Happy 2016! Hope your holidays were beautiful and full of things that made you all fuzzy inside. Or on the outside, if that’s your preference. I don’t judge.
I had a wonderful time with family, mooching off Mom and Dad, loafing around in jammies for days, eating 97 of Mr. PCN’s homemade cookies, having a Star Wars marathon with nieces and nephews who were seeing all the movies for the first time, then engaging the kiddos in long discussions afterward. Nerd heaven.
But enough blathering and let’s get down to business with the first NSL of the new year. Here are the January releases we recommend.
From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:
Where It Hurts by Reed Farrel Coleman (Putnam, January 26)
Reed Farrel Coleman introduces retired cop Gus Murphy, his new series protagonist, in this dark tale. Gus lost his son to an unknown heart defect two years earlier and hasn’t recovered from the devastation. It tore his remaining family apart and now he works for—and lives in—an old rundown hotel. He doubles as the building detective and airport shuttle driver. When a man Gus arrested during his years on the police force shows up asking for Gus’s help investigating the murder of his son, Gus has to confront more than the case in order to have any chance at solving the crime.
Coleman has consistently created dynamic and layered characters in his crime novels, and Where It Hurts is no exception. The histories and skeletons make these characters fascinating and empathetic. They are also a beautiful reflection of the cultural diversity of the Long Island setting.
Coleman excels at turning a breathless phrase amid ugliness and despair: “A pleasant, button-down guy, he was an okay cop who figured the best way to get ahead was by keeping his head down and to paint by the numbers and to stay inside the lines when he did. His wardrobe was strictly K-Mart and so too were his dreams, though he wasn’t altogether unambitious.”
His humor isn’t lacking, either: “Long Islanders believed that world peace would only be achieved through shopping and not even the Dalai Lama himself worked as hard at world peace as the citizens of Nassau and Suffolk Counties.” Where It Hurts is an all around great start to a promising new series.
From Rory at Fourth Street Review:
Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 5)
Mr. Splitfoot is Samantha Hunt’s latest novel and it’s a strange, intense journey for fans of Gothic fiction. Nat and Ruth are two teenagers living in the Love of Christ! Foster Home, Farm, and Mission. The founder of the home, Father Arthur, only wants the most extreme cases of child abandonment. He doesn’t want kids with families that may reunite or a long lost aunt that might step in; he wants the lost causes.
Mixed in with the grim material are humor and absurdity that keep the novel from getting too dark. The Mother of Love of Christ! sings Black Sabbath’s “Mama, Mama, I’m Coming Home” to the motherless children as they do the heavy lifting, and Ruth declares “Jesus is a hottie” and sincerely means it. Nat and Ruth, siblings by choice, know they need to find a way to earn a living before they age out of the home, and that comes in the form of Mr. Splitfoot. He helps Nat speak to the dead. It begins with the other orphans, but soon draws the attention of Mr. Bell, who brings Nat and Ruth a much more profitable clientele.
Interspersed with Nat and Ruth’s life as spiritualists is Cora’s story. Cora is Ruth’s pregnant niece. One day Ruth arrives unannounced, unable to speak, but insistent that Cora accompany her, destination unknown. Although the novel sounds—and is—very odd, it is also well crafted. Samantha Hunt has written an intricately plotted, ghostly love story that I would highly recommend. It’s a novel I am certain will stick with me through the coming year.
From Erin at In Real Life:
Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin (Little, Brown, January 19)
I’m not sure exactly how it’s possible that Ian Rankin’s books keep getting better, but they do. Even Dogs in the Wild is the latest in his Rebus series, but I wouldn’t call this a Rebus book, because Rankin’s universe of characters, including Siobhan Clarke, Malcolm Fox, and Big Ger Cafferty, are every bit as much a part of the story as John is.
Rankin can weave a mystery as well as any storyteller, and he does exactly that in this novel. Murders connected by ominous notes at the scene and committed by an apparently invisible individual would be a conundrum to lesser cops, but Rebus, Clarke, and Fox are a formidable team. And it is against this backdrop that Rankin unfolds one of the sharpest studies in character—into the human heart and soul—in modern literature, and it is a pleasure to read.
Rankin will be touring in the US starting at the end of January (specific info available on his website). He’ll be in New York, St. Louis, Austin, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Phoenix, and—wait for it—Fairway, Kansas.
From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:
No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering by Clara Bensen (Running Press, January 5)
Does the thought of a hotel messing up your reservation give you angina? How about not having one at all? Clara Bensen throws all kinds of caution to the wind when she agrees to take a trip across the globe with a man she only recently met on an Internet dating site. If that doesn’t sound crazy enough, she’s agreed to travel his way: no itinerary, no hotel reservations, no baggage. They each carry nothing but a toothbrush, a credit card, a passport, and the clothes on their back
This is the story of Clara’s trip with Jeff, but it’s really much deeper than that. Both have recently been hit with difficult life circumstances and the trip presses on nerves and emotions that force them, Clara especially, to face their fears and issues. It becomes readily apparent you can leave your luggage behind, but your life baggage is always with you.
More of a life journal than strict travelogue, No Baggage is both fun and introspective. Recommended for travel junkies and anyone who’s thought of chucking it all and taking to the road. (Read Lauren’s full review here.)
The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer (Grove Press, January 12)
After this book and last year’s Rubbernecker (featured on August’s NSL), Bauer is quickly becoming one of my must-read authors. Her characters are quirky and full of sharp humor, even in the face of dire situations.
Detective Chief Inspector John Marvel can’t let go of the unsolved case of a 12-year-old girl who went missing a year earlier, but his boss wants him to look for a lost poodle belonging to Marvel’s boss’s wife.
Anna Buck’s 4-year-old son is also missing, and she starts having strange visions that may or may not provide clues to her son’s—or is is it the missing girl’s?—whereabouts. The police and her husband think she’s just nuts, though, and her credibility is shot even lower when Anna admits she consulted a TV psychic before she started having her revelations.
Through multiple viewpoints, Bauer unspools a gripping story that allows little shut eye until you’re finished.
Which books are you looking forward to this month?