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When a nighttime car crash kills five people, it’s shocking to all, including Ajay, an indentured servant inside the extremely pricey Mercedes that caused the crash. Age of Vice chronicles his story as well as that of his boss Sunny, the heir to a family fortune who is hell-bent on having his name remembered, and Neda, a journalist who, seeking to understand Sunny’s family, gets swept up in their glamorous world. Intoxicating and brisk (a feat for a 500-plus page novel), this trilogy opener dazzles. —Rachel Strolle
In 1957, Alice Young steps off a bus and is shocked to find no “whites only” signs or segregated bathrooms. New Jessup, Alabama, is a fictional all-Black town founded on the rejection of integration, instead creating a Black utopia amid civil unrest. Alice quickly falls in love with her new town and with local radical activist Raymond. But Raymond’s views threaten to exile them from New Jessup and Alice must find a way to hold tight to everything she loves before it all unravels. Warm moments of Black joy are well balanced by the weighty tension threaded throughout this debut to create historical fiction worth picking up. —Kirby Beaton
Liar Dreamer Thief by Maria Dong (Grand Central; Jan.10)
Katrina Kim received a message from her coworker, Kurt, not long before witnessing his death by suicide…a death he claims is her fault. The note, to her shock, proved that Kurt was aware of her obsession with him, even though she’d never considered herself a stalker. Rifling through more details of his life, she soon discovers that the surveillance nature of their relationship was not as one sided as she once believed, as he’d been watching her too. At times unsettling and with an unreliable narrator trying to put the pieces together, this book fly by in a delicious whirlwind of all-consuming literary chaos. — Rachel Strolle
The reality of working at a PR firm just to make ends meet is a far cry from Samantha Song’s dream of writing for a high-society magazine. It’s not until she meets Timothy Kingston, the son of one of the elite families of Singapore, that she sees a path to her dream life crystallize. Timothy and Samantha’s wealthy friend Anya sign on to help, and soon Samantha is tossed into the social scene to make a name for herself, faking it until she makes it. A sublime delectation. —R.S.
Vanessa Blair hates her telemarketing job, but she’s still irate when her Michael Scott–esque boss, Xavier Adams, unceremoniously fires her — especially when he cites the reason: her “resting bitch face.” After a drunken night, Vanessa and her ex-work friends devise a plan to get back at Xavier, by any means possible. Throw in a hot, tattooed love interest assigned to her unemployment case and you’ve got a book that’s zany in the most fun way possible. Ryan paints an ode to RBF owners and anyone slighted by a male boss — you’ll be rooting for her the whole way. —K.B.
This collection features stories of Botswanan women finding their way, both in the village of Serowe and in Gaborone, Botswana’s capital. From a young woman whose spouse has died grappling with expectation and tradition amid grief to a woman returning from the US to a flurry of questions, these stories are delicately crafted and beautifully realized, creating an unforgettable reading experience. —R.S.
Cai’s debut is for anyone who spent the holidays listening to Taylor Swift’s “Tis the Damn Season” and brooding in their hometown. When Audrey Zhou turned 18, she left Hickory Grove — and her parents — for New York and didn’t look back. Now, armed with a high-pressure job and a white, Manhattan-bred fiancé, she’s returning home to a collision of her two worlds. But Audrey’s relationship with her mom is still fraught, her hometown friends have moved on, and her high school crush is reigniting her feelings for him. It’s a Hallmark movie plot with a literary bend, and Cai’s musings on being a person of color in a small town add a refreshingly nuanced layer to a classic story. (Disclosure: Cai used to work at BuzzFeed.) —K.B.
