Your winter reading list

Looking to lose yourself in another world during the long, grey days in store? Or are you simply stuck for gift inspiration? This year’s reading list features the latest offerings from speakers who visited this year's Cheltenham Literature Festival. (And, in one case, the Science Festival).

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

A recently bereaved young woman named Juliet Armstrong is recruited by a branch of the Secret Service during WWII. Years later, in peacetime, she seems settled with a new job at the BBC. Yet Juliet’s life is imploding, and a reckoning with the past approaches. Kate Atkinson’s atmospheric new novel is certain to delight fans of her previous work, which includes the sensational Life After Life and A God in Ruins.

Love is Blind by William Boyd

William Boyd’s latest novel begins at the conclusion of the 19th century. After escaping his tyrannical preacher father and insular rural surroundings, the brilliant young piano tuner Brodie Moncur pursues new opportunities to Paris, where he is swiftly consumed by his love for a Russian soprano. Readers traipsing around Europe with Moncur just might find themselves in dangerous circumstances…

Rosie: Scenes from a Vanished Life by Rose Tremain

The excellent Rose Tremain’s latest book is a memoir. Rosie is a brisk read outlining the remote world of the author’s childhood; there are few major revelations, but one can glimpse the roots of Tremain’s future novels in her largely joyless and disappointing relationship with her parents. (And her prose is as transporting as always).

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Author Gail Honeyman was discovered in a writing competition. Her debut went on to be a publishing sensation – it was translated into 30 languages and claimed the title of Book of the Year at the British Book Awards. Chronicling the awkward life of misfit Eleanor, Honeyman probes the problem of loneliness, turning the focus to the unheard, ordinary people who have slipped between life’s cracks.

A Keeper by Graham Norton

Cheeky screen mainstay Graham Norton unveiled his writerly credentials with his debut novel, Holding, in 2016. (‘…I didn’t think it was going to be very good,’ confessed novelist John Boyne in The Irish Times. ‘I was completely and utterly wrong...It’s possible that Norton has been wasted on TV all these years.’) Norton’s follow-up promises dark family secrets and ruined coastal castles – plus more humour (surprisingly subdued in his first outing).

Melmoth by Sarah Perry

A female monster stalks the dark gothic third novel from Sarah Perry, whose previous book – The Essex Serpent – was a certified smash hit. The titular Melmoth is a 2,000-year-old woman, condemned to roam the world as a witness to sin (think the Wandering Jew, but with heaps more scares and suffering). Channelling the great Mary Shelley and Daphne Du Maurier, Sarah Perry attempts to bring her own nightmarish creation to life.

Adventures of a Young Naturalist by David Attenborough

We all know Sir David Attenborough as a snowy-haired, almost saintly figure; long established as the definitive wildlife expert and environmental campaigner. But what of his earliest expeditions, before his status as National Treasure was writ in stone? Adventures of a Young Naturalist takes us back in time to visit an Attenborough few have ever known; not to mention a world of filmmaking left behind by technological progress.

Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment by Francis Fukuyama

Seismic disruptions to the Western political landscape have left a million talking heads still frantically jabbering away, mostly on the hysterical theme of WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED? Hold your breath and take a deeper dive with Dr. Fukuyama, who makes a detailed case that the desire to be recognised and respected is natural to every living person. How do we reassure those who feel excluded and disparaged - the real power behind the upsetters?

Women and Power by Mary Beard

An eye-opening and devourable read formed from two lectures, Mary Beard’s Women and Power takes a lengthy look back at the exclusion of women from discourse and debate (taking as its starting point Homer’s Odyssey). Resisting the ‘simple diagnosis of misogyny,’ Beard examines the cultural origins of the scorn levelled against a woman who dares to speak in public, and asks what we mean by ‘the voice of authority.’

The Happy Brain by Dean Burnett

A bit of a cheat, this; we first discovered neurologist/comedian/Guardian blogger Dean Burnett at the 2018 Cheltenham Science Festival. Burnett breaks down the mystifying world within our heads in an almost conversational style, deftly exploring the biological architecture that makes us…well, us. The mechanics of fear, anxiety and memory were explored in 2016’s The Idiot Brain. Now Burnett explores if there really is an elusive ‘key to happiness.’ There’s no better casual primer on neuroscience.

Prue: My All Time Favourite Recipes by Prue Leith

The grand dame of the culinary world keeps trying to persuade us that she’s mostly a novelist these days (she’s now on her eighth novel, we believe) but that really hasn’t been helped by her star turn in The Great British Bake-Off. Still, Prue: My All-Time Favourite Recipes is her first cookery book in twenty-five years (!!) and as such is something of a cause for celebration. These are the very dishes Prue cooks for family and friends; in other words, these recipes are sure to satisfy.

For more information on 2019s Cheltenham Festivals, visit