Skip to main content

Hot reads for January

By Christian DuChateau, CNN
updated 2:53 PM EST, Fri January 13, 2012
Fantasy, history and nonfiction are heating up the literary scene in January.
Fantasy, history and nonfiction are heating up the literary scene in January.
  • "The Rook" reads like the popular TV series "Doctor Who," with a plucky heroine
  • William Gibson's latest is a collection of nonfiction from the past 30 years
  • "Death of Kings" is the sixth in Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Tales series

(CNN) -- With the holidays a quickly fading memory and cold weather creeping across the country, what better way to beat the winter doldrums than with a good book? So curl up on the couch with a steaming cup of tea and one of these hot January reads.

"The Rook" by Daniel O'Malley

In "The Rook," Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany) Thomas wakes up in a London park surrounded by corpses and suffering from a bad case of amnesia. She has no clue who she is or how she got there, but she finds a letter in her coat pocket from her former self, warning that she's in imminent danger. This launches Myfanwy's quest to uncover who she is and who or what is out to kill her.

Myfanwy quickly discovers she's a "Rook," a high-ranking member of a super secret organization called the Checquy, a sort of paranormal version of MI-5. Populated by agents with special powers, they guard the UK against mythical creatures, including dragons and vampires, and from an impending invasion by a group of Belgian shape-shifting super soldiers called Grafters.

It's an intriguing setup, and if you're willing to buy into the premise, you will probably enjoy this debut novel from Australia's Daniel O'Malley. It reminded me a little of the long-running British TV series "Doctor Who," only with a plucky heroine at the center of the story. "The Rook" is a creative mix of suspense, the supernatural and espionage thrills. It's loaded with dry wit and doesn't take itself too seriously. It's getting rave reviews from critics and is certainly one of the most unusual stories you will read this year.

Read the first four chapters of "The Rook"

"Distrust That Particular Flavor" by William Gibson

Sci-fi author William Gibson may be best known for his 1984 novel "Neuromancer" and for coining the term "cyberspace." Author of 10 best-selling books, he's been dubbed the "noir prophet" of cyberpunk and "the god of speculative fiction." Now he's out with his first collection of nonfiction writing in "Distrust That Particular Flavor," a collection of 25 of his essays, articles and speeches from the past 30 years.

Gibson admits in the introduction that these pieces, some of which originally appeared in publications like Rolling Stone, Time and Wired, aren't quite nonfiction or fiction but, like all of his writing, blur the line between what's real and what's imagined. The book covers real-world topics that fans will recognize from his novels, including his fascination with Tokyo and Japanese culture, his disdain for autocratic government (in this case, Singapore) and even his compulsive watch collecting on eBay.

Gibson has a knack for spotting technological and cultural trends before they gain critical mass. It's part of what's made him one of the best-known sci-fi writers of his generation; it's also what makes "Distrust That Particular Flavor" worth reading, even if you're not familiar with his fiction. Gibson offers a unique perspective on his corner of the universe, and for fans, this is a peek behind the curtain at Gibson's take on writing and the creative process, the future, technology, history and social connectivity.

Follow William Gibson on Twitter

"Death of Kings" by Bernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell is a master of historical fiction, selling more than 20 million books in 25 languages around the world. Best-known for his Richard Sharpe series, set during the Napoleonic Wars, he's also written about the American Civil War, the battle of Agincourt and the court of King Arthur. Cornwell most recently wrote about the American Revolution in last year's bestseller "The Fort."

Now he returns to medieval England with "Death of Kings," in stores January 17. This is the sixth installment in his series of Saxon Tales and centers on the great battle between the Saxons and the Danes in ninth-century England. The story chronicles an often-forgotten but defining chapter of English history, the unification of Britain under Alfred the Great.

The novel is narrated by the engaging Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a fictional warrior loosely based on one of Cornwell's own ancestors. Cornwell brings the era alive in exciting fashion, putting a human face on a shadowy period of history most of us know little about.

"Death of Kings" is driven by a colorful cast of Angles, Danes, Saxons and Vikings who struggle for the throne. There are bloody battles and political machinations and plenty of meticulously researched historical nuggets to keep readers interested. The story is likely to appeal to anyone who has enjoyed George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones series, only Cornwell's skips most of the magic and stays rooted in real events.

