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February’s Finest

It's time to hibernate, cocoon and cuddle up, so here are some intriguing novels to bring into your warm lair / BY Nathalie Atkinson / February 3rd, 2021

Coming in the throes of winter, February is the shortest month, but the anticipation of spring can make it feel the longest. Luckily, many of our favourite authors have new reads out – like U.S. crime writer Joe Ide’s latest, Smoke, or Canada’s own criminal lawyer-crime writer Robert Rotenberg with his new thriller Downfall – and our list of other notable novels will help while away the hours.

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image. 

1Good Neighbors Sarah Langan

Give me a good gossipy cul-de-sac any day: in this case it’s the crescent-shaped block of Maple Street in the Long Island suburb of Garden City. It’s set in a near future, where climate change touches the doorstep of a tight-knit community one stifling summer by opening up a large, spontaneous sinkhole. The heat and fear only amplify existing petty jealousy and class conflicts. Told in retrospect and peppered with newspaper clippings and true crime reportage, the novel dissects the incidents that led to the block’s now-infamous murders and will make you realize how much good fences really do make good neighbours.

2My Year Abroad Chang-rae Lee

From Lee, a Pulitzer finalist for his novel The Surrendered, comes a winding, shaggy-dog story about how, exactly, a college student ended up in far-flung adventures with a band of international criminals. It’s an escapist picaresque about cultural immersion and rediscovery — and that’s only part of this madcap tale.

3Fake Accounts Lauren Oyler

Brooklyn-based literary critic Oyler’s fair but unsparingly snarky reviews often go viral, so it makes sense she would explore romance, deception and the nature of social media identity in her debut novel. The premise: a young culture journalist discovers her boyfriend has a secret digital life as a popular anonymous conspiracy theorist. Like Emma Jane Unsworth’s Adults and Leigh Stein’s Self Care, the novel captures the rhythms and internal monologues of being, as they say, “extremely online” so that it’s simultaneously an experience of that which it critiques.

4The RemovedBrandon Hobson

Hobson, a member of the Oklahoma Cherokee Nation, was a National Book Award finalist for his coming-of-age story Where the Dead Sit Talking. His latest mines Cherokee folklore and family history to trace “calcified grief.” Set in Oklahoma, the shifting perspectives of several storytellers recount how tragedy and injustice reverberate for the Echota family. Trauma is at the root of their lives, both the recent killing of one of their own by a police officer and the historical wound of the Trail of Tears, the forced relocation of 100,000 Indigenous people by the U.S. government in the 1800s.

5Blood GroveWalter Mosley

In the summer of 1969, a young white Vietnam veteran with PTSD ambles into the small office of Ezekial “Easy” Rawlins. The new installment in the acclaimed series by Mosley (Devil in a Blue Dress) is especially moody, as the veteran calls on the Black detective to figure out what’s real and what isn’t. (It’s one thing to investigate a murder, quite another to figure out whether one actually took place.) Mosley’s depiction of the racist climate of the city will be familiar because of how little it has changed.

6Kill the MallPasha Malla

Though there’s no mention of the many odd, after-hours misadventures in his cheery weekly progress report, the narrator of this book certainly experiences his share after accepting a residency at the decaying local mall in the weeks leading up to the Madness Sale. A taciturn caretaker, eccentric food court regulars, and a mysteriously inscribed gold ring are some of the recurring oddities in this jovial horror novel that aims to critique consumer culture.

7The Sharpest NeedleRenee Patrick

Golden-age Hollywood history plays a major role in the fictional escapades of amateur sleuths Lillian Frost and Edith Head, the top costume designer at Paramount. Taking place in 1939, their new client is Marion Davies, the actress and longtime mistress of William Randolph Hearst, who’s worried about poison pen letters aimed at her circle (consider it the perfect companion to Mank, the new movie about the making of Citizen Kane). Subplots ripped from the day’s political and entertainment headlines, as Zoomer discovered when we spoke with the pseudonymous writing couple last year, bring famous cinematic personalities to life as the duo go behind-the-scenes to solve the case. A delight for classic film fans.

8Slough HouseMick Herron

(Feb. 9) The recent passing of the late, great John le Carré leaves a gaping hole, so the arrival of his heir apparent’s new book “could not be better timed.” Herron’s brand of thriller is where spy craft meets office comedy and satirizes Brexit-era espionage, featuring the misfits and screw-up agents, or slow horses, banished to toil in obscurity by MI5. The seventh book in this ongoing series looks at media corruption, the privatization of government departments, and populist movements. Read our profile of Herron and catch up, ASAP; it’s currently being adapted by Apple+ with Gary Oldman as the motley crew’s irascible head agent Jackson Lamb, alongside Kristin Scott Thomas and Jonathan Pryce.

9A Town Called SolaceMary Lawson

(Feb. 16) It’s been almost a decade since Lawson’s breakout debut Crow Lake was published. Her latest book returns to small-town Northern Ontario, this time in 1972, where eight-year-old Clara anxiously awaits the return of her runaway teenage sister. She’s also bemused by the mysterious absence of their elderly neighbour Mrs. Orchard, and the arrival of Liam, the recently divorced and unemployed 30-something who seems to have inherited her home. These three characters tell the story of how Liam came to know Mrs. Orchard from their points of view, but Lawson’s portrayal of wise, young Clara is especially well done.

10Crocodile TearsMercedes Rosende

(Feb. 18) This crime novel by Rosende, a Uruguayan lawyer and journalist by day, is about a heist gone wrong on the streets of Montevideo after a psychopath attempts to rob an armoured vehicle. The dynamic between investigator Leonilda Lima (a cop underestimated by her male colleagues) and her criminal foil, Ursula, provides a tone reminiscent of Killing Eve. In its English-language debut, this bungled caper’s black comedy has earned comparisons to Elmore Leonard.

11The Blizzard PartyJack Livings

(Feb. 23) The party in question was thrown in a grand Upper West Side apartment on the night of New York’s historic 1978 snowstorm, and changed the lives of several guests forever (asThe Ice Storm did for New Canaan, Conn.). Livings, whose debut story collection The Dog was a 2014 New York Times best book of the year, delivers a swirling and absorbing more-is-more tale – think Tom Wolfe. As lives intersect and overlap, the story reaches back to World War Two-era Poland and forward to the 9/11 fallout. “We do live in the past and future simultaneously, don’t we?” one character posits.

12The Kitchen FrontJennifer Ryan

(Feb. 23) Whether your competition of choice is Nailed It, Sugar Rush or The Great British Bake Off, this historical novel that goes inside a BBC-sponsored cooking competition will be a binge read. Ryan, author of bestseller The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, offers another heartwarming charmer about the unlikely friendships between scrappy war widow Audrey, posh Gwendoline, maid Nell and chef Zelda – all vying for the prize of radio cookery program co-host. The 1942 setting offers glimpses of how women made do under war restrictions beyond food rationing, and Ryan also sprinkles real point-stretching recipes and unusual substitution ideas throughout — though you may not want to try them at home.


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