Books can provide comfort and refuge in uncertain and anxious times, (even if the themes aren’t particularly escapist), which makes this a good moment to be bringing you my spring Sofa Spotlight. It features 8 brilliant new and forthcoming releases and will be followed by an exciting guest author line-up in which I get to host 6 of the writers here (see Sofa Dates below).
The coincidental common ground shared by these books is the depth of insight they give into places, cultures and ways of life very different to each other; each one felt like a discovery, several underline how much life has changed for women. All have characters to invest in and writing which made them stand out among the many other books I’ve read recently. My selection caters to many tastes – I hope you find something you like and will return for the guest author visits. If you’re able to support the blog and the authors by sharing this and/or future posts, that is always hugely appreciated – love of books is what’s kept the Sofa in business for over 8 years.
Text adapted from publicity materials.
London, 1952. Dina Demetriou has travelled from Cyprus for a better life, certain that excitement, adventure and opportunity are out there, waiting. Her passion for clothes and flair for sewing land her a job repairing the glittering costumes at the notorious Pelican Revue, where she befriends the mysterious and beautiful Bebba. With her bleached-blonde hair and an appetite for mischief, Bebba is like no Greek Dina has ever met before. She guides Dina around the fashionable shops, bars and clubs of Soho, and Dina finally feels life has begun. But Bebba has a secret. And as thick smog brings the city to a standstill, the truth emerges with devastating results. Dina’s new life now hangs by a thread. What will be left when the fog finally clears?
Why I chose it: All the ingredients of great women’s fiction including a strong but endearing protagonist facing the challenges of immigration and fabulously evocative depiction of 50s Soho with its mix of glamour and seediness. The descriptions of fashion are exceptional.
Sofa Date: 18 March – Guest Author – Eleni Kyriacou on How to Capture Time and Place in Fiction
Ryan and Emily appear to have it all, successful jobs, a beautiful house and the secret to a happy marriage. A secret that involves certain ‘rules’. Beneath the surface trouble is brewing in the shape of Ada. Whimsical, free spirted and beholden to no-one, she represents the freedom Emily’s been striving for and the escape that Ryan didn’t know he wanted. As they are separately (and secretly) drawn to her, things start to unravel. The rules are still the rules, to be taken seriously, not to be broken….
Why I chose it: Totally my kind of novel: bold themes, taut style and pace, lots of fascinating moral ambiguity calling social conventions into question. This story offers a refreshingly unusual take on sex and relationships – and no easy answers!
Sofa Date: 25 March – Guest Author – Hannah Persaud on Writing about an Unconventional Marriage
Nicholas and his wife April live ‘off-grid’ in a remote cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains with their four-year-old son, Jack. They keep their families at a distance, rejecting what their loved ones think of as ‘normal’. In the early hours of a Wednesday morning, they are driving home from a party when their car crashes on a deserted road, killing them both. As the couple’s grieving relatives descend on the family home, they are forced to decide who will care for the child Nicholas and April left behind. Nicholas’s brother, Nathaniel, and his wife Stephanie feel entirely unready to be parents but his mother and father have issues of their own. And April’s mother, Tammy, is driving across the country to claim her grandson.
Why I chose it: I was really moved by this extraordinary stream of consciousness accessing the deepest layers of four flawed people facing an unimaginably terrible situation. Compassionate and profound, this is the kind of novel that puts even difficult things into perspective.
Hong Kong — a teeming city where ritual, religion, the spirits of the dead and the spirit of enterprise meet and sometimes clash. For Reini it’s a home that sometimes is strange, sometimes familiar, a place of contrasts — even her name: Reini to close friends, Kim to her colleagues. When she meets a Buddhist environmental activist, Hong Kong’s many contradictions come into sharp focus as her own past, her friendships and her work begin to knot, pull tight, and threaten to unravel completely. Red Affairs, White Affairs weaves a path through the mysteries of relationships and friendship, of commitment and compassion, with an extraordinary city as its backdrop.
