Alma’s Favorite Books for Winter 2019

We brought you fall books and summer books this year, and now it’s time to turn to the best season for curling up with a good book: winter. Maybe I’m biased cause my birthday is in December, and it’s the holiday season, and my only gift request is usually books — but this is the best time of year to sink your teeth into a great story.

Here’s what we’re reading this winter, with something for everyone. This list is a bit heavy on mysteries, but just like summer feels more romance-y and free, winter feels more like danger is lurking and it is time to get to the bottom of a mystery! Or is that just me? And yes, we know the list is called Winter 2019 but the December books are from 2018, got it?

1. My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Nov 2018)

My Sister, the Serial Killer

The only November book on this list, but it is worth it. It’s narrated by Korede, whose younger sister Ayoola keeps murdering her boyfriends. Ayoola tells Korede that it’s in self-defense, but after the third one, Korede starts to get suspicious. In writing her debut, Braithwaite explains she “didn’t draw any inspiration from actual female serial killers,” and that it “wasn’t important to me to explore the murders, or to explore the victims, so much as it was to explore this dynamic between the two sisters.” This makes the book deeply original, engaging, and fascinating.

Read if you’re into: crime novels, sisterhood, and dark comedy. Get it here.

2. How To Date Men When You Hate Men by Blythe Roberson (Jan 2019)

How to Date Men When You Hate Men

Roberson’s funny how-to book is all about dating men in today’s world: How can you have romantic feelings for men when they want to oppress you? She acknowledges her privilege as a white cis heterosexual woman right off that bat (go, Blythe!) and then dives into the important topics: why it’s so important to have crushes, why Tom Hanks is the worst in You’ve Got Mail, and so much more. Bonus: There’s a mention of Sukkot that literally made me laugh out loud.

Read if you’re into: comedy writing, hating men, advice, memoirs. Get it here.

3. To Keep The Sun Alive by Rabeah Ghaffari (Jan 2019)

To Keep the Sun Alive

A moving tale of an Iranian family on the eve of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. By page 23, when one character tells another, “I don’t discriminate, Auntie. I hate everybody,” I was sucked in. It’s a true testament of the power of telling the personal stories of history — while fictional, it situates the reader in time. The whole novel has a sense of foreboding hanging over it (you know what’s coming: the revolution). It’s a powerful debut.

Read if you’re into: history, family sagas, tragic love stories. Get it here.

4. Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield (Dec 2018)

Once Upon a River

“There once was an inn that sat peacefully on the bank of the Thames at Radoct, a day’s walk from the source…” begins Diane Setterfield’s novel. It’s set sometime in the past, where magic could maybe still exist, and tells the tale of a missing girl. Well, two missing girls. And when one small child shows up on a dark and stormy night — is it one of the girls? I found myself wanting to turn to the end to make sure it all ended up okay, but resisted — the story is too good to spoil. It’s a beautifully told tale that twists and turns before coming to a satisfying conclusion.

Read if you’re into: storytelling, magic, mysteries. Get it here.

5. Something Like Breathing by Angela Readman (Jan 2019)

Something Like Breathing

A tale about two friends who diverge could be utterly conventional. Doesn’t it feel like you’ve read it before? But no! Angela Readman, short story writer and poet, brings teenagers Lorrie and Sylvie to life in her debut novel. It begins with Lorrie’s narration: “I could tell you about Sylvie, but you wouldn’t believe me.” Kirkus Reviews calls it, “Odd and slightly out-of-kilter” with “an essential deadpan charm, dotted with striking, sideways observations.” Yes, please!

Read if you’re into: female friendship!!!! Duh. Get it here.

6. Sugar Run by Mesha Maren (Jan 2019)

Sugar Run

The story begins in Appalachia, with 30-something Jodi McCarty’s release from prison after serving 18 years of a life sentence for manslaughter. After her release, Jodi falls in love with Miranda, a single mother. The story oscillates between 2007 (Jodi’s release, and the story with Miranda) and 1988 (the year before her arrest), and Maren tries to honestly depict post-prison life. Maren, the author, grew up in West Virginia and returned to it for the first time in 12 years to work on this book. As she writes in The Algonquin Reader, “Unlike Jodi, I was not returning from a stint in prison, but as a queer Appalachian woman I know well the feeling of not quite fitting in anywhere. There are ways in which I feel more at home in Appalachia than any other place and there are ways in which I feel stifled and constrained here.” These feelings come through in a fantastic, and powerful, debut.

Read if you’re into: queer stories, dark stories, plots that move at a perfect pace. Get it here.

