Despite the vaccine being here, January still promises to be a home-bound month, especially considering winter’s chilly winds and short days. So keep yourself company with these stunning and thought-provoking books, coming out in paperback this month. From social-commentary thrillers to darkly reimagined fairy tales—from emotionally wrought meditations on the past to literary explorations of the complex present—these stories explore what it means to move into a future defined by our experiences. As we enter into a new year of beginnings, take some time to dip into these engrossing reads and reflect on what it means to live in a moment of endlessly linked “nows.”
10 Compelling Reads New in Paperback This January
Alisak, Prany, and Noi, three orphans in 1969 Laos during the Vietnam War, are brought together by loss and their attempts to survive against the odds within their war-torn country. After meeting Vang, a doctor dedicated to risking his life to help the wounded, they begin working as motorcycle couriers, navigating their way across a landscape of unexploded bombs in search of medical supplies. When Vang secures their evacuation, they think their struggles are over. But their trials are just beginning anew as they are separated from one another and embark on lives in an unfamiliar world alone.
From award-winning author Paul Yoon comes a “spellbinding” (The Washington Post) novel about three kids orphaned in 1960s Laos—and how their destinies are entwined across decades, anointed by Hernan Diaz as “one of those rare novels that stays with us to become a standard with which we measure other books.”
Alisak, Prany, and Noi—three orphans united by devastating loss—must do what is necessary to survive the perilous landscape of 1960s Laos. When they take shelter in a bombed out field hospital, they meet Vang, a doctor dedicated to helping the wounded at all costs. Soon the teens are serving as motorcycle couriers, delicately navigating their bikes across the fields filled with unexploded bombs, beneath the indiscriminate barrage from the sky.
In a world where the landscape and the roads have turned into an ocean of bombs, we follow their grueling days of rescuing civilians and searching for medical supplies, until Vang secures their evacuation on the last helicopters leaving the country. It’s a move with irrevocable consequences—and sets them on disparate and treacherous paths across the world.
Spanning decades, this “richly layered” (The New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice) book weaves together storylines laced with beauty and cruelty. Paul Yoon’s “greatest skill lies in crafting subtle moments that underline the strange and specific sadness inherent to trauma” (Time) and this book is a breathtaking historical feat and a fierce study of the powers of hope, perseverance, and grace.
In this unsettling, surreal debut, an otherworldly young woman, Ada, and her father have the power to heal illness by slicing open sick bodies and temporarily burying them in the healing but unstable Ground nearby. The duo’s precarious existence is disrupted, however, when Ada begins an affair with one of their patients, a man named Samson who is cared for by his widowed, pregnant sister. Despite her father’s displeasure, Ada starts to explore what it would mean to leave her outsider life behind and build something unknown with her lover in this eerily compulsive, folklorish coming of age story.
One of Literary Hub’s Favorite Books of the Year
“Seethingly assured…like all the best horror, [Follow Me to Ground] is an impressive balancing act between judicious withholding and unnerving reveals.” —The Guardian
A “legitimately frightening” (The New York Times Book Review) debut novel about an otherworldly young woman, her father, and her lover that culminates in a shocking moment of betrayal.
“You’ve never encountered a father-daughter story like Rainsford’s slim debut” (Entertainment Weekly). Ada and her father, touched by the power to heal illness, live on the edge of a village where they help sick locals—or “Cures”—by cracking open their damaged bodies or temporarily burying them in the reviving, dangerous Ground nearby. Ada, a being both more and less than human, is mostly uninterested in the Cures, until she meets a man named Samson—and they quickly strike up an affair. Soon, Ada is torn between her old way of life and new possibilities with her lover, and eventually she comes to a decision that will forever change Samson, the town, and the Ground itself.
“Visceral in its descriptions…this unworldly story is a well-crafted and eerie exploration of desire…beautifully intoxicating” (Shelf Awareness). In Ada, award-winning author Sue Rainsford has created an utterly bewitching heroine, one who challenges conventional ideas of womanhood and the secrets of the body. “A triumph of imagination and myth-bending…equal parts beauty and horror [Follow Me to Ground is] unlike anything you will read this year” (Téa Obreht).
