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Fiction Hot Picks for 2013

2012 has been an incredible first full year for the Literary Sofa and after months of research, tip-offs and an intense reading marathon, it’s time to unveil my Fiction Hot Picks for 2013.  It’s very rewarding when people tell me my blog is where they go to find out about the best new fiction, and compiling these listings is one of my favourite tasks, especially after Top 10 Summer Reads was such a big hit!  All the titles here are either ‘accessible literary’ or ‘upmarket commercial’ fiction and something about the writing impressed me in every case.

Titles listed in order of UK publication date – numbers for ease of reference only.

To cater for different tastes, I’ve aimed for variety in my selection – of settings: from contemporary China (8) and Glasgow (10) to early 20th century New York (9) and an evocative London novel (6) – of theme: including love, loss, immigration, family and memory – and of style: gripping psychological suspense (3, 5), a powerful and poignant coming-of-age (4), a child narrative with a difference (7).  Half my choices are debuts (2, 3, 4, 6, 7) and for the first time on the Literary Sofa, two are translations – a prize-winning Japanese noir (1) and a charming and quirky German bestseller (2).

You’ll be hearing a lot more about these titles here – book reviews and guest author posts are already being planned for the new year.

Thief cover photo IC1. THE THIEF – FUMINORI NAKAMURA (trans. S. Izumo/S. Coates) (CORSAIR) Out Now

The Thief is a seasoned pickpocket who weaves in and out of Tokyo crowds, stealing wallets from strangers so smoothly sometimes he doesn’t even remember the snatch. He has no family, no friends, no connections…. But he does have a past, which finally catches up with him when Ishikawa, his first partner, reappears in his life, and offers him a job he can’t refuse. It’s an easy job: tie up an old rich man, steal the contents of the safe. No one gets hurt. Only the day after the job does he learn that the old man was a prominent politician, and that he was brutally killed after the robbery. And now the Thief is caught in a tangle even he might not be able to escape. 

Taste of Apple Seeds cover2. THE TASTE OF APPLE SEEDS – KATHARINA HAGENA (trans. Jamie Bulloch)  (ATLANTIC) 1 January 2013

For Iris, childhood memories are of long hot summers spent playing with her cousin Rosmarie in her grandmother’s garden.  But now her grandmother is dead and, along with inheriting the property, Iris finds that she also inherits her family’s darkest secrets. Reluctant to keep it, but reluctant to sell, Iris spends one more summer at the house. By day she swims at the local lake, where she rediscovers a childhood companion. Alone at night she roams through the familiar rooms, exploring the tall black shadows of the past. In the flicker between remembrance and forgetting, Iris recalls the night her cousin Rosmarie fell through the conservatory roof and shattered her family’s lives, and a moment of love that made all the trees in the orchard bloom overnight.

Guest Author post – Katharina Hagena on her Debut being Translated into 24 Languages

How To Be a Good Wife cover3. HOW TO BE A GOOD WIFE – EMMA CHAPMAN (PICADOR)  3 January 2013

Marta and Hector have been married for as long as Marta can remember. In fact, she can no longer recall how they met, or what life was like before Hector was there. He has always taken care of her, and she has always done everything she can to be a good wife. But now Marta is imagining things – or is she remembering them? Her ordered domestic life in an unnamed Scandinavian location is starting to unravel, and something very dark is rising to the surface…

Guest Post – Emma Chapman on Setting her Debut Novel in Scandinavia

 The Starboard Sea4. THE STARBOARD SEA – AMBER DERMONT (CORSAIR) 17 January 2013

Jason Prosper is a smart, athletic teenager, born into an exclusive world of Manhattan penthouses and Maine summer estates. Yet Jason’s passions are simple: the ocean, a sailing boat, and his friend and roommate, Cal. When Cal dies, shockingly, Jason is devastated. Unable to cope, he moves schools to the prestigious Bellingham Academy. There he meets fellow student Aidan – a girl with a troubled past – and they embark on a tender, awkward, emotional relationship. When a hurricane hits coastal New England, its destruction brings further upheaval for Jason. He is forced to untangle a terrible secret, until now hidden from him by the young men he has thought of as friends.

Book Review – The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont

The Engagement5. THE ENGAGEMENT – CHLOE HOOPER (JONATHAN CAPE) 24 January 2013

Liese Campbell has an engagement for the weekend: Alexander Colquhoun, a handsome, well-mannered farmer, is paying for her to stay at his property in remote Australia. Liese, an English architect in flight from the financial crisis, has been working at her uncle’s estate agency in Melbourne, where Alexander is looking for a place to buy. The luxury apartments Liese shows him become sets for a relationship that satisfies their fantasies – and helps pay her debts. It’s a game. Both players understand the rules. Or so she thinks.

