1. Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult
Lots of readers found their concentration drop off the radar during the pandemic. If reading became a struggle for you, let Jodi Picoult show you how your brain can still get utterly engrossed in a good read, and page-turning magic is not lost. Picoult is known for knocking out bestsellers at speed, but Wish You Were Here is impressive even by her own standards – set during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic. It sees 29-year-old art specialist Diana fly solo to the Galapagos, as her boyfriend Finn, who was originally meant to come on the trip, is unable to take time off from his job as a hospital doctor now the virus has hit. Once there, the world goes into lockdown. Diana is stranded alone in paradise, whilst Finn faces a traumatic frontline. Cue the beginning of much self-reflection and re-evaluation, eventually delving into near-death experiences and how we choose the paths to follow – but are things as they seem? Wish You Were Here will make you laugh, nod and cry – and at one point gasp out loud at a twist you will not see coming. Picoult will have you closing the book on occasions, taking a moment to let it all sink in. Superb.
2. Today A Woman Went Mad In The Supermarket by Hilma Wolitzer
A collection of short stories written over several decades by the now-91-year-old Hilma Wolitzer – many were originally published in magazines such as Esquire in the Sixties and Seventies, but there are new ones, too. Even in her 90s, she remains as relatable as ever, and this book gives her the opportunity to have her voice heard by a new generation of readers. The story that gives this collection its title focuses on a woman crumbling under the pressures of motherhood, while another tackles the current pandemic. This mirrors Wolitzer’s own experience, of contracting and surviving coronavirus, and the sad death of her husband from the disease. Heart-warming, witty and wise, it is definitely worth acquainting yourself with her writing.
3. Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon
Diana Gabaldon releases the hotly-anticipated ninth instalment in her Outlander series. Picking up where the last book left off, Claire and Jamie Fraser are reunited with their daughter Brianna and her family in 1770s North Carolina. As the clan reacquaint with one another, the Revolutionary War continues to draw them close – but the family is still figuring out their past, so things are far from smooth sailing. Slow-paced to start, Gabaldon’s latest addition weaves complicated plot lines, a weighty cast and improbable melodrama to create an exhausting read. You often feel the book could have cut 200 pages and several characters – especially when all the reader is really here for is Jamie and Claire. At times compelling, the latest instalment sadly doesn’t live up to the original novel – or the pacey TV adaptation.
4. These Precious Days by Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett aficionados will likely have read a number of these essays in their various published guises, but as a collection, These Precious Days is comforting dip-in material that draws you into Patchett’s considerate, all-embracing world. Compiled, edited and added to during the pandemic, the essays range from an incredible analysis of her three fathers and the huge roles they played in her life, to an ode to the power of knitting, and the curious travels of a nightstand. The title story tells Patchett’s remarkable lockdown story – with a cameo from Tom Hanks. She discusses writing, yoga, best friendships, the importance of dogs (she really loves dogs), and does it all with a gentleness that’s cosy, without being too sentimental. A very soothing assortment of tales.