Turnaround’s 2019 Staff Picks – Fiction

With the year (and the decade!) coming to a close, we gather around our proverbial fireplace to discuss the realest books of year. There are of course far too many to include in any list so, beginning with fiction, from the North American prairies to the kitchen of an Ohio housewife, here are just a few of our favourites.

(Our Non-Fiction & Graphic Novel picks are now live as well, so check those out too!)


Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman
(Galley Beggar Press, 9781913111984, £14.99)

I’m not sure that Ducks needs any introduction at this point – it’s that very big, very exceptional, and very acclaimed novel you’ve seen around recently. Shortlisted for the Booker and winner of the 2019 Goldsmith’s Prize, Ducks gives us the thoughts and fears of a pie-making suburban housewife as she worries about her children, about Trump, about environmental disaster, about Weapons of Mass Destruction, and about everything else that makes up the mayhem of the United States today. It’s a big novel about big subjects from a truly incredible author, and it has marked 2019 as a very good year in books.

Plastic Emotions by Shiromi Pinto
(Influx Press, 9781910312315, £9.99)

Plastic Emotions is a fictional account of the life of Minette de Silva, Sri Lanka’s first female architect. I’d never heard of de Silva before I read this book, and if you haven’t either then I recommend you read it too! De Silva is a forgotten feminist icon who remains largely unknown. Plastic Emotions gives her the platform she deserves as it explores her relationship with famed modernist Le Courbusier, and her efforts to build a post-independence Sri Lanka at a time of increasingly violent politic unrest. The book is set in London, Paris, Chandigarh, Colombo, and Kandy, and paints a fascinating portrait of de Silva. If you like incredible women (and who doesn’t) and/or architecture, get yourself a copy!

Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) by Hazel Jane Plante
(Metonymy Press, 9780994047199, £12.99)

A heartbreaking novel about the unrequited love between the narrator, a queer trans woman, and her straight trans friend. Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) is a smart, authentic and very original book about grief, identity, and fandom. We’ve been extremely excited about this one; written as a series of encyclopedia entries, it’s based around a fictional cult TV show called Little Blue and the role the show played in the protagonists’ relationship. When Vivian dies, her closest friend, the narrator, uses the show as a way to work through her grief, compiling an encyclopedia of the show inter-cut with her memories of Vivian. It’s completely unique as it explores the ways pop culture can help us heal, and it’s a wonderful addition to the growing canon of trans literature.

Dark Enchantment by Dorothy Macardle
(Tramp Press, 9781916434233, £14.99)

Part of Tramp Press’s Recovered Voices series, Dark Enchantment is a wonderfully witchy novel by Irish novelist and playwright Dorothy Macardle. Written in 1953, the book follows 20-year-old Juliet Firth who, after years of unhappiness in the French Riviera, finds herself living in a small village in the French Alps. She becomes deeply involved in local life, meeting residents and making friends with other wanderers. As she becomes more absorbed in the ways of the village, she starts to hear stories of witchcraft, of curses and spells… and murder. What once seemed idyllic suddenly becomes dark and haunting as Juliet tries to escape the village.

As an aside, we are thrilled to be working with Tramp Press who joined our list of publishers just this month. They have some incredible books coming out next year so be sure to watch out for them!

Hustling Verse edited by Amber Dawn & Justin Ducharme
(Arsenal Pulp Press, 9781551527819, £15.99)

Not technically fiction but much too important and brilliant to miss off this list, Hustling Verse is a ground-breaking collection of poems by sex workers from across the globe. The poems express a myriad of identities from all walks of the industry and give a platform to sex workers they are rarely afforded. The collection is fierce, angry, brave, hilarious, intimate, and sharp, exploring sex, healing and resilience. It’s a real one-of-a-kind book that deserves your eyes, so give it a read!


