If you’re like most people, you’re already trying to figure out what the hell you were thinking when you made those wildly ambitious New Year’s resolutions. Gyms are expensive, beer tastes good, and that vegan diet you told your partner you’ll try looks less and less appealing each day. But it’s easy to read more, and you’ve got to replace the beer with something. These seven books — from a searing crime novel set in Tokyo to a fascinating look at the year that turned Adolf Hitler into one of history’s greatest monsters — are cheaper than a gym membership, and won’t cause you to pull muscles you didn’t even know you had.
The Kindness of Enemies, Leila Aboulela (Grove)
Sudanese author Aboulela’s fifth book follows Natasha Wilson, a history professor of Sudanese and Russian descent who teaches at a Scottish university. Her life takes a startling turn when her favorite student, Oz, who is descended from the 19th-century Caucasian Muslim leader whom Wilson is researching, is arrested.
The Blue Line, Ingrid Betancourt (Penguin Press)
Betancourt, a former Colombian senator, was kidnapped and held hostage by the leftist guerrilla group FARC for over six years. Her debut novel, which incorporates elements of magical realism, tells the story of Julia, a clairvoyant girl in Buenos Aires who takes up with an older revolutionary named Theo.
The Guest Room, Chris Bohjalian (Doubleday)
The author of the best-selling Midwives returns with a novel about an investment banker who agrees to host a bachelor party for his brother. The celebration quickly gets out of hand, descending into an orgy involving young Russian girls, and by the end of the night, two bodyguards have been killed.
The Family Tree: A Lynching in Georgia, a Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth, Karen Branan (Atria)
In 1912, the nephew of a white Georgia sheriff was shot to death, and in short order, a lynch mob murdered four innocent African Americans whom they suspected of the slaying. Journalist Branan, the sheriff’s great-granddaughter, looks into the case in this new book, which tackles issues of racism and violence in the early 20th-century South.
When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi (Random House)
Kalanithi, who died last March, was a husband, father, and Stanford-educated neurosurgeon when he was diagnosed at age 36 with lung cancer. His memoir takes on issues of mortality, family, and hope in the face of a savage disease, from his perspective as both surgeon and patient.
The Gun, Fuminori Nakamura, translated by Allison Markin Powell (Soho Crime)
A nighttime walk takes an unexpected turn for a Tokyo college student, who happens upon a dead body with a loaded gun next to it. He decides to take the gun, and quickly becomes obsessed with it, even as his own father is dying in a local hospital. The gun begins to take over his life, and the student is unable to break the bizarre hold it has on him.
1924: The Year That Made Hitler, Peter Ross Range (Little, Brown and Company)
Journalist Range posits that the most important year in Adolf Hitler’s life was 1924, when the future German chancellor was jailed after leading the Beer Hall Putsch, a would-be coup that failed to take Munich for the Nazi Party. Hitler wrote Mein Kampf while he was imprisoned, and the rest is tragic history.
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