Twelve Books to Read This Winter

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Twelve Books to Read This Winter

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Twelve Books to Read This Winter


John Kuczala

The Wall Street Journal recently posed a tough question to publishing experts: Recommend one work of fiction—just one—coming out this winter. The book had to hit shelves between January and March. The result was an offering of works with dark themes and twisty plots featuring unreliable narrators, sibling rivalries and heroines in a style one reader dubbed “femme noir.” Here, their picks of titles by skilled storytellers who know how to draw readers in from the cold.

(Plus, WSJ staffers make their own picks of new fiction to sample.)

Twelve Books to Read This Winter



A. J. Finn

Liz Harwell,

director of merchandise at Barnes & Noble

Twelve Books to Read This Winter

The psychological thriller, written by publishing executive

Daniel Mallory

under a pen name, has the feel of a


movie and shares some DNA with “The Girl on the Train.”

Anna Fox

is an agoraphobic New Yorker who watches her neighbors from the safety of her window and hasn’t set foot in public in nearly a year. She drinks too much and pops pills to quell her fears. When she thinks she witnesses a murder in the house across the street, it’s unclear if the crime really happened or if it was a product of her tortured mind. “It’s hard to shake the main character Anna Fox’s voice,”

Ms. Harwell

says. “There’s one scene in particular, a car crash, that readers won’t forget. At first glance it appears to be nothing more than a terrible accident, but…”

Read an excerpt from “The Woman in the Window.”

Twelve Books to Read This Winter



Chloe Benjamin

Sarah Smith,

editorial director for print and Kindle books at Amazon

Twelve Books to Read This Winter

The novel, hitting lots of “must-read” lists this winter, opens in 1969, when a fortune teller informs four young siblings of the exact dates of their deaths. The second novel from the 29-year-old

Ms. Benjamin

asks: How you would live if you knew from childhood how long your life would be? Questions of free will and fate follow the siblings as they embark on divergent paths: One is a dancer, one a magician, one a military doctor, and the other a longevity researcher working with monkeys.

Ms. Smith

saw it as a literary page-turner: “It must be something about a really compelling plot line, timely concerns about animal rights, our current fascination with longevity and our hope that scientists might be able to rescue us from death,” she says, “at least death by aging.”

Read an excerpt from “The Immortalists.”

Twelve Books to Read This Winter



Denis Johnson

(released Jan. 16)

Michael Miller,

editor at book-review magazine Bookforum

Twelve Books to Read This Winter

Mr. Johnson finished this book, a short-story collection, just before his death from liver cancer last year at age 67. Random House organized a 13-city book tour to honor the author, a National Book Award winner and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist whose works include the 1992 story collection “


’ Son.” The starry cast for the accompanying audiobook includes actor

Nick Offerman

reading the title story, which took

Mr. Johnson

seven years to write.

Mr. Miller

recalls a scene in that story when an adman comes to New York to accept an award for an animated TV commercial for a banking chain: “He steps outside and it’s snowing and he travels into the night. It has this almost magical quality to it even though it’s in some ways an ordinary story and in other ways utterly bizarre.”

Read an excerpt from “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden.”

Twelve Books to Read This Winter



Leni Zumas

(Jan. 16)

Amy Orringer,

merchandising assistant for the U.S. Google Play Books store

Twelve Books to Read This Winter


Ms. Orringer

first saw this book, a certain novel that returned to the top of the bestseller lists last year came to mind: “I thought, Wow, this might really resonate with a lot of people who like ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’” The novel, a mix of fantasy and science fiction, is set in the near future in a fishing town in Oregon. Abortion is illegal and fetuses have human rights. The story intertwines the lives of five women: a high school teacher trying to have a baby, a mother trapped in her marriage, an unexpectedly pregnant teenager, a 19th-century polar explorer and a self-styled witch doctor hiding out in the woods. After immersing herself in this book’s cold, dark landscape, Ms. Orringer says: “It feels like winter.”

Read an excerpt from “Red Clocks.”

Twelve Books to Read This Winter




Melissa Albert

(Jan. 30)

S. Zainab Williams,

associate editor at the book blog Book Riot

Twelve Books to Read This Winter

Alice is surrounded by cult followers of the creepy fairy tales written by her famous grandmother, author of books set in a supernatural world called the Hinterland. After Alice’s grandmother dies at home—a menacing estate called the Hazel Wood—Alice’s mother is snatched by a shadowy character who claims to have come from that fictional world. Alice joins one of her grandmother’s superfans on a quest to bring her mother back, defying her mother’s orders to stay away from the Hazel Wood and entering her grandmother’s realm of fairy tales. The young-adult fantasy had a rare effect on

Ms. Williams

: “It returned that singular feeling of reading as a kid—back when all of the adult responsibilities weren’t crowding in and you could wrap a story around yourself like a blanket.”

Read an excerpt from “The Hazel Wood.”

Twelve Books to Read This Winter



Joseph Cassara

(Feb. 6)


LeLamer, buyer, Books & Books bookstore in Miami

Twelve Books to Read This Winter

This novel set in 1980s and 1990s New York puts a fictional spin on the glam-ball scene from “Paris is Burning,” the documentary about the African American and Latino LGBT ballroom circuit.

Ms. LeLamer

marveled at how convincingly the 28-year-old debut author captured that era. The book, whose language one early reviewer called “erotically luscious,” follows Angel and Hector as they form the House of Xtravaganza, an all-Latino home on the ball circuit where residents confront the hazards of sex work while turning to each other as a family. Ms. LeLamer hopes the novel takes off. “I’m hearing a little bit of buzz,” she says. “I’m hoping it keeps going because this book and this author—I can’t wait to see what he does next.”

