January’s Best New Fiction

Kicking off 2019 is a Gilded Age story about the American heiress who scandalized two nations prior to giving birth to Winston Churchill, and three World War II–era novels centered on women: Hedy Lamarr, movie star and secret STEM pioneer; a pair of sisters working at an Armory factory; and the ten women who served as Hitler’s food tasters. Contemporary fans will devour author Kristen “Cat Person” Roupenian’s first collection of short stories and Jane Corry’s twisty mystery about a missing ex-husband.

The Only Woman in the Room, by Marie Benedict
She was born Hedwig “Hedy” Kiesler and survived a domineering husband and the Third Reich, but you know her as Hedy Lamarr, glamorous movie star. That one woman could be both those things, as well as a world-changing scientist, proves the adage that truth is stranger than fiction. Benedict has made a name for herself shining a spotlight on the oft-hidden contributions of women in STEM. Her previous historical novels revealed the influence of Einstein’s wife and Andrew Carnegie’s maid on the course of human events. The tale of Hedy Lamarr is no less fascinating, as the eventual MGM actress outmaneuvers Nazis and creates an invention that assists the Allied forces in World War II.

Turning Point, by Danielle Steel
The most highly regarded trauma doctors in San Francisco get the chance of a lifetime to participate in a mass-casualty training exchange in Paris. When a terrible shooting in their adopted city forces them to use their new skills under shocking circumstances, their lives are forever changed. As usual, Steel’s characters are both relatable and extraordinary, and you’ll be rooting for the troubled ER physicians as they attempt to balance relationships and professional obligations while saving as many victims as possible after the tragic attack.

The Dreamers, by Karen Thompson Walker
The entire town of Santa Lora, California, is forced into quarantine when several college students succumb to a mysterious, deadly disease that keeps people asleep but dreaming—and the dreams have lives of their own. When Mei, a freshman, discovers that her roommate cannot be woken, she joins forces with another student to do all she can to help. Within the houses surrounding the university are friends, neighbors, families, and children desperate to protect one another. This looks to be a richly haunting and immersive read.

The Wartime Sisters, by Lynda Cohen Loigman
Estranged sisters Millie and Ruth are forced into each other’s orbits while working at an Armory factory in Springfield during World War II. Widowed Millie was known as “the pretty one” during her youth, doted on and indulged by everyone in her Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1930s. Ruth’s experience in the same household felt like a different world; her intelligence was diminished and dismissed, her attempts at dating thwarted (suitors always ended up pursuing Millie). As adults, Ruth appears to have come out on top with her role as the wife of a high-ranking Armory scientist, while Millie toils in production. But the sisters will never truly reconcile until they confront the painful secrets of the past. As with Loigman’s debut, The Two-Family House, this appears to be a deeply compelling historical.

At the Wolf’s Table, by Rosella Postorino (translated by Leah Janeczko)
The winner of Italy’s Premio Campiello Literary Prize, Table tells the story of Adolf Hitler’s food tasters, a group of ten women forced to eat the Fuhrer’s meals before he does, in case they are poisoned. Twenty-something Berliner Rosa Sauer narrates the fraught tale, set in Hitler’s secret headquarters near the countryside of Gross-Partsch, where Rosa has relocated to live with her in-laws in light of her husband’s service on the frontlines. Rather than comforting and relying on one another, the group of tasters form segregated factions based on their views of Hitler and the war, and Rosa finds herself, in her loneliness, turning to her SS supervisor for a terrible, guilt-ridden type of comfort.

You Know You Want This, by Kristen Roupenian
Roupenian’s short story, “Cat Person,” went viral after the New Yorker published it in 2017, but even if you memorized it (someone probably has, right?), there are lots of surprises awaiting you in Roupenian’s debut short story collection. Highlighting characters who are dark, hilarious, awful, and amazing, these tales will make you shriek with discomfort and enjoyment, daring you to revel in the anti-hero and -heroines’ downright frightening behavior and relationships.

That Churchill Woman, by Stephanie Barron
Megan Markle and Prince Harry have got nothin’ on Jennie Jerome: the impetuous, 20-year-old American heiress raised in Gilded Age splendor who married Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill—after knowing him for three days. Although the lavish excesses of Jennie’s life may seem glorious, they also served to prevent her from having a voice, and Jennie, raised to be independent, is not having it. That Jennie gives birth to future Prime Minister Winston Churchill is almost beside the point in this exhilarating historical about a woman who scandalized and intrigued two nations while living life on her own terms.

The Dead Ex, by Jane Corry
The author of My Husband’s Wife and Blood Sisters is back with a mystery thriller about an aromatherapist, Vicki, whose former husband, an abusive, manipulative man, goes missing. Vicki claims she hasn’t seen David in years, but the police are skeptical, particularly because Vicki’s epilepsy may have affected her memory. David’s current wife, Tanya, is hiding something as well. Vicki’s tribulations as suspect number one are juxtaposed with an earlier timeline depicting the saga of young Scarlet, whose beloved albeit drug dealing mother, Zelda, is arrested, forcing Scarlet into dubious foster care. How Scarlet and Zelda’s path intertwines with that of Vicki, David, and Tanya’s is just one of the questions that will grip readers.

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