10 Great Reasons to Read Fiction in January 2023

January is always a great month for new books, and this one is no exception! I hope you have room on your holds list.

THE SURVIVALISTS by Kashana Cauley
Aretha splits her time between dating her career as an attorney until she falls for Aaron, a coffee entrepreneur. She soon finds herself entangled in Aaron’s cooperative household, his doomsday prepper housemates and their extralegal gunrunning schemes. “Cauley's experience as a Manhattan antitrust lawyer infuses the office scenes with authentically cutthroat competition, and her comedy-writing chops shine in hilariously succinct characterizations [the author’s a former writer for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah]… But what really sets this debut novel apart is its finely tuned balance between extremes: humor and drama, conspiracy and reason, careful preparation and total chaos. Funny and fresh.” (Kirkus Reviews)

It’s 1957, and Alice Young moves to New Jessup, Alabama, a thriving all-Black community founded in rejection of segregation. While Alice would rather stay away from controversial politics, she ends up falling for Raymond Campbell, a secret organizer and member of the National Negro Advancement Society. “An outstanding writer, Minnicks excels at capturing the atmosphere and issues of a specific locale at a particular time, the Deep South at the dawn of the civil rights era… highly recommended.” (Library Journal) Minnick’s debut novel was the winner of the 2021 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

Eighteen-year-old Zheng Xue Li, also known as “Shelley,” is sent to live with relatives in San Francisco, the fulfillment of a promise his father made to his mother before she died. Shelley hopes for a warm welcome and extended stay with his prosperous family, but reality does not line up with his expectations. “This rollicking contemporary picaresque about a young Chinese man’s adventures in 2015 America offers a fresh take on the Chinese immigrant experience while confronting universal issues surrounding family, grief, and how to define success… Ma knows how to twist a plot in unexpected, deeply satisfying directions by writing with compassion, humor, and insight.” Ma lives in San Francisco; her last novel The Year She Left Us (2014) was a New York Times Editors’ Choice and an NPR Great Read.

After losing her father, Damani suffers from grief—her own and her mother’s—and she’s spinning her wheels in her go-nowhere job as a gig driver. While driving one day she literally runs into Jolene, an alluring activist with a mysterious source of income, and the two launch a hot affair. “Guns’ sharp and bonkers debut reimagines Taxi Driver for the Uber era… plenty of rich commentary on gig work, race, and white privilege. This has plenty of bite.” (Publishers Weekly)

AFTER SAPPHO by Selby Wynn Schwartz
This vibrant work of feminist historical fiction imagines the lives of trailblazing women--authors, artists and lesbians--who strived for art, love and independence in Western Europe from the 1880s until the 1920s. “We encounter Natalie Barney, Romaine Brooks, Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, Nancy Cunard, Gertrude Stein and Radclyffe Hall. [Italian poet] Poletti has a leading role and is Schwartz’s great discovery – shape-shifting, visionary, apparently seducing most of the great women of her age… After Sappho is a book that’s wholly seduced by seduction and that seduces in turn. And that’s partly because the sentences, crisply flat yet billowing easily into gorgeous lyricism, feel so easily, casually of our time. The confidence in Schwartz’s ventriloquising of the past sends the reader spinning into the present.” (The Guardian) After Sappho was nominated for this year’s Booker Prize.

AGE OF VICE by Deepti Kapoor
In this epic crime thriller set present day New Delhi, the machinations of the wealthy and corrupt Wadia family ensnare three individuals whose lives become entwined: Ajay, a servant with a history of poverty; Sunny, the ambitious heir of the Wadia family, and Neda, an aspiring journalist who gets caught up in Sunny’s lavish lifestyle. “Kapoor’s violent and bitter story is deeply addictive; this spellbinder would be easy to devour in one big gulp, but it’s worth savoring for Neda’s uncompromising take on what she terms India’s “losing age, the age of vice.” The author possesses a talent great enough to match the massive scope of her subject.” (Publishers Weekly)

THE FARAWAY WORLD by Patricia Engel
Engel follows her most recent novel (New American Voices Award—winning novel Infinite Country, 2021) with a collection of ten short stories linking the experiences and struggles of Colombian immigrants in the U.S. and Cuba. “Engel's gift for dialogue makes the stories a pleasure to read despite their often grim situations—the stealing of a brother's bones from his grave, the impregnation of a nanny by the man she works for, the strange sort-of romance that unfolds between the survivors of a kidnapping and a rape. Engel's multinational update of dirty realism is full of ironic flair, imagination, and empathy.” (Kirkus Reviews)

BAD CREE by Jessica Johns
Following the deaths of her grandmother and sister, Mackenzie left her family behind and moved to Vancouver, but she can't escape her horrifying and bloody nightmares filled with crows. When these terrifying dreams begin to blur with real life, she returns home for help. "Johns combines domestic realism and horror in her haunting debut... The novel serves as a window into a world where dreams intersect with waking reality, and where that unseen dimension is as much a part of the life of a tight-knit family and community as bingo, jokes, and video games. It works equally well as spine-tingling thriller and a touching meditation on grief." (Publishers Weekly)

THE NEW LIFE by Tom Crewe
Loosely based on real events that took place in 1890s England, John Addington and Henry Ellis are collaborators on Sexual Inversion, a book that documents gay life and promotes sexual liberty for gay men. On the eve of its publication, Oscar Wilde is arrested, and Addington and Ellis must decide whether or not to proceed with their book. “Rich and engrossing… captures a mood of both frustration and defiance, blending the graceful ambiguity of literary fiction with the deftness of a page-turner. A smart, sensual debut.” (Kirkus Reviews)

CALL AND RESPONSE by Gothataone Moeng
Moeng, a former Stegner Fellow at Stanford, debuts with a collection of stories that explore the lives of women in the author’s home country of Botswana. “Moeng paints beautiful vignettes of modern Botswana, exposing readers to communities and traditions of her home country while exploring dichotomies and relational tensions familiar to all readers. Her beautiful, lyrical prose and memorable characters make this collection a delight to read.” (Booklist)

On a personal note, I am assuming a new role this month at OPL. I’ve been blogging about fiction on the library’s website for more than ten years! I won’t be able to continue doing it monthly but hope to return from time to time. We’ll continue to post lots of reading advice in this space, but if you find that you’re ever in need of some personalized suggestions, please try Book Me, our personalized recommendation service for readers. You can find it here.