The Lady recommends

The depths of winter is not the time to be snooty about ‘feelgood’ books. From romance to personal development, Juanita Coulson picks six of the best.

ISLAND IN THE SUN by Katie Fforde (Century, £16.99)
A Caribbean island, a mission to find some rare stone carvings, and the company of a handsome journalist: what could possibly go wrong?

Cass’s family refuse to accept her dream of becoming an artist, and before succumbing to pressure to train as a teacher, she goes free-range for a year.
Her journey takes her to Dominica, which she visited as a child. Her father asks her to travel there, together with the attractive Ranulph, to fulfil a promise he made to an old friend.
When the island is suddenly hit by a hurricane, Cass must dig deep to find courage she never knew she had, falling for Ranulph along the way. All the elements of a moving love story are blended to perfection.

THE HAPPIEST EVER AFTER by Milly Johnson (Simon & Schuster, £16.99)
Polly Potter seems to be taken for granted by everyone, including her unfaithful partner. She finds meaning and solace only in the pages of the novel she is writing at her Monday evening classes, living vicariously as her protagonist Sabrina, a shinier version of herself.
Things take an unexpected turn when she finds herself in hospital with partial amnesia: she remembers nothing of her past life but is convinced she is Sabrina. Can she start afresh or will the past catch up with her? Milly Johnson works her magic yet again with this unabashedly heart-warming yet nuanced and relatable tale of resilience against the odds, the power of the imagination and second chances.

LANGUISHING: How to Feel Alive Again in a World That Wears Us Down by Dr Corey Keyes (Torva, £20)
In this refreshingly down-to-earth and original take on wellbeing, sociologist Corey Keyes draws on extensive research, case studies and personal experiences to present a model of mental health as a continuum from ‘languishing’ to ‘flourishing’. He defines languishing as feeling demotivated, running on empty, while flourishing is described as ‘a base camp for a summit attempt’.

Keyes proposes achievable strategies to become more resilient and live more fully, focusing on self-acceptance, connection to others, a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose and some form of spirituality. No magic wands, no ‘new you’, just an insightful invitation.

THE VULNERABLES by Sigrid Nunez (Virago, £16.99)
‘Only when I was young did I believe that is was important to remember what happened in every novel... Now I know the truth: what matters is what you experience while reading.’

So muses the narrator at the opening of The Vulnerables. Three strangers end up together in a Manhattan apartment during the covid lockdown: a reclusive writer, a student and a parrot called Eureka. The uncertain, unnerving early days of the pandemic, and the ensuing pressure-cooker of life under restrictions, are captured in all their vivid, all-too-familiar intensity.
Laced with humour and wit, this is a powerful portrayal of how, through connection with others, we can remain vibrant in a soul-less world.

ENCOUNTERISM: The Neglected Joys of Being in Person by Andy Field (September Publishing, £18.99)
Andy Field has spent years making performance art that explores the question: ‘How do we allow ourselves to be amazed by something we encounter every day?’
Seeking to cast the ordinary in an extraordinary light is at the heart of these essays about everyday interactions: between nightclubbers on the dancefloor, strangers passing in the street, or people gathered around a table for a meal.
Field believes we still need rescuing from the encroachment of digital as opposed to personal interactions. From tenderness and trust in the hairdresser’s chair to the enforced intimacy of shared car journeys, he shows us how we can find the magical in the seemingly mundane.

THE LIFE BRIEF: A Playbook for No-Regrets Living by Bonnie Wan (Torva, £16.99)
Can we really reap any meaningful life lessons from a brand strategist? Bonnie Wan is ‘globally renowned’ in this field, but the cynic in me rolled her eyes. By definition, a branding professional can sell you almost anything, but is it worth buying?
A flick through the pages made me wince as I skimmed through hackneyed corporate phrases like ‘leaning in’. Without a professional requirement to read on, I would have given up there and then.
Yet there are valuable takeaways (excuse the jargon, it’s catching). Wan proposes a daily practice of writing, followed by a series of exercises to help you clarify your priorities, change your perspective and shake off self-limiting beliefs.