Amazon's Best Books of January: Today's Releases

Erin Kodicek on January 08, 2019
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Today's releases include a sultry Southern noir, the exciting conclusion to an epic fantasy trilogy, a peek into the darker corners of cybersecurity, and more.

Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.

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Sugar Run by Mesha Maren

Jodi McCarty just can’t catch a break. Fresh out a 18-year stint in prison, for a mysterious crime we learn about as the story unfolds, she is eager to return to her slice of Shangri-La in the Appalachian Mountains. But first she takes a detour that, however well-meaning, ends up threatening to throw her aim of staying on the straight and narrow off course. Mesha Maren packs a lot into Sugar Run, a Southern noir that follows our heroine’s dogged attempts to rebuild her life, efforts that are stymied by things both outside and inside her control (for starters, the woman has woefully terrible taste in romantic partners). Maren writes beautifully and with keen insight, but what makes this debut truly special is her ability to engender compassion in deeply flawed characters; that’s the power of good fiction. --Erin Kodicek

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The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

As the third book opens in Arden's fantasy trilogy set in medieval Russia, Moscow is burning. Vasya is one of the few who can still see and speak with the old spirits who guard the hearth, calm horses, or lure unwary travelers into bogs, but her impatience and sense of invincibility has led to this disaster. Before the ashes of the city cool, old enemies rise to take their revenge on Vasya, and only through striking a bargain with a previous foe does Vasya have a chance to survive. Under the pressure of her mistakes, Vasya transforms into a battered but wiser warrior, and to save Russia from the all-too-human invaders at its borders, she must find a way for the old magic to work with the new. Arden's writing is almost luminescent in its power and emotion, and she bypasses lyrical fripperies for spare, white-hot storytelling. Not only does the Winternight Trilogy shine among Russian-inspired tales, it establishes a new high bar for coming-of-age fantasy epics. The Amazon editors picked all three books in the Winternight Trilogy as Best Books of the Month, and I can't wait to see what Arden creates next. —Adrian Liang

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Breaking and Entering by Jeremy N. Smith

We often hear about the exploits of some of the most infamous cybercriminals--but who are the hackers working against them? In Breaking and Entering we follow the career of one of the good guys, a woman who calls herself “Alien”—a moniker she adopted on her first day at MIT—who now runs her own cybersecurity firm. A risk taker by nature, Alien was drawn to hacking. At MIT, she excelled at tests of physical hacking and became part of a network of young people who wanted to look around corners and invent new methods. Her career path includes work at a top secret facility at Los Alamos, and at cybersecurity firms where she honed her skills at manipulating people as well as code. Through Alien’s eyes, we see how everyday activities, such as visiting a bank, are rife with opportunity for cybercriminals, and how white hat hackers like herself test protocols and find security loopholes before systems can be breached. Alien’s life and experiences have often been dangerous and extreme, making it easy to forget at times that this is a work of nonfiction. Breaking and Entering is an exciting and absorbing read that puts a new face on the secretive world behind our keyboards. --Seira Wilson

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The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye

When Alice “Nobody” arrives in Portland, Oregon, it is 1921, and she’s just gotten off a cross-country train from New York. She’s got a suitcase, a recently-acquired traveling companion named Max, and a bullet wound (sustained in a drug deal gone wrong back in Harlem) to remind her that her presence is no longer welcome back East. Portland’s only all-black hotel may not seem like the logical place for a white woman to hide out, but Max works there, and tells her: “you’re coming with me, all right? I know a girl what don’t fancy a regular-type doctor when I see one.” However, the KKK has also arrived in Portland and is mounting a campaign of terror. So when a mixed race orphan from the hotel goes missing, Alice may be the only hotel guest who can safely make inquiries. The darkly topical issue of race violence underpins the plot here, and Faye’s meticulous attention to period detail won’t let her shy away from depicting its ugliness accurately, but ultimately The Paragon Hotel’s message is full of heart, delivered by a lively, wise, and witty cast of grifters and gangsters, cabaret singers, and crooked cops. —Vannessa Cronin

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She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge

She Lies in Wait is the perfect mix of police procedural, cold case, and which-one-of-us-done-it (that last is not strictly speaking a thing, but it should be). Six teenagers go camping in a nearby forest. They’re the in-crowd of their school; the kids for whom the future looks bright. But one of them, Aurora, the younger sister of queen bee Topaz, doesn’t make it out of the forest. Thirty years after her disappearance, a body is found, and the long-cold case is suddenly active again. As a young cop in 1983, Jonah Sheens knew the teenagers; now he’s put in charge of solving the case. Each one of the friends, even Aurora’s sister, is under the lens again, this time as suspects in her murder. Loyalties are tested, old lies come back to haunt, and suspicion causes nerves to fray. As Sheens and team work their way through the lies, the dead ends, and the red herrings, readers will find themselves caught up in this intricate thriller. —Vannessa Cronin

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An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma

In 2015, Nigerian writer Chigozie Obioma’s debut, The Fisherman, was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and announced the arrival of a talented new author. There is no drop-off in his sophomore effort, An Orchestra of Minorities, about a young farmer who, having fallen in love with a woman from a wealthy family, risks everything to prove his worth. As he did in his first novel, Obioma merges African and western storytelling traditions—in this case, the tale is narrated by the young man’s chi, or guardian spirit, and the story is patterned after The Odyssey—to create a dramatic, character-based novel. Readers will become immersed in his main character Chinonso’s journey, but it will leave them thinking about bigger themes as well—like the balance between self-determination and fate (or luck); and about the capacity for some to take advantage of others, and how that sort of mistreatment gets paid forward. --Chris Schluep


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