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

Erin Kodicek on December 05, 2017

One_Station_Away.pngOur Spotlight Pick this month is Olaf Olafsson’s fifth novel, about a neurologist who struggles with a series of emotional disconnects with those who should be closest to him. Editorial Director Sarah Harrison Smith calls One Station Away "restrained, intelligent, and highly affecting."

Today's Best of the Month releases also includes our Debut Spotlight pick, Elmet. Learn more about this Man Booker finalist below, as well as the scoop on new nonfiction from Ursula K. Le Guin, sci-fi from Nora Roberts, the latest from Jennifer Chiaverini, and more.

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Elmet by Fiona Mozley
Fiona Mozley’s debut novel is a surprising, serious story with some of the best writing about nature and family published this year. Short listed for the Man Booker prize, Elmet begins with a young person – without name or sex – walking along a railroad line in the north of England, searching for someone lost. The origins of that scene unfold: a family has sought refuge on a patch of woods that was once theirs, but their harmonious and humane way of life in this Edenic setting is threatened by conflict with “Mr. Price,” the rapacious new landowner. Mozley’s liberal sympathies are all out in the open across a range of issues from unionization to privatization and gender identity. But even to readers who might not share her politics, Elmet presents a persuasive and evocatively written argument. Her vision of what rural life could be is only slightly tempered by the knowledge that like all Edens, this one must be left behind. --Sarah Harrison Smith

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The Doomsday Machine by Daniel Ellsberg
When Daniel Ellsberg was busy photocopying the Pentagon Papers—the set of classified documents that outlined the actual scope of the Vietnam War, the scale and illegality of which was unknown to the American public—he was also collecting information about the capabilities of the United States’ nuclear arsenal, in particular its philosophies and strategies regarding its use. Ellsberg, who worked in the highest levels of government crafting nuclear strategy before he became a whistleblower, lost those copies long ago, and for decades he held his knowledge close for fear of prosecution. But recent Freedom of Information Act disclosures have made him a little more comfortable in sharing his experience and information, and again, what he reveals that what we have been told— that these devastating weapons only existed as a method of deterrence—has never been true. Rather, the options of “first strike” or “first use” were, and are, always key components of American foreign strategy. That’s just from the introduction of The Doomsday Machine; what follows is an astonishing behind-the-scenes collection of detailed descriptions of global near-calamities, flawed launch protocols (both the U.S.’s military and our adversaries’), and the government’s own chilling estimates on the potential carnage following a nuclear conflict. At this moment especially, this book is terrifying. It’s also impossible to put down. --Jon Foro

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The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
We chose Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale as a Best Book of the Month earlier in 2017, and Arden now continues her glorious medieval Russian fantasy series right where the first book left off. Vasya, a potential witch, has been exiled from her village on the edge of the wild woods, the death of her father weighing on her soul. Her desire to escape the destiny of her gender—to be a wife or to live in a cloister—and to experience the wide world puts her in boy's trousers and on the back of a magical horse, but Vasya's tendency to act first and think later tangles her up in bandit clans, a budding war between wizards, and the vast ambitions of the young ruler of Moscow. Even as she rejects the constricting rules of society and her own family, Vasya’s troubles are magnified as her actions spawn repercussions that will upend not only the human balance of power but the supernatural equilibrium, too. Arden’s writing is as feverishly beautiful and poetic here as it was in her first novel, and it's a thrill watching a perfect bud of a fantasy tale blossom into a powerful epic. --Adrian Liang

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No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin is comfortable with her age. Or at least she’s comfortable with the fact that it’s not a completely comfortable arrangement. In the opener to this collection of personal essays, Le Guin notes that, now that she’s in her eighties, all her time is occupied by the activities of life—she has no spare time and no time to spare. Le Guin is a thoughtful and careful writer, and so her opinions are thoughtfully and carefully organized. She knows what she thinks, and she writes so well that you’ll want to return to these candid essays—the product of a blog she started when she was 81 years old—like returning to an older, wiser friend. —Chris Schluep

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Year One by Nora Roberts
Bestselling author Nora Roberts dips her tow into the dystopian pool with the first in a new series. Set in the near future, the U.S. population is devastated by a fast-moving influenza. Survivors band together to face an uncertain future, and some of them have begun to exhibit unusual and dangerous powers...

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Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini
In this biographical novel from author Jennifer Chiaverini, we journey into the life of Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace, now largely considered to be the world’s first commuter programmer. Unknown to me, Ada was raised in the shadow of a famous father, as the only legitimate daughter of poet Lord Byron. We soon learn the eccentric Byron abandons his new family a month after Ada’s birth, never to see either his child or wife again. Ada’s mother becomes obsessed with purging all things creative and imaginative from Ada’s upbringing, in the hopes of saving her child from the same perceived mania that plagued her poet husband. With an ever-changing cast of tutors and governesses, and forbidden from most artistic outlets, Ada throws herself headfirst into academia and mathematics. Chiaverini expertly illuminates the adversities Ada faced in melding her analytical prowess with the creative thought she was told for so long to suppress. While Ada was largely unrecognized for her accomplishments while alive, this novel is a generous ode to one of history’s most extraordinary female trailblazers. --Sydney Dale


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