The Best Books To Read In January

    Literary fiction, romance, young adult — here are all the wonderful books coming out in January that we highly recommend reading!

    literary fiction

    Mouth to Mouth

    by Antoine Wilson

    This book is short, just under 200 pages, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Turns out, it was a gloriously addictive tale of decisions and deception. We begin in an airport where our narrator meets a man named Jeff Cook, a former classmate from college. During a delay, Jeff reveals that many years ago, he saved a man from drowning. That one gesture altered the course of his life. We switch perspectives between our narrator asking Jeff questions in the airport to bouncing back in time to how Jeff found a place in the art world with renowned art dealer Francis Arsenault. Despite the story being a short once, it doesn’t lack suspense — and Wilson’s ending delivers. —Farrah Penn

    The School for Good Mothers

    by Jessamine Chan

    In the near future, the government's surveillance system has turned its eyes on mothers, scrutinizing women's behavior with dire consequences for any and every mistake. When 39-year-old Chinese American mom Frida Liu has one very bad day, her 18-month-old Harriet is taken away to live with Frida's ex-husband and his annoying girlfriend. To win back her custody rights, Frida must pass a yearlong course on how to be a good mother. Forced to live in prisonlike conditions, Frida is given a robot doll modeled after her daughter to practice her mothering skills on. If Frida speaks out about the school's conditions or even questions policies, her record will be permanently marked, and she won't be able to see her daughter again. This devastating dystopian novel presents an honest glimpse into the difficulties of parenthood while calling out the culture of policing parents. —Margaret Kingsbury

    Shit Cassandra Saw

    by Gwen E. Kirby

    This short story collection is as weird as it is funny as it is furious as it is mind-bending. Kirby rewrites women from history (from the well known to the not so well known) as protagonists instead of side characters — or merely women pushing forward the narrative of men. These women are angry, petty, horny, funny, and at the end of their ropes; they're relatable, even when they're literally predicting the fall of Troy. The incorporation of formats like Yelp reviews and WikiHow articles is both visually hilarious and also almost too on the nose. It's hard to describe just what a wild ride this collection is — you'll just have to experience it for yourself. —Kirby Beaton

    To Paradise

    by Hanya Yanagihara

    The author of A Little Life returns with yet another door stopper (To Paradise is a whopping 720 pages). Set in three alternative versions of the US, the novel focuses primarily on three characters, two of whom have the same name. The first section is a queer Edith Wharton–esque tale of a young man named David who agrees to an arranged marriage to an older man even though he’s in love with someone else. In the second section, a character also named David lives in 1993 Manhattan during the AIDS epidemic and cares for his ailing older partner while avoiding anything to do with his father and his family back in Hawaii. The third section centers on a woman trapped in a dystopian future, still reeling from the effects of a devastating pandemic. Tomi Obaro

    Joan Is Okay

    by Weike Wang

    The author of 2017’s deadpan debut Chemistry returns to bookshelves with this similarly offbeat story of an ICU doctor dealing with the aftermath of her father’s death. Joan is an extremely competent but somewhat antisocial thirtysomething working at a hospital in New York City. When her father dies of a stroke in China, she takes 48 hours off to attend the funeral and then is back to work. But a mandatory wellness break forces Joan to spend time with her mother and brother. Wang’s sense of humor makes this both a page-turner and a poignant reflection on the familial ruptures caused by immigrating. Tomi Obaro


    by Nikki May

    May’s thrilling debut, told in alternate points of view, follows three Anglo-Nigerian best friends and a fourth woman who infiltrates their friend group. Ronke, Boo, Simi, and newcomer Isobel seem to be becoming close friends. They might be struggling with their own personal problems in their lives, but they at least have one another. But despite her charismatic exterior, Isobel’s presence beings to rock the group, and close-knit friendships begin to crack. —Farrah Penn

    Fiona and Jane

    by Jean Chen Ho

    In Ho’s debut book of fiction, two childhood best friends growing up in Los Angeles fall in and out of love, navigate relationships with estranged family members, and deal with casual racism in these linked short stories about friendship over time. Tomi Obaro

    Until We Fall

    by Nicole Zelniker

    In the aftermath of a disastrous election that mirrors the 2016 political climate in the United States, things in this novel’s country take a turn for the worse and civil war breaks out. At first Isla, a Black transgender high school student, has no idea that her teacher, Ms. Young, is part of the resistance. What Isla does know is that her own mother is no longer allowed to work outside of the home, even though she doesn’t fully understand why. She also knows what her older sister, Hannah, tells her, that being trans was not always illegal. This dystopian novel addresses how a nation loses democracy, while tracking how people find solace in a landscape of violence and loss of civil rights under an increasingly authoritarian government. In this gorgeously written book, Zelniker pinpoints the power that societies have to incite change. —Wendy J. Fox

