Skein Island

Aliya Whiteley

Titan, £7.99

Skein Island is a women-only resort, to which any woman can apply for “a week out of life”. The only price is the Declaration each visitor must write at the end of her stay. Librarian Marianne is granted a place, and believes that her week on the island will mark a watershed in her life. The strange thing is that Marianne never sent in an application. And the offer came personally from Skein Island’s founder, Lady Amelia Worthington, who is long dead. Seventeen years earlier, Marianne’s mother went to Skein Island and never came back to her family. Will she follow her mother’s example and fail to return to her husband, David? It’s an intriguing premise, and the story only gets weirder and more meta as it goes on, delving not only into the origin of the island but the very nature of stories, mythology and the roles we occupy throughout our lives. A highly inventive and haunting postmodern novel.

No Place To Go

Lezlie Lowe

Melville House, £9.99

Obviously, the ubiquity of mobile phones means there isn’t the same need for phone boxes any more, but what’s the deal with public toilets? As everyone must have noticed, authorities are responding to vandalism, drug abuse and sexual activity by shutting toilets down rather than addressing the problems. Canadian writer Lezlie Lowe set out to discover why public conveniences are so inconvenient now, and why parents must develop “an expertly tuned bathroom homing device” when out with young children. She finds, amongst other things, a fight over public space and the rights of certain groups of people to use it. Along the way, she meets Jack Sim, who is trying to make bathrooms fashionable in India, comments on the gendered bathrooms debate and learns of female truckers who inject hormones to stop their periods due to the lack of available toilets. This very readable call to arms deserves to ignite a debate about a civic right that’s been slipping away unheeded.

A Gift In December

Jenny Gladwell

Hodder & Stoughton, £8.99

Although it sporadically hints that it’s going to blossom into something more substantial, A Gift in December settles for being comfort reading, best enjoyed with a few glasses of red on the sofa. Journalist Jane Brook has been sent to Norway by her editor as part of a press junket to cover the chopping down of the tree sent every Christmas to stand in Trafalgar Square. On the rebound after a painful break-up with her boyfriend, she finds herself drawn to vain TV presenter and notorious philanderer Phil Donelly, who is making a rare foray back into print journalism. But a better distraction arrives in the form of a story unexpectedly dropping into her lap. Thomas Erikson, an aged former soldier who helped King Haakon of Norway escape to London during the war, wants Jane to help clear up a mystery from his past. It’s undemanding stuff, but the vivid snowy setting and festive mood sit nicely with the time of year.