the world? On the birds in the sky, the whales in the sea, the astronauts in space, and on an eleven-year-old girl, grappling with emotional changes in her own life…One morning, Julia and her parents wake up in their modest suburban home in California to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth is noticeably slowing. And yet, even if the world is, in fact, coming to an end, as some assert, day-to-day life must go on. Julia, facing the loneliness and despair of an awkward adolescence, witnesses the impact of this phenomenon on the world, on the community, on her family and on herself.

Rook by Jane Rusbridge, Bloomsbury, 2 August 2012

Nora has abandoned her career as a cellist, returning home to the Sussex coast and her mother Ada, a fragile, bitter woman who distils for herself a glamorous past as she smokes French cigarettes in her unkempt garden.  A charming young documentary maker arrives to shoot a film about King Cnut’s cherished but illegitimate daughter, whose body lies beneath the flagstones of the local church. As Jonny disturbs the fabric of the village, digging up tales of ancient battles and burials, the threads lead back to Ada and Nora, who find themselves face to face with the shameful secrets they had so carefully buried.  Set in the ancient Sussex village of Bosham, Rook explores the mystery surrounding Harold II’s burial place, the hidden histories of the Bayeux Tapestry and connections forged through three women’s stories, past and present.

Do any of these particularly appeal to you ?  I’d also love to know which other novels you’re eagerly awaiting in 2012 !

About Isabel Costello

Writer (novels: Paris Mon Amour 2017; Scent 2021).Host of the Literary Sofa blog. Co-founder of Resilience for Writers with Voula Tsoflias. Perfume lover and Francophile.


30 thoughts on “Fiction Hot Picks for 2012

  1. Thank you for your intriguing list. I have added all the titles to my “to be read” pile. I also loved Alex’s novel A GOOD AMERICAN. April 2012 brings the new novel by Ron Rash – THE COVE. Very well done. If you have not yet read Rash’s last book, SERENA, get a copy ASAP. It has a great villain. Enjoy!

    Posted by Pamela Klinger-Horn | December 15, 2011, 02:03
  2. Some great reads listed there Isabel, now we are all going to be busy reading in 2012, thanks 🙂

    Posted by peterhobbs1 | December 17, 2011, 03:26
  3. Really nice round-up, Isabel. I can’t decide which one to read first!

    Posted by Kristin | December 17, 2011, 21:15
    • Thanks Kristin, but isn’t it a good problem to have? Even more tempting for me, as I have 4 of them in proof copy calling to me from my bookshelf already and am trying not to read them too far in advance of their UK publication date when I will publish my review. Who knows how long I will hold out…?

      Posted by Isabel Costello | December 18, 2011, 19:57
  4. What a little treasure trove – will some back to this when making my 2012 book shopping list!

    Posted by susan elliot wright | December 18, 2011, 13:55
    • Thanks Susan – it’s very rewarding that the titles I’ve picked seem to appeal to so many people who’ve read the listing. I’m so pleased that a year from now your first novel will be on all of our ‘To Read’ lists !

      Posted by Isabel Costello | December 18, 2011, 19:59
  5. A big thumbs up for The Devil’s Music which I loved. Haven’t read any of the others but will put on TBR list. Looking forward to Jane Rusbridge’s Rook in 2012.

    Posted by Mardi (Tillywinny) | December 18, 2011, 19:44
  6. Re previous comment. Christmas must be getting to me . I thought the list was 2011! Definitely in need of G and T or glass of wine. Opinions still as before.

    Posted by Mardi (Tillywinny) | December 18, 2011, 19:47
    • This made me smile ! Easy mistake to make as lots of other people are doing their Best of 2011 roundups. I thought I would try to be different and (somewhat more ambitiously) predict the future hits of next year…. I am in fact going to post a piece called ‘2011 – My Year in Books’ between Christmas and New Year, not a list exactly but more of a reflection on which books have really left their mark on me this year. Strangely enough, The Devil’s Music is one of them!

      Posted by Isabel Costello | December 18, 2011, 19:55
  7. I’m a bit late reading this, found it via one of your tweets. There are some great books to look forward to, some are definitely going on my wishlist. I am looking forward to the new Sadie Jones novel this year.

    Posted by Lindsay | January 11, 2012, 13:44
    • Glad you found the Hot Picks ! And you’re not really late, I’ll be keeping it alive as I review the titles as the year progresses. Just reviewed the first one, Jubilee, today, so I hope you’ve seen that too. Yes, am also looking forward to the new Sadie Jones. Can you believe I still haven’t read White Teeth?! I can’t stand reading a book when it is totally hyped and everyone is reading it at the same time. That’s the reader in me speaking, it is of course every author’s dream!

      Posted by Isabel Costello | January 11, 2012, 14:16
      • I have read White Teeth but so agree with you about NOT reading books which are hyped out of all proportion. I like to make up my own mind about my reading although I do read and note reviews in papers etc. Liked your earlier review today and will put on TBR list.

        Posted by Mardi (Tillywinny) | January 11, 2012, 16:20
      • And in the end they don’t always deliver, as I discovered one day (see what I did there?) I find the idea of a novel that almost everybody likes a bit off-putting. Happy to ‘fess up to being a bit of a lit snob at times!

        Posted by Isabel Costello | January 11, 2012, 18:00


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