    A Country of Ghosts

    by Margaret Killjoy

    Dimos, a wartime journalist in a fictional world, finds himself embedded in a rebel unit that has murdered the commander he was sent to profile. It’s often hard going for Dimos, who has to prove that he will not betray the anarchists who have both captured him and shown him mercy. While he does not — and is never asked to — specifically renounce imperialism, Dimos comes to see what the insurgents are fighting for: a utopian society. It’s far from perfect, but then again, perfection is not the goal — community is. “One day,” Dimos says, “I realized food given freely tasted objectively better than food taken by force.” A short novel with the arc of an epic, A Country of Ghosts is a story of people who will give up everything, including their own lives, to live in a better world. —Wendy J. Fox

    I’m Not Hungry but I Could Eat

    by Christopher Gonzalez

    A party features a washing machine that performs miracles, like cleaning leather pants; happy hours take place where people love the booze but don’t want the snacks; and a man has a second lunch with a best friend right after his first solo lunch is finished because it’s a way of loving her. I’m Not Hungry but I Could Eat follows mostly bi male characters as they wend their way through New York City, sometimes dancing, and sometimes eating a bodega sandwich. In all of these 15 stories, Gonzalez threads a needle that knits together food, bodies, sexuality, and identity in a way that is both potent and earnest. A debut that leaves readers wanting a third and second helping. —Wendy J. Fox

    Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One Before

    by Brandon Getz

    God and the devil play chess, though God prefers Yahtzee. An alchemic being crawls out of an ill father’s head after he serrates his own neck with a knife; taking care of both her father and the being, a woman wishes they would both die. A man has the half beginnings of an affair in a taxidermy shop while he worries for his daughters, one who needs glasses and the other a scoliosis brace, neither of which the taxidermist’s health insurance covers. In these 12 stories, Getz fully embraces characters who are desperate and strange and often have absolutely no idea what to do next. In this way, he creates a collection that is deeply weird but also strikingly human. —Wendy J. Fox

    Out Front the Following Sea

    by Leah Angstman

    In this historical novel set in 1600s Colonial America, after a hard winter, Ruth, who has already been branded as an outsider, loses her grandmother. With nothing left to anchor her to her village, she barely escapes a mob, and bargains for a passage on a ship where her childhood friend Owen is the first mate. Ruth chafes against customs and propriety, neither of which has ever done much for her. In a new town, she is taken in by an elderly couple. What follows is a violent reckoning for Ruth, and at every turn, she struggles against convention — and her connection with Owen does not make anything easier. A new voice in historical fiction, Angstman confronts America’s embedded racism, sexism, and religious hypocrisy. Intensely researched, at its center, Out Front the Following Sea is a love story, and a page-turner at that. —Wendy J. Fox

    The History of Man

    by Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu

    Emil is the son of colonialists in an unnamed southern African country. After boarding school, he follows the path that has been set for him, becoming a civil servant. When war breaks out in the country, he is swept up in the urgency of it, only to find himself directionless when a ceasefire is announced. The second book from Ndlovu, which follows some of the same themes and characters from her debut, Theory of Flight, is often affectionate toward Emil, even when he doesn’t deserve it. Marked by his parents’ conflicted marriage and his own complicity in racist policy, Emil must ask himself what his old boarding school motto of “Turning boys into men” really means. Both complicated and insightful, this book leaves readers wondering what is next for Ndlovu. —Wendy J. Fox

    When Me and God Were Little

    by Mads Nygaard, translated from the Dutch by Steve Schein

    When Karl Gustav’s older brother drowns, he is sent to live with his grandmother in the country, and by the time he returns, his father’s lucrative construction business has attracted the attention of the police. After a trial, his family is forced to move into subsidized housing in a new town, and young Karl obsessively plays soccer and befriends a classmate with a heart condition. All the while, the loss of his sibling has left Karl angry in a way he cannot express, and while he is too young to really comprehend what has happened to his parents financially, he does understand that nothing will ever be the same. Through the perspective of a child who is both struggling and confident, Nygaard captures the wonderment of experiencing everything from the dreadful to the joyful for the very first time. A moving book from an unforgettable voice. —Wendy J. Fox