Book Review – The Engagement by Chloe Hooper

Ten Things cover large6. TEN THINGS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT LOVE – SARAH BUTLER (PICADOR)  31 January 2013

Alice has just returned to London from months of travelling abroad. She is late to hear the news that her father is dying, and arrives at the family home only just in time to say goodbye.  Daniel hasn’t had a roof over his head for years, but to him the city of London feels like home in a way that no bricks and mortar ever did. He spends every day searching for his daughter; the daughter he has never met. Until now . . . 

Guest Post – Sarah Butler: Ten Things I’ve Learnt Whilst Writing About Cities

Night Rainbow jacket (1)7. THE NIGHT RAINBOW – CLAIRE KING (BLOOMSBURY)  14 February 2013

During one long, hot summer, five-year-old Pea and her little sister Margot play alone in the meadow behind their house, on the edge of a small village in Southern France. Her mother is too sad to take care of them; she left her happiness in the hospital, along with the baby. Pea’s father has died in an accident and Maman has retreated to a place where Pea cannot reach her.  Then Pea meets Claude, a man who seems to love the meadow as she does and who always has time to play. Pea believes that she and Margot have found a friend, and maybe even a new papa. But why do the villagers view Claude with suspicion? And what secret is he keeping in his strange, empty house?

(Guest post planned for week of publication)

Five Star Billionaire cover8. FIVE STAR BILLIONAIRE – TASH AW (4th ESTATE)  27 February 2013

A naive golddigger; a disgraced pop star; a property magnate who has lost his way; an entrepreneur with a conscience and a business guru with a secret agenda.  Five interwoven encounters with a new China, from the life of a migrant worker to the story of the privileged few, sketching a vivid map of the burgeoning megacity and its place in the world.  Delving into the psyche of Shanghai and questioning what is left behind in the relentless push forward.

fever_hardback_1471112969_3009. FEVER – MARY BETH KEANE (SIMON & SCHUSTER) March 2013

A fictionalised life of ‘Typhoid Mary.’ Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant in turn-of-the-century New York, is headstrong and brave, a woman who has battled fiercely to better her lot in life and keep her wayward lover Alfred on the straight and narrow. She works her way up the ranks to cook for the wealthiest families in Manhattan, but leaves a trail of death and disease in her wake. When she is imprisoned in complete isolation, despite being perfectly healthy herself, she refuses to understand her paradoxical situation. Condemned by press and public alike, she is branded a murderer, but continues to fight for her freedom. Once described as ‘the most dangerous woman in America,’ was Mary Mallon a selfish monster, or a hounded innocent?


Glasgow. A city of colour and contrast. A place where two worlds collide – and are changed forever.  When the Scottish Refugee Council assigns Deborah Maxwell to act as Somali refugee Abdi’s new mentor, the two are drawn into an awkward friendship. They must spend a year together, meeting once a month in a different part of Glasgow. As recently-widowed Deborah opens Abdi’s eyes to her beloved city and its people, he teaches her about the importance of family – and of laying your ghosts to rest. All Abdi has brought with him is his four-year-old daughter, Rebecca, who lives in a silence no one can reach. Until, one day, little Rebecca starts talking. And they realise why she stopped.

Congratulations to these talented novelists and a very big thank you to all the editors and publicists who keep me in the literary loop and send me advance copies throughout the year – without you a lot of what I do just wouldn’t be possible.

I hope you’ve discovered some new titles to add to your own TBR list for 2013 and that you’ll enjoy these wonderful books as much as I did.  If you like my selection, please do share on Twitter, Facebook, with your book group…..  and if this is your first visit to the Literary Sofa, I hope you’ll be back.  2013 looks like being a great year!

Which of these novels appeal to you?  Any other titles you can’t wait to read in 2013?


I’m planning a Short Fiction Special in April (including a competition) and will of course be publishing a Top 10 Summer Reads 2013 in May for titles released from then onwards.

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.


31 thoughts on “Fiction Hot Picks for 2013

  1. Adds nine more titles to my TBR pile … already had The Night Rainbow earmarked! Great stuff.

    Posted by isabelrogers | December 11, 2012, 10:27
  2. About no.2 “The taste of apple seeds”: it says “The International bestseller” on the cover” I find that not much of a recommendation. I have learned that bestsellers are best avoided because they usually disappoint. What do you think? But apple seeds contain cyanide and the title is intriguing.

    Posted by Tom Voute | December 11, 2012, 10:38
    • Well, clearly I think The Taste of Apple Seeds is worth recommending or it wouldn’t have made the list (and many titles I looked at didn’t). In general, I don’t think whether or not a book carries the designation ‘bestseller’ makes much difference to whether a given reader will or won’t enjoy it – when it comes down to it, the book is what’s on the page. All it means is that a lot of people have bought it. One of the worst books I’ve read this year (no names) is a huge bestseller. None of these issues entered into my thinking when I selected this novel; I haven’t read it in German unfortunately but I sense that it’s a good translation – for a start, it didn’t read like one at all. It has some lovely imagery and gentle humour that I enjoyed. You might like it – or you might not!

