Now that the stench of 2020 has finally dissipated, a new year is upon us. I was amped for a fresh start (American white supremacists, COVID and Armie Hammer, you’re kinda killing my mood here).
Bad news aside, a new year calls for a whole new swag of books. If you’re anything like me, my TBR pile gets larger by the day, as my bank balance gets smaller.
New year resolution #9 — borrow more library books.
There are just so many fantastic-looking books due to grace the shelves of our shops (and libraries — yes, I’m learning) this year. I almost feel like a kid in a candy store, except thankfully there’s no belly ache if I overindulge and I won’t spoil my supper.
One of my joys in life is helping others navigate the literary world. So, without further ado, here is my list of 12 books that I’m most excited about this year. One for each month. Easy!
Stay tuned for their reviews plus, of course, a stack more suggestions of what books to stick your nose into and audiobooks to keep an ear out for.
Well it wouldn’t be a complete list of most anticipated books without one about 19th-century Russian writers, amiright?!?! Don’t be put off. This one is a perfect read for those whose new year resolution was to try their hand at writing. It’s a masterclass on ‘writing, reading and life’. — TBT
From the publisher — For the last twenty years, George Saunders has been teaching a class on the Russian short story to his MFA students at Syracuse University. In A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, he shares a version of that class with us, offering some of what he and his students have discovered together over the years. Paired with iconic short stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol, the seven essays in this book are intended for anyone interested in how fiction works and why it’s more relevant than ever in these turbulent times.
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is a deep exploration not just of how great writing works but of how the mind itself works while reading, and of how the reading and writing of stories make genuine connection possible.
An eco-fable that is imbued with drama and rain-soaked terrain. I’ve actually read this one already and can safely say it’s incredible. (Sneaking it on the list because it hasn’t been released in the USA yet. Is it cheating? Maybe. Do I care? Not one iota.) Highly creative, the plot is a dance between folklore and a wild, imagined future. My full review to come. — TBT
From the publisher: A gripping novel of myth, environment, adventure, and an unlikely friendship, from an award-winning Australian author.
Ren lives alone on the remote frontier of a country devastated by a coup d’état. High on the forested slopes, she survives by hunting, farming, trading, and forgetting the contours of what was once a normal life. But her quiet stability is disrupted when an army unit, led by a young female soldier, comes to the mountains on government orders in search of a legendary creature called the rain heron–a mythical, dangerous, form-shifting bird with the ability to change the weather. Ren insists that the bird is simply a story, yet the soldier will not be deterred, forcing them both into a gruelling quest.
Spellbinding and immersive, Robbie Arnott’s The Rain Heron is an astounding, mythical exploration of human resilience, female friendship, and humankind’s precarious relationship to nature. Slowly, Ren’s and the soldier’s lives entwine, unravel, and ultimately erupt in a masterfully crafted ending in which both women are forced to confront their biggest fears–and regrets.
Did you know Stacey Abrams was writing a novel. I know, THAT Stacey Abrams?!! I don’t know about you, but I’m beside myself to read this new book by the celebrated US politician who, along with a cadre of incredible black women, organised the black vote in Georgia to help put Biden in the POTUS position, plus a black man and a Jewish son of an immigrant in two very contested senate seats. — TBT
From the publisher: Avery Keene, a brilliant young law clerk for the legendary Justice Howard Wynn, is doing her best to hold her life together–excelling in an arduous job with the court while also dealing with a troubled family. When the shocking news breaks that Justice Wynn–the cantankerous swing vote on many current high-profile cases–has slipped into a coma, Avery’s life turns upside down. She is immediately notified that Justice Wynn has left instructions for her to serve as his legal guardian and power of attorney. Plunged into an explosive role she never anticipated, Avery finds that Justice Wynn had been secretly researching one of the most controversial cases before the court–a proposed merger between an American biotech company and an Indian genetics firm, which promises to unleash breathtaking results in the medical field. She also discovers that Wynn suspected a dangerously related conspiracy that infiltrates the highest power corridors of Washington.
As political wrangling ensues in Washington to potentially replace the ailing judge whose life and survival Avery controls, she begins to unravel a carefully constructed, chesslike sequence of clues left behind by Wynn. She comes to see that Wynn had a much more personal stake in the controversial case and realizes his complex puzzle will lead her directly into harm’s way in order to find the truth.
