The Best British & Irish Books That You Should Be Reading RN, According To Experts

by Alice Broster

Recommending books to friends can be a slightly precarious thing. If you suggest something and they like it, it’s great; you have someone to discuss the book with, but you might never see your copy of it again. However, in my opinion, it is hard for a bad book suggestion not to reflect on the person who recommended it. That is why I think awards are always a fail safe way to get some book inspiration. The five 2019 Costa Book Award Winners have been announced, offering exceptional book recommendations whether you are a big lover of fiction, wanting to start 2019 by sinking your teeth into a new biography, or poetry is more your jam.

Previous category winners have included Gail Honeyman, for the bestselling Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Sebastian Barry for Days Without End, and Keggie Carew for her biography, Dadland. The books that make the list are always in pretty esteemed company and are hailed as the most enjoyable books of the year by writers based in the UK or Ireland. With five categories, covering first novel, novel, poetry, biography, and children’s book award, if one of your aims for 2019 is to read a few more books, then you can’t go wrong by starting off with this year’s category winners.


'The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle' by Stuart Turton

The winner of the Costa First Novel Award is The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Written by freelance journalist Stuart Turton, it tells the story of Evelyn Hardcastle’s death at a party thrown by her parents. Only this isn’t the first time Evelyn has died. The only way to stop this cycle is to work out who is killing Evelyn although, like any good thriller, things aren’t quite that simple.

Speaking about the book the judges said, "this ingenious, intriguing and highly original mindbender of a murder mystery gripped us all. We were all stunned that this exciting and accomplished novel, planned and plotted perfectly, is a debut. Fresh, enticing and completely unputdownable.”

Speaking about how difficult the writing process was Turton said in the Guardian, “I’d given so much up, convinced my girlfriend to come [to London], and I didn’t think I could pull it off. Eventually I started having fun with it. The second year, I saw a glimmer in it that it could actually work, and that was amazing.”

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'Normal People' by Sally Rooney

The book that takes the prize as Costa Novel Award winner is Normal People by Sally Rooney. If you haven’t already picked up this coming of age novel I implore you to go out and do it now. Rooney is the youngest winner of the Costa Novel Award, aged only 27. Normal People is about Connell and Marianne who both grow up in the same small town. Whilst Connell is surrounded by friends and is the person to know at school, Marianne has learnt from painful experiences to keep herself away from her peers. However, after a chance conversation between the two of them, everything begins to change.

The Telegraph have reported that Rooney has been hailed as "Salinger for the Snapchat generation" and speaking about her work the judges said it is “a trailblazing novel about modern life and love that will electrify any reader.” I don’t need any more persuading than that.

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'The Cut Out Girl' by Bart van Es

The Costa Biography Award winner is Bart Van Es for The Cut Out Girl. Curious about his own history, and what happened during and after the war, The Cut Out Girl tells the story of Lien. Taken away from her parents to be hidden from the Nazis, the last time Lien saw her parents was at The Hague. She was taken in and fostered by Van Es’ grandparents. In the book he pieces together what must have happened to her family and how the war effected his own.

Whilst The Cut Out Girl is a harrowing testament of war time survival it is also a story about family. Lien is alive and well to this day and turned 85 last September. Van Es writes in the acknowledgements of the book “It is thanks to Lien’s faith, honesty and wisdom that The Cut Out Girl has become a reality.” And if you need any more of a glowing review the judges said, “the hidden gem of the year. Sensational and gripping, and shedding light on some of the most urgent issues of our time, this was our unanimous winner.”

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'Assurances' by J.O. Morgan

If you like long form poetry then Assurances by J.O. Morgan is the book for you. It isn’t hard to see why it scooped the Costa Poetry Award. The Scotsman dubbed J.O. Morgan as “one of the most interesting poets to have emerged out of Scotland in recent years.” Beginning in the middle of the Cold War, Morgan uses his poetry to place the reader in the middle of the tense, dramatic action.

Speaking to the newspaper about his previous work Morgan said, “It’s as if the poem is saying ‘We don’t really know what this battle was like and yet we kind of know.’ You can never know exactly, but if you can get that shape in your head, it is almost as if you can feel you know what it was like without knowing exactly how to describe it. Yet you are using words to describe that feeling that you can’t describe in words. Does that make any sense?” And the judges agreed saying, "we were all gripped by this polyphonic book-length poem and dazzled by its originality and inventiveness.”

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'The Skylarks’ War' by Hilary McKay

The winner of the Costa Childrens Book Award is Hilary McKay for The Skylarks’ War. Don't be put off by the categorisation for children: The Skylarks’ War is not one to miss. Clarry, Peter, and their cousin Rupert spend every summer together exploring. However, as the war looms, Peter is sent back to boarding school, Rupert is sent to the front, and Clarry is left at home with her father. It feels like everything is changing and she isn’t sure they will all have a summer in Cornwall together again.

Speaking about to Books for Keeps, McKay explained: “Clarry’s one of those people who choose to be better, but it’s not that’s she not hurt. If you’re brought up with something from birth, you accept what isn’t normal. I have children who write to me because they cannot talk to their parents. If you talk to most librarians in a poor area you would find what perhaps you can’t imagine.” The judges described The Skylarks’ War as “as perfect a novel as you could ever want to read” and they definitely have me sold.

Buy it here


One of the five winning authors will be named Costa Book of the Year at the end of January, but I wouldn't want to be in the judges position right now. All look seriously impressive in their own right and if you are in need of a book recommendation then look no further.