From heart-racing crime fiction to addictive feminist tales: the most exciting new reads of January 2017

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Sarah Shaffi
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The year is off to a great start, if the month's books are anything to judge by. 

Among the debuts out this month is Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, which I know will be on my best books of the year list at the end of 2017, it's that good. Other debuts to have on your radar are Emma Flint's wonderful Little Deaths, Ali Land's creepy Good Me, Bad Me and Miranda Emerson's Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars, which has hidden depths. On the other end of the scale is a 21st novel, Sarah Pinborough's Behind Her Eyes, which will blow your mind. 

I'm not often a reader of short stories but two excellent collections, both focusing on women, feature in this month's recommendations – Roxane Gay's Difficult Women and Tessa Hadley's Bad Dreams and Other Stories.

Other great fiction for January includes Sophia Tobin's Wuthering Height/Jane Eyre-like The Vanishing and Chibundu Onuzo's buzzing Welcome to Lagos.

And finally, a little non-fiction to make you think - Omar Saif Ghobash's Letters to a Young Muslim.

Happy reading.

  • Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

    From a woman who knows her boyfriend sometimes swaps places with his twin to a wife whose tale begins with her going deer hunting with her husband and ends with her sister giving birth, to a story describing the many kinds of difficult women, Roxane Gay's collection, also called Difficult Women, is dark, disturbing, subversive and addictive.

    Forget the men, what I love most about Difficult Women is how Gay explores relationships between women from sisters to friends, as well as the way women view themselves. 

    Available 3 January (Corsair, £12.99)

  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

    Effia and Esi, sisters, lead very different lives. While Effia marries a slaver, Esi is sold into slavery. And so begins Yaa Gyasi's utterly absorbing debut novel Homegoing. From the Gold Coast of Africa we follow Effia and Esi's descendants across three continents and seven generations as they live, love and, at times, fight to exist.

    This is a sweeping novel - each chapter is placed in a political, cultural and historical context - but the intimacy Gyasi builds between the reader and her characters is what is most captivating. This deserves to win prizes.

    Available 5 January (Viking, £12.99)

  • Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land

    Fifteen-year-old Annie’s mother is a serial killer, and Annie was responsible for exposing her crimes. Now with a new name – Milly – and living with a new family in the run-up to her mother’s trial, Milly discovers that blood can be thicker than water, and that it’s not so easy to stop yearning for her twisted mum.

    This is a tense, taut thriller that kept me up late into the night as I raced through the pages to the extraordinary conclusion.

    Available 12 January (Michael Joseph, £12.99)

  • Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo

    Welcome to Lagos captures and brings to life the chaos and hostility of the Nigerian city of the title. The novel follows Chike and Yemi, soldiers who have run away from the army; Fineboy, a rebel fighter who wants to become a DJ; Oma, who has left her abusive husband; and Isoken, who is separated from her parents and believes them dead. Their story coincides with that of Chief Sandayo, a missing minister suspected of stealing millions from the government, and Ahmed Bakare, a newspaper proprietor who needs a big story.

    A portrait of contemporary Nigeria that I found difficult to put down.

    Available 5 January (Faber, £12.99)

  • Miss Treadway & the Field of Stars by Miranda Emmerson

    You know when you open a biscuit tin expecting to find a few dependable digestives and instead discover a whole pack of chocolate bourbons? This book is a bit like that.

    I expected a story about a young woman - Anna Treadway - searching for missing American actress Iolanthe Green. Instead, what I got was a look at racism (external and internalised) abortion rights (or the lack of them) and the immigrant experience in 1960s England.

    Emmerson explores the struggles of people who change to make themselves more "English", women defined by their families, and a family where the parents and children have very differing views on what makes a good life. Mostly, Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars is about how everyone is hiding a part of themselves.

    Available 12 January (4th Estate, £12.99)

  • Little Deaths by Emma Flint

    In the summer of 1965 Ruth Malone wakes up in her flat in Queens to find her two young children missing. Later, they are found killed, and Ruth is the number one suspect. On the surface this is a crime novel - could Ruth have murdered her babies or was someone else responsible for the heinous crime?

    Dig a little deeper, and Little Deaths is a study of the treatment of women in 1960s America - Ruth is vilified for being a single mother, for wearing certain types of clothing, for not crying in public - and a look at obsession.

    Taut and tense, it made my blood pressure rise.

    Available 12 January (Picador, £12.99)

  • Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

    Every time I think about this book, my mind is blown again by its stunning twist - Behind Her Eyes fully earns the hashtag #WTFthatending.

    The book follows single mum Louise, who is horrified to discover that the attractive man she met in a bar is her new boss David. Worse, he is married to the perfect Adele, who Louise finds herself becoming friends with. As Louise is drawn deeper and deeper into David and Adele's life, Pinborough ratchets up the tension to almost unbearable level, then shocks you with that ending. 

    If you can guess the twist, hats off to you, but I hope you can't.

    Available 26 January (HarperCollins, £12.99)

  • Letters to a Young Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash

    What will 2017 bring with it when it comes to the political landscape? Who knows, but to prepare for it we can all open our minds to new voices and experiences. A good starting point is Letters to a Good Muslim by Omar Saif Ghobash.

    In a series of letters to his older son, Ghobash shares stories about his childhood, upbringing and family, and his thoughts on terrorism, freedom and education, all through the lens of what it means to be a Muslim in today's world. Ghobash encourages his son to form his own understanding of Islam based on debate, knowledge and context, through questioning and reasoned discussion.

    An insightful book for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

    Available 12 January (Picador, £16.99)

  • The Vanishing by Sophia Tobin

    Think Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre, but 10 times darker, and you have The Vanishing. In September 1814 Annaleigh, seeking sanctuary from something that happened in London, arrives at White Windows, a house on the Yorkshire Moors where she is to be housekeeper.

    Isolated from the nearby villagers, who seem not to like White Windows, and with only fellow servants Jeanne and Sorsby for company, Annaleigh finds herself drawn into the lives of her masters, siblings Hester and Marcus. As she falls deeper into their web, Annaleigh realises White Windows is far from a sanctuary.

    The Vanishing has a great opening, and gets as dark and eerie and gothic as the Yorkshire Moors it is set on. One to curl up by the fire with on a windy night.

    Available 12 January (Simon & Schuster, £12.99)

  • Bad Dreams and Other Stories by Tessa Hadley

    From the brilliant opening sentence of the first story, An Abduction - "Jane Allsop was abducted when she was fifteen, and nobody noticed" - Hadley draws you into the world of all her characters, from Jane to 10-year-old Carrie to Greta, an older woman visiting her daughter.

    All the things that happen in Bad Dreams are fairly ordinary, but Hadley's descriptions and observations elevate them to extraordinary. My personal favourite in the collection is Deeds Not Words in which two teachers - a suffragette and a woman embarking on an affair - are placed in parallel to each other. 

    Available 26 January (Jonathan Cape, £14.99)


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Sarah Shaffi

Sarah Shaffi is a freelance journalist and editor. She reads more books a week than is healthy, and balances this out with copious amounts of TV. She writes regularly about popular culture, particularly how it reflects and represents society.