Shape your shelf in 2020

Want to know what to read this year? Book editor Jennifer Platt has some suggestions: from mysteries and tall tales to essential guides to taking care of one's self

12 January 2020 - 00:00 By Jennifer platt

Published in the Sunday Times (12/01/2019)


You Are Not Alone
by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen
(St Martin's Press)

The Wife Between Us was one of the most successful word-of-mouth books of 2018. Now the duo are back with another soapie thriller. Shay Miller witnesses a woman kill herself by jumping in front of a train. She is obsessed about finding out who this woman is and why she did it. As usual, the authors supply satisfying twists that make this a bingeworthy read. In bookstores April.

'The Other People' by C.J. Tudor.
'The Other People' by C.J. Tudor.
Image: Supplied

The Other People
by CJ Tudor (Penguin Fiction)

If you read The Chalk Man and The Taking of Annie Thorne, you will notice that Tudor is becoming a master of eerie tales involving children. The Other People (out in February) is no exception - it's about a five-year-old girl who is kidnapped, and her father who never gives up his search to find her. Sounds pretty mundane, but there is plenty of darkness and creepiness to keep this from ever becoming boring.

Rules for Perfect Murders
by Peter Swanson (Faber and Faber)

If you have not read a Swanson novel, you are in for a treat. He is one of the most underrated psychological thriller writers out there. His debut The Girl With a Clock For a Heart was a finalist for the LA Times Book Award. His next book The Kind Worth Killing was a consummate thriller and now Rules for Perfect Murders seems like a whopper for those who love classic mysteries. A series of unsolved murders all eerily resemble crimes in classic mystery novels, which includes Agatha Christie's The ABC Murders, Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train and Donna Tartt's The Secret History. An autumn release.

Hard Rain
by Irma Venter (Kwela Books)

Hard Rain is the first book to be published by Irma Venter that is to be published in the US at the same time as in SA, in April. She brings the romance along with the thrills. It's set in the dangerous and picturesque Tanzania. Journalist Alex Derksen finds himself to be the subject of news rather than the one who writes it when he meets Ranna, a photographer involved in a murder. Should he help her or should he run for his life.

Long Bright River
by Liz Moore (Random House)

This has been named the most anticipated book of 2020 by The New York Times, Vogue, Marie Claire, Washington Post, Forbes and plenty of others. It's a dark krimi set in the vague present in a grim and grey Philadelphia. Every female body that turns up puts police woman Mickey in a state of fear. She thinks every victim could be her missing sister, who is addicted to drugs and takes to the streets to pay for her habit. On shelves this month.

The Assistant
by SK Tremayne (HarperCollins)

People are choosing not to have smart appliances run their homes and thrillers like these don't help the legitimate paranoia. In this novel coming out in February, Jo is newly divorced and moves into her friend's luxury Camden flat which is managed by Electra, a home assistant. Jo is delighted with the goodie gad until one night it says, "I know what you did."


The Lying Life of Adults
by Elena Ferrante
(Europa Editions)

What a joy! A new Ferrante to gorge on mid year. Like her four-book series this is also set in Naples. The lead character is Giovanna who grows up in a tiny town in the southern city of Italy. It's about many things, the tensions within Naples and beyond, family and friendship, but at its core it's about Giovanna's struggle to come to terms with the end of her childhood.

Here are the first few lines: "Two years before leaving home my father said to my mother that I was very ugly. The sentence was uttered under his breath, in the apartment that my parents, newly married, had bought in Rione Alto, at the top of Via San Giacomo dei Capri. Everything - the spaces of Naples, the blue light of a very cold February, those words - remained fixed."

'Searching for Simphiwe' by Sifiso Mzobe.
'Searching for Simphiwe' by Sifiso Mzobe.
Image: Supplied

Searching for Simphiwe
by Sifiso Mzobe (Kwela Books)

Anything written by Mzobe is something to be excited about. His debut Young Blood won the Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize in 2011. Now he has a new collection of short
stories where the realities of South Africa are given his beady yet compassionate eye. The stories are about faith and connections featuring detectives in pursuit of criminals, a brother desperate to find his wunga-addicted sibling, a search for abducted girls and a quest for lovers to be reunited. Due April.