You can’t tell me the Internet isn’t a minefield these days when it comes to identity. Thankfully, no Nigerian princes on this site. — TBT
From the publisher: On the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, a young woman snoops through her boyfriend’s phone and makes a startling discovery: he’s an anonymous internet conspiracy theorist, and a popular one at that. Already fluent in internet fakery, irony, and outrage, she’s not exactly shocked by the revelation. Actually, she’s relieved–he was always a little distant–and she plots to end their floundering relationship while on a trip to the Women’s March in DC. But this is only the first in a series of bizarre twists that expose a world whose truths are shaped by online lies.
Suddenly left with no reason to stay in New York and increasingly alienated from her friends and colleagues, our unnamed narrator flees to Berlin, embarking on her own cycles of manipulation in the deceptive spaces of her daily life, from dating apps to expat meetups, open-plan offices to bureaucratic waiting rooms. She begins to think she can’t trust anyone–shouldn’t the feeling be mutual?
My eyes widened a little when I read that the protagonist moves from San Fransisco to Perth. It’s not every day that my city gets a mention. Will the book do our remote yet beautiful part of the world justice? Remains to be seen, but the early reviews are good.
Funny, acerbic Edie Richter is moving with her husband from San Francisco to Perth, Australia. Before the move, Edie and her husband were content, if socially awkward―given her disinclination for small talk.
In Perth, Edie finds herself in a remarkably isolated yet verdant corner of the world, but Edie has a secret: she committed an unthinkable act that she can barely admit to herself. In some ways, the landscape mirrors her own complicated inner life, and rather than escaping her past, Edie is increasingly forced to confront what she’s done.
Last year, I read Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name and wept at its beauty. Then, I read Find Me and skipped about half the book until the last eleven pages (I could have hurled it against the wall, such was my disappointment in the sequel). Despite the misgivings about his second book, both contained such gorgeous prose and I soaked up the love-stained words with ease. Hoping for similar writing in this new book of essays. — TBT
From the publisher: The New York Times–bestselling author of Find Me and Call Me by Your Name returns to the essay form with his collection of thoughts on time, the creative mind, and great lives and works.
Irrealis moods are the set of verbal moods that indicate that something is not actually the case or a certain situation or action is not known to have happened . . .
André Aciman returns to the essay form in Homo Irrealis to explore what the present tense means to artists who cannot grasp the here and now. Irrealis is not about the present, or the past, or the future, but about what might have been but never was—but could in theory still happen.
From meditations on subway poetry and the temporal resonances of an empty Italian street, to considerations of the lives and work of Sigmund Freud, Constantine Cavafy, W. G. Sebald, John Sloan, Éric Rohmer, Marcel Proust, and Fernando Pessoa, and portraits of cities such as Alexandria and St. Petersburg, Homo Irrealis is a deep reflection of the imagination’s power to shape our memories under time’s seemingly intractable hold.
Ooh, I love a novel about writers. This one’s *plot* looks delicious. — TBT
From the publisher: Jacob Finch Bonner was once a promising young novelist with a respectably published first book. Today, he’s teaching in a third-rate MFA program and struggling to maintain what’s left of his self-respect; he hasn’t written–let alone published–anything decent in years.
When he discovers that his former student has died, presumably without ever completing his book, Jake does what any self-respecting writer would do with a story like that–a story that absolutely needs to be told.
In a few short years, all of Evan Parker’s predictions have come true, but Jake is the author enjoying the wave. But at the height of his glorious new life, an e-mail arrives, the first salvo in a terrifying, anonymous campaign: You are a thief, it says.
As Jake struggles to understand his antagonist and hide the truth from his readers and his publishers, he begins to learn more about his late student, and what he discovers both amazes and terrifies him. Who was Evan Parker, and how did he get the idea for his “sure thing” of a novel? What is the real story behind the plot, and who stole it from whom?
Last year, I read The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. It was a stunning fictional account of the witch trials that took place in 17th century Norway. Five stars from me — read my review here. I swear I don’t have a thing for witch trial books. But here’s another one that looks really interesting, this time, set in Boston. — TBT
From the publisher: A young Puritan woman–faithful, resourceful, but afraid of the demons that dog her soul–plots her escape from a violent marriage.