    Olga Dies Dreaming

    by Xochitl Gonzalez

    A captivating debut about siblings in New York grappling with family, race, and identity. Olga and her brother, Pietro, are well known in their home city — Pietro as a congressperson for his quickly gentrifying neighborhood and Olga as a wedding planner to Manhattan's elite. But with the winds of a hurricane blowing through Puerto Rico, so are things from their past blowing back into their lives. Decades ago, their mother abandoned them to join a militant group in her homeland of Puerto Rico, but a recent contact is forcing Pietro and Olga to dig up secrets and trauma they'd rather keep buried. —Kirby Beaton

    Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband?

    by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn

    It was already a challenge for Yinka to try to get over her ex. Seeking out love was already complicated, what with her not wanting to have sex before marriage, and the pregnancy of her married sister bringing added pressure from her mother and Nigerian aunties. But throw in the fact that her cousin just got engaged, and that a presumed promotion she'd already told people about turned out to be her getting laid off, and you've got a recipe for disaster. Luckily, it's spreadsheets to the rescue! Yinka launches Operation Find-a-Date for Rachel’s wedding, hoping to find love instead of waiting for it to come to her. But Yinka might realize that her master plan is really a way to find herself. Fresh, heartfelt, and funny, Yinka is a can't-miss debut that feels like a new classic. —Rachel Strolle

    historical fiction

    The Paris Bookseller

    by Kerri Maher

    This compelling biographical novel perfect for lit lovers follows Sylvia Beach and the founding of bookstore Shakespeare and Company in Paris, just as Prohibition and censorship are rising high in the US and sending many of the literary greats overseas and through her doors. Sylvia is passionate about two things: fellow bookseller Adrienne and the promise of exciting new literature. But nothing excites her quite like the daring new offerings of James Joyce, and when America prohibits the publication of Ulysses, Sylvia takes up the task herself, only to find herself completely consumed by it, sacrificing more than she ever dreamed to keep this piece of literature close to her heart as the Depression sinks Paris and potentially her store as well. Come for the love of books and sapphic passion and stay for the frequent cameos by the likes of Ezra Pound and Ernest Hemingway. —Dahlia Adler

    Anatomy: A Love Story

    by Dana Schwartz

    Hazel is not the type of insipid, 19th-century upper-class lady her mother would prefer her to be, but, rather, an aspiring surgeon who dresses in her dead brother’s clothes to attend medical lectures. When one of the lecturers discovers her identity, she’s forced to practice her medical skills at home and hires Jack Currer, a resurrection man, to bring her dead bodies to study. However, as she examines bodies and treats the medical ailments of the poor of Edinburgh, she begins to realize that there’s a murderer in Edinburgh, and they appear to be someone who knows their way around a surgery. Deliciously feminist, this YA blends just the right amount of historical detail with modern feelings. The audiobook, narrated by Scottish actor Mhairi Morrison, is a delightful listen. —Margaret Kingsbury

    My Fine Fellow

    by Jennieke Cohen

    A speculative historical novel full of charm, food, and a dash of romance. In 1830s England, Culinarians — essentially culinary artists — are sought after by elite society for their foodie creations. Helena and Penelope are two aspiring Culinarians; Helena is at the top of her class in the academy, where most fear her sharp attitude and perfect palate; and Penelope is ostracized for both her Filipina heritage and desire to bring non-European cuisine to the forefront. When they meet Elijah, an orphan with a unique (and delicious) offering, they decide to transform him from street vendor to chef du jour. But plans don't always go according to a recipe... —Kirby Beaton


    by Jabari Asim

    The Stolen may be forced to learn their captors' language, follow their beliefs, and work their labor, but they keep their own tongue, culture, and empathy alive. This is the story of a 19th-century plantation, where we meet a cast of characters full of love, sorrow, anger, and hope. There's William, who falls in love with Margaret, which makes Cato remember his first love, who was sold off without warning. And there's their eccentric and tyrannical owner, Cannonball Greene, who rules their lives with whips, sales, and a cruel hand. When a mysterious preacher arrives spouting thoughts of independence and freedom, the Stolen must decide: trust this stranger or stay with the devil they know? This slim novel packs a gut-wrenching punch, managing to display the effortless cruelty of life on a plantation with the gentle caress of each character's humanity. They leap from the page, both alive and full of life, and just begging to be read. —Kirby Beaton

    The Red Palace

    by June Hur

    Joseon (Korea), 1758. Hyeon is working as a palace nurse, hoping to one day win her estranged father's approval. But when Hyeon's closest friend and mentor becomes the prime suspect in the murders of four women who were killed in a single night, she wades into the world of investigating, working with Eojin, a young inspector. Together they realize that the truth points to the crown prince, and uncover deadly secrets in the corners of the palace. —Rachel Strolle

