RIF’s Favorite Reads of January 2017

Helping you sort out the best from the rest published this month.

Favorites of January

This January, we’ve been watching a lot of difficult things happen both here and abroad. The world is a hard place to live in, but literature is one of the things that keeps us strong, educated, empathic, loving, and willing to keep going. And even while the world may be a difficult place, the fact is that there are still books by wonderful new and old talents alike that are coming out month after month, and we’re going to continue celebrating these works, loving them, applauding them, and sharing them with you. We hope you can pick some of these up and find in them as much solace as we have.

The Girl Before by JP Delaney

Favorites of JanuaryA fascinating psychological thriller, The Girl Before examines patterns of living, of possession, and of behavior. When Emma first discovers One Folgate Street, she’s thrilled—finally, after being burgled, she can move flats. But the minimalist household is controlled in style and vision by its creator and Emma can’t move much of her stuff in; her books, throw pillows, and personal knick-knacks must go into storage. The place is meant to stay pristine. Jane, another woman excited to discover an available occupancy at One Folgate Street, finds out when she moves in that the previous tenant died under mysterious circumstances, and without realizing it, begins to follow the same route as the girl before did. (Ballantine)

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

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Favorites of JanuaryMany of us have been looking forward to Roxane Gay’s next foray into fiction, and we’re not disappointed. In these stories, Gay paints portraits of women in difficult circumstances as well as women who are just plain difficult, but these women are not damsels in distress. Their perpetrators may think of the women as weak-willed, as demanding, as loose, but the reader sees that these women are heroines of the every day, of circumstances far too common and real to ignore. Difficult, here, is true of how hard it is to read some of these painful stories—but then again, art isn’t always meant to make us happy. (Grove Press)

Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia

Favorites of JanuaryHattie Hoffman is a model daughter, a perfect student, and a lovely young woman in her senior year of high school. That is, she was until she turns up dead. Not only dead but murdered. And not only murdered but brutally so, stabbed to death before the opening night of the school play in which she was supposed to star. The small town is thrown by the murder, and the police promise they’ll get to the bottom of this. But Hattie may have been hiding things that are vital to discovering her killer. This fascinating book is told in three points of view—including that of the murdered girl—and is a deliciously evocative read, full of questions of self-discovery vs. self-destruction. (Atria)

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

Favorites of JanuaryA novel that fittingly takes place in—you guessed it—Idaho, Emily Ruskovich’s debut novel is otherwise full of surprises. Ann and Wade are married, but Ann is Wade’s second wife, not his first. The first, Jenny, is mysteriously gone from Wade’s life, and Ann begins to imagine and investigate, trying to find out what happened to Jenny and the daughters she and Wade had together. Through exquisite prose, fading memory, and various points of view, Ruskovich paints a portrait of broken families and the power of finding love once again. (Random House)

Letters to a Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash

Favorites of JanuaryOmar Saif Ghobash is an ambassador, and so he understands both great conflict and careful diplomacy. In this series of letters to his son, Ghobash ponders the world’s current state, from Islamophobia to extremist and radical teachings in the name of Islam. He sees his son’s generation of young Muslims as future leaders and asks how they can, on one hand, avoid the extremist ideologies thrust at them and, on the other, avoid the hatred levied at them. With a love of his religion and a belief that his children will be able to thrive, Ghobash is clear-eyed but optimistic, and his prose is beautiful and at times heartbreaking. (Picador)

Human Acts by Han Kang

Favorites of JanuaryHan Kang handily proved herself to English-speakers when her incredible and gut-twisting novel The Vegetarian came out last year. Now a translation of her book Human Acts has us spellbound. The novel portrays a student uprising in South Korea and a boy who is killed when the uprising becomes violent. In a series of interwoven chapters, each featuring a different voice connected to the incident in some way (from the boy’s own mother to a newspaper editor facing censorship), Kang displays voices that wish to rise up as well but are suppressed over and over again. (Hogarth)

