12 New England-related books to read this winter

We’ve officially been in the pandemic for so long, there are now books published that deal with COVID-19. (For context, most books take two years to be published, minimum.) But the vivid imaginations of authors haven’t been quarantined during that time, either. These picks for Winter 2022 also grapple with the stark differences for immigrant children in search of the American dream, the interconnectedness of local communities, and the fearless protagonists who have been pushed into a corner. Be inspired by these authors that no matter the circumstances, humanity will persevere.

January 4

Author Echo Brown has turned the concept of “black girl magic” into two unique and awe-inspiring novels based on her own life. “The Chosen One” follows first-generation student Echo at Dartmouth College, Brown’s alma mater. (Although Brown’s 2020 debut “Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard” also features a protagonist named Echo, it’s not a sequel to the previous novel.) In Dartmouth, this new Echo grapples with tough classes as she realizes the campus isn’t as inclusive as advertised. After Echo attends a hypnosis show in college, she can suddenly access portals across time and space. A healthy dose of magical realism turns this coming-of-age story into the titular “chosen” fantasy tale, but the real magic is being able to process your trauma and forge a path forward. [Listen to Here & Now’s interview with Echo Brown and read an excerpt from “The Chosen One” here.]

January 4

Brown graduate Xochitl Gonzalez tells the story of two siblings who each go their separate ways, avoiding the path of their radical activist mother. Olga and Prieto Acevedo grew up in New York with their grandmother after their mother abandoned them to fight for Puerto Rico’s independence when Olga was 12. Now Olga is a high-end wedding planner, Prieto is a closed congressman, and their mother is a fugitive. As Hurricane Maria looms, Olga reassesses her priorities and Prieto attempts to fight for her district and her people. An impressive debut with rich prose, salient political intrigue, and plenty of heart.

‘Dead Eyes, Volume 2’
By Gerry Duggan, illustrated by John McCrea

January 11

In this gritty graphic novel, Martin thought he’d left behind his criminal past in the ’90s. Few could double the crowds and live to tell the tale, so Martin hung up his Dead Eyes mask to quietly tend to his disabled woman, Megan. But now the money has run out and he has to put the mask back on without Megan, the police, or the mob knowing. Recovering the stolen paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum could be the manna he was looking for. He needs to keep a low profile or his eyes won’t be the only dead thing about him. Equal parts action-packed, funny and poignant, this fictional hometown anti-hero thrives in a fictional world where Boston’s criminal underbelly didn’t die with Whitey Bulger and is still on the loose.

‘The low’
By Jabari Asim

January 11

Set in the pre-war South, Asim explores the complex inner lives of enslaved black people through the eyes of four characters who have nuanced perspectives on love and freedom. William doesn’t dare waste his energy thinking about getting away, while Cato – whose first love was snatched from him without warning – still dreams of what life could be like if they were free. When a preacher comes to town with the promise of independence, he doesn’t know if he can trust the word of a man who teaches from the religious text the kidnappers use to justify their enslavement. In deft prose, Asim shows how the power of words, storytelling and philosophical debate has endured through generations. Asim is Professor of Writing, Literature and Publishing at Emerson College. [Jabari Asmi will be in conversation with Lily Rugo of Harvard Book Store on Tuesday, Jan. 25, at 6 p.m.]

“Really easy”
By Marie Rutkoski

January 18

Harvard graduate Marie Rutkoski builds on her previous experience as an exotic dancer in this layered thriller. Told through the perspective of nearly a dozen characters, the story begins with Samantha, a longtime stripper à la Lovely Lady. She takes new dancer Jolene under her wing until one night Jolene is found dead and Samantha is missing. Who is responsible for these tragedies? A jealous boyfriend? The crooked owner of the Lovely Lady? Dancer Georgia helps Detective Holly Meylin gather information on murder and missing person cases. Each vibrant new perspective twists the knife of mystery a little more. By giving depth to characters who might be reduced to stereotypes in lesser mystery novels, “Real Easy” helps humanize people who ply the world’s oldest profession. [Porter Square Books hosts a virtual event with Marie Rutkoski on Wednesday, Jan. 26, at 7 p.m.]

