I can't imagine I'll read a more inventive novel this year than Charlie Jane Anders' "The City in the Middle of the Night," and yes, I'm fully confident saying that in January. Anders' newest book is all at once a rollicking adventure story, a world-building masterpiece, an anti-colonialism fable, and a subtly revolutionary treatise on climate change and its potentially devastating effects on a people, a city, and a planet. Plus, the story is filled with characters you'll love, from quiet Sophie who forms a wondrous relationship with a civilization of ancient creatures, to rough-and-tumble Mouth, the last of her race and set adrift by the prospect of living a new kind of life. This story will keep you riveted until the very last page.
I've never read a novel quite like Kip Wilson's "White Rose." It tells the story of Sophie Scholl, a German student who takes part in the White Rose rebellion against the Nazis in WWII, entirely in verse. After reading "White Rose," I can't imagine this story being told any other way. Jumping back and forth in time between Sophie's childhood, her days as a student, her participation in the rebellion, and her arrest and trial at the hands of the Nazis, the verses build upon one other, propelling the story forward in a way you won't be able to look away from. It's a story of hope and bravery, of standing up against injustice, that's timely and sorely needed in today's political climate.
Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children series is probably my favorite series currently running, and "In An Absent Dream" is just as magical as its counterparts. McGuire manages to weave timely, insightful commentary on sexism, gender roles, and equality into this fascinating portal fantasy about a goblin market with strict rules and dire consequences, and little girl named Lundy who learns the true cost of sacrifice in a way that will alter her life forever. Unlike it's counterparts, however, "In An Absent Dream" also turns its eyes towards the family that Wayward Child Lundy leaves behind: her her rigid father who has tried to forget his own history with the goblin market, her grief-stricken mother, and her younger sister whose desire for a sibling complicates Lundy's own desire for freedom. This book is complicated and absorbing, and you'll want to read straight through it in one sitting.
I'm generally immune to pep talks and platitudes, but I'll be honest, the first time I read one of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Good Morning, Good Night set of tweets, I cried. There's something so wonderful about the bite-sized well-wishes in this book - their earnestness and positivity and simplicity, and the perfectly sparse illustrations by Jonny Sun. In a world that seems to be overwhelming us from all angles, Lin's warm reminders and heartfelt encouragements and small tasks of kindness are sorely needed, and desperately appreciated. I can't think of anyone who wouldn't love receiving this as a gift.
If the future is female, then so is the galaxy far, far away. "Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy" is a compendium of the Star Wars universe's badass ladies, from big screen heroes Rey, Leia, and Jyn, to TV favorites Hera Sydulla and Ahsoka Tano, to comic and novel standouts Rae Sloane and Doctor Aphra, and many, many more, this gorgeous collection features new stories and behind-the-scenes details about your favorite characters, plus stunning art by a diverse group of female and non-binary artists. This is a must-have for any Star Wars fan's collection.
Blair Hurley's "The Devoted" is a beautifully written and expertly crafted story that follows a woman named Nicole, raised Catholic in Boston, who finds herself ensnared in the life of a predatory teacher of Zen Buddhism. As we follow Nicole's tale, from her childhood in Boston with a fervently religious and mentally unstable mother, to her time as a teenage runaway with her first love and a trip that ends in tragedy, to her new life in New York trying to escape from the psychological hold of her former master, Hurley weaves in relatable meditations on why humans search for faith and grasp tightly to their beliefs in an ever-changing, unpredictable and unsteady world.
Avery Bloom and Bett Devlin's dads have fallen in love, and they're sending their daughters off to summer camp to get to know each other. Avery and Bett don't want their lives to change, and vow they'll do everything they can to keep their dads apart. But soon enough, they find they have more in common than they first believed, and embark on a summer that will change their lives - and the lives of their families - forever. Told through an exchange of letters and emails, the delightful, funny, and poignant "To Night Owl From Dogfish" reveals that sometimes the things you don't want turn into the things you most treasure, that not everything good was meant to last forever, that it's never too late to follow your dreams, and that families aren't just made from blood relatives, but "from people who want to be together more than they want to be apart." By the end of the book, you'll feel like you're part of the family, too.
"Every Heart a Doorway" is the kind of rare book that, once you pick it up, demands you keep reading straight through to the last word. The story follows Nancy, a young woman who walked through a Narnia-like doorway into a dark underworld and has returned forever changed and longing to go back. At Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, she meets a group of teenagers who entered their own fantastical worlds - some dark and violent, some candy-coated and bright - and must band together to solve a mysterious string of murders plaguing their new home. Seanan McGuire's writing is stunning and magical, both dreamlike and precise, and you will fall in love with every single character you meet. Plus, "Every Heart a Doorway" has the kind of casual queer representation (for two of the most under-represented identities: transgender and asexual) that I wish every single book had. I can't wait to devour the rest of the series.