The Futures by Anna Pitoniak

Favorites of JanuaryAnna Pitoniak debuts with this novel about growing up when you’re already grown-up, at least according to the drinking age. While undergraduates at Yale, Evan and Julia fall in love, despite their vastly different backgrounds. Julia is a rich blond with privilege up the wazoo, while Evan grew up in a faraway rural Canadian town and is a scholarship student. When the two move to New York City together after graduation, they begin a life together right as the 2008 economic crash occurs. As Evan’s job in finance becomes more and more secretive and under more and more scrutiny, the couple struggles to stay afloat financially, while simultaneously trying to keep their relationship alive. In their attempts, both Julia and Evan make mistakes and fight to figure out how they move forward in a world suddenly rockier beneath their feet than before. (Lee Boudreaux Books)

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

Favorites of JanuaryPaul Auster, master of fiction, of novels, one of our most well-known and best remembered American authors, is back with a new, and mesmerizing book. The gimmick is simple enough: a boy, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, is born on March 3, 1947, and lives four lives. That is, Auster has imagined four completely different lives for Archibald, though he is always made up of the same DNA, born to the same parents in the same circumstances. But each of his lives is entirely different from the others, except for one detail—in every life, he and Amy Schneiderman find one another, although their relationships are singular to their respective plotlines. A wonderful work of realist fiction, and well-worth the time invested in its 880 pages. (Henry Holt)

Own It: The Power of Women at Work by Sallie Krawcheck

Favorites of JanuarySallie Krawcheck wants women to stop trying to compete with men in business. At least, she wants us to stop competing with men on their terms, in their modes of competition, following their rules regarding what makes a person primed for success. No, despite the fact that we do not have a woman president, that our pay is still unequal, and that we’re still assumed to be less capable, Krawcheck is optimistic. In this book, she discusses her own experience of going from Wall Street to entrepreneurship, of harnessing her powers as a woman instead of trying to “man up,” and suggests ways for women to draw on our already existing strengths to create an alternative rather than a parallel path to success. (Crown Business)

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

Favorites of JanuaryAmanda is dying in an emergency clinic in Argentina, and by her bedside is a child named David. But David is not Amanda’s son, and she is not his mother—the nature of their relationship is mysterious to us. As they converse, and as David tries to get Amanda both to tell her story and to tell it the right way—which is not the way she wants to tell it—we slowly discover why Amanda is dying, what she has gone through to reach this state, and how she and David have both ended up in this place. While the themes of motherhood and loss are never far, the narrative plays out as a literary thriller, making this English-translation debut of Schweblin’s all the more accessible and exciting. (Riverhead)

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

Favorites of JanuarySolimar Castro-Valdez crossed the border into the U.S. from Mexico on a harrowing journey that has left her heartbroken and pregnant. The latter, she is happy about, and she dotes on her child when he is born, a beautiful boy she calls Ignacio. But when she’s detained for being undocumented, Ignacio is put in the home of Kavya Reddy, a woman who has never been able to become pregnant but has always longed to be a mother. And now, a mother she is. Ignacio is lucky—he is twice loved, he is safe. But his mothers are more complicated, with Solimar trying desperately to get him back, and Kavya knowing that the boy she loves is someone else’s. (Putnam)

The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

Favorites of JanuarySalem has a famous cold case in Brunonia Barry’s fictional version of our world. “The Goddess Murders,” as the case was called, involved three women who were all descendants of accused Salem witches, and who were all brutally slashed on Halloween night years ago. Now a teenage boy is found dead on Halloween night, and the chief of police, John Rafferty, wonders whether there may just be a connection. The daughter of one of the victims of The Goddess Murders is back in town, and Rafferty consults with her on the current leading suspect in this new murder, who neither of them think is actually guilty. But who is? And are they human? (Crown)

My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King

Favorites of JanuaryCoretta Scott King was one of the first black scholarship students at Antioch College, and while she was there, she became increasingly involved in the work for civil rights, social justice, and equality. She was also a singer, and went to study music and develop her career, but met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who preferred that she abandon singing as a career and stay at home to raise their children. Though she did give up a career as a singer, Scott King didn’t stop acting. In this new biography, as told by King to Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds, she sheds light on the massive amount of help she was to her husband and the work she did to preserve his memory after his untimely death. An important heroine in her own right, Coretta Scott King’s story is mesmerizing. (Henry Holt)