7. American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson (Feb 2019)

American Spy

The year is 1986, and Marie is a young black woman working for the FBI. She’s recruited by the CIA to help undermine Thomas Sankara‘s communist regime in Burkina Faso — by seducing him. But this isn’t your typical spy novel, nor is Marie your typical protagonist; she is aware of the failings of the CIA and is doubtful of the intentions of those around her. The story is told by Marie, to her young twin sons, after someone tries to assassinate her. You won’t be able to stop reading.

Read if you’re into: spies, romance, strong women, history, drama, omg I can keep going… Get it here.

8. The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (Jan 2019)

The Dreamers

In a small fictional town in California named Santa Lora, people start falling asleep. Like, into a not-waking-up-but-not-dead-sleep. Doctors don’t know what the cause is, and the town is placed under a quarantine, even though there are many who remain awake. I love how the story begins: “At first, they blame the air. It’s an old idea, a poison in the ether, a danger carried in by the wind. A strange haze begins drifting through town on that first night, the night the trouble begins…” Immediately, you are here for this story. Quickly, you learn the first person who gets sucked into slumber is a college girl leaving a party. The premise is so unique, and Walker smartly doesn’t just focus on one character, but a few. I couldn’t put it down. A beautifully written story.

Read if you’re into: sci-fi that isn’t really sci-fi, José Saramago’s Blindness, love stories. Get it here.

9. Mother Country by Irina Reyn (Feb 2019)

Mother Country

What happens when you have to leave your daughter behind? Nadia, a Russian immigrant to America from eastern Ukraine, has to deal with this very question, leaving her daughter in pursuit of a better life for them. Her daughter, Larisska, was denied entry because she was 21, even though they had been on the waiting list for a visa since she was 9 years old. Six years later, it’s 2014 and Nadia is living in Brooklyn, working as a part-time nanny and a home care attendant for seniors, trying to get her daughter to the U.S.  When conflict breaks out in Ukraine (the story is based on the 2014 Ukraine conflict, when Russia invaded and bombed the country), her daughter is unable to get the medicine she needs.

Read if you’re into: stories about parenthood, immigration, and identity. Get it here.

10. The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay (Jan 2019)

The Far Field

The Far Field is so freakin’ good. A young woman, Shalini, is thrown into despair after her mom passes away. Now she’s alone with her dad in their home in Bangalore. For those unfamiliar with Indian geography, that’s in southern India. Shalini decides to set off to Kashmir (way north, in the Himalayas), to try and find a Kashmiri salesman who was often at their house throughout her childhood. She believes he will have answers about her mom. After arriving in the remote village in the mountains where he’s from, she’s confronted with reality — and the local politics of Kashmir. (You don’t need any prior knowledge of the conflict to read it, but in brief, there’s a huge dispute between India, Pakistan, and China over the region of Kashmir, and it’s the world’s most militarized zone.)

I really, really, don’t want to spoil it for you — so I’m just going to quote a review: “Madhuri Vijay astonishes with her wisdom, her fearlessness, her sure handling of a desperately loaded narrative that’s equal parts love story, war story, and family intrigue.  Such is the power of Vijay’s writing that I finished the book feeling like I’d lived it. Only the very best novels are experienced, as opposed to merely read, and this is one of those rare and brilliant novels.”

Read if you’re into: history, mother-daughter relationships, war stories. Get it here.

11. Murder at the Mill by M. B. Shaw (Dec 2018)

Murder at the Mill

The blurb on the front tells me this book is “ideal for holiday reading,” and I am inclined to agree. M.B. Shaw (the pen name for British writer Tilly Bagshaw) tells the tale of a painter-turned-detective Iris Grey. While framed a bit Christmas-y (what isn’t these days tbh), it’s a great adventure and the fun start to a new series. Iris, recently estranged from her husband Ian, rents a cottage (“large enough to feel stately and grand, yet small enough to remain romantic and charming”) for six months in the English countryside. The story kaleidoscopes through different narrators (while remaining centered on Iris). Soon enough, Iris is swept into the town drama after a murder occurs in the family from whom she’s renting her cottage.

Read if you’re into: mystery!! The British! Get it here.

12. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (Feb 2019)

Lost Children Archive

Valeria Luiselli’s story begins with an unnamed woman, her husband, and their two children setting out on a road trip from New York to Arizona. We learn they met recording an urban soundscape of New York City, and that the wife, husband, and two children are all bringing their own “archive boxes” on the trip. In the woman’s box, she is focused on collecting materials on the child refugees detained and separated from their parents at the U.S. border. She has set out in this journey in part to help find a woman’s granddaughters, who have been taken into custody by the Border Patrol. The book – I don’t want to spoil you — dives lyrically into the immigration crisis currently engulfing the U.S., and the family’s own crisis as they drive down to Arizona.

Read if you’re into: inventive storytelling and stories that address the current political climate. Get it here.