January 18

In Weike Wang’s second novel, the titular Joan, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, feels at odds with the various facets of her identity: on the one hand, she is a successful intensive care doctor in New York; on the other hand, she feels like she cannot meet the familial and cultural expectations that her family has placed on her. But his father’s death is the catalyst for the stoic workaholic to do some self-reflection. Before long, her mother returns to the United States after 18 years and the COVID-19 pandemic takes the world by storm. How can she help her brother care for their now-stranded mother during one of the toughest times in global health? Despite the important external stakes, Wang paints an intimate portrait of a family with ironic humor. Wang received her undergraduate and doctoral degrees from Harvard University and her MFA from Boston University.

By Tochi Onyebuchi

January 25

After interviewing Tochi Onyebuchi in 2020 before the release of his adult novel “Riot Baby”, I’m delighted to recommend his next adult novel, “Goliath”. By the 2050s, most wealthy people had left Earth ravaged by climate change in favor of space colonies. In the wreckage of New Haven, Connecticut, working-class laborers—the majority of whom are black and brown—have the chance to reinvent a fair society on their terms while navigating daily survival. Meanwhile, the colonies yearn for a fictionalized version of Earth. What begins as a demand for high-priced earthly objects evolves into colonizers deciding to return to the planet, gentrifying the neighborhoods they had left to rot. Onyebuchi masterfully pivots through a range of perspectives in a non-linear fashion to create this entirely believable landscape of future history. [Tochi Onyebuchi will celebrate the launch of his book in an event at Brookline Booksmith on Wednesday, Jan. 26, at 7 p.m.]

February 1st

Professor Smith Andrea Hairston reimagines 1890s Georgia, steeped in hoodoo magic and hauntings. Redwood Phipps has the power to hold a hurricane in her hands, but even she couldn’t prevent her mother’s death by a racist mob. The ghost of his mother haunts half Irish, half Seminole Aidan Wildfire after witnessing her lynching. Redwood and Aidan connect over complex feelings about their respective heritages and magic, and decide to venture to Chicago together promising a safer life where they are free to be themselves. But the road is strewn with pitfalls, so they must practice their magic and storytelling in vaudeville shows to survive the journey. Hairston’s evocative prose speaks of a painful past, a spellbinding future, and a wonderful display of a black woman coming into her power.

February 8

Hannah Elias’ real life reads like fiction. Named the richest black woman of her generation, at the end of the 19th century, Elias was imprisoned for borrowing her employer’s dress, financed herself through sex work after her release, fled with a wealthy business owner and moved into a mansion thanks to his craftsmanship. investments – all to have his status as Manhattan’s elite landlord challenged after one of his former tenants shot a man. So while Barbara Chase-Riboud’s book cannot be classified as non-fiction because she fleshed out this narrative, the story beats are based on historical events. Follow the glamorous rise and fall of a woman society couldn’t stand to see succeed. Chase-Riboud was the first African-American graduate of Yale University’s School of Design and Architecture in 1960.

February 22

Massachusetts-raised Quan Barry’s expansive imagination knows no bounds. After the success of the deliciously weird “We Ride Upon Sticks”, Quan Barry returns with a heartbreaking tale of two estranged brothers traveling through Mongolia in search of the reincarnation of a spiritual leader. Both Chuluun and Mun were raised in a monastery, but after Mun renounced his monastic vows, Chuluun had not seen him for over a year. What would have been an undoubtedly tense journey is made all the more difficult as they possess the power to hear each other’s thoughts. Barry explores big questions about Buddhist philosophy and faith in general while painting a lush portrait of the Mongolian terrain.

8 March

In this collection of interconnected short stories, Massachusetts native Ladee Hubbard navigates 15 years of an unnamed Southern black community. Everyday life and major social issues are equally intimate to each character. After the city separates the neighborhood from the rest of the city with a freeway project, the police react with violence. When Leon Moore creates an activist group to empower the community, he receives a suspicious murder accusation that his neighbors can’t help but question, and his legacy sparkles throughout the book’s length. Businesses struggle to stay afloat, families of all shapes and sizes try to provide a better life for their children, and predicaments ranging from infidelity to gentrification are nuanced. Whatever their situation, the characters rise to the occasion with aplomb.

March 15

Stephanie Schorow, a former Boston Herald reporter and author of eight books on Boston history, is working with the Boston Fire Historical Society to chronicle the most catastrophic fire in Boston history. The downtown fire lasted two days and ended up destroying 776 buildings on 65 acres of land. It spread easily on the wooden roofs of buildings, where firefighters struggled to get enough water pressure to put out the fire. Numerous firefighting units from neighboring cities and states arrived to help. Contemporary illustrations and photographs accompany Schorow’s depiction of the unfortunate circumstances that led to one of the costliest fires in American history.

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