1. THESE WOMEN by Ivy Pachoda (Faber & Faber)
Head for Los Angeles and the sleazy side of the streets in this menacing literary thriller. Pachoda (a former world-ranked squash player, of all things) has been likened to the maestro Raymond Chandler, but she focuses on five women tangled up with a serial killer. The reviews have been raves.
2. THE MEANING OF MARIAH CAREY With Michaela Angela Davis (Pan Macmillan)
The singing supernova finally opens up about her life story (a poor childhood in a violent household, racist bullying, nervous breakdowns), but what makes this memoir stand out is her examination of her music and how she wields that astonishing voice: “I build layers with it, like a painter.”
3. THE HISTORY OF MAN by Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu (Penguin Random House)
After carrying off the Sunday Times fiction prize last year, Ndlovu has wasted no time in following it up with another powerful story set in an unnamed African country. She traces the life of a civil servant, Emil Coetzee, from boyhood to bloodied manhood. “What makes a man a man is his life’s story,” she writes.
4. THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB by Richard Osman (Viking)
The fastest-selling crime debut ever in the UK, written by the popular presenter of the show Pointless. An old-fashioned mystery set in a retirement complex and described as “diabolically clever”, smart and funny.
5. TRIO by William Boyd (Penguin Random House)
Few writers have been as consistently excellent over their long careers as Boyd, or as versatile in their settings and subjects. This latest offering follows a triumvirate of characters on a 1960s film set: the actress, the producer, and the novelist who hides her vodka in a vinegar bottle. An experienced scriptwriter, Boyd describes the chaotic world of the film set with raucous style.
6. A PROMISED LAND by Barack Obama (Penguin Random House)
A timely and eloquent reminder of what true statesmanship looks like. Obama casts back to his earliest political ambitions and charts his rise to becoming the leader of the US. Democracy, he believes, is not a gift from on high but something founded on empathy and common understanding, built together, day by day.
7. HUMANS by Brandon Stanton (Pan Macmillan)
The creator of Humans of New York has spent the past five years crisscrossing the globe, listening and gathering life stories. In interviews, essays, and photographs, he contemplates the very nature of humanity and what binds us all together.
8. EX LIBRIS: 100+BOOKS TO READ AND REREAD by Michiko Kakutani (William Collins)
From the respected — and often feared — former New York Times book critic, a fat collection of essays on books that ranges, wildly and satisfyingly, from Keith Richards to Dr Seuss to Zadie Smith. This is the gift to give the readers in your life, but buy an extra copy for yourself.
9. A LIFE ON OUR PLANET by David Attenborough (Penguin Random House)
“I am 94. I’ve had an extraordinary life. It’s only now that I appreciate how extraordinary.” The venerated natural historian shares dramatic stories from his career and also stern warnings of the planet’s decline. You will not be able to ignore his urgent pleas to restore the world we’ve inherited.
10. SAVING A STRANGER’S LIFE by Anne Biccard (Jacana Media)
Poignant in parts, hilarious in others, this is the highly entertaining diary of a doctor who has worked in the emergency room of a Johannesburg hospital for three decades, where life and death battle it out daily.
11. HUNGRY by Grace Dent (HarperCollins)
This combines two of my favourite genres: autobiography and food writing. Dent is an outstanding, irreverent restaurant critic and columnist in the UK, but this warm memoir is a tribute to an ordinary upbringing on Campbell’s tinned soup and apple crumble. Cadbury purple, she writes, is the colour of love.
12. COOK, EAT, REPEAT by Nigella Lawson (Penguin Random House)
Nigella was a serious food writer long before she became a television cook, and her descriptions of food are matchless. This new book has been eagerly awaited and is less a recipe book than a collection of superlative essays interspersed with ingredients. As the book hit the shelves, pragmatic as ever, Lawson told her fans to “stuff their faces” during the new lockdown.
13. CRITICAL BUT, STABLE by Angela Makholwa (Pan Macmillan)
Flings and bling would probably sum up this delicious novel, about the high-flying members of the Khula social club. Of course, under the veneer of success lie shattering secrets that will shake this glitzy clique to its very core.
14. AFRICA’S WILD DOGS by Jocelin Kagan (Penguin Random House)
Rarely seen and steadily diminishing in number, the African wild dog, or painted wolf, is enjoying much attention at the moment. But if you think they’re cute, you couldn’t be more wrong. The dogs hunt in vicious packs, running their quarry to exhaustion. Wildlife photographer Kagan presents a superb collection of pictures, accompanied by fascinating insight into these uncommon predators.
• From the December edition of Wanted, 2020.