From award-winning science fiction and fantasy writer Ken Liu comes a collection of his most lauded short stories. In this compilation, the author of THE DANDELION DYNASTY series offers sixteen of his best stories from the last five years, along with an engrossing new novella and an excerpt from THE VEILED THRONE. Like Liu’s novels, his stories craft unforgettable worlds and characters that probe questions of ethical injustice and oppression from the inside out. In these tales, situated at the intersection of the past and the future, Liu asks us to consider what it means to look forward in a world haunted by its past.
“I know this is going to sound hyperbolic, but when I’m reading Ken Liu’s stories, I feel like I’m reading a once-in-a-generation talent. I’m in awe.” —Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author
“Extraordinary.” —The Washington Post
“Brilliant.” —The Chicago Tribune
With the release of The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, Ken Liu’s short fiction has resonated with a generation of readers.
From stories about time-traveling assassins, to Black Mirror-esque tales of cryptocurrency and internet trolling, to heartbreaking narratives of parent-child relationships, The Hidden Girl and Other Stories is a far-reaching work that explores topical themes from the present and a visionary look at humanity’s future.
This collection includes a selection of Liu’s speculative fiction stories over the past five years—seventeen of his best—plus a new novelette. In addition, it also features an excerpt from The Veiled Throne, the third book in Liu’s epic fantasy series The Dandelion Dynasty.
Forensic accountant Nora Trier is an expert at catching thieves. Recently, Strike, a feminist athletic empire, hired Nora to track down who stole the twenty-million-dollar prize they’d promised to the winner of their highly anticipated kickboxing tournament. But Nora has a secret connection to Strike, as well as a burgeoning attraction to a young trainer who is favored to be the new face of the company. With such conflicts of interest, Nora is reluctant to take the case, and when she does, she unearths shocking truths that will threaten more than just her livelihood.
In this “whip-smart thriller featuring a brilliant female protagonist, a finely-tuned plot, and some truly spectacular writing” (Cristina Alger, USA TODAY bestselling author) from the author of Leave No Trace, a high stakes crime triggers a woman’s complicated and potentially deadly search for the truth.
Nora Trier catches thieves. As a forensic accountant, she’s unearthed millions in every corner of the world. She prides herself on her independence, the most essential currency of accounting, until her firm is hired by Strike.
An anti-corporate, feminist athletic empire, Strike is owned by Logan Russo, a brash and legendary kickboxer, and her marketing genius husband, Gregg Abbott. They’re about to host a major tournament with twenty million dollars in prize money, and the chance for the champion to become the new face of the company. But Gregg suspects his wife already has a new face in mind in the form of a young trainer.
When the prize money goes missing days before the tournament begins, Gregg hires Nora’s firm to find both the thief and the money—but Nora has a secret connection to Strike. Her partner pressures her into taking the case anyway, hinting he has information that could change the course of the investigation in a shocking and deadly way.
A tense and unpredictable thriller, Strike Me Down “crackles with obsession, greed, lust, and plenty of ambition, and it’s loaded with more twists and turns than a spy novel” (Kirkus Reviews).
From beloved bestselling author Ann Patchett comes a dark fairy tale of two siblings struggling to overcome their past. When Danny and Maeve are ousted by their stepmother from their father’s lavish estate—purchased in the aftermath of World War II as the crown jewel in his real estate empire—they face the poverty they’d thought their family had left behind. While their intelligence and charm help them make their way, their internal scars will be revealed and their bond tested when they come back into the lives of those who left them behind.
Thirty years after faking his own death and stealing the identity of his best friend, Abel Paisley comes face-to-face with Irene, the firstborn daughter he left behind, who is also his new at-home health aide. As Irene and Abel look back over their lives, the story of the Paisley family—their journey from colonial Jamaica to Harlem, and their years of strife and missed connections—unfolds. Irene, Abel, and the other members of the Paisley clan must struggle with the traumas of their pasts as they forge new identities.
