Start the year right with January’s Best New Books

Start the year right with January’s Best New Books

In Reading Lists - Best New Books by Dana Hamilton

Start the year right with January’s Best New Books

Start your year off with these enthralling and diverse reads. This month’s best new books include never-before-seen essays from Zora Neale Hurston, an insider’s look at rock history from Patti Smith’s guitarist, and novelist Jamie Attenberg’s latest memoir about settling down after leaving her couch-surfing twenties.

Velorio by Xavier Navarro Aquino

Opening in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, Aquino’s Velorio throws readers into total chaos and unspeakable violence, and never lets go. Told through the eyes of six narrators as they search for signs of hope — including a young woman carrying the corpse of her sister and a young, charismatic cult leader looking to take power as the island struggles to find its footing — this debut is about the strength and resilience we find when pushed to our absolute limits.
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The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

A scathing commentary on the assumptions and stereotypes about mothers and the government powers that separate families, Chan’s dystopian drama is a page-turner. Frida Liu’s recent divorce may be the last straw, but at least she has her 18-month-old daughter — until she doesn’t. When the single mom leaves her child home alone for two hours, she’s sent to a rehabilitation facility where she must be a surrogate mother to other children in order to earn back her own. 

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Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez

Gonzalez’s sharp-eyed debut captures the richness of Nuyorican culture, love, and family as well as what it means to be true to yourself. Here, a brother and sister have a lot to lose as they navigate family baggage, personal drama, and a near career-ending political scandal. But don’t worry, there’s a happy ending here.

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Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins

After quitting college to take care of her dying mother, Lux MacAllister wants to get away from it all. Sailing around the Pacific with her hot new boyfriend sounds like just the antidote to put her dark past behind her, until there’s trouble in paradise. Sexy strangers, secret islands, and skulls abound in this soap opera-y thriller full of outrageous twists you won’t see coming.

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One True Loves by Elise Bryant

On a summer cruise with her family, Lenore Bennett is trying not to think about the heavy weight of carrying her entire Black family’s hopes and dreams on her back as she heads off to college. Luckily she finds a clarifying distraction in Alex Lee, a mixed-race boy whom she’s begrudgingly forced to hang out with and ends up falling for. Bryant’s companion novel to Happily Ever Afters delivers another charming contemporary romance.

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The Ivory Key by Akshaya Raman

Magic is a physical resource that’s running out fast in this Indian-inspired duology opener. Finding the Ivory Key will unlock lost sources of magic and prevent political chaos, but its retrieval relies on the cooperation of four siblings each motivated by their own agenda. Raman’s debut is high in tension and tautly plotted.

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Witty banter, a slow-burn rivals-to-lovers plot line, and an endearing father-daughter relationship make this Mamma Mia! retelling a sensation. Millie Price is determined to become a Broadway star, but first she’s going on a purposeful journey of self-discovery by uncovering who her mom is (by looking back at her dad’s old LiveJournal posts).

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Serendipity edited by Marissa Meyer

A collection of the biggest names in YA takes on an alluring challenge with these short stories: To add unexpected twists to tried-and-true romance tropes. Marissa Meyer tangles with “there’s only one bed”; Sandhya Menon plays matchmaker; Leah Johnson imagines a pair stranded together; and plenty more authors write cute, subversive stories.

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A followup to last year’s timely Rise Up, Al Sharpton’s newest release celebrates the many unsung heroes of the civil rights movement. From Claudette Colvin, the young girl who refused to sit in the back of a Montgomery, Alabama bus (and inspired Rosa Parks to do the same nine months later), to Pauli Murray, a queer lawyer who helped shape Thurgood Marshall’s winning arguments in Brown v. Board of Education, Righteous Troublemakers transforms the pain of injustice into uplifting storytelling.

