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Fiction Hot Picks 2014

No matter what happens, I never stop reading so despite an exceptionally busy few months I am very excited to unveil my Fiction Hot Picks 2014.  As always, I considered dozens of titles, reading far more than the final twelve in full, to come up with a selection of well written new novels to appeal to a wide range of tastes and interests.  There are contemporary choices (3, 4, 5, 7, 9) alongside novels set in or spanning decades from the early nineteenth century (2) to the 1960s (10) via Victorian Gothic (12) and World War Two (8, 11).  The locations extend from New York (1, 4) and other parts of America to Brisbane (9), Paris and Antibes (6), Mallorca (7), Norway (11), London (12) and rural England (8).  Within these pages you’ll find the literary and the literary-themed, an existential identity crisis, a touching coming of age, family life in all its complexity, beautiful love stories and a short and steamy holiday fling. 

I hope there’s something here for everyone.  I’ll be covering some of these titles – and other good books I couldn’t include – as they are released in the early months of 2014. 

Text adapted from publicity materials provided by publishers.  In order of UK publication date.  Titles 1-3 already available.

Someone1                     Someone – Alice McDermott  – Bloomsbury

Someone begins on the stoop of a Brooklyn apartment building where Marie is waiting for her father to come home from work. It is the 1920s and in her Irish-American enclave the stories of her neighbours unfold before her short-sighted eyes. There is war-blinded Billy Corrigan and foolish, ill-fated Pegeen – and her parents’ legendary Syrian-Irish marriage – the terrifying Big Lucy, and the ever-present Sisters of Charity from the convent down the road.  Marie’s own history plays out against the backdrop of a changing world. Her older brother Gabe leaves for the seminary to study for the priesthood, his faith destined to be tested to breaking point. Marie experiences first love – and first heartbreak – marriage and motherhood, and discovers how time reveals us all to be fools and dreamers, blinded by hope, love and loss.

Unfashioned Creatures2              Unfashioned Creatures – Lesley McDowell – Saraband

London, 1823. Mary Shelley’s real-life friend Isabella Baxter Booth is ‘disturbed in her reason’ – seeing ghosts and dependent on narcotics to escape a hellish life with an increasingly violent, deranged husband. Fearful of her own murderous impulses towards him, Isabella flees for her childhood home in Scotland, where she meets an ambitious young doctor, Alexander Balfour. He will stop at nothing to establish a reputation as a genius in the emerging science of psychiatry and he believes that Isabella could be the key to his greatness. But as his own torments threaten to overwhelm Alexander, is he really the best judge of which way madness lies?

Familiar3              Familiar – J Robert Lennon – Serpent’s Tail

Elisa Brown is driving back from her annual visit to her son Silas’s grave. The road is flat and featureless, and so she finds herself focussing on an old crack in her windscreen. For a moment, she loses sense of all else around her.  When she comes back to herself, everything has changed.   The car she is driving is not the same car. Her body is more subtly changed. She’s wearing different  clothes. But a name badge pinned to her blouse tells her she’s still Elisa Brown. When she arrives home, her life is familiar-but different. There is her house, her husband. But in the world she now inhabits, Silas is no longer dead, and his brother is disturbingly changed. Elisa has a new job, and her marriage seems sturdier, and stranger. Has she had a psychotic break? Or has she entered a parallel universe? She soon discovers that these questions hinge on being able to see herself as she really is-something that might be impossible for Elisa, or for anyone.

& Sons4              & Sons – David Gilbert – 4th Estate 

The Manhattan funeral of Charles Henry Topping would have been a minor affair but for the eulogist: reclusive author A. N. Dyer, whose novel Ampersand stands as a classic of teenage angst. Now Andrew Newbold Dyer takes stock of his own life, the people he’s hurt and the novel that will endure as his legacy. He realises he must reunite with his three sons before it’s too late.  Eldest son Richard is a screenwriter in Californian exile. In the middle is Jamie, who has spent his life capturing the sorrow that surrounds him. And last is Andy, now a pupil at the boarding school that inspired Ampersand. Only when the hidden purpose of the reunion comes to light do the sons realise what’s at stake for three generations of the Dyer family.

