Today's Best of the Month releases include a novel about a school shooting that will punch you in the heart, a collection of short stories from the late great Denis Johnson, and a magical memoir about magic.
Learn more about today's best books of the month releases below, or browse all of our favorites for January here.
They say great fiction has the power to increase one’s empathy, and Stefan Merrill Block’s Oliver Loving does just that. In it, a school shooting compels the denizens of a small Texas town to confront painful (and sometimes ugly) truths, as they try to solve the mystery of why the shooter did what he did. Trouble is, many of the answers are locked inside the mind of one of the victims, Oliver Loving--who is in a coma--and his unrequited love, Rebekkah Sterling, who would just as soon forget. Block does a deft job of capturing the reverberating effects of grief, and the many ways in which it is expressed. You may not always agree with how Loving’s mother, father, and brother deal with the horrible hand their family is dealt, but you understand their actions just the same (and maybe even relate to them). Oliver Loving is a compassionate account of something we see far too often on the news, but never get the full story. And though you’ll need to suspend your disbelief for certain aspects of this narrative, I think it’s much harder to wrap one’s brain around the sorts of real-life tragedies that inspired it. By giving a glimpse inside the mind of both perpetrator and victim, by putting us in their shoes, maybe we can better tease out why such terrible things happen, and take meaningful steps to stop them. --Erin Kodicek
In this posthumous collection, Denis Johnson’s narrators are often confined to one place as they relate their stories—a couch, the kitchen table, or even prison. Yet images tumble forward, and humor bubbles, and his characters speak out about their hopes and limitations, and some kind of alchemy takes place that can only be achieved by the best writers. You feel like they’ve taken you on a journey, even if you never left their minimum space. Johnson’s characters all have faults, about which they are at least semi-aware. Some of them are criminals, and even more are addicts. But all of them are deeply human, and you will probably recognize a little of yourself in these stories, even if no one else would make that connection. There are lines you’ll want to underline. Memories and emotions will be stirred. This is a great collection for Johnson to go out on. --Chris Schluep
For a memoir about a life spent performing magic, Here Is Real Magic is wonderfully grounded in real life. Nate Staniforth, magician and former host of the Discovery Channel's TV show Breaking Magic, takes us along his journey from wide-eyed kid trying to convey his sense of wonder to the adults around him, to young magician trying to get a break in LA, to the demands and drudgery of constant touring, to finally feeling that he’s lost the sense of awe that originally set him on his course. And that’s just the first part of the book. In the second part, Staniforth travels to India to try to redeem that lost sense of wonder. What results is a thoughtful, often moving memoir about a man who truly understands (and loves and respects) his craft, even more so for the struggles he has had with it. It seems like every few years a memoir about magic comes along—this one does the trick. —Chris Schluep
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