Welcome to America by Linda Boström Knausgård, trans. by Martin Aitken
(World Editions, 9781912987047, £10.99)

Told entirely from the point of view of Ellen, a child who has stopped talking because she thinks she killed her dad, Welcome to America is a deeply unsettling portrait of a family falling apart. At just over 100 pages, it dissects trauma, cruelty, and abuse with a clarity that is both refreshing and disturbing, offering glimpses into the mind of a profoundly traumatised child. The whole way through I felt I was watching a car crash happen in slow motion. Perfectly sized for a last-minute gift or hand luggage, Welcome To America is one not to miss this year.

Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison
(No Exit Press, 9780857303189, £8.99)

This year, I spent a lot of my free time roaming around North America as a sad cowboy in Red Dead Redemption 2. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to Whiskey, with its similar themes of characters out of time, stuck in a world on the cusp of major change. Or maybe it was the melancholic queer protagonist Jess. Whatever it was that pulled me in and kept me reading, Whiskey When We’re Dry surprised me with its modern take on the Western genre. Sure, there’s plenty of shoot-outs, tobacco chewing – and yes, whiskey drinking – but it also has plenty to say about family, identity and sexuality. Perfect if you need a break from hours of Red Dead or need to scratch that wanderlust itch.

Plastic Emotions by Shiromi Pinto
(Influx Press, 9781910312315, £9.99)

Plastic Emotions is one of those books that got me excited about a topic I was completely unfamiliar with. In this case it’s architect and feminist Minette de Silva. Blending fiction and non-fiction, Plastic Emotions explores de Silva’s forgotten legacy and imagines her life as she builds a newly independent Sri Lanka from the ground up. Scattered throughout the book are fictional (love)letters between de Silva and famous French modernist Le Corbusier, and it’s these that really make the book shine. Filled with commentary on gender, class, race, and endless discussions about architecture, the letters provide a fascinating insight into the mind of a visionary architect – a fiercely intelligent woman who transformed the building style of an entire country and deserves to be remembered on par with her male contemporaries.


The Murder of Harriet Monckton by Elizabeth Haynes
(Myriad Editions, 9781912408238, £8.99)

23-year-old Harriet Monckton is found dead on the 7th of November 1843 in the privy behind the dissenting chapel she attended. Her apparent murder is the subject of Elizabeth Haynes’ first dive into historical fiction, and what a story it is. There are many suspects among those who were closest to Harriet, and Haynes heaps on the tension through testimonies and coroner’s reports, building to an unforgettable conclusion, all the while painting a touching portrait of an unjustly maligned young woman, and lending rich authenticity to the world she inhabited. Incredibly suspenseful and brimming with meticulous detail, The Murder of Harriet Monckton is a masterclass of just how good historical fiction can be.

We wrote about the hardback release in 2018 here.

Evil Things by Katja Ivar
(Bitter Lemon Press, 9781912242092, £8.99)

This ice-cold thriller set in Finland during the Cold War follows Hella Mauzer, the first female Inspector in the Helsinki Homicide Unit. Deemed too ‘emotional’ and reassigned from the city to deepest Lapland, she ends up following the disappearance of a man on the Soviet border. At once a deeply atmospheric mystery and a fascinating picture of a period of history I personally knew very little about, this debut marks Katja Ivar as a voice to watch. The sequel, Deep As Death, comes out next June, and I can’t wait.

Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
(Disney-Hyperion, 9781484734117, £8.99)

Danny Cheng discovers a hidden box in his father’s closet, leading him down a path that will change the way he sees himself and his family in this moving YA novel. In clear, emotive prose Kelly Loy Gilbert manages to capture the nuances of what it means to figure out one’s place in the world, even when the foundations of where you came from come crumbling down. Confronting vital issues of deportation, systemic racism, and sexual identity, Picture Us in the Light is a worthy recipient of all the accolades it has won – among them a Stonewall Honor Book Award.


Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman
(Galley Beggar Press, 9781910296967, £14.99)

At this stage in the game, do you really need me to tell you how good Ducks, Newbuyrport is? Perhaps not. But: good news! I’m going to go through it again anyway. The neurotic interior monologue of an unnamed Ohio baker, wife, mother and cancer survivor, Ducks has been praised for its intense stream-of-consciousness narration and unusual structure. We’ve written about it elsewhere on the blog (and even elsewhere in this very post), so let’s just end with this for now; it is exactly as good as you have all heard it is.

