This Week’s Biggest Books

January can be a cold, hard month, but as always books are right there to get you through the cold days and the dark nights. This week, Oprah is on the scene with her usual joyous life advice, a unique fantasy combines Russian folklore and a powerfully feminist story, and Chris Bohjalian returns with a twisty, tense thriller that will be the first book everyone’s talking about in 2017. Enjoy!

The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden
Arden’s debut novel is an incredible achievement, fusing Russian folklore and history into a thoroughly modern fantasy exploring deep themes of belief, feminism, and magic. Vasilisa “Vasya” Petrovna is the beautiful daughter of a 13th century Russian noble. Her father, conflicted in his emotions because he blames Vasya for the death of her mother, nonetheless seeks to protect her in the one way he believes is possible and appropriate: by marrying her into royalty. Vasya, however, prefers to commune with the spirits of wood, home, and water that lurk in the woods on her father’s estate—spirits who have protected her home for centuries. With the arrival of a new priest and Vasya’s new mother-in-law who see the spirits as demons to be destroyed, the villagers begin to reject the ancient spirits just when the village needs them. It falls to Vasya to harness the power she holds within to save her family and her home. Arden’s beautiful prose serves a story that combines beauty and power into something compelling and gorgeous—and ideal for a cold winter night’s reading.

Ring of Fire, by Brad Taylor
Taylor rips the Panama Papers from the headlines for the 11th Pike Logan book, and makes a gloriously exciting story from them. When the leaked information exposes a secret shell corporation being used to fund terrorism around the world, the same information threatens to expose the Taskforce, Logan’s anti-terrorist organization. A race against time ensues as Logan and the Taskforce chase down the clues leading to a Saudi businessman’s plan to cripple America’s shipping industry with a series of attacks code-named the Ring of Fire. Taylor once again proves to be a master of raising the stakes with every chapter, leading to an ending of unequaled chaos—and excitement.

The Sleepwalker, by Chris Bohjalian
Bohjalian continues to produce surprising, compelling fiction, with each new book different from the last—but just as satisfying. In his newest, Annalee Ahlberg is a wife and mother who suffers from terrible bouts of sleepwalking. During these spells she is often very active—and sometimes endangers herself. One night, Annalee sleepwalks out of the house and doesn’t return. Her children and husband fear the worst, and when a scrap of her nightgown is found nearby the worst seems confirmed. But oldest daughter Lianna begins to wonder why one police detective seems to know so much about her mother, and continues to come by to ask questions long after everyone else assumes they know how it all ends. As Lianna investigates, other, more disturbing questions about her mother and her mother’s sleepwalking begin to assert themselves, all spinning towards an ending that will leave your moth hanging open.

Food, Health, and Happiness, by Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey is one of the most famous and influential—not to mention powerful—people in the world, and yet despite her success, intelligence, and wealth she’s struggled with her weight her whole life. Anyone who has battled the bulge knows that our complicated relationship with food is at the root of it—food is essential, but it’s also comforting and a powerfully emotional experience for many. Oprah opens up about her struggles with food, her weight, and dealing with those emotions—while offering up the recipes that have allowed her to finally simply enjoy food. Alongside these simple, delicious meals—like unfried chicken or pasta primavera—Oprah offers behind-the-scenes photos, thoughts, and tricks that offer a glimpse into her famous life.

Jesus Always: Embracing Joy in His Presence, by Sarah Young
Whatever your spiritual convictions, the modern world often seems to offer nothing but challenge, nothing but tragedies to survive. Young continues her devotional writing with Jesus Always, a work that imagines Jesus Christ were right here, speaking to us—and imagines that his message would be one of unbridled joy in life. Young’s inspiring approach to the travails of modern life is to see God not as judgment, or as a stern authority testing our resolve, but rather as a friend and loved one. Young’s Jesus wants us to succeed, and offers a daily affirmation in this remarkable book that is the ideal way to ensure your new year kicks off in a positive way.

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between), by Lauren Graham
If you’ve ever watched the hilarious and charismatic Lauren Graham on Gilmore Girls or Parenthood or any of her other roles and wondered if she’s be fun to hang out with, this book answers with a resounding yes! Graham offers the kind of breezy, side-splitting anecdotes you’d expect, telling honest stories about her time in Hollywood and the on-set experience of being in such iconic shows. Graham is disarmingly honest about being a woman—and a single woman in Tinsletown, but her perceptive observations and smart, sassy commentary never gets heavy or dark. Her lengthy and detailed essays about her experience playing Lorelai Gilmore the first and second time around are the highlights of a delightful, fun book that’ll make the perfect gift for the Gilmore Maniac on your list.

