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The Books Diane Loves


I love thoughtful novels with odd, flawed characters, stories that feel authentic, stories without a clear winner or loser. The books that stay with me are often about outsiders, people who struggle and stumble. These are stories told from a place of empathy, humour and non-judgment. Here are five of them.


The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

Brothers Jim and Bob live completely different lives. One is successful, the other carries the burden of a terrible childhood mistake. A family crisis forces them together again with devastating consequences. Complex and full of surprises, a compelling and revealing story of how childhood shapes us and colours our lives.


Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

Thomas McNulty flees Ireland and the famine that took his family to seek a better life in the New World. There he meets fellow wanderer John Cole. Theirs is a tender, heart-breaking love story set against the brutality of the American Civil War and violence inflicted on the new country’s first peoples. Vivid, intimate and breath-taking.


All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

Elfrieda, a gifted pianist, has once again tried to end her life. In hospital and desperately unhappy, she asks her sister Yolandi to take her to Switzerland to help her do it properly. Elf and Yoli have grown up in a strict Mennonite community, an upbringing that casts a long shadow over their lives. They have already lost their father to suicide. A raw, bittersweet and remarkably funny story about the ties that bind, the love and pain shared within families.


Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn

The fiercest of all the Patrick Melrose novels, ‘Mother’s Milk’ takes us back to the defining years of Patrick’s life and reveals why this fascinating and troubled character is incapable of fidelity or happiness. We meet a child in a state of wonder, delighted by the nature of rural France, who is taken apart by a manipulative and abusive father and elusive mother. Complex, bare and absolutely riveting.


The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie

Veblen, an obsessive young woman, meets Paul, a successful neurologist. They fall in love and she agrees to marry him. But nothing is easy for Veblen who doesn’t know how to trust happiness. She’s grown up with a controlling mother who imposes herself and her phantom illnesses on her daughter whenever she looks likely to become happy. Then there’s the squirrel. An odd, funny and very clever novel with a big heart.

The Improbable Life of Ricky Bird

If you were charmed by The Curious Incident, laughed with Eleanor Oliphant and cried over A Man Called Ove, you will love Ricky Bird.

No one loved making forts more than Ricky. A fort was a place of safety and possibility. It shut out the world and enclosed her and Ollie within any story she wanted to tell ...

Ricky Bird loves making up stories for her brother Ollie almost as much as she loves him. The imaginary worlds she creates are wild and whimsical places full of unlimited possibilities.

Real life is another story. Ricky’s father has abandoned them and the family has moved to a bleak new neighbourhood. Worse still, her mother’s new boyfriend, Dan, has come with the furniture.

But Ricky Bird is a force to be reckoned with. As the mastermind of so many outlandish adventures, her imagination is her best weapon. As her father used to say, if you can spin a good yarn you can get on in life.

The trouble is that in the best stories characters sometimes take on a life of their own and no one, not even Ricky, is able to imagine the consequences.

Beautifully written, heartbreakingly funny and deeply moving, this book has already been compared to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Lost and Found, Shuggie Bain, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and A Monster Calls. But Ricky’s story is all her own – and it will stay with you long after the last page.

‘Fierce and wonderful and utterly singular, Ricky embodies the sheer joy and transformative power of storytelling.’ Kate Mildenhall, author of The Mother Fault and Skylarking

‘A wise, tender but unflinching portrait of an ordinary family and the unordinary girl at its heart. Ricky – fragile, tough, endearing and funny – is a fabulous creation. She'll walk around in my world all year, and more.’ Kristina Olsson, award-winning author of Shell and Boy, Lost