    The Magnolia Palace

    by Fiona Davis

    Lillian (alias Angelica) has been working as one of the hottest models of the 1910s, her figure practically everywhere you look in New York. But when her mother dies of the Spanish flu, Lillian is left heartbroken. With work drying up and a scandal looming over her head, she gets a job as a secretary to the demanding heiress Helen Frick, whose family holds dark secrets — think stolen jewels and romantic affairs — that will soon entangle Lillian's life. Meanwhile, in the 1950s, we meet Veronica, an English model trying to create a life in the States when she stumbles upon a series of hidden messages in the Frick House — now a museum — that could lead to Veronica's financial freedom...and potentially solve a vintage murder. —Kirby Beaton

    All of You Every Single One

    by Beatrice Hitchman

    In this intertwined and ever-weaving story about queer people living — or surviving — in 1900s Vienna, we meet Julia, who flees an unhappy marriage to begin living with Eve, a butch tailor. Their romance leads them to find a queer safe haven community in Vienna, but Julia's desperation to have a baby of her own quickly throws a wrench in Eve's and her relationship. Meanwhile, Ada, a 16-year-old girl, is sent to Dr. Freud (yes, that one) to cure her mutism, but she's more focused on the crush she has on her closeted cousin's sweet-natured wife. As Hitchman moves us across decades, we see Vienna, politics, and the nature of living as a queer person change for each of these characters. It's a novel about found family, the consequences of decisions, and how far we'll go for love — especially in an age of oppression. —Kirby Beaton

    nonfiction and poetry

    Lost & Found: A Memoir

    by Kathryn Schulz

    In 2016, Schulz’s father died, mere months after she met her partner and eventual wife. In three sections, “Lost,” “Found,” and “And,” Schulz muses about the mundanity of grief, the rapture of true love, and the queasy coexistence of both forces at the same time. I read a galley of this book over the holidays and couldn't stop thinking about its deep insight into the fleeting beauty of existence. Tomi Obaro

    I Came All This Way to Meet You: Writing Myself Home

    by Jami Attenberg

    Disclosure: Attenberg is an acquaintance of mine who blurbed my own upcoming book, but even if she were a total stranger, I know I would have enjoyed this memoir.
    Attenberg, the author of the bestseller The Middlesteins and six other works of fiction, turns to nonfiction for the first time with this autobiography about her dogged commitment to writing. From growing up as an awkward adolescent in suburban Chicago to having a traumatizing experience in college to gallivanting across the country from apartment to apartment, she writes about charting her way through adulthood unconventionally, wedded only to her art. Tomi Obaro

    Paper Girl and the Knives That Made Her

    by Ari B. Cofer

    Cofer’s raw poetry collection reflects upon past relationships and letting go. It’s an honest portrayal of the messiness of love and loss. There’s a tenderness in the yearning, haunted lines that made this collection vulnerable and relatable. Anyone who previously has (or is currently going through) a tough time will find comfort in knowing they’re not alone. —Farrah Penn


    The Roughest Draft

    by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka

    January is really coming through with some outstanding romance novels, and this one by married writing duo Emily Wibberly and Austin Seigemund-Broka is just *chef’s kiss.* Katrina Freeling and Nathan Van Huysen were once a writing duo themselves, but despite their bestsellers, the partnership ended on bad terms. Though the media has speculated, no one knows why. But the pair are contractually obligated to deliver a final manuscript, which means they must reunite to finish one last book. Now, on a writing retreat in Florida, they’re forced to work through drafting a brand-new book while also working through their hatred for each other. Wibberly and Seigemund-Broka deliver on what they’ve always done best: creating imperfect characters whom you want to follow all the way to the end. There’s fire-hot tension and yearning and resentment and fights and steamy romance, but there’s also beauty in the way the story depicts the uncertainty of creative careers, working as a team, and individual growth. If you have a case of winter blues, this is the novel to pick up. —Farrah Penn

    Weather Girl

    by Rachel Lynn Solomon

    Weather Girl might be my favorite Solomon book to date. In this contemporary romance, Ari Abrams works in her dream job as a TV weatherperson. There’s just one tiny problem: Her boss, legendary Seattle meteorologist Torrance Hale, and Torrance’s ex-husband work in the same office, making the work environment a nightmare for everyone. Which means Torrance isn’t exactly focused on mentoring Ari. In order to bring peace to the station, Ari and sports reporter Russell Barringer team up to solve their relationship issues — all while uncovering their own chemistry. Solomon’s characters are flawed and lovable. Her realistic portrayal of the internal struggles that come with the highs and lows of optimism and depression, and how that affects sex and relationships, is an important one. Paired with humorous dialogue and many swoonworthy moments, this romance book has all the joy you need to kick off 2022. —Farrah Penn