The Mistress, by Danielle Steel
Steel returns to the bookshelves with a nearly-perfect romantic thriller, telling the twin stories of Natasha, saved from the hard streets of Moscow by Vladimir, Russian oligarch and gangster, who makes her his mistres, and Theo, son of a famous artist. Theo’s mother refuses to sell his dead father’s art, instead decorating her restaurant with the priceless paintings. Natasha steadfastly ignores the violence and brutality of her protector’s world in exchange for his kindness and security. But when Theo sees Natasha—and when Vladimir sees the artwork on the walls—twin obsessions are born. The settings are luxe, the characters intriguing, and the drama quickly scales up to a page-turning frenzy.

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams
Everyone experiences hardship and tragedy, and everyone struggles, sometimes, to find joy in their lives. When things are going poorly, staying happy and positive is often an impossibility—or is it? Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama are two spiritual men who have endured hardship beyond most of our imaginations—and yet it’s not an exaggeration to describe them as the two most joyful men in the world. In 2015, Tutu traveled to India to meet with the Dalai Lama on his 80th birthday, and to reflect on their lives in search of lessons for others on how to find happiness and joy no matter what else is going on. The result is captured in this remarkable book, filled with wisdom, humor, and the sort of lessons that take lifetimes to understand.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, by Amy Schumer
It would be nearly impossible to be unaware of Amy Schumer at this point in time; over the last few years Schumer has risen to very pinnacle of the comedy world, staking her claim as a smart, feminist comedian whose blend of raw, often uncomfortable humor is liberally mixed with intelligence and smart observation. In this collection of essays, Schumer continues to mine both her own life and her thoughtful take on everything from sex to her own introverted nature, all conveyed in a series of laugh-out-loud stories that will have you wishing you could be Amy’s best friend. While that’s probably not possible, this book is the next best thing. If you haven’t “gotten” Amy Schumer yet, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo might just be where it all clicks.

The Chemist, by Stephenie Meyer
Stephenie Meyer delivers a straight-ahead thriller that pulses with urgency and clean, clever plotting. A brilliant chemist who once worked in secret for the U.S. government has been on the run for years, possessing information her former employers will kill to keep secret. When she’s offered a way out by doing one last job, she jumps at it, seeing a chance at a normal life, but what she ends up discovering makes her even more dangerous—and her situation even worse. As the pressure mounts, the chemist has to use her very specialized skill set to protect herself and navigate towards not just survival—but victory. Clever, unexpected, and taut, Meyer delivers a book that will make you forget all about sparkly vampires.

The Whistler, by John Grisham
The Master returns with a story centered on judicial corruption—specifically a Florida judge who is accused of stealing more money than any other corrupt judge in the entire country. The accuser is a lawyer operating under the new identity of Greg Myers after being disbarred some years ago—and the case is assigned to Lacy Stoltz, a Florida Board on Judicial Conduct investigator. The judge in question is in bed with the Coast Mafia and helped clear the way for a casino built on Native American land—and is now getting a cut of the casino’s profits on a regular basis. Myers has a client who wants to blow the whistle and collect millions, plunging himself and Stoltz into a dangerous game that Stoltz quickly realizes could turn deadly.

Killing the Rising Sun, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
O’Reilly and historian Dugard are back with the latest in the mega-successful Killing series. This time, instead of an individual, O’Reilly casts the Empire of Japan in the role of victim, exploring the final days of the war when Japan seemed destined to fight a brutal, bloody last stand that would cost millions of lives. As General Douglas MacArthur planned the invasion of Japan, the Manhattan Project was finishing work on what would become the biggest game-changer in terms of geopolitics and warfare ever: the Atomic Bomb. When FDR died in office, his Vice President Harry Truman suddenly found himself forced to make the most fateful decision of the war: invade Japan and pay the butcher’s bill, or drop the bomb and change the world. As always, O’Reilly sets the table with a deft eye for drama and clarifies the issues surrounding this complicated and momentous event.

Milk and Honey, by Rupi Kaur
This collection from the “Instapoet” Kaur was originally self-published, and has been a sales juggernaut ever since. With raw, powerful poetry on subjects ranging from abuse, violence, and what it’s like to be a woman in the modern world, Kaur has engaged people all over the world—including people who would never normally be interested in poetry. But the power and dynamism of Kaur’s poems can’t be denied, and anyone who reads them comes away with a slightly larger understanding of the world around them. This sort of transmittable epiphany is the whole point of poetry, and explains the runaway success of one of our fastest-rising writing stars.