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake
(Disney-Hyperion, 9781368048088, £14.99)

All of Us With Wings by Michelle Ruiz Keil
(Soho Teen, 9781641290340, £14.99)

At the end of 2018, while we were selecting our most anticipated titles for the year ahead, I claimed not to think of myself as a YA fan. I said this despite having nothing against YA fans or writers, and despite the fact that in the very same sentence I also wrote that I expected Michelle Ruiz Keil’s All of Us With Wings to be one of my books of the year. I turned out to be half right – All of Us With Wings was one of my favourite fiction titles of 2019, but I guess it’s time to reevaluate my relationship with YA, because Julia Drake’s The Last True Poets of the Sea ranks high on my list as well. One book is an exception, but two is a pattern. The Last True Poets of the Sea is full of heart, and the wild, seafaring Maine setting is the ideal backdrop for complicated characters and emotional discoveries.

Little Blue Encyclopedia (For Vivian) by Hazel Jane Plante
(Metonymy Press, 9780994047199, £12.99)

Here are some of my favourite things in life: music, queerness, books, and the combination thereof. So, Hazel Jane Plante’s debut novel Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) basically occupies the exact centre point of my personal Venn Diagram of interests. While the main pop culture thread throughout the book is the fictional TV show Little Blue, the narrator’s deceased friend Vivian initially became a fan of the show because of her obsession with Suede, whose song ‘Sleeping Pills’ opens the fifth episode. In that way Little Blue Encyclopedia is an exact representation of pop culture fandom, and the way that different channels feed into one another. It’s also a tender story of love, loss and friendship – tender here meaning both ‘showing affection’ and ‘sensitive to pain’. 


It’s Gone Dark Over Bill’s Mother’s by Lisa Blower
(Myriad Editions, 9781912408160, £8.99)

Collecting the short stories of award-winning author Lisa Blower, It’s Gone Dark is a quietly brilliant collection united by its roots in the North, and often by the working-class matriarchs that populate it. Dip into the first story, ‘Barmouth’, and you’ll be greeted with a family in the throes of domestic turmoil as they embark on a beach holiday. Elsewhere two women argue over ownership of a back-garden cherry tree, while in ‘Johnny Dangerously’ a group of kids marvel over the mysterious identity of a demin-jacket wearing teen. With a laser-focus on ordinary lives “written from the inside”, often overlooked, but no less compelling for it, It’s Gone Dark is well worth a read if you’re looking for a fresh voice in fiction.

Out of Salem by Hal Schrieve
(Seven Stories, 9781609809010, £14.99)

Zombies, witches, werewolves and a non-binary lead, need I go on? Set in the small town of Salem were things are a bit queer, Z finds themselves ostracised from their community after a car crash turns them into a zombie and robs them of their magical abilities. Taking refuge at the home of a lesbian bookstore owner, Z soon befriends Aysel, whose own status as an unregistered werewolf puts her in equal danger should her identity be exposed. With startling comparisons to the world we live in now, Out of Salem will resonate with any reader who has felt the need to hide their real selves, delivering both a fantastic urban fantasy and an incisive social commentary into how we ‘other’ those whose identities fail to conform.

The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah
(Disney-Hyperion, 9781368036887, £14.99)

London is always a cool place to set a novel, but why not make it even better by plunging it underwater? That’s the central premise of The Light at the Bottom of the World where far into the future, the ruins of London lie buried beneath the ocean, and civilisation clings to it in a twisted dystopia filled with submersibles, sea-creatures and corrupt governments. Oh and an underwater podrace. An immersive, hope-filled wonder of a book that has drawn praise from The Priory of the Orange Tree’s Samantha Shannon, this is London as you’ve never seen it before, and all the better for it.

Next up check out our favourites in Non-Fiction and Graphic Novels. Plus if you fancy a review copy get in touch via marketing@turnaround-uk.com.

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