Kevin Wilson's debut short story collection, "Tunneling to the Center of the Earth," is perhaps one of my favorite short story collections of all time, and the same blend of absurdism, razor-sharp prose, impeccable detail, and unexpected heart is on display in "Baby, You're Gonna Be Mine." Wilson finds something to love in all his characters, even then most selfish, even the most outlandish, and writes them with such emotional honesty and depth and compassion that you can't help but love them too. Standouts include "Sanders for a Day," in which a young boy wants to dress as his dead brother for Halloween, and "Wildfire Johnny," about a man who discovers a razor that can transport him back in time - for a high price.
"A Study in Honor" just claimed the top spot as my favorite modern Sherlock Holmes adaptation. Dr. Janet Watson arrives in a near-future Washington, DC as a veteran fresh off a devastating New Civil War battle in Alton, IL, with no money, no job, and in dire need of an upgrade to her robotic prosthetic arm if she wants to continue practicing as a surgeon. Sara Holmes, a mysterious government agent with an almost too-good-to-be true housing offer, might be Janet's ticket to all that and more, much more than she bargained for. Those looking for a fresh take on Holmes and Watson--both are LGBTQ women of color--will love this. Science fiction readers will love this. Mystery readers will love this. Those looking for a good story with great, well-rounded and well-written characters will love this. Those looking for a timely read that tackles some of the most pressing political issues of today will love this. This book truly has something for everyone to love.
Luis Alberto Urrea's "The House of Broken Angels" is a tapestry of a novel. You follow all these little threads—the lives of the de la Cuz family members, coming together for the last birthday of their patriarch, Big Angel—as they weave together, in and out of each other's stories, until you step back and see the big, beautiful, sprawling finished product. This novel will make you laugh, cry, and move you with its meditations on death, family, redemption, and the timely idea of just what it means to be American in this day and age. This is an immigrant story, an American story, and a story about messy, wonderful families with messy, wonderful stories of their own.
There's real magic in "When Light Left Us," and not just in the form of Luz, the otherworldly presence that inhabits (and just as suddenly abandons) the Vasquez family. Leah Thomas's storytelling is magic in itself, taking us through three days in the life of Hank, Ana, Milo, and Maggie Vasquez while slowly unfurling the mystery of Luz and his effect on their lives. It's impossible not to love the Vasquez family and the characters that surround them as you're immersed in their lives, their struggles, their encounters with pain and self-doubt, first loves, second loves, old friends and new, and their palpable affection for one another. "When Light Left Us" says so much about how to deal with loss, how to move forward and let go and embrace change. Set aside time for this one - once you pick it up, you won't want to put it down.
What an absolutely adorable debut picture book! Simon the house cat tries to convince some of his, erm, MUCH larger relatives that he, too, is a cat just like them! But they're skeptical - how can he be a cat when he doesn't look anything like them? "I Am A Cat" has a great lesson about how, though we all may look different, we can always find similarities between us, along with delightful text and gorgeous illustrations. You'll want to read it to your kids - and yourself - over and over again!
In their extraordinarily fun book "We Have No Idea," scientists Jorge Cham & Daniel Whiteson explain that we only understand about 5% of the universe we live in. We know that the universe has a speed limit, but not why. We know that antimatter exists, but not why. We know that 67% percent of the universe is made of something called "dark energy," but we don't know exactly what dark energy is. And we know that particle theory and general relativity are both proven, but can't seem to get them to work together. This book explains all the things we don't know about the universe by explaining all the amazing things we DO know (accompanied by fun cartoons and puns and easy-to-grasp explanations of impossibly difficult concepts), and how we might someday go about filling in the gaps.
"The Female Persuasion" is the kind of novel that, once you pick it up, becomes nearly impossible to put down. No one writes thoughtful, literary, big-hearted epics quite like Meg Wolitzer does. It's the kind of book that spans decades and weaves through characters and bounces from city to city and yet, at the end of it all, leaves you feeling both a bone-deep sense of intimacy and pondering big questions about the world at large, about feminism and love and friendship and purpose and grief, how to grow and change and be a women—flawed and strong and weak and wrong and alive in a world so hostile to you. Wolitzer's novel is, as her young narrator Greer says, "a big, long story of women pouring what they had into one another," and I cannot think of a more appropriate and necessary time for it.