Labor Day5              Labor Day – Joyce Maynard – Harper Collins 

As a hot Labor Day weekend looms in Holton Mills, New Hampshire, lonely thirteen-year-old Henry spends most of his time watching television, reading and daydreaming.  For company Henry has only his long-divorced mother, Adele, his hamster Joe and awkward Saturday-night outings with his father and new stepfamily. Adele has a secret that makes it hard for her to leave their house, and a seemingly irreparable broken heart.   All that changes when a mysterious bleeding man named Frank approaches Henry and asks for help. Over the next five days, Henry will learn some of life’s most valuable lessons: how to throw a baseball, the secret to perfect piecrust, the breathless pain of jealousy, the power of betrayal, and the importance of putting others—especially those we love—above ourselves.

Mrs Hemingway6              Mrs Hemingway – Naomi Wood  – Picador  (13 February 2014)

In the dazzling summer of 1926, Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley travel from their home in Paris to a villa in the south of France. They swim, play bridge and drink gin. But wherever they go they are accompanied by the glamorous and irrepressible Fife. Fife is Hadley’s best friend. She is also Ernest’s lover.  Hadley is the first Mrs. Hemingway, but neither she nor Fife will be the last. Over the ensuing decades, Ernest’s literary career will blaze a trail, but his marriages will be ignited by passion and deceit. Four extraordinary women will learn what it means to love the most famous writer of his generation, and each will be forced to ask herself how far she will go to remain his wife.

WRITERS ON LOCATION:  Naomi Wood on Hemingway’s Havana

 Lemon Grove7              The Lemon Grove – Helen Walsh – Tinder Press (27 February 2014)

For one family, the carefully laid jigsaw of life is about to be broken.   Jenn and her husband Greg holiday each year in a villa on the mountainous west coast of the Spanish island of Mallorca. But this year the equilibrium is upset by the arrival of Emma, Jenn’s stepdaughter, and her boyfriend Nathan. Beautiful and reckless, Nathan stirs something unexpected in Jenn. As she is increasingly seduced by his youth and the promise of passion, the line between desire and obsession begins to blur. What follows is a highly-charged liaison that puts lives and relationships in jeopardy.

Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase8              Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase – Louise Walters – Hodder (27 February 2014)

Roberta likes to collect the letters and postcards she finds in second-hand books. When her father gives her some of her grandmother’s belongings, she finds a baffling letter from the grandfather she never knew – dated after he supposedly died in the war.

Dorothy is unhappily married to Albert, who is away at war. When an aeroplane crashes in the field behind her house she meets Squadron Leader Jan Pietrykowski, and as their bond deepens she dares to hope she might find happiness. But fate has other plans for them both, and soon she is hiding a secret so momentous that its shockwaves will touch her granddaughter many years later.

 This is the Life9              This is the Life – Alex Shearer – Blue Door (6 March 2014)

Even when you’ve received a death sentence, you still have to live.  Set in Australia, this is the story of eccentric misfit Louis and the devoted and long-suffering younger brother who travels from the UK to support him when he falls seriously ill.  Two brothers on one final journey together, wading through the stuff that is thicker than water.  Tender-hearted, wise and at times achingly funny, This is the Life is a moving meditation on life and loss.  The novel was inspired by the author’s experiences of his late brother’s illness.

Marlford10           Marlford – Jacqueline Yallop – Atlantic  (6 March 2014)

Ellie Barton has spent her young life living in the dilapidated manor house with her elderly father. Her duty is to her aristocratic lineage, something of which she is often reminded by those few people around her. But the local village of Marlford, founded by her grandfather, is in decay: subsidence from the old salt mines is destroying the buildings, the books in the memorial library are mouldering, and old loyalties and assumptions are shifting. It’s the 1960s and when two idealistic young men decide to squat in the closed wing of the house, they show Ellie a world beyond Marlford, and she begins to feel trapped beneath the unbearable weight of history and expectation.

