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Amanda Kay Oaks
Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella (February 13, The Dial Press): This book definitely surprised me in that it wasn’t at all what I expected to read from Kinsella, probably best known for Confessions of a Shopaholic. Unlike many romance novels, this one picks up with a couple who is already married with kids. This fresh take on what a love story can be was a joy to read, and I love that its release date falls so close to Valentine’s Day (if you’re into that sort of thing).
Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot (February 6, Counterpoint Press): This is one of the most highly anticipated books of the year, let alone February! Heart Berries is a powerful memoir of Terese Marie Mailhot’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. The memoir is one of struggle, as she details her dysfunctional upbringing and challenges indigenous women face, but ultimately one of strength and will. Roxane Gay described it as an “an astounding memoir in essays. Here is a wound. Here is need, naked and unapologetic. Here is a mountain woman, towering in words great and small…What Mailhot has accomplished in this exquisite book is brilliance both raw and refined.” I don’t think you can get higher praise than that! I can’t wait!
I’ll be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara (February 27, Harper): I’m a hardcore murderino and I’ve always found myself drawn in by the mysterious, morbid, and macabre elements found in true crime. I remember spending afternoons as a teenager on my painfully slow PC reading about famous serial killers, their victims, and how they were (or weren’t) apprehended. Michelle McNamara was an amazing writer and journalist and I’m very much looking forward to her masterpiece, which she sadly died while writing and investigating. I don’t personally know very much about the Golden State Killer and I can’t wait to read all the grisly details in McNamara’s words.
Daughter of the Siren Queen by Tricia Levenseller (February 27, Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan): Swashbuckling pirate Alosa is back and forced to confront the Pirate King aka her father after a secret is revealed about her family. Alosa is also trying to get a hand on her siren powers and navigating the turbulent waters around her relationship with first mate Riden. Daughter of the Pirate King was such a fun surprise last year and I’m excited to see what adventures Alosa and her crew are up to in the sequel.
White Houses by Amy Bloom (February 13, Random House): Some might say that Eleanor Roosevelt’s intensely emotional and physical relationship with journalist Lorena Hickok is the worst kept lesbian secret in history. Now their love story is being told in the form of a historical novel by acclaimed author Amy Bloom. White Houses follows Hickok’s path to becoming the most prominent woman reporter in the country and the intimate “first friend” of Eleanor Roosevelt. I can’t wait to get my hands on this one!
The Girl Who Drew Butterflies by Joyce Sidman (February 20, HMH Books for Young Readers): This is a nonfiction book for middle grade readers about Maria Sibylla Merian, one of the first botanists to observe live insects directly. She grew up in the 1600s, when most believed that insects spontaneously arose from mud, dung, or dead things. She studied flowers and drew them, being one of the first artists to include insects in her artwork. Merian was also one of the first to document the metamorphosis of the butterfly as well as one of the first female entomologists in her field. The book is informative and accessible to middle grade readers, and it is filled with beautiful illustrations done by the Merian herself. This would be a fantastic addition to any school or home library!
Paper is White by Hilary Zaid (February 19, Bywater Books): Hilary and I studied with Alexander Chee at the Tin House Writers’ Workshop a couple of summers ago, and I’m so excited that we all finally get to read her book. Paper is White is a love story set in ’90s dot-com era San Francisco, and here’s what Chee had to say about it: “…a very different sort of adventure novel, where remembering someone you love becomes one of the most radical things you can do. Zaid is fierce, a rebel with a cause, and her breathtaking leaps of imagination make new worlds possible.”
A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena (February 27, Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers): Typically, I’m not one for intense contemporary reads, but A Girl Like That has seemed to completely ensnare me—this is a novel I can’t wait to get my hands on. Following a sixteen-year-old girl, Zarin Wadia, with quite a reputation, this debut shines a light on many important topics like race, adolescent struggle, and identity. Not only that, but the stakes are all the higher when Zarin and another teen are found dead in a crashed car. To paint a full portrait of who Zarin was beyond a girl “like that,” Bhathena employs the use of a few different perspectives, which makes it all the more appealing. Part mystery, part contemporary, this novel will certainly be in my hands as soon as it hits the shelves.
Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston (February 27, Balzer + Bray): Found as a child drifting through space, Ana will do anything to save D09, one of the last illegal Metals, from glitching—even if it means going on a trip across the galaxy with an entitled Ironblood boy to the coordinates to a ship that might not actually exist. The sci-fi action adventure novel you didn’t know you needed, Ashley Poston’s Heart of Iron reads like a movie. It’s fast paced, totally fun, and should be on the reading list of anybody who lives sci-fi. Fans of Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spooner, and Firefly—pick this one up!
Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll (February 6, Farrar, Straus and Giroux): When I finally read Anderson’s Speak last year, it at once shattered and struck me as one of the most important books out there, especially for young girls struggling with depression and with the aftermath of sexual assault. Then I learned that Speak was getting the graphic novel treatment and my heart exploded with excitement. I can’t wait to see Carroll’s approach to this essential YA novel.
American Panda by Gloria Chao (February 6, Simon Pulse): I looked this book up after hearing a recommendation from Yin Chang on the podcast 88 Cups of Tea and felt hooked once I saw that BookList called the debut “wickedly funny.” I’m so excited to read a YA story where a seventeen year old character goes to college early. And I’m intrigued by the conflict of a Taiwanese American girl trying to balance her own self knowledge with the expectations her parents have set for her. Very here for an adorable, own voices coming of age story!
All Out by Saundra Mitchell, Kody Keplinger, Kate Scelsa, Robin Talley, Shaun David Hutchinson, Tess Sharpe, Alex Sanchez, Nilah Magruder, Sara Farizan, Mackenzi Lee, Anna-Marie McLemore, Malinda Lo, Dahlia Adler, Tehlor Kay Mejia, Scott Tracey, Tessa Gratton, Natalie C. Parker, Elliot Wake (February 27, Harlequin Teen): I am totally down for an anthology that explores the LGBTQ spectrum, with established and new authors contributing their tales. Stories that span time and space depict love, identity and awakenings. I for one cannot wait to read each story.
Force of Nature by Jane Harper (February 6, Flatiron Books): The sequel to last year’s super amazing, dark, Tana French–esque mystery, The Dry follows Police Agent Aaron Falk as he searches for a missing hiker who may or may not have come to harm at the hands of her coworkers. Everyone who’s read an early copy of this book says it’s just as good as The Dry, if not better, and I cannot WAIT to get my hands on it!
Flight Season by Marie Marquardt (February 20, Wednesday Books): This book is sweet and moving and lovely and such a good example of how YA can mix a heartfelt story with really serious issues. The book follows Vivi, TJ, and Ángel, three teenagers who come from very different worlds but are brought together at the hospital were Vivi and TJ are interning and where Ángel is slowly dying of heart failure. Flight Season is about the enduring power of friendship, but it also deals with grief, illness, immigration, and deportation. It’ll break your heart and then slowly put it back together again.
The Rending and the Nest by Kaethe Schwehn (February 20, Bloomsbury USA): Can there be too many post-apocalyptic novels? For me, the answer is no, though I am picky about what I like. The Rending and the Nest has an interesting premise: after some sort of apocalypse, women start giving birth to inanimate objects. Sounds delightfully weird! It’s being compared to both California (which I was iffy on) and Station Eleven (which I loved), so I’ll just have to see. I must admit, part of what draws me to this one is that I have my own little one right now, so I’m interested in anything about babies!
What Are We Doing Here? By Marilynne Robinson (February 20, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux): Ever since the 2016 election, the relationship between politics and faith (and all the ways it can go wrong) has been on my mind. In this essay collection, Robinson examines America’s current political, cultural, and religious condition. As I work my way through Robinson’s bibliography, I find myself frequently disagreeing with her conclusions; however, I am continuously drawn back to her work in spite of my misgivings. Perhaps this is because she is such an eloquent writer or perhaps it is because she paints an aspirational vision of Christianity that I wish to be true. Regardless, I will be first in line to read this book.
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (February 6, Disney-Hyperion): This is probably one of the most talked about book of 2018. Set in a fantasy world where people are born gray and only the Belles can make them beautiful, The Belles is a story about power, secrets, and the cost of beauty. It’s also been highly praised by Roxane Gay—which makes me want to read it even more!
An American Marriage: A Novel by Tayari Jones (February 6, Algonquin Books): I’m really excited to read Tayari Jones’s new novel. She is a master at developing nuanced characters and crafting narratives with intricate plots. This novel, about successful newlyweds who rapidly find themselves at an intersection of crime and punishment, guilt and ignorance, loyalty and infidelity is sure to be illuminating. I can’t wait to pull back the layers with this one.
The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta (February 27, Scholastic): Kiranmala is just a regular twelve year old in New Jersey until her parents disappear and demons from their stories appear. She has to unravel the family secrets, stay alive, and save her parents (and the world). I am here for any twelve year old girls who take on the role of demonslayer, and I am particularly interested that Kiranmala is interacting with a different culture’s mythology than has been popularly seen. As an fyi, this book was hit by one-star trolls, as children’s books by POC are wont to receive; take any star-ratings with a grain of salt.
The Clarity by Keith Thomas (February 20, Atria): If you’re a Black Mirror fan like me then you’ll love this chilling speculative thriller. A psychologist who is researching how we form memories must protect the life of a young girl who remembers past lives. Tautly plotted and well researched, this book is a riveting take on the possibility of afterlife and reincarnation.