    Love & Other Disasters

    by Anita Kelly

    It's a new season of cooking reality show Chef's Special, and newly divorced Dahlia Woodson and newly out as nonbinary London Parker are both there to win. But when they get distracted by their fierce mutual attraction and have to face the fact that only one can be there for the long haul, it calls into question whether these rivals in the kitchen can have a future outside of it. This debut is delicious in every way. —Dahlia Adler

    Electric Idol

    by Katee Robert

    Eros is the most beautiful and most dangerous man in the ultramodern city of Olympus. Raised to be his mother Aphrodite’s personal assassin, Eros has always seen himself as more of a monster. When he’s tasked with taking out Psyche Dimitriou to appease his mother’s jealousy, he thinks she’ll just be the next name on his list of kills. He never expects to be drawn to her kindness and beauty. To keep her safe, he does the only thing he can think of: binds them together in marriage. Neither Eros nor Psyche expected to find love in their unique arrangement, but when it happens, there’s no stopping it…or the consequences. —Shyla Watson

    Reminders of Him

    by Colleen Hoover

    Five years ago, Kenna Rowan made a tragic mistake, and she paid the price for it. Newly released from prison, she returns home to reunite with her 4-year-old daughter, but it’s not as easy as she would have hoped. Despite all the work she’s put in to prove herself, the people in her life aren’t quick to forgive. Local bar owner Ledger Ward is the only person giving her a chance. Their connection is undeniable, but a romance between them means that they risk losing everyone important in their lives. —Shyla Watson


    by Jen Frederick

    Korean American adoptee Hara Wilson travels to Seoul to find her birth mother and rediscover a part of her identity. She never expects to fall in love with the first man she meets; she also doesn’t expect for that man to be her stepbrother. Now — along with learning a new language, working a new corporate job, and establishing a relationship with her mom — Hara must choose between her birth family and forbidden love in this sequel to Heart and Seoul. —Shyla Watson

    The Paid Bridesmaid

    by Sariah Wilson

    Rachel Vinson has made her living as a professional bridesmaid. She may be a fake friend, but between assisting with wedding planning and putting out emotional fires, the work is very real. Rachel’s new job is a destination wedding for a big influencer, and if everything goes according to plan, it could be huge for her business, but the handsome best man, Camden Lewis, could throw a hitch into things. When the high-tech mogul meets a beautiful and mysterious woman at his best friend’s wedding, he thinks she’s too good to be true. So…he convinces himself she’s a corporate spy sent to ruin his company. Camden sticks to Rachel closely throughout the wedding week’s activities, determined to discover the truth, and the truth is, she may just be the perfect woman for him. —Shyla Watson

    How to Love Your Neighbor

    by Sophie Sullivan

    Gracie Travis is determined to make something of herself, starting with finishing design school while working some odd jobs here and there. When she gets the chance to fix up and resize in a cute house by the beach, she thinks it’s the best of both worlds. That is, until her grumpy neighbor Noah Jansen moves in next door. Noah is a real estate developer who has plans to expand on the perfect piece of land — only there’s a house and a stubborn, albeit beautiful, woman standing in his way. When being neighborly doesn’t get him anywhere, Noah and Grace find themselves in a full-on feud. But what happens when their passionate frustration turns into something else neither of them ever expected? —Shyla Watson

    Something Fabulous

    by Alexis Hall

    Valentine Layton, the Duke of Malvern, was always supposed to marry Miss Arabella Tarleton. But after years of reading romance novels, Arabella is determined to marry for love and flees into the night when Valentine proposes a marriage of convenience. Like his twin sister, Mr. Bonaventure “Bonny” Tarleton is also a romantic at heart and demands that Valentine find Arabella to make things right. Valentine and Bonny venture off to find Arabella, but after they spend time together, Valentine begins to wonder if he’s pursuing the wrong Tarleton twin. —Shyla Watson

    Must Love Books

    by Shauna Robinson

    For the last five years, Nora Hughes has worked as an editorial assistant at Parsons Press, delivering lunches, sending emails, and everything in between. When Parsons takes a turn for the worse and Nora finds out her salary will be cut in half, she moonlights at a rival publisher to make ends meet. When she meets bestselling Parsons author Andrew Santos and he gets caught in the middle, Nora is forced to decide which one to be loyal to: Andrew, her job, or herself. —Shyla Watson

