you're reading...
Books, Listings

Pick a book, any book (you hadn’t heard of)

This is a parallel post to Book Hype (for want of a better word), inspired by the entries to my recent Literary Lunch competition in which entrants had to name a book they’d really enjoyed this year.  It could be any type of book, regardless of publication date.

The 40 suggestions I received were too good to lie forgotten in the comments, so I’ve collated them into a list of books with wide appeal: novels of many genres, non-fiction, short fiction and poetry.  It includes several books I loved too (links to those featured here), many that were on my radar and some which are undoubtedly high profile, but what struck me most was how many I’d never heard of.  Of course, your reaction to the list may be completely different – I’ll be very impressed if anyone’s heard of all of them – so my categorization is neither here nor there if you’d like to join me in selecting a book you hadn’t previously heard of to read. (You’ll probably want to Google a blurb as these are just brief comments from readers.) 

If a minimum of six people respond in the Comments to say they want to take part, I’ll do a post in the new year to share our thoughts.

The book I’ve chosen, which speaks to my interests as a writer with its themes of mothers and daughters and the legacy of the past, is Bitter, the debut novel by Francesca Jakobi, as recommended by my friend (and discerning reader) Lucille Grant.  How gorgeous is that cover? Whatever happens, I will report back on this one. Thanks again to everyone who entered and especially winner Zarina – we had a great Literary Lunch together.


The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

Coming-of-age novel with unusual and utterly credible MC set against a world crisis for which no one is to blame but in which everyone is trapped. Sort of dystopian with a difference. Beautifully written (Ali Bacon)

The Parentations – Kate Mayfield

A chase through the centuries, the price of immortality (Susie Bassett)

I love you too much – Alicia Drake

The one that sticks happens to be set in the 6th Arrondissement (of Paris) – one of those books that deserves a wider audience! (Trip Fiction)

Mothering Sunday – Graham Swift

How one event that changes a life is never only that (Rachel Malik)

Putney – Sofka Zinovieff

It has left an imprint on me, so intense, beautifully written and delicately handled (Jenny)

Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor

An utter joy to read (Rachael Dunlop)

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery (translated from French by Alison Anderson)

(Csaba B.)

L’art de perdre – Alice Zeniter

(Delphine Benezet)

A Man called Ove – Fredrik Bakman

Has stayed with me. Beautiful (Penny-Sue Wolfe)



Bitter – Francesca Jakobi

It’s an exceptional tale of mother/child relationships and how we are treated in our youth affects how we act as adults. The main character, Gilda, is unforgettable and has stayed in my mind.  (Lucille Grant)

Natural Histories – (story collection) Guadalupe Nettel (translated from Spanish by J T Lichtenstein)

All her stories evoke a weird and wonderful world that I could sink into again and again (Sophie Haydock) 

Territory of Light – Yukio Tsushima (translated from Japanese by Geraldine Harcourt)

A powerful, poetic, and unsettling story of a young woman, left by her husband, starting a new life with her daughter (Amanda Huggins)

The Return of the Soldier – Rebecca West

Fabulous. I love short novels (AKA “novellas”) and this one was a beauty (Louise Walters)

Le Goût d’Emma – Julia Pavlowitch

Because it’s about good food and French restaurants (Cessie)

All the Hidden Truths – Claire Askew

A ‘why done it?’ crime thriller. Clever, brilliant on parenting and grief (Damhnait)

The Three Sisters of Stone – Stephanie Hutton
A Novella in flash – Incredibly moving and so well written (Jonzeywriter)

The Mother of all Questions – Rebecca Solnit

A comfort, a galvanising force, and an inspiration to keep the pressure on to craft the safe world that we all deserve to live in. Her writing is so incredibly well crafted (Valerie)

Oysterlight (poetry) – Cheryl Pearson

She manages to find those words that always seem to be hovering at the back of my mind but never make it onto the page – the words that turn the mundane into the extraordinary (Diana Brighouse)

