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Image / Editorial

Need a lift and a laugh? These 14 must-read novels will do the trick


by Jennifer McShane
15th Nov 2020
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We are most certainly in need of lighter reading material as we continue quarantining, and these 14 titles longlisted in The Comedy Women in Print Prize (CWIP), the only prize in the UK and Ireland to shine a light on work by funny women, is the lift we need. Sharp, witty and brilliant writing from these exceptional female writers, the winners were announced but all the longlist contenders are must-reads


Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams (Hachette UK / Trapeze)

Queenie, the titular heroine living in south London, says “there’s no space” for her. At 25, she’s verging on breakdown, adrift in her job on a newspaper culture supplement, cold-shouldered by her long-term boyfriend, Tom, and unable even to seek comfort at her favourite Caribbean bakery, now a burger joint, full of“white kids holding colourful cans of beer”. There’s plenty of ill-advised hookups once she and Tom break up for real. She’s trying to find Mr Right, but she’s trying to find herself too. Utterly insightful and laugh-out-loud funny.

Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen (John Murray Publishers) 

Inspired by the upcoming centenary of Ireland’s partition and the ongoing complexities of a potential Brexit enforced hard-border, Gallen writes about a troubled family in a small town on the Irish border. We meet Majella, who everyone thinks is slightly odd. She keeps to herself,  has no friends or boyfriend because she thinks things are easier that way. She’s thrust into the spotlight when her grandmother is murdered, and she must decide on the life she truly wants for herself.

Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella (Transworld Publishers / Bantam Press)

Kinsella’s popular heroine, Becky Bloomwood Brandon, returns for a delightful ode to shopping, in the engaging eighth Shopaholic novel, with a Christmas theme. Becky is as whimsical and wonderful as ever and Kinsella is on top form as Becky gets caught up in new adventures with plenty of festive cheer thrown in.

The Nursery by Asia Mackay (Bonnier Books UK/ Zaffre)

Tyler is trying to have it all, but being a working mother is so much more difficult when you’re a secret agent for an underground branch of the security services. Platform Eight have been tasked with tracking down and eliminating the traitor in MI6 who has been selling information to the highest bidder through a headhunting website for the criminal underworld. But when your husband doesn’t know exactly what your job entails, can one working mother save the day? Killing Eve-esque and this is not a bad thing

The Blessed Girl by Angela Makholwa (Bloomsbury Publishing)

Young, beautiful and ambitious, Bontle Tau has Johannesburg wrapped around her finger. Her generous admirers are falling over themselves to pay for her Mercedes, her penthouse, and her Instagrammable holidays. It’s a long way from the neighbourhood she started out in, and it’s been far from easy.Along with making sure she always looks fabulous – because people didn’t sacrifice their lives in the freedom struggle for black women to wear the same cheap T-shirts they wore during apartheid – Bontle’s also hustling to get her business off the ground. What can go wrong? A lot when the past creeps up on you.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary (Quercus)

After a bad breakup, Tiffy Moore needs a place to live. Desperation makes her open-minded, so she answers an ad for a flatshare. Leon, a night shift worker, will take the apartment during the day, and Tiffy can have it nights and weekends. He’ll only ever be there when she’s at the office. In fact, they’ll never even have to meet. Tiffy and Leon start writing each other notes – first about what day is garbage day, and politely establishing what leftovers are up for grabs, but then things take a turn. Falling in love with a roommate you’ve never even met? Stranger things have happened…

So Lucky by Dawn O’Porter (HarperCollins UK)

Three women: Beth shows that women really can have it all. Ruby lives life by her own rules. And then there’s Lauren, living the dream. But, is it all as great as it looks?  Beth hasn’t had sex in a year. Ruby feels like she’s failing. Lauren’s happiness is fake news. Warm, witty and full of sparkle.

Reasons to be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe (Penguin Random House)

Teenager Lizzie Vogel has a new job as a dental assistant. This is not as glamorous as it sounds. At least it means mostly getting away from her alcoholic, nymphomaniacal, novel-writing mother. But, if Lizzie thinks being independent means sex with her boyfriend (he prefers bird-watching), strict boundaries (her boss keeps using her loo) or self-respect (surely only actual athletes get fungal foot infections?) she’s still got a lot more growing up to do. Hilarious and delightful.

Are We Nearly There Yet? by Lucy Vine (Orion)

Alice is turning thirty and is stuck in a rut. Her friends are all coupling up and settling down, while she’s still working as a temp,  getting thrown out of clubs, and accidentally sexting her boss… She decides to throw caution to the wind and jets off on a round-the-world adventure to #FindTheFun and find herself. Of course, she’s no more likely to find the answer to true happiness on the beach in Thailand than she is at the electric beach in Tooting, but at least in Thailand, there’s paddleboard yoga. And she just might find more than she bargained for. I loved this one.

In the Crypt with a Candlestick by Daisy Waugh (Little Brown Book Group)

Emma, Lady Tode, thoroughly fed up with being a dutiful Lady of the Manor after her husband lived much longer than she intended, wants to leave the country to spend her remaining years in Capri. Her children are either unwilling or unable to take on management of their large and important home, so the mantle passes to a distant relative and his glamorous wife. Not long after the new owners take over, Lady Tode is found dead in the mausoleum.    This is an outrageous whodunnit, more a commentary of social satire than anything else but it makes for a fantastic read.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman (Headline Publishing Group)

The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book. When she suddenly discovers a family she didn’t know existed, her life takes a different turn – one that forces her out of her comfortable shell. A delight from start to finish.

Diary of a Confused Feminist by Kate Weston (Hachette Children’s Group)

15-year-old Kat wants to do GOOD FEMINISM, although she’s not always sure what that means. She also wants to be a writer, get together with Hot Josh (is this a feminist ambition?), win at her coursework and not make a total embarrassment of herself at all times. But the path to true feminism is filled with mortifying incidents, muddling moments and Instagram hell, all written to perfection by comedian Weston. A joy to read.

Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson (Jonathan Cape)

A clever merging of speculative fiction and historical fiction to reimagine Mary Shelley’s classic novel, Frankenstein. The story switches between Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein in Geneva, Switzerland in 1816 and the story of Ry Shelley, a transgender transhumanist who becomes involved in the world of artificial intelligence in present-day Britain. He’s falling in love and not with just anyone – with celebrated AI-specialist, Professor Victor Stein. Intelligent, inventive and so, so funny.

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Vampire Menace by Olga Wojtas (Saraband)

 The anticipated follow-up to Olga Wojtas’s debut, Miss Blaine’s Prefect And The Golden Samovar doesn’t disappoint. The intrepid librarian Shona McMonagle, erstwhile Marcia Blaine Academy prefect and an accomplished linguist and martial artist, finds herself in an isolated French mountain village, Sans-Soleil, which has no sunlight and is the centre of a spate of unexplained deaths. Shona has travelled back in time to help and is soon drawn into a full-blown vampire hunt, involving several notable villagers, the world-renowned soprano Mary Garden – and even Count Dracula himself.

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