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This dazzling debut whisks readers away to a beautiful world full of mythological creatures and magic as Xingyin attempts to free her imprisoned mother, the moon goddess, and is forced to choose between family and the fate of the world. A new imagining of Chinese folklore, Tan’s epic adventure and coming-of-age tale will leave fantasy lovers eager for more.

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In her 20s, Attenberg traded in a more “traditional” life for freedom, wanderlust, and adventure. She never looked back until her 40s rolled around and she started to envy her more “settled down” peers. In her witty and sparkling memoir, Attenberg reflects on the couch-surfing days of her youth as she vividly describes the ups and downs of living an unscripted life.

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Yonder by Jabari Asim

“All of us have two tongues,” says an unnamed character in novelist and cultural critic Asim’s story of survival told through slaves in the antebellum South. Capturing the concept of “double consciousness” — a term W.E.B. Du Bois would later coin to describe the difference in language enslaved people used among their captors and the rich language they used among themselves — this searing novel is about the power of words and storytelling’s ability to give hope to those who are suffering.

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Lightning Striking by Lenny Kaye

Join the longtime guitarist for the Patti Smith Group as he takes readers on another world tour. This time it’s to trace the origins of some of the biggest events to shape music as we know it. If you geek out on rock history, or just want to impress your friends with obscure music trivia, Kaye’s seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of the genre will dazzle you. 

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If you’re captivated by the wispy, icy title Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves, you won’t be disappointed by this atmospheric, fast-paced tale. Sena forsakes racing wolves to survive the tundra and instead picks pockets, but she can’t escape the world’s brutal, breadwinning practice forever. The development of the bond between Sena and the injured, prize fighting wolf Iska can melt even the coldest of hearts.

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My Fine Fellow by Jennieke Cohen

This novel is a delectable, gender-swapped rendition of My Fair Lady featuring three teens trying to enter high society with their supreme culinary skills. Elijah is a fine young Jewish fellow hawking pastries on the street who’s discovered by Helena and Penelope, two fair ladies ready to expand the palate of England’s citizens. 

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You Don't Know Us Negroes and Other Essays by Genevieve West, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Zora Neale Hurston

Capturing more than three decades of work by the acclaimed novelist, Hurston’s newest release written during the Harlem Renaissance shares commentary on the Black experience that’s as timely as ever. This highly anticipated collection of culturally critical essays (including a few that have never before been published) will delight her fans, and create new ones.

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Manifesto by Bernardine Evaristo

Despite her enormous success as a writer, Evaristo once had tremendous difficulty believing in herself. In her entertaining and instructional memoir, the Booker winner shares honest observations about the British class system — and the realities of growing up as a mixed-race woman — that affected her self-esteem. Half memoir, half manual, Evaristo’s life story offers poignant advice for creatives who struggle with confidence.

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Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi

After a virus and climate change cause so much destruction on Earth that the wealthy flee the planet to establish the first space colony, a couple returns with romantic ideas of starting a new life. But their dreams are dashed as they are faced with the realities of racism, radiation poisoning, and violence experienced by the lower class living on a decaying planet. Onyebuchi’s harrowing sci-fi novel serves as both a beautiful work and an urgent message.

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Devil House by John Darnielle

A successful true crime writer decides to live in a house made famous by an unsolved murder at the height of the “Satanic panic” of the 1980s. He discovers he has two problems: first, a crisis of faith when he realizes he’s monetizing the violent deaths of others. Second, that he’s in the middle of a terrifying mystery while researching his next big project. Mountain Goats singer-songwriter Darnielle creates a suspenseful story that brings a much-needed humanizing force to true crime. 

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About the Author: Dana Hamilton

Dana is a Los Angeles-based writer who loves everything about books, especially the publishing process! Before she became a journalist with outlets like New York Magazine, VICE, and Fodor's Travel, she helped authors bring their stories to life as an editor at HarperCollins and Hachette. In her free time, she loves to cook (and her New York Times Cooking subscription), listen to comedy podcasts while stuck in LA traffic, and do yoga.
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