Transcendent Kingdom
by Yaa Gyasi
(Alfred A Knopf)

Set in Ghana and America, Gyasi's debut novel Homegoing became essential reading for understanding why history is alive, raw and how it won't stop hurting. Transcendent Kingdom, releasing in September, builds on those themes - how that history leads to depression, addiction and untold grief. The protagonist is Gifty, who is finalising her PhD in neuroscience at Stanford University, focusing on depression and addiction. Her brother, Nana, died of a heroin overdose after an injury led him to become hooked on OxyContin. Her mother is suicidal. Gifty is determined to find answers through science and faith.

Due South of Copenhagen
by Mark Winkler (Umuzi)

Winkler knows how to write extraordinary tales about our country that ooze empathy, authenticity and grace. The Cape Town author's next novel is about the friendship between Karl and Max, and how and why it ended, due in part to living in a small town in the Lowveld during the height of the Border War. Try not to miss it. Out in April.

'The Mirror & the Light' by Hilary Mantel.
'The Mirror & the Light' by Hilary Mantel.
Image: Supplied

The Mirror and the Light
by Hilary Mantel (HarperCollins)

Finally! The last book of the Wolf Hall trilogy will be released in March. Fans of the Thomas Cromwell series have been patiently waiting eight years for the conclusion. Wolf Hall, which was released in 2009, about Cromwell's rise to greatness, and Bring Up the Bodies (released in 2012) about Anne Boleyn's demise, both won the Booker. Will this novel make it a hat-trick for Mantle?

by Anne Enright (WW Norton Company)

Enright is another Booker winner - she took the 2007 prize for The Gathering and has been popular ever since. Her latest, coming soon in March, is about the wonderfully named Katherine O'Dell who is an Irish theatre legend. Her daughter, Norah, retraces her mother's story, and she finds out more than just the rags to riches story - there are bizarre secrets that her mother obviously wants to remain in the past.

Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom
by John Boyne (Hogarth)

The brilliant author takes on a universal tale of a family. A father, a mother and two sons. One son inherits his father's violence and the other, the mother's artistry. This plays out across the course of two thousand years, where they meet again and again in different times and different circumstances. An epic tale told uniquely and creatively by Boyne. Coming mid year.

'Sex, Lies, Declassified' by Eva Mazza.
'Sex, Lies, Declassified' by Eva Mazza.
Image: Supplied

Sex, Lies, Declassified
by Eva Mazza (Melinda Ferguson Books)

Sex, Lies & Stellenbosch was a success - everybody wanted to know the scandals behind the beautiful facades of the folk who live in the town that SA's wealthiest call home. Now in April, Mazza's new book will hit the shelves, tracking the new scandals and sexual misadventures of the first book's characters who live in Stellenbosch.

All That is Left
by Kirsten Miller (Kwela Books)

Miller's previous book Hum of the Sun was not only a sleeper hit here, it was also the winner of the Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation's Prize for Best Unpublished Manuscript. Her latest is about a woman named Rachel whose brother disappears under mysterious circumstances. She has to deal with his death even though there is no body to bury. So she travels to Joburg to support her sister-in-law with the memorial but is unsettled when her ex lover arrives.

Grown Ups
by Marian Keyes (Penguin Books)

Can January just fast forward already because February is when the new Marian Keyes is supposed to drop. The Caseys (Johnny, his wife Jessie, his two brothers Liam and Ed, their partners, children etc) live a glamorous and close family life. They are always together for birthday parties, holidays, anniversaries. However, things lurk beneath the surface and when Ed's wife Cara suffers from a concussion she accidentally blurts out all their secrets - and the family quickly unravels. As Keyes said on Twitter:

The History of Man
by Siphiwe Ndlovu (Penguin Fiction)

The winner of last year's Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize once again tackles a brave subject and storyline. We are introduced to Emil, and through his life we are shown how a young white boy turns into a torturer. The novel traces this particular type of colonial masculinity. Ndlovu handles the subject of war and strife with deftness and a light touch.