Boston, 1662. Mary Deerfield is twenty-four-years-old. When Thomas, prone to drunken rage, drives a three-tined fork into the back of Mary’s hand, she resolves that she must divorce him to save her life. But in a world where every neighbor is watching for signs of the devil, a woman like Mary–a woman who harbors secret desires and finds it difficult to tolerate the brazen hypocrisy of so many men in the colony–soon becomes herself the object of suspicion and rumor.
When tainted objects are discovered buried in Mary’s garden, when a boy she has treated with herbs and simples dies, and when their servant girl runs screaming in fright from her home, Mary must fight to not only escape her marriage, but also the gallows.
Who doesn’t love to see a little comeuppance when it comes to developers? This looks like a rip-snorter (and a big deviation from Mozley’s Elmet). — TBT
From the publisher: In the middle of the bustle of Soho sits a building. It isn’t particularly assuming. But it’s a prime piece of real estate, and a young millionaire, Agatha Howard, wants to convert it into luxury condos as soon as she can kick out all the tenants.
The problem is, the building in question houses a brothel, and Precious and Tabitha, two of the women who live and work there, are not going to go quietly. And another problem is, just where did Agatha’s fortune come from?
The fight over this piece of property also draws in the men who visit, including Robert, a one-time member of a far-right group and enforcer for Agatha’s father; Jackie, a policewoman intent on making London a safer place for all women; Bastian, a rich and dissatisfied party boy who pines for an ex-girlfriend; and a collection of vagabonds and strays who occupy the basement.
As these characters–with surprising hidden connections and shadowy pasts–converge, the fight over the property boils over into a hot stew.
I remember picking up a falling-apart copy of the last iteration of this series on a remote beach on the island of Sumatra, about a decade ago. It was a delightful anthology and covered the gamut of modern American writers. And it’s back. There are some incredible names in the list, and even if you don’t recognise them all, be sure to give this some attention. You’ll be in the company of literary icons. — TBT
From the publisher: IN THE PAST fifty years, the American short story has changed dramatically. New voices, forms, and mixtures of genres have brought this unique US genre a thrilling burst of energy. This rich anthology celebrates this avalanche of talent.
Beginning in 1970, it culls together a half century of powerful American short stories from all genres, including–for the first time in a literary anthology–science fiction, horror, and fantasy, placing writers such as Usula Le Guin, Ken Liu and Stephen King next to some of the often-taught geniuses of the form–Grace Paley, Toni Cade Bambara, Sandra Cisneros, and Denis Johnson.
Often overlooked tales by Dorothy Allison, Charles Johnson, and Toni Morrison will recast the shape and texture of today’s enlarging atmosphere of literary dialogue. Short tales by Tobias Wolff, George Saunders, and Lydia Davis rub shoulders with near novellas by Susan Sontag and Andrew Holleran. This book will be a treasure trove for readers and teachers alike.
Author Ishiguro won the Booker Prize for The Remains of the Day and is a Nobel laureate — no biggie. His latest venture looks super interesting and gives me echoes of the movie Her. I just can’t wait to read it. — TBT
Klara and the Sun, the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her.
Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?
Another bookish book! This time, a bookseller in Rome searches for a mysterious customer while confronting her own complicated family. This sounds like *chef’s kiss* to me. — TBT
From the publisher: Working at a bookstore in Berkeley in the years after college, Gabriele becomes intrigued by the orders of signor Vietri, a customer from Rome whose numerous purchases grow increasingly mystical and esoteric.
Restless and uncertain of her future, Gabriele quits her job and, landing in Rome, decides to look up Vietri. Unable to locate him, she begins a quest to unearth the well-concealed facts of his life.
Following a trail of obituaries and military records, a memoir of life in a village forgotten by modernity, and the court records of a communist murder trial, Gabriele meets an eclectic assortment of the city’s inhabitants, from the widow of an Italian prisoner of war to members of a generation set adrift by the financial crisis.
Each encounter draws her unexpectedly closer to her own painful past and complicated family history. Through these voices and histories, Gabriele will discover what it means to be a person in the world; a member of a family and a citizen of a country—and how reconciling these stories may be the key to understanding her own.
Fable and Fizz would like to acknowledge the Whadjuck Noongar people as the traditional owners and continual custodians on the lands and waters this content is primarily written on. I pay respects to their Elders — past and present. This always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.