Read an excerpt from “The House of Impossible Beauties.”

Twelve Books to Read This Winter



Amy Bloom

(Feb. 13)

Roxanne Coady,

owner and founder of R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn.

Twelve Books to Read This Winter

The book is a novelization of the real relationship between

Eleanor Roosevelt


Lorena Hickok,

a strapping journalist who forged a deep bond with the first lady, even sleeping in an adjacent bedroom in the White House. The book is narrated in

Ms. Hickok’s

voice and drawn from letters the women wrote each other and

Ms. Bloom’s


Ms. Coady

sees it as a book about the love, friendship and intimacy between two middle-aged women that’s both ordinary and extraordinary. The author doesn’t shy away from subtle love scenes featuring the first lady. “I climb in behind her and she undresses me with one long white hand, still not turning,” Ms. Bloom writes. “I look out over her shoulder and watch people turn on their lights.” The book attempts to depict a more intimate side of

Ms. Roosevelt.

“Oh, Hick,” the first lady says in the book, “if you don’t hold me, I will die.”

Read an excerpt from “White Houses.”

Twelve Books to Read This Winter



Jason Matthews

(Feb. 13)

Alex Posey,

editorial manager for books and audiobooks at the reading subscription site Scribd

Twelve Books to Read This Winter

The novel, the final book in the Red Sparrow trilogy, features seductive spies hunting down a plot by Russian president

Vladimir Putin

to put a Russian sympathizer in the highest echelons of the U.S. government. Dominika, a ballerina turned trained assassin who heads Russian counterintelligence, is secretly working with the Central Intelligence Agency to track down the mole. The book arrives just before the movie “Red Sparrow,” an adaptation of the first novel starring

Jennifer Lawrence


Joel Edgerton.

Ms. Posey,

who compares

Mr. Matthews

to writers John le Carré and


Fleming, calls this “a fun read, a thrilling read and a timely read.”

Read an excerpt from “The Kremlin’s Candidate.”

Twelve Books to Read This Winter




Lippman (Feb. 20)


Haber, O, The Oprah Magazine books editor and book scout for Oprah’s Book Club

Twelve Books to Read This Winter

In “Sunburn,” a mysterious redhead leaves her husband and child, adopts a new identity and moves to a small town in Delaware. She is soon ensnared in an affair with a secretive stranger she meets in a local tavern. Her true nature—criminal with a shady past or damsel in distress—is uncertain. “I feel like it creates a whole new category, which I’m thinking of as ‘femme noir,’” says

Ms. Haber.

“Laura’s done something very feminist, very revolutionary. She’s taken this traditional noir structure of a man sweeping in to save a woman who then turns around and eats his heart out—she’s turned that notion on its head.”

Read an excerpt from “Sunburn.”

Twelve Books to Read This Winter



Nafkote Tamirat

(March 13)

Gabe Habash,

fiction reviews editor, Publishers Weekly

Twelve Books to Read This Winter

The novel opens on an island, the only place where a father says his daughter will be safe. But all is not well, and not just because the young woman vomits the moment she sets foot there. In this coming-of-age story, the unnamed daughter lives in Boston with her father, an Ethiopian immigrant, and falls under the spell of Ayale, an enigmatic parking-lot attendant. Ayale is a hustler, the author writes, famous among local Ethiopians “for being where he shouldn’t be and disappearing from where he should.”

Ms. Tamirat’s

debut novel returns to the island in its final pages. “The ending is memorable and it totally subverts the expectations of what the story would go towards,” says

Mr. Habash.

“The father-daughter relationship is messy and real and brilliant.”

Read an excerpt from “The Parking Lot Attendant.”

Twelve Books to Read This Winter



Emily X.R. Pan

(March 20)

Cristina Arreola,

senior books editor at the female-focused news and culture site Bustle

Twelve Books to Read This Winter


Leigh Chen Sanders,

desperate to understand why her mother has killed herself, has an encounter with a giant, long-tailed red bird that lands on her porch, taps its claws on the wood and says her name in her mother’s voice. In this young-adult novel—the author’s debut—Leigh is not trying to be poetic when she says her dead mother has returned to Earth as bird. After the creature flies away, Leigh launches a search for the bird that takes her to Taiwan, where she meets her grandparents for the first time and uncovers family secrets.

Ms. Pan

writes: “What can you do when all you see behind closed eyes are the flashes of your mother, your mother, your mother, miserable, alive, beautiful, sick, warm, smiling, dead? But not dead. Not exactly. My mother is a bird.”

Read an excerpt from “The Astonishing Color of After.”

Twelve Books to Read This Winter



Tom Rachman

(March 20)

Elizabeth Khuri Chandler,

editor-in-chief and co-founder of the book-discussion and recommendation site Goodreads

Twelve Books to Read This Winter

In the book’s opening, the famous painter Bear Bavinsky—passionate, ruthless, striving for recognition and immortality—leans his hand on his five-year-old son Pinch’s head for balance while climbing out of the bathtub. As he grows up, Pinch continues to feel the weight of that larger-than-life father bearing down on his existence. He ventures through the art world, glimpsing its inner workings while teaching Italian to make money. He starts in Rome, goes to Toronto, then London in search of himself. “It’s about growing up and living in a famous person’s shadow, but particularly an artist’s shadow,” says

Ms. Chandler.

The book asks what price should be paid to become a great artist. “Every great artist has to end up in hell,” a college friend tells Pinch. “Then again, imagine how beautifully it’ll be decorated.”

Read an excerpt from “The Italian Teacher.”

Write to Ellen Gamerman at

Appeared in the January 10, 2018, print edition as ‘What to Read This Winter.’

By | 2018-01-10T04:45:28+00:00 January 9th, 2018|0 Comments

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