The 10 Best Books of January 2019

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The 10 Best Books of January 2019

Our picks for the best books of January include everything from Samanta Schweblin’s haunting short story collection to Jason Rezaian’s harrowing memoir of his imprisonment in Iran. Tackling everything from religion to time travel to grammar, these 10 books (listed in order of release date) are must-reads in 2019.

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bb mouthful of birds-min.png Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell

Release Date: January 8th from Riverhead Books

Why You’ll Love It: Argentinian writer Samanta Schweblin’s short story collection explores the delicate line between real life and fantasy to devastating effect. —Bridey Heing

(Read Paste’s full book review here.)

Description: Samanta Schweblin haunts and mesmerizes in this extraordinary collection featuring women on the edge, men turned upside down, the natural world at odds with reality. We think life is one way, but often, it’s not—our expectations for how people act, love, fear can all be upended. Each character in Mouthful of Birds must contend with the unexpected, whether a family coming apart at the seams or a child transforming or a ghostly hellscape or a murder.

Schweblin’s stories have the feel of a sleepless night, where every shadow and bump in the dark take on huge implications, leaving your pulse racing, and the line between the real and the strange blurs.

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bb winter of the witch-min.png The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Release Date: January 8th from Del Rey

Why You’ll Love It: The final novel in Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy offers a stunning conclusion to a lyrical fantasy saga.

Description: The Winternight Trilogy introduced an unforgettable heroine, Vasilisa Petrovna, a girl determined to forge her own path in a world that would rather lock her away. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.

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bb dreamers-min.png The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

Release Date: January 15th from Random House

Why You’ll Love It: What could have been a bleak story about a town ravaged by a virus is, instead, a powerful examination of people doing their best under extreme circumstances from the bestselling author of The Age of Miracles. —Bridey Heing

(Read Paste’s full book review here.)

Description: One night in an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a first-year student stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. When a second girl falls asleep, and then a third, Mei finds herself thrust together with an eccentric classmate as panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. A young couple tries to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. Two sisters turn to each other for comfort as their survivalist father prepares for disaster.

Those affected by the illness, doctors discover, are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, higher than has ever been recorded before. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?

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bb inheritance-min.png Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

Release Date: January 15th from Knopf

Why You’ll Love It: Written with generosity and honesty, Inheritance takes the modern phenomenon of casual DNA testing and builds a deeply personal narrative around it. —Bridey Heing

(Read Paste’s full book review here.)

Description: In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had whimsically submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her father was not her biological father. She woke up one morning and her entire history—the life she had lived—crumbled beneath her.

Inheritance is a book about secrets—secrets within families, kept out of shame or self-protectiveness; secrets we keep from one another in the name of love. It is the story of a woman’s urgent quest to unlock the story of her own identity, a story that has been scrupulously hidden from her for more than 50 years, years she had spent writing brilliantly, and compulsively, on themes of identity and family history. It is a book about the extraordinary moment we live in—a moment in which science and technology have outpaced not only medical ethics but also the capacities of the human heart to contend with the consequences of what we discover.

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bb golden state-min.png Golden State by Ben H. Winters

Release Date: January 22nd from Mulholland Books

Why You’ll Love It: Nothing speaks to the power of a weapon like it inspiring a work of speculative fiction, and Ben H. Winters’ Golden State is the dystopian take on the new tool of war du jour: lies. —B. David Zarley

(Read Paste’s essay on the book here.)

Description: In an alternate society that values law and truth above all else, Laszlo Ratesic is a 19-year veteran of the Speculative Service. He lives in the Golden State, a nation standing where California once did, a place where like-minded Americans retreated after the erosion of truth and the spread of lies made public life and governance impossible.

In the Golden State, knowingly contradicting the truth is the greatest crime—and stopping those crimes is Laz’s job. In its service, he is one of the few individuals permitted to harbor untruths, to “speculate” on what might have happened. But the Golden State is less a paradise than its name might suggest. To monitor, verify and enforce the truth requires a veritable panopticon of surveillance and recording. And when those in control of the facts twist them for nefarious means, the Speculators are the only ones with the power to fight back.

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bb kingdom of copper-min.png The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty

Release Date: January 22nd from Harper Voyager

Why You’ll Love It: The City of Brass, S.A. Chakraborty’s captivating debut that we named one of the best fantasy novels of the century, introduced a mesmerizing saga of magic. With The Kingdom of Copper, Chakraborty continues her Daevabad Trilogy with higher stakes and epic adventures.

(Read Paste’s full book review here.)

Description: Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad—and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of a devastating battle, Nahri must forge a new path for herself. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family—and one misstep will doom her tribe.

Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid—the unpredictable water spirits—have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad’s towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates…and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.

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bb prisoner-min.png Prisoner by Jason Rezaian

Release Date: January 22nd from Anthony Bourdain Books / Ecco

Why You’ll Love It: With Prisoner, Jason Rezaian shares the horrors of his descent from a journalist providing a nuanced view of Iran to a hostage taken by the most monstrous aspects of its government. —B. David Zarley

(Read Paste’s essay on the book here.)

Description: In July 2014, Washington Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian was arrested by Iranian police, accused of spying for America. The charges were absurd. Rezaian’s reporting was a mix of human interest stories and political analysis. He had even served as a guide for Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. Initially, Rezaian thought the whole thing was a terrible misunderstanding, but soon realized that it was much more dire as it became an 18-month prison stint with impossibly high diplomatic stakes.

While in prison, Rezaian had tireless advocates working on his behalf. His brother lobbied political heavyweights including John Kerry and Barack Obama and started a social media campaign—#FreeJason—while Jason’s wife navigated the red tape of the Iranian security apparatus, all while the courts used Rezaian as a bargaining chip in negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal. In Prisoner, Rezaian writes of his exhausting interrogations and farcical trial.

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bb dreyers english-min.png Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer

Release Date: January 29th from Random House

Why You’ll Love It: Benjamin Dreyer’s grammar guide is accessible and entertaining, making it a necessary read for writers and editors alike.

Description: We all write, all the time: books, blogs, emails. Lots and lots of emails. And we all want to write better. Benjamin Dreyer is here to help.

As Random House’s copy chief, Dreyer has upheld the standards of the legendary publisher for more than two decades. He is beloved by authors and editors alike for deconstructing the English language with playful erudition. Now he distills everything he has learned from the myriad books he has copyedited and overseen into a useful guide not just for writers but for everyone who wants to put their best prose foot forward.

As authoritative as it is amusing, Dreyer’s English offers lessons on punctuation, from the underloved semicolon to the enigmatic en dash; the rules and nonrules of grammar, including why it’s OK to begin a sentence with “And” or “But” and to confidently split an infinitive; and why it’s best to avoid the doldrums of the Wan Intensifiers and Throat Clearers, including “very,” “rather,” “of course,” and the dreaded “actually.” Chockful of advice and insider wisdom, this book will prove to be invaluable to everyone who wants to shore up their writing skills and an utter treat for anyone who simply revels in language.

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bb here and now and then-min.png Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen

Release Date: January 29th from MIRA

Why You’ll Love It: Mike Chen’s gripping debut weaves an emotional tale of a father trying to do right by his family, cementing Chen’s status as an author to watch.

Description: Kin Stewart is an everyday family man: working in IT, trying to keep the spark in his marriage, struggling to connect with his teenage daughter, Miranda. But his current life is a far cry from his previous career…as a time-traveling secret agent from 2142.

Stranded in suburban San Francisco since the 1990s after a botched mission, Kin has kept his past hidden from everyone around him, despite the increasing blackouts and memory loss affecting his time-traveler’s brain. Until one afternoon, his “rescue” team arrives—18 years too late. Their mission: return Kin to 2142, where he’s only been gone weeks, not years, and where another family is waiting for him. A family he can’t remember.

Torn between two lives, Kin is desperate for a way to stay connected to both. But when his best efforts threaten to destroy the agency and even history itself, his daughter’s very existence is at risk. It’ll take one final trip across time to save Miranda—even if it means breaking all the rules of time travel in the process.

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bb shameless-min.png Shameless by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Release Date: January 29th from Convergent Books

Why You’ll Love It: Nadia Bolz-Weber’s inclusive book calls for a “sexual reformation” and offers freedom to those harmed by the Christian church’s shaming messages.

Description: Christians are obsessed with sex, but not in a good way. For generations countless people have suffered pain, guilt and judgment as a result of this toxic fixation on sex, the body and physical pleasure. In the follow-up to her celebrated New York Times bestseller Accidental Saints, Nadia Bolz-Weber unleashes her critical eye, her sharp pen and her vulnerable but hopeful soul on the fear-riddled messages about sex that have fed our shame.

Bolz-Weber offers no simple amendments or polite compromises, because the stakes are too high—and our souls and our bodies are worth too much. Instead, this tattooed, swearing, modern-day pastor calls for a new reformation. She urges us to take antiquated, sexist ideas about sex, gender and our bodies and “burn them the f*ck down and start all over.” Along the way, as antidotes to shame and all-too-familiar injustice, Bolz-Weber dispenses grace, freedom and courage.

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