10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in January 2016

Start the year out right with one of these fantastic books. Your hold list will thank you!

Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist
by Sunil Yapa
Debut novelist Yapa tells the gripping story of the 1999 World Trade Organization riots in Seattle through the eyes of a varied cast of characters: organizers, activists and cops, a police chief and his estranged stepson, and a WTO delegate from Sri Lanka. This novel has been hyped by reviewers since the summer—will it live up to expectations? Publishers Weekly calls it “a memorable, pulse-pounding literary experience” and Booklist says, “Yapa ties together seemingly disparate characters and narratives through a charged moment in history, showing how it still affects us all in different ways” (Booklist).

My Name Is Lucy Barton
by Elizabeth Strout
Lucy has an extended stay in the hospital after an appendectomy gets complicated. During her convalescence, her husband manages the family and work while Lucy receives a visit from her estranged mother, opening the door to their brutally painful past. Publishers Weekly calls this short novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge “tender and moving” and “masterly.” “Brimming with insight and emotion, Strout relays with great tenderness and sadness the way family relationships can both make and break us” (Booklist).

The Kindness of Enemies   
by Leila Aboulela
Natasha is a history professor in Scotland with Russian and Sudanese roots researching Imam Shamil, a 19th century Muslim leader who defended the Caucasus against the Russians. She is stunned when she discovers a direct link between the Imam and her favorite student. The Kindness of Enemies    “challenges readers with thought-provoking ideas about the meaning of jihad, then and now, and demonstrates how ignorance of another's beliefs prohibits us from embracing our common humanity” (Library Journal). “Aboulela is a great storyteller, and she writes with clarity and elegance. A pleasurable and engaging read for fans of both contemporary and historical fiction” (Kirkus). Aboulela is the Sudanese-born, Scotland-based author of Lyrics Alley (2011) and winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing.

The Illegal
by Lawrence Hill
Hill’s newest novel is a socially conscious thriller that examines the issues of illegal immigration and refugees. Following the politically motivated murder of his father, gifted runner Keita Ali flees his homeland of Zantoroland for the wealthy island nation of Freedom State, where he faces fear of deportation, exploitation, and alienation. Things get even more complicated when his Harvard-educated sister is kidnapped. Hill is the Commonwealth Award-winning author of Someone Knows My Name (2007; also published as The Book of Negroes). Booklist calls it “a deeply satisfying story shot through with humor and humanity.”

What Belongs to You
by Garth Greenwell
In present day Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, a gay American professor finds an intense connection with a male prostitute. Their failed relationship prompts him to look deeply into his past. “This is a project of rare discernment and beauty, and it is not to be missed. A luminous, searing exploration of desire, alienation, and the powerful tattoo of the past.” (Kirkus)

Mr. Splitfoot
by Samantha Hunt
Raised in a cult-like orphanage in rural New York, Nat and Ruth are scam artists with a talent for communicating with the dead (or perhaps they pretend to). Years later, Ruth wordlessly leads her pregnant niece Cora across the state in an unexplained quest. The two tales converge in a tale that is both dark and humorous, part mystery, part ghost tale and part coming-of-age story. “This spellbinder is storytelling at its best” (Publishers Weekly).  “A truly fantastic novel in which the blurring of natural and supernatural creates a stirring, visceral conclusion” (Kirkus). Hunt is a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 author and her novel The Invention of Everything Else (2008) was a finalist for the Orange Prize (now known as the Women’s Prize for Fiction).

The Portable Veblen
by Elizabeth McKenzie
A whirlwind romance leads to an unlikely engagement between Veblen Amundsen-Hovda, a free spirited and cheerful translator of Norwegian literature with a deep connection with a squirrel, and Paul Vreeland, a more conventional but charming and brilliant neuroscientist and inventor. Their romance is challenged by clashes over their dysfunctional families, conspicuous consumption , and interpretations of squirrel behavior. Publishers Weekly calls Veblen “one of the best characters of the year,” and raves, “McKenzie's funny, lively, addictive novel is sure to be a standout.”

The Expatriates
by Janice Y. K. Lee
Three American women in Hong Kong find commonality in grief. Mercy, a young Columbia grad with Korean roots, and Margaret, a wealthy stay-at-home mother of three, are connected by a tragic incident. Meanwhile Hillary struggles with her inability to have a child. Publishers Weekly calls it “captivating,” saying “Lee's women are complex and often flawed, which makes the stories of their strength all the more compelling in this tale of family, motherhood, and attempts at moving on.” Lee is also the bestselling author of The Piano Teacher (2008).

Good People
by Robert Lopez
Readers who like it dark will want to check out this short story collection. There are few “good people” to be found here among the neurotic, the abusive, the suicidal, and a cast of other misanthropes. Publishers Weekly praises Lopez’s   “uncommon skill at evoking both laughs and shudders, sometimes in the same story,” and Kirkus calls it “depressing, inventive, and marvelous—a thought-provoking path to feeling awful.”

The Lightkeepers
by Abby Geni
Nature photographer Miranda has been granted a year-long stay at the Farallon Islands, joining a small crew of scientists at this isolated outpost that teems with wildlife. One night Miranda is violently assaulted and soon after her assailant is found dead. Miranda recounts her story through letters to her long-dead mother as she becomes increasingly unreliable as a narrator. The SF Chronicle calls it “dazzlingly unsettling” and “an intoxicating blend of unimaginable beauty and devastating horror” with “a breathtakingly shocking climax” and language “as startlingly rich as the terrain.”

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