Longlisted for the 2020 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
A “rich, ambitious debut novel” (The New York Times Book Review) that reveals the ways in which a Jamaican family forms and fractures over generations, in the tradition of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.
*An Entertainment Weekly, Millions, and LitHub Most Anticipated Book of 2020 Pick and Buzz Magazine’s Top New Book of the New Decade*
Stanford Solomon’s shocking, thirty-year-old secret is about to change the lives of everyone around him. Stanford has done something no one could ever imagine. He is a man who faked his own death and stole the identity of his best friend. Stanford Solomon is actually Abel Paisley.
And now, nearing the end of his life, Stanford is about to meet his firstborn daughter, Irene Paisley, a home health aide who has unwittingly shown up for her first day of work to tend to the father she thought was dead.
These Ghosts Are Family revolves around the consequences of Abel’s decision and tells the story of the Paisley family from colonial Jamaica to present-day Harlem. There is Vera, whose widowhood forced her into the role of a single mother. There are two daughters and a granddaughter who have never known they are related. And there are others, like the houseboy who loved Vera, whose lives might have taken different courses if not for Abel Paisley’s actions.
This “rich and layered story” (Kirkus Reviews) explores the ways each character wrestles with their ghosts and struggles to forge independent identities outside of the family and their trauma. The result is a “beguiling…vividly drawn, and compelling” (BookPage, starred review) portrait of a family and individuals caught in the sweep of history, slavery, migration, and the more personal dramas of infidelity, lost love, and regret.
For eighteen years, Rose Gold practically lived at the hospital. After Rose Gold testified against her mother for being the root cause of her undetermined illnesses, Patty was imprisoned for five years. Now out of prison, Patty claims she’s eager to make amends, and Rose Gold, to everyone’s surprise, accepts her back into her home. But Rose Gold has learned to lie from the expert herself, and both women are willing to do whatever it takes to exact revenge, even if that means pretending to love each other, in this tense psychological thriller.
Ever since a troubling and unforgettable incident in their youth, four Native American childhood friends have been in a traumatizing fight for their lives. The four men have left their culture and traditions behind in an attempt to run from the force that keeps tracking them. Nevertheless, they can’t seem to fully escape their pursuer—a relentless entity determined to exact revenge by whatever means possible. Perfect for fans of Jordan Peele’s brand of horror with its social commentary, uncanny humor, and destabilizing scares, THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS is an emotional, thought-provoking page-turner.
A USA TODAY BESTSELLER
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
In this latest novel from Stephen Graham Jones comes a “heartbreakingly beautiful story” (Library Journal, starred review) of revenge, cultural identity, and the cost of breaking from tradition.
Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians is “a masterpiece. Intimate, devastating, brutal, terrifying, warm, and heartbreaking in the best way” (Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts). This novel follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in violent, vengeful ways. Labeled “one of 2020’s buzziest horror novels” (Entertainment Weekly), this is a remarkable horror story “will give you nightmares—the good kind of course” (BuzzFeed).
From the critically acclaimed author of DEPT. OF SPECULATION comes a fragmentary narrative that explores the splintering emotional intensity of living in a world of crisis. Librarian Lizzie’s mentor has an unusual job offer for her: answering the mail her apocalyptic podcast receives. As Lizzie delves into correspondence defined by left-wing climate change anxiety and right-wing diatribes against the downfall of western civilization, she finds herself with a new existential crisis all her own. What does it mean to keep moving forward in a world destined for destruction? And what is she to do when she can’t save everyone?
The city of Sofia, in Bulgaria, comprised of crumbling Soviet buildings and enlivened with the sounds of political protests, is on the precipice of change or destruction. An American teacher who is preparing to leave the city reflects on the life he’s built there and the encounters he’s had. Between listening to a queer student’s confession and beginning his own romance with another foreigner, he contemplates old wounds and new hope alike to discover what it means to truly make a connection, despite the disconnects that define our world.
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