A few times while reading "A Lucky Man," I simply had to stop and marvel that this is Jamel Brinkley's debut collection. His prose is beautifully rendered, his observations so visceral and true, it's hard to believe this is his first book. Brinkley tackles complicated topics like race, class, gender, violence, and sexuality with all the care they're due, and in a way that feels so skilled, so specific to his characters, so alive. Brinkley also has a real talent for painting a striking image that sticks with you: a teenage boy dancing through a street carnival, two brothers about to engage in a dance of combat, an old woman and a younger man arm and arm in a crowded bar. I can't wait to see what Jamel Brinkley does next.
As soon as I got a copy of Fredrik Backman's "Us Against You," the sequel to my favorite book of last year, "Beartown," I immediately hugged it to my chest. That's how excited I was to return to this little town in the woods and the characters who inhabit it, who have lived with me ever since I turned the final page on "Beartown." And I'm happy to say that I've fallen even more in love with Beartown's residents, whose struggles and joys and heartbreaks are so vivid, they feel like your own. But even more than that, "Us Against You" taps into some of our most prescient fears, the things and the people who seek to exploit our weaknesses and divide us with hatred, and show us that the only way forward is through unity, through love.
Sarah Sentilles' "Draw Your Weapons" is unlike any book I've ever read. It's a meditation on art and violence, a collage of memoir, history, philosophy, and politics that spans centuries. When so much of our daily lives is bombarded by images of violence and war, Sentilles zeroes in on both the way we react to and our understanding of those images, and the images and art we create in response to them. We glimpse into the lives of a conscientious objector to WWII and a former prison guard at Abu Ghraib turned artist, and along the way look at the different kinds of images of violence we're subjected to, and the ways we can respond. "Draw Your Weapons" believes art can save the world. I encourage everyone to read this book.
SHE WOULD BE KING is a magnificent, magical debut novel. Moore retells the story of the formation of Liberia -- a West African country founded by freed slaves and free-born black Americans -- through the eyes of three extraordinary characters: Gbessa, an immortal woman exiled from her village when she is presumed to be cursed; June Dey, a man born in captivity with supernatural strength; and Norman Aragon, the biracial son of a Jamaican slave and a British colonizer who can disappear at will. Brought together by the spirit of a former slave carried on the wind, these characters and their stories are impossible to forget. SHE WOULD BE KING is a moving, timely testament to freedom from oppression, and a riveting, sparkling debut novel from an exiting new author. I can't wait to see what she does next.
I never thought I'd cry reading a physics book, but Carlo Rovelli's "The Order of Time" is just that beautiful. Rovelli is as much a poet as he is a scientist, and his insights don't fall simply to the study of time, but to the metaphysical, as he ruminates on how our understanding of time can reveal the nature of humanity itself. This is a science book first and foremost, though, and the science itself is just as stunning. If you've read Rovelli's other books - "Seven Brief Lessons on Physics" and "Reality is Not What It Seems" - you know he has a knack for walking you through very theoretical and complex concepts without ever watering it down. (He even gives you multiple places to opt out or skip ahead, if the hard data isn't to your liking.) If you haven't, get reading. You're in for a treat.
If you've listened to the McElroy Brothers' hilarious & emotional so-much-more-than-a-D&D-podcast The Adventure Zone, I shouldn't have to say much to convince you to read this graphic novelization. If you haven't, 1) what are you waiting for? and 2) are you looking for a rousing adventure story following three adventurers barely holding it together, narrated by a witty and snarky Dungeons and Dragons DM, filled with gorgeous art and characters you'll instantly love, that's simultaneously hilarious, riveting, and surprisingly heartfelt? Then look no further. (And if you love it - which I know you will - Here There Be Gerblins is just the beginning of a even funnier, more dangerous, more emotional larger arc. There's so much to look forward to!)
In 1952, a giant meteorite lands off the east coast of the United States. Mathematician Elma York and her husband, engineer Nathaniel York, come to a frightening conclusion: Earth's climate is about to rapidly change, and eventually, become inhospitable to humans. It's time to figure out how to get off the planet, and fast. That's how "The Calculating Stars" begins, and from there, spins an alternate history of the formation and development of the International Aerospace Coalition (in place of the US-based NASA), and its attempts to get humans to the moon and beyond on a much faster timeline. We follow Elma, a computer at the IAC and former WWII WASP pilot, as she rallies for women to get the chance to become astronauts alongside the men, while also dealing with government officials who remain hyperfocused on Russia, a public who dismisses the threat of climate change, her own anxiety, and a burgeoning understanding that, in the fight for women's rights, no one succeeds unless everyone succeeds, including her friends who are women of color. "The Calculating Stars" is both a remarkably timeline story, and a riveting re-telling of humanity's race into space through a brilliant new lens.