New Year, new concept. Here at Brief Take, we’d like to showcase some of the books that we are looking forward to reading in the first month of the new year, as well as ones that we have already started to enjoy, (what can we say? we’re happy to have access). In the next few weeks, we will be spotlighting a few additional books that are our most anticipated reads of the month, and provide a more thorough analysis of them.
Here are some of the books you should be reading in January, in order of their debuts:
Green – Sam Graham-Felsen (Penguin Random House Canada)
Green is a tough book to classify, as it’s about a boy, Dave Greenfield (Green), growing up in Boston in 1992, and confronting a deep divide through his friendship with classmate Marlon (Mar). I wouldn’t call it teen fiction, though it is about the movement from childhood to adolescence, but also about racism, Baahstan, dial-up internet, and coming-of-age male friendship through the representation of Larry Bird and the Celtics. Graham-Felsen certainly “builds a world”.
Meet Cute – Various authors including Jennifer L. Armentrout (Raincoast Books)
The concept of an anthology has been discussed at length through Black Mirror, though the idea of young adult writers coming together to write “meet cute” stories is a new one. I was particularly entranced with the story of Jennifer L. Aremntrout’s The Dictionary of You and Me, as it involved a first encounter built through the idea of, yes, a dictionary and was the cutest of the meet-cute stories. What is great is that if an author is unfamiliar, this makes for a great taste of their works. As such, I also enjoyed the last story by Nicola Yoon, and it ends the collection on a note of hopefulness.
The Wolves of Winter – Tyrell Johnson (Simon and Schuster Canada)
Yes, there are a number of books in January that address the idea of winter, (how appropriate), and American-born, Canadian-residing Tyrell Johnson’s The Wolves of Winter takes the idea one step further, exploring nuclear winter. The action in the post-apocalyptic society takes place in the Yukon, (though it could have easily been anywhere ravaged by winter), and centers on the character of Gwyndolyn McBride, best known as Lynn. The action takes a turn for the sci-fi when a mysterious chracter named Jax enters Lynn’s world, but the peril of a young adult trying to survive is universal.
Fire Sermon – Jamie Quatro (House of Anansi Press)
Jamie Quatro is most associated with short stories, and in her feature-length debut Fire Song, a few reviewers have mentioned that the book is like a longer short story, which couldn’t be further from the reality. The two-parter really gets into the head of Maggie, in an passionless marriage and having an affair, but reveals that she is a multi-sided figure, obsessed with child-rearing, God, but also returns to the longing she feels for James, and juxtaposes the smutty details of the affair with the mundane of her previous lifestyle. There are many tonal shifts and the effect is a book filled with emotion and vicissitudes.
City of Endless Night – Preston & Child (Hachette Book Group Canada)
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have together written seventeen (!) books about Special Agent A.X.L. (Aloysius) Pendergast, and yet this one feels like its own entity. City of Endless Night finds Pendergast without his ward Constance Greene, and on the trail of a serial killer that removes the heads of his victims, the primary one being Grace Ozmian of Queens, New York. She is the daughter of a tech billionaire, and the case comes under the attention of Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta. In City of Endless Night, the two investigators (under the care of two authors) make for one gripping page-turner.
Red Clocks – Leni Zumas (Hachette Book Group Canada)
Of all the books designed to elicit a reaction, Red Clocks by Leni Zumas should be one that elicits one strongly one way or another, as the suggestive book (and cover) imagines a post-apocalyptic dystopia not unlike our own, that bans abortion and IVF, and gives right of personhood to all embryos. Furthering the complication is that the novel is written from the perspective of The Daughter, The Mender, The Wife and The Biographer. There is a fifth elusive “fictional” narrator as well, and don’t expect an easy read. There are notes of Naomi Alderman and The Handmaid’s Tale, but this is a truly one-of-a-kind novel.
Brass– Xhenet Aliu (Penguin Random House Canada)
Xhenet Aliu picks up on theme of mothers and daughters set forth from Lady Bird and I, Tonya, (though more of through a lens of a coming-of-age parallel story), through the tale of Elsie, who works in the Betsy Ross diner in rusted-out Waterbury, Connecticut and takes refuge in Bakshim, an Albanian immigrant who gifts her with an unplanned pregnancy. This narrative is interspersed with this of the daughter, Luljeta, who is telling her story seventeen years later. So in a sense, we are hearing two tales at once, and Aliu delicately balances the threads through the voices of the narrators.
In a Cottage in a Wood – Cass Green (Harper Collins Canada)
This is another cold one, a book that starts with an anonymous one night stand with “whatshisface”, and transitions into a British crime-style psychological thriller about a woman named Neve Carey who meets a mysterious woman named Isabelle on the Waterloo Bridge, and forces the contents of a parcel into Neve’s hands and then jumps into the water. The contents turn out to be a deed to a cottage, to which Neve escapes to discover herself. The book is for fans of Green’s captivating The Woman Next Door.
I Love You Too Much – Alicia Drake (Hachette Book Group Canada)
Another coming of age story, I Love You Too Much by Alicia Drake is the story of Paul, a thirteen-year-old growing up in Paris. He is unloved and then tries to seek refuge in…well, in this slim novel, I don’t want to spoil too much, though Paul does speak to the class of people who love but are not loved back. The title is a clue, but this is a surprising departure from expectations into reality, as Alicia Drake’s book offers some very surprising revelations.