10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in January 2015

Bring on the happy new year with something fantastic to read! Here are 10 great books coming in January 2015.


 

Frog
by Mo Yan, translated by Howard Goldblatt
Nobel Laureate Yan examines China’s one child policy and the consequences of blind obedience to authority. Gugu is a respected obstetrician in her rural town and a party loyalist who has taken extreme measures to help enforce the regulations of the Family Planning Commission. Gugu spares no one; when her nephew’s wife becomes pregnant with their second child, Gugu’s rigid enforcement of the law results in tragedy. “Heavily laced with ardent social criticism, mystical symbolism, and historical realism, Mo Yan's potent exploration of China's most personal and intrusive social control programs probes the horrors and pain such policies inflict” (Booklist).

The First Bad Man
by Miranda July
Artist, filmmaker and writer July follows her fanciful, funny and moving short story collection (No One Belongs Here More Than You, 2007) with a novel about a neurotic, lonely, middle-aged woman with rampant sexual fantasies. Cheryl works at a women’s self-defense company, where she harbors an obsessive and unrequited longing for board member Phillip. Her orderly life is interrupted when her bosses ask her to allow their unpredictable 20-year-old daughter to move in with her. Kirkus Reviews calls this novel “bizarrely touching” with “humor, frankness and emotional ruthlessness” whose “strange details… deliver an emotional slap made sharper and more fitting by their oddity.”

Driving the King
by Ravi Howard
Driving the King is a fictionalized account of the singer Nat King Cole and his boyhood friend Nat Weary, set against a backdrop of the post-war and Civil Rights era in Los Angeles and Montgomery. After Weary serves ten years in jail for saving Cole from a deadly attacker, Cole asks him to be his driver and bodyguard. Publishers Weekly praises the author’s “velvety smooth” prose that “goes down like the top-shelf whiskey that Weary favors, making for a heady reading experience.” Howard won the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence and was a PEN/Hemingway Award finalist for his previous novel Like Trees, Walking (2007).

Don't Let Him Know
by Sandip Roy
Roy’s debut novel is about the lives of a family split between India and the U.S. and the secrets they hide from each other. Avinash covertly meets men online and in gay clubs; his wife Romola secretly knows about it. When their grown son Amit finds a fragment of an incriminating letter from the past, he mistakenly thinks he has discovered his mother’s lover. “Roy's is a warm, articulate voice speaking authentically about family influence on how we carry out our own lives” in a “quiet but piercing tale of immigrant domestic life” (Library Journal).  Roy is a commentator on NPR and San Francisco’s KALW.

Honeydew: Stories
by Edith Pearlman
Short fiction lovers will not want to miss this new collection of twenty stories from Pearlman, whose last book, Binocular Vision (2011), won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Pearlman’s writing has been compared to the work of Anton Chekhov, John Updike, Alice Munro, Grace Paley, and Frank O'Connor. Publishers Weekly called it an “affecting collection that periscopes into small lives, expanding them with stunning subtlety.” "'Honeydew' should cement [Pearlman's] reputation as one of the most essential short story visionaries of our time" (New York Times).

Harraga
by Boualem Sansal
An unusual bond forms between two women when Lamia, a pediatrician who is considered a spinster at 35, welcomes a pregnant teenager into her home. “Simultaneously humorous and heartbreaking, Sansal expertly describes the crushing weight of social and religious strictures on Algeria's women” (Publishers Weekly). Sansal (The German Mujahid, 2009) has been honored with numerous international book prizes; he continues to live in his native Algeria despite the fact that his books are banned there.

The Seventh Day
by Yu Hua, translated by Allan H. Barr
Yang Fei, 41 years old, is dead and stuck in limbo. In this version of the afterlife, he can interact with both the dead and living, and he revisits the people he knew in life, seeking to reconnect with his beloved adoptive father. “Although the author retains his signature outlook of an absurdist new China with little regard for humanity—27 fetuses floating down a river, iPhones worth more than life, kidney harvesting from willing young bodies—this latest is ultimately less graphic exposé and more poignant fable about family bonds made not of blood ties but unbreakable heartstrings” (Library Journal).

The Book of Negroes
by Lawrence Hill
This is not actually a new book, but a re-release of the award winning 2007 novel Someone Knows My Name (originally published in the author’s native Canada as The Book of Negroes, after a historical document, The Book of Negroes, which recorded the names of slaves who served the British during the Revolutionary War and were later allowed to flee to Canada). The book is getting renewed attention as a result of a television miniseries, which will appear soon on the CBC in Canada and on BET in the U.S. The novel follows the life of West African Aminata Diallo, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in South Carolina. Fiercely smart Aminata learns how to read and write, seizes her escape when given the opportunity to flee her master and contributes her talents to wrest the freedom of many others. Publishers Weekly called it “stunning, wrenching and inspiring” and “a harrowing, breathtaking tour de force.”

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth
by Christopher Scotton
Following the death of his younger brother, 14-year-old Kevin Gillooly and his mother return to her childhood home in Kentucky’s coal country. Kevin begins to heal with the help of his widowed grandfather, a wise and gentle veterinarian, and new friend Buzzy who is skilled in the ways of rural survival. Meanwhile ecological devastation looms; local environmentalist and hairstylist Paul Pierce is targeted for his activism and for being a gay man; then Kevin, his grandfather and Buzzy are fired upon by an unknown assailant during a camping trip. “The coming-of-age story is enriched by depictions of the earth's healing and redemptive power” (Publishers Weekly). Kirkus calls it a “captivating modern morality tale” and “a powerful epic of people and place, loss and love, reconciliation and redemption.”

The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins
Alcoholic and depressed Rachel Watson pretends to go to work every day even though she was fired for being drunk on the job. On the train, she passes by the house that she used to share with her ex-husband—he still lives there with his new wife and their child. She also spies on former neighbors: a couple that she idealizes, fantasizing about their happy life together. When the woman in this couple shows up in the tabloids as missing, Rachel delves into the investigation, the story unfolding between three very unreliable narrators. Booklist says, “Hawkins makes voyeurs of her readers as she creates one humiliating scene after another with the women's near-feral emotions on full display. A wicked thriller, cleverly done.” Gone Girl fans take note!

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