Why I chose it: Superb sense of place and culture as experienced by German aid worker Kim/Reini, a complex and original character I’d love to meet in real life. In other words, a fictional creation who really ‘lives’.
Sofa Date: 2 April – Writers on Location – Felicia Nay on Hong Kong
The Macnamara sisters hadn’t been seen for months before anyone noticed. It was Father Timoney who finally broke down the door, who saw what had become of them. Berenice was sitting in her armchair, surrounded by religious tracts. Rosaleen had crawled under her own bed, her face frozen in terror. Both had starved themselves to death. Francesca Macnamara returns to Dublin after decades in the US, to find her family in ruins. Meanwhile, Detectives Vincent Swan and Gina Considine are convinced that there is more to the deaths than suicide. Because what little evidence there is, shows that someone was watching the sisters die.
Why I chose it: Even as an infrequent reader of crime fiction, this macabre story had me captivated. The early 80s tech-free setting feels practically historical and Irish Catholic life vividly recognisable to anyone who knows it. I look forward to following the series and even if my planned trip to Dublin doesn’t go ahead, the book certainly took me there.
Sofa Date: 15 April – Guest Author – Nicola White – title TBC
In Japan, a covert industry has grown up around the wakaresaseya (literally “breaker-upper”), a person hired by one spouse to seduce the other in order to gain the advantage in divorce proceedings. When Sato hires Kaitaro, a wakaresaseya agent, to have an affair with his wife, Rina, he assumes it will be an easy case. But Sato has never truly understood Rina or her desires and Kaitaro’s job is to do exactly that – until he does it too well.
While Rina remains ignorant of the circumstances that brought them together, she and Kaitaro fall in a desperate, singular love, setting in motion a series of violent acts that will forever haunt her daughter Sumiko’s life.
Why I chose it: I will never forget how Sumiko’s story consumed and transported me during one of the hardest weeks of my life. It’s an exquisitely written literary mystery, imbued with emotional truth and a deep understanding of Japan and its culture.
Sofa Date: 22 April – Guest Author – Stephanie Scott – title TBC
How would it be if four lunatics went on a tremendous adventure, reshaping their pasts and futures as they went, including killing Mussolini? What if one of those people were a fascinating, forgotten aristocratic assassin and the others a fellow life co-patient, James Joyce’s daughter Lucia, another the first psychoanalysis patient, known to history simply as ‘Anna O,’ and finally 19th Century Paris’s Queen of the Hysterics, Blanche Wittmann? That would be extraordinary, wouldn’t it? How would it all be possible? Because, as the assassin Lady Violet Gibson would tell you, those who are confined have the very best imaginations.
Why I chose it: Poignant, enraging and amusing is an unusual blend. I loved the ‘hurtling’ pace/feel of the prose, which perfectly conveys the characters’ idiosyncratic voices, blurring the lines between reality and some better place to great effect.
Sofa Date: 29 April – Guest Author – Anna Vaught on How a chance sighting of a photograph led to a life-changing adventure
Just shy of 18, Deborah Orr left Motherwell – the town she both loved and hated – to go to university. It was a decision her mother railed against from the moment the idea was raised. Win had very little agency in the world, every choice was determined by the men in her life. And strangely, she wanted the same for her daughter. Attending university wasn’t for the likes of the Orr family. Worse still, it would mean leaving Win behind – and Win wanted Deborah with her at all times, rather like she wanted her arm with her at all times. But while she managed to escape, Deborah’s severing from her family was only superficial. She continued to travel back to Motherwell, fantasizing about the day that Win might come to accept her as good enough. Though of course it was never meant to be.
Why I chose it: A gift to anyone who shares my interest in dysfunctional families and psychology; less dark than anticipated, warm and funny. Both of Orr’s parents had a lot to answer for, but by her own admission, so did she (and ultimately most of it came down to the patriarchy). It moved me, wondering how many of us would have the bravery and honesty to look back on our lives as Deborah Orr did, knowing hers was about to end.