The Unsettlers: In Search of the Good Life in Today’s America by Mark Sundeen

Favorites of JanuaryYearning for ‘the simple life’ is something that seems pretty common in popular culture. Trends are constantly promoting more minimalist living these days, as the extravagance of consumerism has risen to a clearly remarkable point. Mark Sundeen explores the people who choose to go and actually fulfill that desire for a life of simplicity, and he tracks them as they go on their journeys—buying a homestead, working on urban inner-city farming projects, or raising a family ethically—and examines the reasons and socially-responsible ideas underlying these people’s choices. In this fascinating ethnography of sorts, he gives us a glimpse into what a sustainable future may look like through the eyes of the subjects he investigates. (Riverhead)

The Strays by Emily Bitto

Favorites of JanuaryEvan Trentham is a wild, liberal-minded, lavish artist with a lifestyle to match. He and his wife bring other like-minded artists into their family and the extravagance they yearn for and try to act out is all but irresistible for their daughter’s new friend, Lily. Lily, an only child and unfamiliar with the Trenthams’ kind of life, is drawn into the world she is witnessing for the first time at her new friend’s home, but she doesn’t see the cracks in the facade that Evan and his wife work so hard to maintain. Yet, as time passes, and Lily falls deeper in love with this new family, the cracks widen and threaten to swallow her new friends, the Trenthams’ daughters, along with the artists. (Twelve)

I Hate Everyone, Except You by Clinton Kelly

Favorites of JanuaryBest known for his role as co-host of What Not to Wear, Clinton Kelly’s snark is already recognizable and beloved by many. In this collection of essays, he proves that his wicked sense of humor can extend to the page as well as the small screen. He dwells especially on his awkward youth, from his decision to try to get his baby sister to be a cheerleader to his incredibly unenthusiastic high school commencement speech. Funny, honest, and charmingly critical of seemingly everyone and everything in a way that betrays a kind of brotherly love for it all too, Kelly will surely win your laughs if not your heart too. (Gallery)

The Midnight Cool by Lydia Peelle

Favorites of JanuarySet in Tennessee in 1916, Lydia Peelle’s fiction debut is a wonderful tale of failure and success, striving and bootstrapping, and the ethical quandaries thereof in the United States a century ago. Friends and business partners Charles and Billy are both skilled at what they do, much of which is underhanded and not entirely on the up and up legally. But they find their mule business thriving as the Great War ratchets up and the U.S. prepares to join the fight in Europe. Despite the booming business, various factors have the men drifting apart, until, that is, let-downs and discoveries of their true identities slowly bring them back to the loyalty they’ve shared for years. A wonderfully astute novel that observes human greed alongside the ineffable human desire for connection. (Harper)

Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson

Favorites of JanuaryKate Priddy has never been entirely free of anxiety, but a trauma involving an ex-boyfriend who kidnapped her leaves her fearful and nervous, to a debilitating degree at times. Time away from the familiar sights of home seems like just what the doctor ordered so she happily agrees to swap apartments with her cousin for a while and move to Boston from her home in England. But the new place in Beacon Hill begins to weigh on her too as she discovered a murder occurred next door and that her own cousin seems to be suspected by everyone she meets. But as time passes, Kate runs into more and more potential suspects, all of whom keep saying her cousin did it. Who is she to believe? How is she to trust ever again? A harrowing tale of justified fear. (William Morrow)


Photography by Ryan Deshon, Prop Styling by Abbe Wright

 

About Ilana Masad

Ilana Masad

ILANA MASAD is an Israeli-American writer living in New York. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, Printer’s Row, The Toast, The Butter, The Rumpus, Hypertext Magazine, and more. She is the founder of TheOtherStories.org, a podcast for new, emerging, and struggling writers. She is (way too) active on Twitter @ilanaslightly.

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