    Getting His Game Back

    by Gia De Cadenet

    Khalil Sarda is ready to put his rocky last year behind him — depression and therapy and all — and be the carefree ladies’ man his friends and family know him to be, all while focusing on his growing chain of barbershops. For Vanessa Noble, a romantic relationship is the last thing on her mind. Not only is she too busy building her multimillion-dollar tech career, but she’s still reeling from the pain caused by her last breakup. But when she goes into a barbershop for a haircut and meets Khalil, she’s forced to reconsider. Will they take a chance on love, or will past patterns ruin what’s grown between them? —Shyla Watson

    science fiction and fantasy

    Daughter of the Moon Goddess

    by Sue Lynn Tan

    This debut fantasy based on the Chinese myth of the moon goddess, Chang'e, is as beautiful as its cover. When Chang'e becomes pregnant and the healers predict that neither she nor the baby will survive, she takes her husband's elixir of immortality, given to him by the celestials for shooting down the sunbirds setting fire to the land. However, saving her and her daughter's life has a cruel cost: As punishment for taking her husband's elixir, the celestials exile her to the moon, where she can never leave and never see her husband again. She keeps her daughter, Xingyin, a secret from the celestials. Xingyin grows up suppressing her magic so the celestials won't notice her, but she's forced to flee her moon home when the celestials catch on that something isn't quite right on the moon. At first she works as a maid, but soon she wins a place as a companion to the Crown Prince of the celestials, and eventually she becomes famed for her archery skills and bravery. Her one goal in life is to free her mother and to see her again. This first book in a fantasy duology has everything a great fantasy needs: magic, action, romantic angst, nuanced characters, mythical creatures, moral dilemmas, and more. —Margaret Kingsbury

    How High We Go in the Dark

    by Sequoia Nagamatsu

    Written in a series of interconnected short stories, this searing literary dystopia makes for especially bleak reading in the midst of a pandemic. In the near future, climate change has caused severe melting of permafrost, releasing an ancient virus that quickly spreads. A culture of death develops, where theme parks are built to help children die while having fun, and couture funeral homes cater to the wealthy. Scientists are also desperately trying to find ways of staving off death, growing human organs in pigs and building spaceships to find a better place to live. Each character is intimately drawn as they grapple with a future that gives very little freedom to hope or dream. The full-cast audiobook is an excellent listen. It feels like an archive of personal stories about what the future may bring. —Margaret Kingsbury


    by Tochi Onyebuchi

    This complex dystopia takes place 30 years into a future where Earth has been decimated by climate change. The wealthiest have fled and live in space colonies, leaving those without the means to leave struggling to find some kind of normalcy in a crumbling infrastructure and environment. Jonathan and David are white men who decide to leave their space colonies and return to Earth. As they begin to rebuild in New Haven, Connecticut, their white privilege is in sharp contrast with the Black existence in New Haven. While Jonathan and David idealize their return to Earth, the laborers Linc, Bishop, and Sydney — who salvage buildings for space colonies to use — are just trying to survive the radiation poisoning, street violence, gentrification, and general inhumanity in how they’re forced to live. With interweaving timelines and characters, this is a dense read that, like the best dystopias, critiques current political and social problems. —Margaret Kingsbury

    Light Years From Home

    by Mike Chen

    Rich in character development, this literary science fiction centers on family drama in the wake of an alien abduction. Aliens took Jakob 15 years earlier to become part of their military fleet, and his disappearance left his family in ruins. His dad became obsessed with finding him, and that obsession eventually led to his death. His younger sister, Evie, took over her dad's mission to find the truth and joined a UFO hunters group, becoming an integral member. Jakob's mother now has dementia, and his twin sister, Kass, takes care of her and doesn't believe for a second that aliens abducted Jakob. She believes her carefree, lazy brother is probably backpacking across Europe high on drugs, which is precisely what he tells his family when he reappears 15 years later. —Margaret Kingsbury

    The Beholden

    by Cassandra Rose Clarke

    This sweeping, rich stand-alone has lots of classic fantasy vibes. It opens with two orphaned sisters hiring a boatman to take them into a dangerous jungle at night so they can beg a favor of a goddess, the Lady of the Seraphine. Celestia asks the Lady to grant her a wealthy and kind husband to help the sisters’ farm thrive, but the Lady exacts a price. At some point in the future, she will require a favor of the sisters and the boatman, and they must repay the debt or else. Five years later, the kingdom is on the brink of war, and disease is rampant, but Celestia and her sister, Izara, are thriving. Celestia is pregnant, and Izara is studying to be a mage. When the emperor calls Celestia’s husband away for a secret mention, the Lady of the Seraphine calls in her debt, and her demands put at risk everything the sisters have worked toward. —Margaret Kingsbury

    Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves

    by Meg Long

    The perfect winter read might just be this inventive and atmospheric debut. Sena has been trying to find a way off her frozen planet of Tundar, her desperation leading to a mistake that puts her in danger from a local gangster. An escape is presented by a team of scientists. Their bargain: She competes for them in Tundar's yearly dogsled race, and they pay for her way out. With no other choice, she and her prize-fighting wolf, Iska, must compete in the treacherous race...knowing that it claimed both of her mothers' lives. —Rachel Strolle

    young adult

    At the End of Everything

    by Marieke Nijkamp

    You can always count on Nijkamp for queer thrillers that explore the extremely human sides of terrifying situations, and it doesn't get much more terrifying than being a group of teens abandoned in a juvenile detention facility during a deadly plague that's rapidly consuming the outside world. Among those teens are Emerson, whose relationship with their Catholic family crumbled when they came out as nonbinary, and Grace, an aroace girl who'll do anything for justice and the people she cares about. Together, they, third narrator Logan, and a handful of others will have to do the unthinkable to survive...and many won't. —Dahlia Adler

    When You Get the Chance

    by Emma Lord

    This Mamma Mia!–inspired YA contemporary begins with an ambitious, extroverted theater lover by the name of Millie Price, raised by her introverted single father in New York City. But when Millie stumbles upon her father’s LiveJournal account from 2003, it gives Millie clues to who her mother could be — clues that lead Millie to three women: Steph, Farrah, and Beth. And despite her best efforts to avoid Oliver, her rival in drama club, the summer has a way of bringing the two together. Lord’s latest expertly and thoughtfully touches on what it means to be family, mental health, love and friendships, and, of course, musical theater. Trust me when I tell you that you’re going to want to rewatch Mamma Mia! when you finish. —Farrah Penn

    Ashes of Gold

    by J. Elle

    The final book in the Wings of Ebony YA fantasy duology is as explosive as the first. This duology embodies Black girl magic, with cutting critiques of racism and how Black girls are treated in contemporary society, combined with a powerful, no-nonsense magic-user protagonist, Rue. The second book provides more world building into the magical world of Ghizon, where Rue is determined to find a way to reclaim the magic stolen from her father’s people. Despite the supposedly ideal fantasy setting, Rue finds many of the same inequalities in Ghizon as she did in Houston. Both books in this series are super-fun and intense reads full of action and lots of twists that readers will have trouble putting down. —Margaret Kingsbury

    Love Somebody

    by Rachel Roasek

    Sam is a popular girl. Her best friend (and ex-boyfriend), Christian, is a popular boy. Loner Ros Shew should be the last person on either of their minds, but somehow, Christian falls hard, and Sam promises to help him get the girl. But what's a girl to do when she falls for the very same girl she's promised to set up with someone else? If you know exactly that center of the Venn diagram where "careful" and "messy" meet in a shaded area of "disaster bi," this debut is for you. —Dahlia Adler

    The Bone Spindle

    by Leslie Vedder

    The treasure hunters Fi and Shane could not be more different. Fi is measured and relies on her deep knowledge of archaeology and ancient history to find the best treasure. On the other hand, Shane is brash and relies on her luck and brawn to get her through scraps. While Shane would typically avoid teaming up with the droll Fi, she’s found a map she can’t decode, and Fi is the only one with the knowledge to help her find the map’s treasure. However, instead of finding treasure, the two find a curse that’s held Prince Briar Rose captive for centuries. This queer, gender-flipped YA retelling of “Sleeping Beauty” is an adventurous blast, and a great way to begin 2022 if you’re looking for a fun, lighthearted read. —Margaret Kingsbury

    Spin Me Right Round

    by David Valdes

    Back to the Future goes gay in this funny, voice-y, hopeful debut when Luis Gonzales gets hit on the head and travels back in time to 1985, landing right where closeted teen Chaz Wilson needs him. It's all a little bonkers, but Luis is determined to give Chaz a better experience this time around, including a first kiss; after all, if it weren't for Chaz's misery back in the '80s, Luis and his queer friends might be able to go to prom with their partners now. But Luis isn't prepared for the homophobia of the times, and especially not the fact that his own estranged dad is leading the charge. Now fixing things is looking like far more of a challenge, and he still needs to figure out how to get back to his own prom... —Dahlia Adler

    Akata Woman

    by Nnedi Okorafor

    In the third book in the Nsibidi Scripts series, 15-year-old Sunny Nwazue is now a powerful Leopard Person. She and her coven — Orlu, Sasha, and Chichi — need to track down Udide’s magical scroll, and they have seven days to do so. The scroll is located deep within the most dangerous parts of the spirit realm, and meanwhile, Sunny is struggling to come to terms with being doubled, being both Sunny and her spirit face, Anyanwu. Entertaining and action packed, this Nigerian-based fantasy series is a must-read for YA readers. If you’re new to the series, start with Akata Witch. —Margaret Kingsbury

    One True Loves

    by Elise Bryant

    This is the companion novel to Happily Ever Afters, but you can read them independently of each other. In this delightful contemporary, we follow Lenore, whose future at NYU is set in stone, at least according to her parents. But she's not entirely sure what she wants for herself. As their family heads off for a Mediterranean cruise postgraduation, the last thing she expects is for her parents to immediately bond with another family...who have a son her age. Alex is a hopeless romantic golden boy with the next decade planned out and is everything Lenore is not looking for. But with her best friend Tessa's voice in her ear, she might just be able to open herself up to love. —Rachel Strolle

    Shattered Midnight

    by Dhonielle Clayton

    Zora arrives in 1928 New Orleans after a tragic accident caused by her magic. Though music is her only means of escape, the powers make her a target, especially as a Black woman in the South. When she gets the chance to perform in a prominent jazz club, she comes across a sweet white pianist named Phillip and a strange mirror that foretells their future together. As they fall into a forbidden romance, they learn of a complicated connection between their families that could lead to Zora risking everything. —Rachel Strolle

    The Kindred

    by Alechia Dow

    Alechia Dow returns with another delectable sci-fi adventure! Joy is a commoner from the planet Hali who lives a simple life. I mean, she's also Kindred (mind-paired) to Duke Felix, the nobility's notorious playboy. And technically, he's now next in line to the throne after the assassination of the royal family. He's also being accused of the murder. Oh, and the first time Joy and Felix meet in person occurs as they are stealing a spacecraft that's crash-landing onto Earth. You know, the simple life. —Rachel Strolle

    The Ivory Key

    by Akshaya Raman

    The only hope Vira, queen of Ashoka, has of reestablishing the magic in her world lies in the Ivory Key, an object of legend that is hidden in enemy territory. But to get there, she'll need to reunite with her estranged siblings, all of whom want the key for their own reasons (to sell, to clear a name, to prove loyalty) but will have to work together to succeed. —Rachel Strolle

    Vinyl Moon

    by Mahogany L. Browne

    Browne’s heartbreaking, moving, and beautifully told story follows a teen healing from domestic violence by finding solace in the words of Black writers as she moves through the world in an attempt to understand her trauma. While short, Browne’s latest has a profound impact on readers. —Farrah Penn

    graphic novels and comics

    Ain't Burned All the Bright

    by Jason Reynolds with Jason Griffin

    Stunning poetry and rich artwork come together to create a tender look, through the eyes of a teen, at one household struggling to understand what exactly is unfolding in 2020, including a moving manifesto on what it means not to be able to breathe. Griffin's artwork adds a gorgeous, heartbreaking texture throughout Reynolds' evocative sentences, the combination successfully pulling off a certain depth, heartbreak, and comfort. —Farrah Penn

    mystery and thrillers

    The Maid

    by Nita Prose

    In this locked-room mystery, Molly Gray is a 25-year-old woman maid at the elite Regency Grand Hotel. Her desire for everything to be clean and orderly make it the perfect job for her…until she discovers the infamous and wealthy Charles Black dead in his room. When her quirky demeanor and poor social skills make her the police’s prime suspect, Molly — along with the help of some newly found friends — has to clean up her toughest mess yet. —Shyla Watson

    A Killer Sundae

    by Abby Collette

    Since moving back home to idyllic Chagrin Falls, Ohio, to restore her family’s ice cream shop to its former glory, Bronwyn Crewse has spent her days creating the most delicious ice cream flavors….and solving her town’s murders. But with the annual Harvest Time Festival approaching, she plans to put her amateur sleuthing behind her and focus on her business. Everything is going according to plan until a fallen Harvest Time Festival queen turns up dead…and Win is implicated in the murder. Now Bronwyn has to dust off her detective skills to clear her name before it’s too late. —Shyla Watson