Read an excerpt from "Death of Kings"

Part of complete coverage on
Catching up with authors
updated 11:29 AM EST, Fri February 8, 2013
Author Tim Federle has just wrapped a long day at the Atlanta Junior Theater festival, working with several thousand boys and girls who dream of stardom on the Broadway stage. Count these kids as lucky; they've found the perfect mentor.
updated 9:33 AM EST, Mon January 21, 2013
There's good and bad news regarding Robert Crais' new novel, "Suspect." First, the bad: There's no sign of uber-popular, crime-fighting duo, Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Now the good: There is a dog.
updated 12:05 PM EST, Mon November 5, 2012
In "The Hot Country," U.S. troops invade a foreign country where oil interests are at stake, a rising foreign power is looking to derail U.S. forces using cloak and dagger tactics, and there's a gunfight in the desert against insurgent enemies.
updated 11:51 AM EST, Fri January 11, 2013
This week super fans from around the world are gathering in New York to celebrate the 159th birthday of the legendary consulting detective Sherlock Holmes.
updated 9:26 AM EDT, Mon October 15, 2012
In "The Twelve" it's the end of the world as we know it and while no one feels fine, millions love reading about it.
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Sat September 8, 2012
Fans of crime fiction know the names Connelly and Koryta well. Two Mikes. Two generations. Two masters of their craft.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Tue July 24, 2012
"Sorry Please Thank You" is his new collection of mind-bending, moving and sometimes melancholy stories.
updated 11:31 AM EDT, Tue July 17, 2012
Crime fiction fans know the name Parker, a single-named anti-hero of the 1960s. As a character, he's a career criminal, hired gun and professional thief, a pulp-fiction prince of America's seedy underworld.
updated 11:02 AM EDT, Fri June 29, 2012
Werewolves are usually the stuff of B-movies and bad novels, but last year British author Glen Duncan did the unthinkable in literary circles, crafting a howling good tale out of the weary werewolf myth.
updated 10:12 AM EDT, Tue June 19, 2012
Best-selling author Alan Furst has made a career of capturing the classic cloak-and-dagger days leading up to World War II, bringing the era to life like a literary version of "Casablanca."
updated 12:22 PM EDT, Fri June 8, 2012
The night before he turned 40, Rich Roll had what he calls a "moment of clarity." Overweight and out of shape, Roll had to stop to catch his breath while walking up the stairs of his Southern California home. Roll, now a father of four, feared he was close to a heart attack.
updated 1:14 PM EDT, Fri June 1, 2012
Craig Johnson looks like he could have stepped out of the pages of one of his own best-selling Western novels. With the late-day sun behind him, he could even pass for his fictional hero, Sheriff Walt Longmire.
updated 7:48 AM EDT, Fri May 11, 2012
It's one of our simplest yet most enduring inventions. While the games have evolved, the ball in all its various forms continues to play a key role in different cultures around the world.
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Fri May 4, 2012
Former O.J. Simpson trial prosecturo Marcia Clark became a household name as the lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Clark is still mining her past, only now as a successful crime novelist.
updated 8:02 AM EDT, Fri April 27, 2012
"Waiting for Sunrise," the new novel from acclaimed British author William Boyd, is an evocative mix of sex, spies and psychoanalysis.
updated 7:34 AM EDT, Fri April 13, 2012
Bookshelves are bursting with a bevy of great new titles this spring but we wanted to highlight a trio of new thrillers that truly bring history to life.
updated 7:31 AM EDT, Tue April 3, 2012
Shin Dong-hyuk is the only known person born in a North Korean prison camp that escaped and survived to tell the tale.
updated 7:47 AM EDT, Fri March 23, 2012
James Patterson may be the top-selling writer in the world; he might very well be the busiest, too. Patterson has three books near the top of the bestseller lists right now.
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Fri March 16, 2012
Muffled gun shots and squealing tires. A secret midnight meeting in a dark alley. Everyone recognizes the classic elements of a good cloak and dagger story.
updated 7:32 AM EST, Fri March 9, 2012
History, from ancient Greece to hopscotching across time, plays a prominent role in March's best books.
updated 7:39 AM EST, Tue March 6, 2012
Imagine a smoke-filled jazz club, dark and crowded. The sounds of a trumpet solo echo on stage, while a piano, bass and drums pound out a finger-snapping groove.
updated 3:50 PM EST, Fri February 10, 2012
P.G. Sturges, son of famous director Preston Sturges, writes classic noir novels, like "The Shortcut Man."
updated 2:55 PM EST, Fri January 27, 2012
We should all be so lucky to have friends like Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Private detectives in modern-day Los Angeles, they're the stars of best-selling author Robert Crais' award-winning series of crime novels.
updated 3:02 PM EST, Fri January 20, 2012
Elmore Leonard is something of a living legend among lovers of crime fiction. A favorite of millions of readers, a hero to scores of writers, he's been called "America's greatest crime writer."