Tools of Titans, by Tim Ferriss
Ferriss, who made a splash with The 4-Hour Workweek, has been quietly hosting one of the most unusual podcasts in existence, The Tim Ferriss Show, where his interview subjects agree to in-depth interviews that can last more than three hours. These long conversations have allowed Ferriss to go into great detail with some of the most successful women and men in the world. His insights into the tools and tricks of the mega-successful are distilled in this remarkable book. Ferriss brings his own keen intelligence and journalistic experience to vetting and conveying these brilliant people’s words so that anyone can absorb and make use of them. If you’re seeking to model your life on those who inhabit the rarefied air of incredible business, artistic, or financial success, this is the book to read.

The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis
If you’re unfamiliar with the names Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, don’t be fooled: Lewis has returned with yet another glorious investigation into real life paced and written like an entertaining novel. Kahneman and Tversky’s work as psychologists exploring the way the human mind made decisions was ground-breaking, and changed the world in ways we’re only now beginning to understand as intuition is increasingly deprecated in favor of algorithmic processes. But they were also larger-than-life figures, war heroes whose lifelong friendship came to be one of the great stories of both science and history. Lewis once again makes it easy to forget you’re learning about history as you read, and the book offers invaluable insights into our modern world by examining the lives of these two remarkable men.

Cross the Line, by James Patterson
Patterson proves he still has some tricks up his sleeves with his most popular character, infusing his twenty-fourth Alex Cross novel with fresh energy and surprising twists. When the city’s top cop is gunned down, Cross is pressured by the mayor to step in and fill the vacuum before the police force descends into chaos. As he does, though, a brutal and strange crime wave washes over the area—a series of murders that specifically target criminals. Faced with vigilante justice, Cross isn’t only hunting a killer, he finds himself fighting to establish the ascendancy of the rule of law and the authorities against chaos—and violence. A mystery with a twist, Patterson delivers another surprising and affecting Cross story.

No Man’s Land, by David Baldacci
Baldacci is about as close to a sure thing as you can get in the thriller world, and his fourth John Puller novel proves why. Puller’s father, a legendary three-star general now sinking into dementia in his old age, is suddenly accused of murder Puller’s mother Jackie thirty years before, based on a newly-discovered letter written by Jackie. Since his father cannot defend himself any more, Puller, his brother Robert, and intelligence officer Veronica Knox launch a desperate bid to prove his innocence—a journey that pits them unknowingly against a man named Paul Rogers, who’s life intersected the Pullers thirty years ago in an unexpected way—and whose journey is coming full circle after all these years. The mystery is engrossing and unique, and Baldacci is an expert at pacing and character development, making for a first-rate reading experience.

The Magnolia Story, by Chip Gaines, Joanna Gaines, and Mark Dagostino
Fans of home renovation and so-called “property porn” shows on HGTV and similar networks might have tuned into Chip and Joanna Gaines’ show Fixer Upper for the real estate—but they stayed for the charm. Now hosting one of the most popular shows in their lane, the Gaines family has enjoyed a quickly-growing fan base that want to know how in the world such nice, fun, and good-hearted people built their own little television and renovation empire. In this charming book, Chip and Joanna recount their early years, the beginnings of their relationship, and the lucky day a television producer happened to stumble on a blog post Joanna wrote. Along the way are a lot of hilarious and heartwarming stories as the Gaines’ prove to be just as nice, smart, and grounded as they appear to be on the show.

Two by Two, by Nicholas Sparks
Nicholas Sparks is the master of the emotionally wrenching, ultimately rewarding story that celebrates life and its wonders without ignoring the dark side of things. In his hotly-anticipated new novel, successful advertising executive Russell Green finds himself living the dream at 32: married to the beautiful Vivian, living in a beautiful house, father to a beautiful daughter. Then life takes one of those sharp left turns and he finds himself jobless, without his wife, and in charge of their daughter as a single parent. In the struggle that ensures, Russell discovers hidden reserves of strength inside himself as he learns the true meaning—and cost—of unconditional love.

Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance
It’s the rare memoir that aspires to do more than tell the author’s story, but Vance does just that in this remarkable book. Simultaneously the life story of this self-described “hillbilly” and an examination of the societal forces in operation throughout his existence that helped him rise up and graduate Yale Law School, Vance takes a refreshingly honest and objective view of his family, seeing their many strengths as well as their various flaws, and offers a complex and moving worldview that sees the power of a close-knit community and a tightly bonded family as the most important factors in his own success. If you’ve never known anyone who referred to themselves in all seriousness as a hillbilly, this book will be both a revelation and an education.

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