Among the great choices to kick off a year of reading are fictional tales set around the world — in a modern village in India; in London, past and present; and in a remote snowy outpost. True accounts of a Cuban spy and a North Korean defector extend an armchair trip around the globe.
‘The Bandit Queens,’ by Parini Shroff (Ballantine, Jan. 3)
Geeta isn’t a murderer, but it’s easier to let fearful villagers think what they want about her alcoholic husband’s disappearance, especially since they buy jewelry from her to stay on her good side. When her partners want help dispatching their abusive husbands, she must decide how far she’s willing to go to preserve the life she has built for herself. Shroff cleverly considers how women might achieve autonomy within rural India’s patriarchal society through shrewd, if complicated, female friendships.
‘Night Wherever We Go,’ by Tracey Rose Peyton (Ecco, Jan. 3)
Inspired by a true account of a pre-Civil War farm where only two children were born to enslaved workers in more than 20 years, Peyton’s heart-rending novel imagines a failing East Texas plantation where the owners hope to recover prosperity by forcing enslaved people to reproduce. As an act of rebellion, the five enslaved women rely on Nan, a doctoring woman with knowledge of herbal contraceptives. Although each woman endures her own tribulations, they operate as a unit to quietly foil the efforts of the “stockman” hired to impregnate them, even though the penalty for discovery could be severe.
‘The Thing in the Snow,’ by Sean Adams (William Morrow, Jan. 3)
Three caretakers live and work at an abandoned facility in a remote, icy region, where their days consist of mind-numbing tasks — counting chairs, opening every door to check for excessive noise. When a mysterious object appears in the snow, the trio’s daily routines are interrupted, leaving them to question the very nature of time and reality. The absurdity of the modern workplace has inspired copious satires, and like the creators of “Office Space” and “Severance,” Adams winningly skewers corporate life.
‘Code Name Blue Wren: The True Story of America’s Most Dangerous Female Spy — and the Sister She Betrayed,’ by Jim Popkin (Hanover Square, Jan. 3)
Ana Montes may not be a household name, but her espionage for Fidel Castro is among the most damaging in U.S. history. Raised in Baltimore, she became a top Cuban expert in the Defense Department while selling thousands of secrets to Castro’s regime. An extensive search for the informant led the FBI to Montes, and she has spent the last 21 years in a maximum-security prison. Investigative reporter Popkin chronicles her duplicity and speaks to relatives who share their stories in advance of Montes’s scheduled release on Jan. 8.
‘Everybody Knows,’ by Jordan Harper (Mulholland, Jan. 10)
Mae is the crisis publicist whom regular publicists call when their clients’ lives careen out of control. Decades working in Hollywood have inoculated her to awfulness, but when her boss is killed by random gun violence, her investigation leads to the industry’s seedy underbelly, where the rich and powerful shamelessly protect the rotten system that rewards them. Harper, a Hollywood writer for more than a decade, perceptively illustrates the contrasts in the entertainment business — “perfect” influencers who hide their drug addictions, giant mansions alongside homeless encampments — and exposes the way people hide desperation under a veneer of fame.
‘Pandora,’ by Susan Stokes-Chapman (Harper Perennial, Jan. 17)
History, mystery and romance combine in this imaginative tale of a Georgian-era orphan raised by a loathsome uncle, who has driven her parents’ once-thriving antiques store to ruin. Dora takes inspiration for jewelry she designs from an ancient Greek vase her uncle has hidden away, and she enlists the help of an antiquities scholar to understand its origins. As they uncover its secrets and the story of its acquisition, Dora realizes that the significance of the piece could upend her world. With a nod to Pandora’s mythical box, Stokes-Chapman artfully imagines a world where greed, violence and hatred have run rampant, and envisions their ramifications for a disadvantaged young woman trying to find her way.
‘Glitterland,’ by Alexis Hall (Sourcebooks Casablanca, Jan. 17)
Ash is a formerly successful writer with bipolar disorder whose depression is exacerbated by the cycles of his illness. Stranded at a stag party, he is drawn to Darian, an animated wannabe model from Essex, who is everything Ash isn’t — flashy, glittery and unabashedly boisterous. Ash enjoys moments of happiness when they are together, but can he find the strength to love someone who has seen him at his worst? The author of the best-selling queer romance “Boyfriend Material” has revised and expanded a popular book he wrote almost a decade ago, and brings freshness to this formerly published hit.
‘Unraveling: What I Learned About Life While Shearing Sheep, Dyeing Wool, and Making the World’s Ugliest Sweater,’ by Peggy Orenstein (Harper, Jan. 24)
The pandemic shutdown inspired many to take up a hobby, and best-selling writer Orenstein is no exception. A knitter, she spent a year making a sweater from scratch, meaning she started among sheep and ended with a bulky blue creation that carried the weight of every emotion she felt during a period of personal upheaval. Orenstein chronicles her process, explaining the life events she faced — her mother’s death, her father’s decline, her daughter’s upcoming departure for college — as well as the history of knitting. All the shearing, carding, spinning and dyeing opened her eyes to the labor of women over millennia and grounded her in a world defined by increasing uncertainty.
‘The Chinese Groove,’ by Kathryn Ma (Counterpoint, Jan. 24)
Shelley Zheng doesn’t have much to his name other than his eternal optimism. An 18-year-old immigrant from China’s Yunnan province, he was sent to stay with a purportedly successful uncle in the United States, only to find no riches and not even an uncle — just an underemployed cousin and a basement couch for a bed. Things turn from bad to worse when Shelley learns that he is welcome to stay for only two weeks. Undeterred, his unbridled enthusiasm ingratiates him with his hosts, which could have a chain reaction resulting in everyone’s happiness. Ma’s uplifting tale of the good-hearted dreamer will appeal to those wanting to boost their spirits.
‘The Hard Road Out: One Woman’s Escape from North Korea,’ by Jihyun Park and Seh-lynn Chai; translated by Sarah Baldwin (HarperNorth, Jan. 31)
Park, born in North Korea in 1968, was raised to believe that personal autonomy was subordinate to the dictates of the government. The only birthday ever celebrated was that of the country’s leader, Kim Il-sung, a day when she was allowed an entire bowl of rice. Her uncle was one of millions of citizens who died of starvation during the 1990s famine, galvanizing her escape to China to help save another uncle. She was eventually granted British citizenship and met a fellow immigrant, Chai, who had been taught by her South Korean teachers to fear Northerners. Learning how much they had in common made the women realize there was no sense behind their animosity, and inspired them to write about their hope for a more unified future.
More from Book World
Join Book Club: Delivered to your inbox on Fridays, a selection of book reviews and recommendations from Book World editor Ron Charles. Sign up for the newsletter.
Best books of 2022: See our picks for the 10 best books of 2022 or dive into your favorite genre. Look to the best thrillers and mysteries to keep you on the edge of your seat, get lost in the possibilities of the best sci-fi and fantasy, and spark some joy with these 14 feel-good reads.
There’s more: Those looking for love stories should check out the best romance novels of 2022. And for the young (and young at heart) in your life, see the best children’s and YA books and top graphic novels. Plus, six BookTok stars share their favorite reads of the year. Audiobooks more your thing? We’ve got you covered there, too.
Still need more reading inspiration? Check out reviews for the latest in fiction and nonfiction.
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.