Dynamite Room medium11           The Dynamite Room – Jason Hewitt – Simon & Schuster  (27 March 2014)

July 1940. Eleven- year-old Lydia walks through a Suffolk village on a baking hot day. She is wearing a gas mask. The shops and houses are empty, windows boarded up and sandbags green with mildew. She strikes off down a country lane to a large Edwardian house, the house she grew up in. But Lydia finds it empty too, the windows covered in black-out blinds. Her family are gone.  Late that night a soldier comes, gun in hand, heralding a full-blown German invasion. There are certain rules she must now abide by. He says he won’t hurt Lydia, but that she cannot leave the house.   But is he telling the truth? What is he looking for? And how does he already know her name?

The Quick12           The Quick – Lauren Owen – Jonathan Cape (10 April 2014)

London, 1892: When James Norbury, a shy would-be poet newly down from Oxford, finds lodging with a charming young aristocrat he is introduced to the drawing-rooms of high society and finds love in an unexpected quarter. Suddenly he vanishes without trace and his sister Charlotte sets out from their crumbling country estate to find him. In the sinister labyrinthine city that greets her, she uncovers a secret world populated by unforgettable characters: a female rope walker turned vigilante, a street urchin with a deadly secret, and the chilling “Doctor Knife.” But the answer to her brother’s disappearance ultimately lies within the doors of one of the country’s most mysterious institutions: The Aegolius Club, whose members include the most dangerous and ambitious men in England.

Congratulations to these talented authors, five of them debut novelists, and many thanks to the editors and publicists who keep me up to date with new releases all year round.  It’s been an amazing year on the Literary Sofa with more hits than ever, so a big thank you to everyone who reads and supports the blog.  If this is your first visit, I hope you’ll come back.

UPDATE – by popular demand, I am tweeting some of the qualities which earned each title its place here under #hotpicks14

 COMPETITION TO WIN THE HOT PICKS 2014 TITLE OF YOUR CHOICE has now ended.  The three winners were:

Claire King who wins a copy of FAMILIAR.

Claire Fuller who wins a copy of THE DYNAMITE ROOM on publication.

Ness Welham who wins a copy of MRS SINCLAIR’S SUITCASE on publication.

There were well over a hundred entries – thanks to everyone who nominated their most wanted title.  Really interesting!

PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD!  I do all this for love, not money… If you like my selection, please share it on Facebook and Twitter (or anywhere else).  Everybody who does will automatically be entered into the competition, so if you also enter on the blog, you double your chance of winning.  


I’m now taking a break until the new year to spend time with my family and put the finishing touches to my manuscript before it goes out to publishers.  Enjoy the festive season!

About Isabel Costello

Writer (novels: Paris Mon Amour 2017; Scent 2021).Host of the Literary Sofa blog. Co-founder of Resilience for Writers with Voula Tsoflias. Perfume lover and Francophile.


64 thoughts on “Fiction Hot Picks 2014

  1. Well, I’d love to read Labor Day, mostly because someone once compared The Night Rainbow to it, and that always intrigues me! But the book I’d have instinctively picked up from that pile would be Familiar. The cover is fabulous, and it sounds like a page turner!

    Posted by Claire King (@ckingwriter) | December 16, 2013, 12:07
  2. My choice of book would be Mrs Hemingway. I like authors interpreting the lives of other authors and, in doing so, bringing an insider’s perspective on the processes of authorship including the uncertain knowledge of perceived truths extrapolating into fictions.

    Posted by Andrew Moorhouse | December 16, 2013, 12:13
  3. Someone, because it is placed at No 1. Or the Quick because it’s set in 1892. 😉

    Posted by Lane Ashfeldt | December 16, 2013, 12:16
  4. While they all sound great, and I’m very much looking forward to reading Louise Walters’ debut, I think the one that I’d pick from this list is Familiar. It sounds very intriguing and I love books that try to answer questions about who we really are.

    Posted by Amanda Saint (@saintlywriter) | December 16, 2013, 12:18
  5. So hard to choose just one because they all look remarkable. If you are forcing my hand I’d have to say Marlford – Jacqueline Yallop because of the beautiful cover as much as the gripping storyline.