The City of Tears
by Kate Mosse (Pan Macmillan)

The second book in the historical The Burning Chambers series is set to be in bookstores in April. It's August 1572 and the Joubert family are in Paris for a royal wedding but become caught up in the St Bartholomew's Day massacre. Look out for the audio book as Mosse records an introduction with stories that she learnt during her research.

'Afterland' by Lauren Beukes.
'Afterland' by Lauren Beukes.
Image: Supplied

by Lauren Beukes (Umuzi)

The long wait is finally over and July 2020 is already looking like a good winter with a new Beukes to look forward to. Plus, her book is about a world in which men have been wiped out by a virus. Trust Beukes to do a smart switcheroo: for a change it's not females who are being wiped out. A mom and her teenage boy who is immune to the disease are desperately trying to get to a port to catch a ship to South Africa.

Paradise in Gaza
by Niq Mhlongo (Kwela Books)

It's a bit of a wait for this book as it only comes out sometime in October, but it's worth it as word is this is Mhlongo's best book yet. A story that moves from Soweto to Gazankula to a war-torn Mozambique.


More Myself: A Journey
by Alicia Keys (Pan Macmillan)

Part autobiography, part narrative documentary, Keys's life is revealed not only through her own telling of her memories, but also through vivid recollections from those who know her. The result is a 360-degree perspective on who she is. Available in April or thereabouts.

Memoirs and Misinformation
by Jim Carrey (Knopf)

The 57-year-old comedian offers a semi-disclaimer: "None of this is real and all of it is true." So grab the popcorn and the pound of salt and be prepared to read about (when it comes out mid year), as Carrey says: "Acting, Hollywood, agents, celebrity, privilege, friendship, romance, addiction to relevance, fear of personal erasure, our 'one big soul,' Canada, and a cataclysmic ending of the world-apocalypses within and without." Alrighty then.

Walking With Ghosts
by Gabriel Byrne (Macmillan)

Byrne's a skilled writer and storyteller with a few books under his belt already. This one, out in the second half of the year, is a literary memoir where he concentrates on his childhood in the '50s and '60s.

Blood: A Memoir
by the Jonas Brothers (Macmillan)

This is the first official biography from the Disney-made singing bros. All. Of. Them. Yes, we are talking about Nick, Joe and Kevin who all dish on their rise to stardom and of being a teenage fantasy (sometimes an adult one too). Just some stats: They've sold 17 million albums, they have had three consecutive number one albums and their songs are streamed a billion times worldwide. On a bookshelf near you in April.

The author Gigi.
The author Gigi.
Image: Supplied

Nipple Caps, G-Strings: A Bare All Memoir
by Gigi and Nan Eyles (Melinda Ferguson Books)

This is the revealing memoir of 'n jong meisie van Paarl, a daughter of Jehovah's witnesses, who as a child saw a diamante-clad Glenda Kemp on the back page of Rapport newspaper and was enthralled. It's the memoir of a girl who had big dreams, who went on to run one of the most successful skin establishments in the country, the Lollypop Lounge. Out in October.

Brown Baby
by Nikesh Shukla (Pan Macmillan)

Even if you don't know Shukla's writing (he has written for The Guardian, Esquire and Buzzfeed btw) his autobiography is a tender one about being a father, about race, and about how he constantly has to prepare his children for a world that is racist and sexist, a world that can collapse due to climate change. It's not all dire, he also captures the joy, hope and eccentricity that exists in the world.


