Peterdown by David Annand

The fictional northern town of Peterdown has been selected as a splitter hub for a new high-speed rail line and either the town’s beloved football stadium or The Larkspur, an ugly but architecturally-significant housing estate, are proposed for demolition to facilitate it. This drives a wedge between Colin, sports reporter for the local paper and lifelong Peterdown FC fan, and his partner Ellie, an architect who sees saving the Larkspur as her salvation. A wonderful modern epic of class, community, power and football, Peterdown serves as a clever and very funny tribute to the UK’s left-behind towns.

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Plucked from his job as a shift supervisor in Starbucks, 22-year-old Darren is rushed onto the sales floor at a New York tech startup, where he is christened Buck, learns to sell and his life changes at a furious speed. But at what cost to his friends, his family and his health? Like Invisible Man crossed with The Wolf of Wall Street, this is an addictive, hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable social satire.

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Winter, 1985. Bill Furlong makes his rounds as the coal and timber merchant in a small Irish town. At home his wife Eileen and their five daughters prepare for Christmas. But something dark is brewing under the facade of this seemingly happy town, where the church wields so much power – and Bill’s moral centre is about to be tested to its limit. A miniature masterpiece of rare perfection and the perfect winter read.

Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding

Sonya is a former actress, now a single mum back home in Ireland and suffering from spiralling alcoholism. Her whole world is her four-year-old son Tommy, their rescue dog Herbie and her desperate need for the bottle. We follow this family through a few earth-shattering months as Sonya is forced to confront her drinking problem and is threatened with the loss of everything she holds dear. The prose is alive, the characters are wholly convincing, the story is utterly gripping and deeply, deeply moving. A truly brilliant portrait of a family and a life in jeopardy by a ludicrously gifted writer.

English Pastoral by James Rebanks

The acclaimed writer-shepherd returns with a stunning takedown of the structure of farming in the UK and around the world. Rebanks opens his latest book by building an idyllic picture of life on his grandfather’s farm. He then shatters this vision by showing what misguided use of pesticides has done to the land, before giving us a blueprint for a better future that includes a return to the rotational farming of the past. This is an eye-opening account of what true rebellion looks like – Rebanks is going against the grain to diversify his farm – and a positive vision of what is possible.

A Bright Ray of Darkness by Ethan Hawke

Hawke is exactly the right person to give us an insight into the craft of acting and the realities of fame – his narrator is a movie star who, just as his marriage is falling apart, is poised to make his Broadway debut. The only actor in the production not traditionally trained, he is desperate not to appear as just a ticket-pull for tourists. At the same time, he’s drinking too much, fearful of losing his kids and stumbling from one damaging sexual encounter to the next. What we get is a subtle and realistic character arc as William starts to grow up, both professionally and personally. He starts to take some responsibility for himself but, more than that, sees himself for who he is once the narcissism is stripped away. A stunning return to fiction from one of our most brilliant artists.

Easy Meat by Rachel Trezise

23 June, 2016. Brexit vote day. Reality TV star-turned-butcher Caleb negotiates his day with the resigned stoicism of the contemporary working class, while politics swirls all around him. His apathy on Brexit is evident, though he’s surrounded by self-declared experts on the subject, as well as scores of European workers at the slaughterhouse. How can he not be apathetic? When would he have the time or inclination to educate himself about it? He’s trapped by The Machine. As the day comes to a conclusion, the country is on the verge of a momentous decision and Caleb has hardly given it much thought. Trezise has delivered a sublime portrait of Welsh working class life. She presents the clashing polarisation of the national moment with care and devoid of judgement, preferring to listen and understand rather than opine. Her ear for the rhythms and cadence of Valleys speak is excellent and she blends comic elements perfectly with the underlying bleakness of Caleb’s situation. Running through it all, however, are the striving working class people, Welsh and European alike, just trying to make things better for themselves and their families; people used as tokenistic political pawns far too often in recent years.

Push by Sapphire

A brutal, raw, fierce song carved from the streets of Harlem. Precious is 17, pregnant by her father for a second time, living with an abusive mother, illiterate, overweight and, maybe most debilitating of all in this New York City of 1987, she is black. But a sob story this is not. We find Precious at just about the point where she’s taken all the worst imaginable shit a nightmarish life can throw at her. Slowly, we watch her grow, watch her find her voice, watch her kick back at all the bastards that have beaten her down. She finds flickers of light among all this darkness, solace in the company and help of others. And somehow, this devastating story fills us not just with an acid-bile taste at the horrors of the world, but also with hope. A shocking, brilliant novel where every line cackles with vibrant energy. Precious is an unforgettable, inspiring character that will live with you forever.

The Coward by Jarred McGinnis

The Coward follows Jarred, a young man confined to a wheelchair after a horrific accident. With nowhere else to turn for help, he is forced to reconnect with his estranged father, a man who rained down a torrent of misery on him as a child but who now claims to have changed – he’s kicked the bottle, for one thing. But Jarred is deeply scarred, bitter about his predicament and not ready to forgive and forget just yet. This is a raw, tender and often very funny semi-autobiographical novel by a searing new talent that calls to mind the best of Charles Bukowski and Irvine Welsh.

The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt

The Kentucky Hills provides the backdrop for this gritty, humorous and original mystery. Mick Hardin, an army investigator, is on leave and back home where his sister Linda has just been promoted to acting sheriff in a place where women aren’t supposed to hold powerful positions. When a local woman is found dead in the woods, Mick and Linda combine their skills to investigate. The real stars of this surprising novel, however, are the locals, all of whom greet every visitor to their land with the dangerous end of a gun barrel. Rather than poke fun of these quirks, Offutt shows real respect for a forgotten way of life in a community that places family ties above all else. A cracking crime novel that stands out in a year that has felt anything but vintage for the genre.