13. Holy Lands by Amanda Sthers (Jan 2019)

Holy Lands

An epistolary novel (written as a series of letters and e-mails between the characters), Amanda Sthers’ family drama draws you in from the first page. There’s Harry, a New York cardiologist who moves to Israel to raise pigs (deeply unkosher!), his ex-wife, Monique, their daughter, Annabelle, searching for a purpose, and their son, David, a playwright. Harry is anti-technology, so his family has to write to him, and there’s a lot of tensions: Harry refuses to write back to David, Monique is sick, and Annabelle is pregnant.

Sthers is actually adapting the book into a film (she’s directing it!), planned for a May 2019 release in the U.S. It’s starring James Caan, Tom Hollander, Rosanna Arquette, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Efrat Dor. It looks really good, I still highly suggest you read the book before seeing the movie.

Read if you’re into: reading the book before it becomes a movie, Israel, family sagas. Get it here.

14. The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict (Jan 2019)

The Only Woman in the Room

Have we told you how much we love Hedy Lamarr? No? Hedy is a famous Austrian Jewish actress who was widely regarded as “the most beautiful woman in Hollywood.” BUT! She was also maybe the smartest woman in Hollywood, as she was one of the people to help create WiFi. Yes, WiFi! Her patent – submitted with composer George Antheil – would “eventually become the basis for wireless phones, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and Wi-Fi, among other cutting-edge technologies.” The Only Woman in the Room tells the story of Hedy’s life, from her escape from Austria to her life as a bombshell to how her technology helped fight the Nazis. Also, Gal Gadot is rumored to star in a new series about her life. 2019 is gonna be the year of Hedy.

Read if you’re into: badass Jewish women, obviously. Get it here.

15. The Last Equation of Isaac Severy by Nova Jacobs (Paperback Dec 2018)

The Last Equation

Okay, we’re cheating a bit because this book technically came out in May, but the paperback is coming out in December and it’s too good not to include. Nova Jacobs’ debut mystery begins with the death of protagonist Hazel’s grandpa, a mathematician named Isaac. The Washington Post sums it up well: “When Hazel decides at the funeral to break the seal on a letter from her grandfather, she sets in motion one set of clues that will take her from a typeset puzzle to a mysterious pink hotel to — well, no spoilers…” A fun, engaging mystery.

Read if you’re into: mysteries, books that begin with family trees, thrillers, math. Get it here.

16. Bad with Money: The Imperfect Art of Getting Your Financial Sh*t Together by Gaby Dunn (Jan 2019)

Bad With Money

From Alma’s Editorial Fellow, Arielle Kaplan: My favorite quality about Gaby Dunn is her transparency, because when she confidently sparks taboo conversations she strips them of their stigma. Bad With Money was no exception — by sharing her own difficulties with money and being absolutely frank about how little she knew, she engages the reader and ultimately teaches them a lesson. At the end of each chapter that focuses on an aspect of money, she includes the main takeaways and lessons she learned, so if you don’t want to read the whole book, you can just flip to the last page of each section (but really, read the whole thing).

Read if you’re into: memoirs, how-tos, LGBTQ+ stories. Get it here.

17. Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley (Jan 2019)

Late in the Day

Hadley’s novel begins with the death of Zachary, a Jewish gallery owner living in London with his wife, Lydia. Lydia goes to stay with their close friends, Christine and Alex, as the stories of the two couples unfurl through flashbacks. Zachary and Alex don’t really get fleshed out as characters (nor do the daughters of the two couples – Grace, Zachary and Lydia’s daughter, is an art student, and Isobel, Christine and Alex’s daughter, is her polar opposite), but Lydia and Christine’s complex friendship shines.

Read if you’re into: female friendships, romance, heartbreak stories. Get it here.

18. Antisemitism: Here and Now by Deborah Lipstadt (Jan 2019)

Antisemitism Here and Now

Deborah Lipstadt, a world-famous historian and Holocaust scholar, writes a comprehensive look at anti-Semitism in the modern world. She organizes the book as a series of letters to two fictional people, Abigail, “a whip-smart Jewish student” and Joe, a non-Jewish colleague who teaches at her university’s law school. As Lipstadt writes in the introduction, “They may be fictional figures but the questions they ask and the concerns they express belong to very real people.” The structure of the letters not only make the content more readable, but it feels as if Lipstadt is sitting down next to you, explaining the knotty mess of anti-Semitism. While the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in America — the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting – occurred after Lipstadt finished writing, she told JTA, “I wasn’t surprised by Pittsburgh, but I was shocked. I wasn’t surprised because I kept saying something’s going to happen in our country, and had been happening.”

Read if you’re into: understanding politics, news, unpacking anti-Semitism. Get it here.

Happy winter reading!

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