The SADF and Cuito Cuanavale
by Leopold Scholtz (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

There are already a few books on this subject but Scholtz analyses what went on in 1987/88 in the Angolan town of Cuito Cuanavale, which became the scene of the final battles of the Border War. Out in February.

Living While Feminist
edited by Jen Thorpe (Kwela Non-fiction)

Thorpe edits this powerful collection which adds to our oeuvre of important feminist books. Its focus is on how life is filtered through our bodies and how these myths, norms, cultural standards continue to shape who we are, how the world views us and how we see ourselves.

Sex and Lies
by Leïla Slimani (Faber & Faber)

You either love or hate the Franco-Morrocan author's books. Lullaby (2018) and Adele (2019) were odd, but they were also brilliant and there is a reason why French president Emmanuel Macron invited her to be the nation's minister of culture. This is her first non-fiction work in English where her essays give voice to Moroccan women who are struggling with a conservative Arab culture.

Female Fear Factory
by Pumla Dineo Gqola (Melinda Ferguson Books)

Rape: A South African Nightmare was the winner of the 2016 Alan Paton Award. It introduced strategies for disrupting rape culture at an individual level. The professor's latest, Female Fear Factory, offers an even bolder vision for collective action against all cultures of sexual violence. Out in August.

The Pink Line: Journeys Across the World's Queer Frontiers
by Mark Gevisser (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

It took more than five years for him to write this groundbreaking book on how the issues of sexuality and gender identity divide and unite the world today. Gevisser presents expert analysis on how this social movement has brought change so quickly and with such dramatically mixed results.

Too Important to Fail
by Bruce Whitfield (Pan Macmillan)

The Money Show on 702 with Whitfield can often send chills down the spine. But no matter what, Whitfield always delivers the news on the economy in his friendly, relatable manner. He is sure to do the same with his book.


Everything Isn't Terrible
by Dr Kathleen Smith (Profile Books)

At every dinner table conversation these past holidays, everyone wanted to talk about how to get rid of debilitating anxiety and stress. Licensed therapist Dr Smith offers a practical antidote to our anxiety-ridden times. It promises to be a fun guide with practical suggestions and tools for people who want to become beacons of calmness in our anxious world. Out in February.

Why We Can't Sleep: Women's New Midlife Crisis
by Ada Calhoun (Grove Press)

When Calhoun found herself in the throes of a midlife crisis, she decided to find some answers. "Since turning forty a couple of years ago, I've become obsessed by women my age and their - our - struggles with money, relationships, work, and existential despair. Looking for more women to talk to for this book, I called my friend Tara, a successful reporter a few years older than me who grew up in Kansas City. 'Hey,' I said, happy to have caught her on a rare break from her demanding job, 'do you know anyone having a midlife crisis I could talk to?' The phone was silent. Finally, she said, 'I'm trying to think of any woman I know who's not.'"

'When You're Not OK' by Jill Stark.
'When You're Not OK' by Jill Stark.
Image: Supplied

When You're Not OK: A Toolkit for Tough Times
by Jill Stark (Faber Factory Plus)

There are those bad days. Okay those days are sometimes just effen terrible. Stark delivers this manual for just such days when you feel alone and miserable. In her book she provides signposts that can help you find the path back to yourself. If you need this and have found yourself wandering away from yourself, it comes out in February.

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything
by BJ Fogg (Virgin Books)

Forget the New Year resolutions. Forget feeling bad about not adhering to them. Silicon Valley legend Fogg (pioneering research psychologist, founder of the iconic Behavior Design Lab at Stanford, and one of Fortune's 10 New Gurus You Should Know) says he has cracked the code on habit formation. Apparently it isn't about willpower. Out now.

Joy At Work
by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein (Pan Macmillan)

If you have KonMaried your home and you have every sock in its place sparking that amazing joy, you can now do your office. This is not just about clearing your inbox
and tidying your "stationery draw" by throwing away those tomato sauce sachets, the book (out in April) promises better creativity, productivity and an ability to refocus your mind.