Preeminent film scholar and critic Thomson returns with a new book this winter, analyzing what makes great actors and their portrayals of certain characters linger indelibly in the minds of audiences. Using both personal anecdote and film analysis, he dissects what makes a great performance stand out from one that's merely OK. Thomson analyzes performances by luminaries like Meryl Streep and Anthony Hopkins and more recent star turns by actors like Carey Mulligan and Riz Ahmed in an attempt to illustrate why certain portrayals stick with us long after we leave the movie theater and makes a compelling case for the artistry involved in making movie magic. Entertaining and informative, Acting Naturally is a delightful read for anyone who loves movies. —David Vogel
Indigo’s bridegroom promised to keep his curiosity about her past at bay in exchange for a happily ever after. But when her aunt’s health fails, and he journeys back with her to the House of Dreams, her childhood home, the past is hard to keep away from. Especially as the ghosts of secrets linger around the mysterious disappearance of Indigo’s childhood friend Azure. An exquisitely painted fairy tale filled with dark enchantment and an exploration of the monsters within. —R.S.
This dark comedy was made for voracious readers who keep up with all of the latest literary drama. It follows Victoria, a woman who hates pretty much everything in her life: her sleazy husband, her overbearing parents, the clients she massages. Everything except for reading, where she can get lost in a fantasy world for hours. When she runs into a stranger reading the same book as her at a café, Victoria becomes obsessed with the idea that he’s her soulmate and sets off on a manic mission to win him over. Full of tongue-in-cheek literary references, morbid fantasies, and Walter Mitty–esque dream sequences, this sardonic and subversive novel is full of kooky surprises. —K.B.
Film professor and podcaster Bodie Kane is asked to come back to her alma mater, the Granby School, to teach a course. The only problem? Kane’s memories of the school are more complicated than nostalgic. Her roommate, Thalia, was murdered in the spring of their senior year, and the school athletic director was convicted of the crime, though residual doubts lingered as to who the actual killer was. When Bodie agrees to go back to Granby to teach, the past comes rushing back to her in ways she never expected, and she finds herself reinvestigating what really happened that spring. Taut and finely detailed, with a cast of unforgettable characters, Makkai’s latest book is both an engrossing thriller and a timely social commentary. —D.V.
The Academy Awards began as an industry banquet in 1929 and have since become the crown jewel of the awards season. Schulman, a staff writer for the New Yorker, painstakingly details the history of the Oscars, including notable feuds, contentious wins, and careers made and lost by the awards. Far from merely chronicling the history of the motion picture industry, Schulman uses the Oscars as a vehicle to explore the driving forces in American culture over the past nine decades. Educational and gleefully gossipy, this industry tell-all is a wildly entertaining ride. —D.V.
Historical fiction has never been more entertaining and playfully unhinged than in the hands of Jan Jemc, and I loved every second of my time spent in the world they crafted. A novel that’s based on the lives of King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Empress Sisi of Austria, cousins who refused to play by the traditional rules laid out for them by their respective monarchies, Empty Theatre is hard to summarize succinctly because to do so would diminish the magic inherent in the experience of reading this book for the first time. Surreal, witty, tongue-in-cheek, and distinctly singular, just like the subjects whose life it covers, this is not your mother’s historical fiction. Buckle up for a wild ride, and enjoy every second of it. —D.V.
Dimani Krishanthan is 30, single, and tired. Ever since her dad died at his fast-food job, she’s spent her days (and nights) driving for a rideshare app to make ends meet. While touting rich riders around a city embroiled in protests about pretty much everything, she meets Jolene. Jolene seems like she could be the perfect girl for Dimani; aside from the fact that she’s wealthy, white, and privileged, that is. A biting and uproarious take on the gig economy, capitalism, and race, this is the kind of book you read in one sitting — preferably not in an Uber. —K.B.
I’ve been anticipating this debut ever since Song announced it last January because unhinged-girl-turned-mermaid is my middle name. Ren Yu, a Chinese American teen, is obsessed with mermaids — less so the Disney kind and more so the Native folklore kind that killed their colonizers. Joining the swim team only intensifies Ren’s fascination and, as the pressure from her coach and parents bears down, she begins to genuinely believe the chlorine is transforming her body into its true finned form. Song’s body horror here somehow accurately mirrors the terrifying process of puberty in a coming-of-age story that’s not for the faint of heart. —K.B.