Feel Free by Zadie Smith (February 6, Penguin Press): Zadie Smith’s essays are as good as her fiction. Her first collection, Changing My Mind, was wide-ranging, beautifully-written, elegant, and thought-provoking. Feel Free includes new work as well previously published pieces from The New Yorker and elsewhere. Zadie Smith can make any subject compelling; she’s a writer to watch, no matter what she writes about.
Summer Hours at the Robbers Library by Sue Halpern (February 27, Harper Collins): Small town libraries, secrets, criminal activity, and a quirky cast of characters—it’s all in Sue Halpern’s novel. Each of the main characters has their own reasons for keeping other people shut out—secrets about the past, uncertainty about the future—but when they’re thrown together in a sleepy small town library, the inevitable happens: they get to know each other, get to need each other, and lo and behold, even like each other too. This was a joy to read.
The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara (February 6, Ecco): The gritty glamour of New York in the ’80s and the club scene is fascinating to me. I’m not sure why this book is calling my name so hard, but I know I need to read it. Set in the LGBTQ+ community at the dawn of the AIDS crisis is going to make this read an emotional rollercoaster, I’m sure. I’m especially excited because this novel is an #ownvoices choice. Cassara has talked about the amount of research he undertook to make sure his 1980 Harlem setting is as authentic as possible. Inspired by real people, places, and events, Impossible Beauties promises an immersive, vibrant, painful experience.
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday (February 6, Simon & Schuster): I love when writers use form in a different way, and Halliday has two novellas that discuss relationships and various power imbalances. The first concerns a young editor and an older writer; the second is about an Iraqi-American economist detained in Heathrow. Though initially seeming separate and discrete, the two work together and connect. I just started it, but I’m loving it.
The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú (February 6, Riverhead): Between 2008 and 2012, Francisco Cantú was an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol, working along the Mexican border to prevent both drugs and people from entering the country. Cantú eventually asks to return to a desk job, finding the stress and guilt of the job to be too much, but he finds himself pulled back into the debate over immigration when an undocumented friend is arrested at the border. I love finding personal stories that help explain big picture issues, so I think this one will be right up my alley.
A Princess in Theory: Reluctant Royals by Alyssa Cole (February 27, Avon Books): Most of us have gotten (and rolled our eyes) at the emails stating we’ve won a large lump sum of money or some other seemingly enticing reward. We know it’s fake so we immediately delete it. However, I know I’m not the only one who has entertained the idea that one of them could be true. A grad school student receiving emails saying she’s betrothed to an African prince, and it’s true? Sounds like a winning plot to me! I’m very intrigued to see how Cole will put her spin on this storyline.
Shadowsong by S. Jae-Jones (February 6, Wednesday Books): So, full disclosure, I loved Wintersong. LOVED it, I mean I made a fanmix people! I showed up for the Goblin King and stayed for the beautiful, intricate writing and the infusion of classical music into the plot. I cannot wait to be back in this ethereal world. Shadowsong is the conclusion of this duology by S. Jae-Jones and I have a mighty need to see what Liesl is up against in the world above now that she’s survived the Underground. My body is ready for more goblins and minor keys.
The Lucky Ones by Tiffany Reisz (February 13, MIRA Books): Tiffany Reisz has been at the top of my auto-buy list for something like six years now. I would run out of words before I could successfully explain how beautiful and nuanced her novels are. The Lucky Ones is her latest addition, and she’s returning to some of the Gothic elements that made her book from a few years ago, The Bourbon Thief, so incredible. Impending tragedy brings lead character Allison back to the strange, idyllic home that she grew up in as an orphan. The coastal Oregon beach house ominously named Dragon. Ghosts of the past and horrific secrets abound, and I’m ready to be enthralled.
Comics For Choice edited by Hazel Newlevant and Whit Taylor (February 6, Alternative Comics): I cannot wait to get my hands on this anthology of comics about abortion. It features over sixty artists, writers, and cartoonists, and the comics include personal stories as well as nonfiction about the history of abortion, abortion activism, and reproductive justice. I’m particularly excited because it includes the voices of trans and gender-nonconforming people, who are far too often left out of the conversation when it comes to abortion and reproductive rights. At a time when so many of those rights are under threat, I know this is going to be a tough, moving, and inspiring read.
The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (February 13, First Second): I feel like I first heard about this book in 2015 and I am so excited that it’s finally coming out! An all-ages graphic novel that is warm and romantic and deconstructs gender norms? Yes, please! I am always searching feel-good books by diverse authors writing diverse characters, especially ones that I can pass on to the younger people in my life, and this certainly fits the bill. I am definitely looking forward to this heartwarming tale of a prince who lives a double life as Lady Crystallia, a fashion icon, and the dressmaker that helps it all happen.