    Posted by Rhian Ivory (@RMIvory) | December 16, 2013, 12:58
  6. I’d like The Lemon Grove – though all of the novels are intriguing, this is the one that sings to me at the moment.

    Posted by Nuala Ní Chonchúir | December 16, 2013, 13:01
  7. It’s a really interesting selection but I think the one I’d most like to read is & Sons, I’m a sucker for anything set in New York!

    Posted by Claire Stokes (@maudie43) | December 16, 2013, 13:05
  8. The Dynamite Room looks amazing. I’m desperate to know what happens already!

    Posted by Emily Finn | December 16, 2013, 13:12
  9. The Dynamite Room sounds fascinating. What an intriguing set-up. And how different the world looks through a child’s eyes. Familiar sounds interesting to. I’m intrigued to see how the same but different looks. From a writerly perspective it’s easy to say but hard to do convincingly. And I love the cover too. I’d have to plump for Familiar

    Posted by vanisreading | December 16, 2013, 13:12
  10. Many thanks for including my book, Isabel, so exciting. Not entering the comp, but I do love the look of The Lemon Grove and The Dynamite Room, have heard very good things about both of them and will be reading in 2014.

    Posted by louisewalters12 | December 16, 2013, 13:14
  11. My inner weirdo is crying out to read FAMILIAR now. Thank you for sharing what looks like a wonderfully diverse list.

    Posted by t upchurch | December 16, 2013, 13:26
  12. Great selection and hard to choose! I’m intrigued by This is the Life and The Dynamite Room. I’ll also definitely be reading Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase after following Louise’s road to publication.

    Posted by helenmackinven | December 16, 2013, 13:53
  13. Actually, they all sound appealing, although I’d have welcomed your views on how well they translate the blurb into a gripping story. Failing that, I’d vote for Unfashioned Creatures as I have a penchant for overambitious doctors and the history of attitudes towards mental ill-health.
    Have a lovely relaxing Christmas – you’ve certainly worked hard for it.

    Posted by Annecdotist | December 16, 2013, 13:55
    • Unfortunately I don’t have space to say any more in the post but you can take it from me that these books DO live up to their tantalising blurbs. I know many don’t, which is why I read the titles in full. I can’t recommend a book I haven’t read myself! Thanks for your encouragement and kind words.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | December 16, 2013, 16:52
  14. Mrs. Sinclairs Suitcase sounds exciting….a squadron leader landing in the back yard!
    Funny…one of my close friends surname is Pietrykowski….apparently an unusual Polish name?
    The picks sound excellent!

    Posted by nessguide | December 16, 2013, 14:34
  15. ‘The Quick’ sounds intriguing and quirky. I like to journey into the labyrinthine minds of imaginative writers who create unique and authentic characters that push the fringes of possibilities in a strange and subterranean hinterland.

    Posted by Sue Fox | December 16, 2013, 14:41
  16. I would love to read Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase, it sounds such an intriguing read. Some great looking books on the list, thank you for sharing.

    Posted by Karen | December 16, 2013, 15:38
  17. Hi Isabel – What an intriguing list! I want to read at least half of them right away. If I have to choose, I would say I’m particularly interested in Familiar, Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase, and Mrs. Hemingway. And as you know, I’ve read Someone and think it is wonderful – I’m not surprised that made your list.

    Posted by Kristin | December 16, 2013, 15:40
  18. All very tempting but I’d choose The Dynamite Room.

    Posted by Wendy Ogden | December 16, 2013, 16:21
  19. What a fabulous list of books. I’m a blogger and lucky that I get to read some fantastic new releases, but I’ve not read any of these ….. yet. I’ve added most of them to my ever growing to be read list! I love the sound of Mrs Hemingway, I think that’s the one that attracts me the most.

    Posted by Anne Cater | December 16, 2013, 17:28
  20. Unfashioned Creatures for me – I have a thing for Scottish novels and another for books with dark Romantic paintings on the cover. The two together are irresistible

    Posted by lizzysiddal | December 16, 2013, 20:06
  21. I’d love Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase – I like finding cards and letters in old books too.