The Idea of You – Robinne Lee

I could not put it down. I fell in love with the characters and just goes to show when you aren’t looking for something it finds you (Rita Mistry)

Heart Berries (memoir) – Therese Marie Mailhot

(Delphine Benezet)

The Survival Game – Nicky Singer

A story set in the future when there is a scarcity of resources. Great conversation piece (Anne McCauley)

The Ben Hope books – Scott Mariani

An ex SAS hero who helps people, very edge of your seat thrillers! (Elaine Guymer)



A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles

Because it gave me so much pleasure and because Count Rostov still lingers on in my mind (Emma Curtis)

The Sealwoman’s Gift – Sally Magnusson

Based on a true story from the 17th century about a minister and his wife who were part of a party of 400 Icelandic islanders kidnapped by pirates and taken to Algiers. The impact on the family and the resilience required is really gripping (Jane Anderson)

Happiness – Aminata Forna

(Benedicta Norrell)

Together – Julie Cohen

A love story that goes backwards and, even though you know how it ends, what you really want to know is… how did it start? (Jackie Kightly)

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne

Moving and beautifully written (Harriet Angell)

The Cost of Living – Deborah Levy

A book about starting again and resilience with tremendous insights for writers (Alison Percival)

All Among the Barley – Melissa Harrison

Beautiful imagery of countryside and a changing world with a story that sucks you in slowly (Pete Domican)

Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race – Reni Eddo-Lodge

A must-read that made me think about, question and examine my own prejudices, while opening my eyes to a lot of stuff I didn’t have a clue about. (Mandy Berriman)

White Noise – Don DeLillo

Every Light in the House Burning – Andrea Levy

I loved the writing e.g description and characters. The book led me to both laugh and reflect (Jacqueline Robinson)

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock – Imogen Hermes-Gowar

Such joyous fun to read but with wonderful historical accuracy and convincing language. Highly recommended (Sofka Zinovieff)

The Good People – Hannah Kent

This talented lady creates such truthful stories, capturing a sense of community and life beautifully (Emma de Vito)

Washington Black – Esi Edugyan

A page-turning adventure story of a boy’s journey from the brutal sugarcane plantations of Barbados to the icy wastes of the Arctic to London’s first aquarium and the Moroccan desert (Anne Goodwin)

Transatlantic – Colm McCann

For his verve in fictionalising actual people and events (…)  I learned much about the craft of writing as well as history (coachingwithintent)

The Summer of Impossible Things – Rowan Coleman

The kind of book I wish I could write (thegreekurn)

Origin – Dan Brown

Loved all his books and this didn’t disappoint (Lisa O’Hara)

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine – Gail Honeyman

Just loved it! (Sfancy)

Rosewater – Tade Thompson

I’ve read nothing like it before.  A brilliant plotter & storyteller. (Volequeen)

I am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes

At 888 pages I am pleased to say every one was a masterpiece. It took me 9 months to read but was well worth it (Ben Blackman)

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

An incredibly moving and heartwrenching account of a terminal illness while also being surprisingly educational and fascinating due to Paul being a neurosurgeon himself (Zarina)


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.


2 thoughts on “Pick a book, any book (you hadn’t heard of)

  1. Interesting selection! I’m always up for reading books that I’ve never heard of, with the proviso that they need to be post-1945 (I know it’s a bit narrow minded, but I’ve never ever enjoyed any of the Victorian writers). So I’ve downloaded ‘Bitter’ to my Kindle (I’d prefer paper, but the price differential is huge). I’ve also downloaded ‘The Sisters of Stone’ because my own writing is exploring prose poetry/ short fiction and the fluid boundaries around these genres. Novels in a flash are on the edges of all this and I’m intrigued to read one.

    Posted by diana brighouse | October 9, 2018, 08:49


  1. Pingback: Guest Post – Ben Blackman on Taking nine months to read one novel | The Literary Sofa - October 31, 2018

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: