January’s 10 books to cozy up with

Why We Wrote This

This month features tales of two revolutions: a debut novel about an Iranian family in the 1970s and a nonfiction narrative about China in the 1940s, when millions left Shanghai.   

1  The Wartime Sisters, by Lynda Cohen Loigman

Emotionally riveting and heartfelt, the novel follows Ruth and Millie, two sisters battling for acceptance and love since their childhood in Brooklyn. Memories and secrets haunt them as they navigate adulthood working at the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts during World War II.

The book includes intriguing characters on the homefront with compelling backstories and themes of family loyalty, betrayal, sisterhood, forgiveness, and survival. It’s a page turner! 

2  Once Upon a River, by Diane Setterfield

On the night of the winter solstice, events unfold at an old inn along the Thames River that can’t be explained. Is it a mystery? A miracle? As the local people grapple with the consequences, secrets come to light that change their lives forever. Bestselling author Diane Setterfield spins a satisfying, genre-defying story that might be called a fairytale for grown-ups. 

3  The Paragon Hotel, by Lyndsay Faye

On a cross-country train, wise-cracking Alice nurses a bullet wound and hides from the New York mob. A black Pullman porter rescues Alice, who’s white, taking her to the only hotel open to blacks in 1920s Portland, Ore. Some of the Paragon Hotel’s residents warm to her, but others react warily, intimidated by the arrival of Klan violence in the town and alarmed over the disappearance of a young black boy. Alice uses wit, smarts, and moxie to solve the mystery, with a few surprises. Author Lyndsay Faye has created a first-class flapper-era heroine with not only a fast mouth but also a kind heart.

4  Bookends, by Michael Chabon

This is an intellectually waggish labor of literary love! Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon has collected “intros” and “outros” from treasured, albeit eclectic, books. The erudite author celebrates science fiction, fantasy, myths, comics, ghost stories, and more, distilling his wonder of the craft of storytellers that has captivated his heart since boyhood. Obscure anecdotes and metaphors abound; it’s wholehearted fandom of the written word.

5  Queen Victoria, by Lucy Worsley

Historian Lucy Worsley’s lively biography takes a deep dive into 24 days that span Queen Victoria’s life to examine her personal relationships and their political impact, and what is revealed through her domestic world. Victoria was a master at projecting an image of “ordinariness” to win her subjects’ loyalty, Worsley suggests, painting a portrait of the queen as a mass of contradictions – stubborn, yet happy to cede control to key men in her life; socially conservative, while breaking boundaries for women. (See full review)

6  Last Boat Out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao’s Revolution, by Helen Zia

Journalist-activist Helen Zia adds to the ever-growing international refugee narrative with the only book in English about the late-1940s mass exodus of one-quarter of Shanghai’s 6 million people escaping the Communist Revolution. Zia highlights four survivors to share intimate stories of displacement, separation, adaptation, and reinvention.

7  To Keep the Sun Alive, by Rabeah Ghaffari

Rabeah Ghaffari’s debut novel, set in Iran in the 1970s, explores the inner lives of the members of an extended family as each navigates the coming revolution. Drawn into the political unrest that upends the lives they knew, each of them learns that loyalty to family and loyalty to beliefs are not always the same. Ghaffari skillfully illustrates the very human consequences of political history.

8  Free All Along, edited by Stephen Drury Smith and Catherine Ellis

In 1964, Robert Penn Warren interviewed leaders of the civil rights movement for his book “Who Speaks for the Negro?” “Free All Along” reproduces many of the interviews for the first time in book form. The book features Malcolm X, Andrew Young, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison, among others. It’s a timely reminder of what the movement gained – and what remains to be done. (See full review)

9  Underground: A Human History of the Worlds Beneath Our Feet, by Will Hunt

Caves, catacombs, and tunnels come alive in this unusual guide to the surprising marvels and mysteries below us. Author Will Hunt, who was first drawn underground as a curious child, finds plenty to appreciate, including ancient and modern artworks, signs of life’s beginnings on earth, and a sense of the transcendent.

10  Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him, by Tracy Borman

In Tudor expert Tracy Borman’s captivating new book, it’s the men surrounding Henry, rather than his six wives, who receive the attention for a change. Borman offers readers a far more complex figure than usual: often indecisive, often tormented, well able to match the wisest men of his era. She locates Henry in his natural setting: the world of power politics. (See full review)

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