    Posted by Drew | December 16, 2013, 20:07
  22. Hi there I would love to read Marlford as it sounds utterly enchanting. Have a lovely Christmas.

    Posted by Lisa Redmond (@LisaReadsBooks) | December 17, 2013, 09:39
  23. Hello. Thanks for the recommendations. Plenty there to get excited about. Forced to choose I think I’d put “& Sons” at the top of my list. All the best and a happy Christmas.

    Posted by Matt | December 18, 2013, 08:59
  24. I’m intrigued by The Quick. I love a good mystery and I want to know more about those characters.

    Posted by Margot McGovern | December 18, 2013, 10:55
  25. This is the life – “moving meditation” and “achingly funny” do it for me

    Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy

    Posted by Alison Clayton-Smith | December 18, 2013, 16:14
  26. The Quick sounds good to me. Lots of atmosphere, interesting characters and …. a plot! A great winter read I think. I hope

    Posted by annette Gordon | December 18, 2013, 19:04
  27. Unfashioned Creatures as it sounds incredibly intriguing! I love delving into a book that deals with psychiatry and madness- it’s a subject that is close to my heart. All these hot pick reads sound brilliant and like they will be page turners.

    Posted by Steph Harmer | December 18, 2013, 19:10
  28. I would pick Unfashioned Creatures, I added it to my wishlist only the other day, so it was great to see it on your list too and confirmed that I should read it! Have you read all of these? I still have lots of 2013 reading to catch up on. Thanks for a great summary.

    Posted by The Little Reader Library | December 19, 2013, 14:06
  29. I love the sound of most of them, plenty to add to my wishlist. I’m going to say The Dynamite Room, I love WWII fiction and it’s set in Suffolk which is where I live.

    Posted by Samantha Clark | December 19, 2013, 14:21
  30. Ooh, tough choice. I think I’d most like to read Familiar. I like books that pose questions about ourselves.

    Posted by liveotherwise | December 19, 2013, 14:25
  31. &Sons sound right up my street…….family saga…….set in NYC…..what’s not to like ;))

    Posted by hastanton | December 21, 2013, 12:14
  32. I’d love to win a copy of The Dynamite Room. Fantastic cover, and intriguing premise. Thanks

    Posted by claireful | December 21, 2013, 12:59
  33. These all look great but Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase looks like it will be a great read. Just my sort of thing.

    Posted by Annie | December 21, 2013, 13:07
  34. Thanks for these picks, I loved reading them. So hard to decide, but it would be great to win a copy of Mrs Sinclair’s suitcase.

    Posted by Jenny | December 22, 2013, 10:09
  35. Would love to read Familiar J.Robert Lennon…sounds intriguing and resonating…

    Posted by Ann | December 22, 2013, 18:09
  36. Oooh, will certainly pick up & Sons – sounds totally up our street with a fabulous sense of place. Have a good Christmas

    Posted by TripFiction | December 23, 2013, 12:35
  37. I’d be happy to read any or all of those and hope to in 2014 but my top picks would have to be Someone or The Dynamite Room.

    I wish you and yours a wonderful Christmas and a very Happy New Year! Look forward to seeing you again in 2014.

    Posted by Kath | December 23, 2013, 16:01
  38. Would LOVE ‘Unfashioned Creatures’. Mary Shelley keeps cropping up this year- had to reread ‘Frankenstein’ for job interview (didn’t get it!) and was lucky enough to see encore NT performance in November. This would complete the 3 related things!!

    Posted by Lisa Farrell | December 30, 2013, 15:09
  39. I’ve recently read Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase and loved it. Will now check out others on your list. Thanks

    Posted by cleopatralovesbooks | December 31, 2013, 10:39
  40. The Dynamite Room looks like a stunning read. I’ve read and enjoyed Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase and would recommend this one.

    Posted by cleopatralovesbooks | January 1, 2014, 13:15
  41. Brilliant picks! Mrs Hemingway and & Sons made their way onto one of my lists, too, so I’d love to know what you make of them 🙂

    Posted by Laura Swainbank | January 13, 2014, 16:52


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