      Posted by Isabel Costello | December 11, 2012, 18:10
  3. That’s a great eclectic list Isabel. Thanks for all the suggestions. ‘This is Where I Am’ is the one that I’ll probably search out first. There’s such a significant African immigrant population in Glasgow now, and they are mostly housed in really rather grim places, and I always wonder where they must have come from for a nasty looking grey tower block on the south side to be preferable.

    Posted by rowena | December 11, 2012, 11:26
    • Thanks Rowena, I’m glad you found it a worthwhile list and was interested to hear why you are drawn to Karen Campbell’s book. I included This is Where I Am because I enjoy novels which take on real life social issues (like Pigeon English did) and also those in which the protagonists meet for the first time (the case in both my manuscripts!) I will definitely review this one when it comes out.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | December 11, 2012, 18:16
  4. What a wonderful selection Isabel, and I’m honoured to be up there, thank you! I already had Emma Chapman and Sarah Butler’s books on my radar, but I like the look of all the ones you’ve chosen. I might start with ‘Fever’.

    Posted by claireking9 | December 11, 2012, 11:31
  5. Hi Isabel, some really intriguing suggestions here! At the moment I’m particularly taken with The Engagement and Ten Things I’ve Learned about Love but those are certainly not the only ones. . . .

    Posted by Kristin | December 11, 2012, 14:03
    • Hi Kristin, glad you found a couple (or more!) to whet your appetite. I picked Ten Things above all for the realistic and unsentimental portrayal of London – although it also has a very touching storyline. Sarah Butler has a great talent for observation. As for The Engagement, this ticked many of my boxes, ‘spiky’ (!) writing, superb character dynamics and so insanely gripping I felt it was messing with my head! Think you’d love both of these.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | December 11, 2012, 18:21
  6. Oh no, my TBR for 2013 has just got even bigger! Too many books, too little time I fear. But one that is at the very top is This Is Where I Am by Karen Campbell. I have to declare a personal bias here as I’m very lucky to count Karen as one of my closest friends and she has acted as my unofficial writing mentor for several years. I know that this new book is a change of direction for her and she is rightly very proud of the themes she is tackling with this new work. Karen was a guest on my own blog http://helenmackinven.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/meet-my-writing-mentor-karen-campbell/ and would make a fantastic guest On The Literary Sofa. I hope Karen;s book and the others you’ve listed Isabel get the success they deserve and inspire us all to keep writing.

    Posted by helenmackinven | December 11, 2012, 14:42
    • Lucky you Helen, to have Karen as a writing mentor, that must be really inspiriring (thanks for sharing your post). I agree with you that the success of published friends can be very motivating to the rest of us, especially as so many writers are generous with their encouragement. One question though – how come you haven’t managed to blag an advance copy?!

      Posted by Isabel Costello | December 11, 2012, 18:25
      • Good question Isabel but the simple answer is that I’ve never asked for one and I always go along to the launch and buy a copy (got to support fellow writers!) for Karen to sign. There’s always a great buzz at the event hearing the first reading etc and I’d miss out on that if I just got a freebie in advance.

        Posted by helenmackinven | December 11, 2012, 18:58
      • You wouldn’t believe how many books I have two of, an ARC and the signed one I bought at the launch! Know what you mean.

        Posted by Isabel Costello | December 12, 2012, 10:11
  7. I’m so excited about all of these books, especially the Night Rainbow, I’ve been waiting for that for a while. The Starboard Sea was not even on my radar, and that looks right up my street. Thanks, helpful as ever.

    Posted by Cariad Martin (@cariadmartin) | December 11, 2012, 16:00
    • Cariad, you were one of the appreciative Literary Sofa visitors I had in mind who make writing the blog so much fun and a good use of my time, so thank you. I’ll let you into a secret, The Starboard Sea is actually my favourite of the Hot Picks – I rationed pages towards the end and didn’t want it to be over, that’s how good it is.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | December 11, 2012, 18:29
  8. Looks like a great list Isabel – many thanks for sharing. I always enjoy reading your blog recommendations (although it only adds to my anxiety that life surely isn’t long enough to read ALL the books I hope to!) 🙂

    Posted by Isabel Ashdown | December 12, 2012, 14:06
  9. This is a wonderful selection of books and I love the covers, especially for Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love and Claire King’s, The Night Rainbow. It is even better than the first version, which appeared on her blog. Looking forward to diving in to some of them now that I can have a break between novels.

    Posted by fcmalby | January 21, 2013, 19:58


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