The winter equinox is almost upon us, and we have books to recommend whether the calendar puts you in mind of the frozen north or sends you scurrying for warmer climes. Want to lean into the weather? Nancy Marie Brown’s “Looking for the Hidden Folk” is a charming and serious study of the role elves play in Icelandic culture; Dorthe Nors’s “A Line in the World” documents the year she spent wandering Denmark’s western coast. Want to flee it? Marilyn Nance’s “Last Day in Lagos” documents a 1977 Pan-African art exhibition in Nigeria; Elisa Shua Dusapin’s “The Pachinko Parlor” is set in a Tokyo summer. Or maybe you want to escape Earth’s bounds entirely? Everina Maxwell’s sci-fi romance “Ocean’s Echo” is set in outer space, and according to our columnist Olivia Waite (who loved it), the temperature of its romance is fittingly low.
Also up, we recommend novels by Catherine Newman (a hospice comedy: really) and Catherine Steadman (a delicious psychological thriller), along with a couple of sui generis hybrid books: Christopher de Bellaigue’s novelistic history — or historical novel? hard to say! — “The Lion House,” about the 16th-century Ottoman sultanate, and Tree Abraham’s “Cyclettes,” a smart and quirky multimedia meditation on the author’s encounters with bicycles throughout her life. Happy reading.
LOOKING FOR THE HIDDEN FOLK:
How Iceland’s Elves Can Save the Earth
Nancy Marie Brown
Up to two-thirds of Icelandic adults believe in elves. In Brown’s impassioned, informative love letter to Iceland, the cultural historian explores the country’s relationship to its lore, in the process making a persuasive case for wonder.
“Even confirmed skeptics are likely to come away from this deeply mined literary, sociological and philosophical excavation of Iceland’s heritage with a new appreciation of the place the huldufólk occupy in the country’s identity, and of the role that similar spirits once served for ordinary people across the globe.”
From Liesl Schillinger’s review
Pegasus | $28.95
WE ALL WANT IMPOSSIBLE THINGS
In Newman’s bittersweet debut novel, a dying woman is attended to by her best friend, with devastation tempered by genuine warmth. Is it possible to find humor in a hospice facility? Newman proves that, if the bond between patient and caregiver is strong enough, the answer is a resounding yes.
“Here is the thing about this book. It is excruciatingly heartbreaking, but I laughed out loud on almost every page. And I am not an easy laugher. Newman’s voice is hilarious and warm; her characters feel like old friends.”
From Julie Klam’s review
Harper/HarperCollins | $25.99
THE LION HOUSE:
The Coming of a King
Christopher de Bellaigue
The 16th-century Ottoman sultanate comes thrillingly to life in the hands of de Bellaigue, a prolific British journalist, who spins the known facts of the reign of Suleiman I into an epic history overflowing with greed, sex, naval battles and eye-popping bling.
“Neither exactly a novel nor exactly a history, it is a hard-to-classify book that assembles the known facts about the period and grouts them together with brisk and muscular prose. … This appetite for detail gives the book its vividness and energy.”
From Marcel Theroux’s review
Farrar, Straus & Giroux | $28
THE FAMILY GAME
Harriet has just announced her engagement to the preternaturally rich and charming Edward Holbeck — but his family, it turns out, is what you might come up with if you took the Roys from “Succession” and blended them with the Murdochs, the Macbeths and the Borgias. Even worse, they’re obsessed with bizarre psychological games.
“The mysteries accrue, as does our admiration for Steadman, whose gift for invention only increases with each novel. … It’s a nasty mix of riddles and physical challenges. Let the fun begin!”
From Sarah Lyall’s thrillers column
Ballantine | $28.99
Equal parts whimsical and philosophical, this inventive memoir cleverly contemplates all things bicycle. Structured as a list of sorts, the book enumerates almost every bike the author has owned and the many far-flung places she has ridden, from Bangladesh to Transylvania.
“Quiet beauty and subtle unfolding, one vignette cycling into the next. … Though the author traveled to 30 countries during the past 20 years, ‘Cyclettes’ covers much more narrative ground than riding from here to there.”
From S. Kirk Walsh’s review
Unnamed Press | $26
A LINE IN THE WORLD:
A Year on the North Sea Coast
A chronicle of the author’s travels along the western coast of Denmark, these 14 essays render a personal, poetic meditation on the region’s windswept landscapes and wild waters. An immediacy and an intimacy filter through her spare, brilliant prose.
“The reader becomes immersed in Nors’s interior weather as well as the harsh external elements of the rugged Jutland Peninsula. At the same time, her essays provoke reflection on one’s own personal geography and how memories map onto specific landscapes.”
From S. Kirk Walsh’s review
Graywolf | Paperback, $16
LAST DAY IN LAGOS
Nance’s black-and-white photos emerge like stills from a forgotten film, rendering legible the everyday experiences of the 17,000 Black artists and musicians who in 1977 made their way to Nigeria for FESTAC ’77, a monthlong Pan-African celebration of Blackness.
“Nance’s eye is careful and considerate; on her first trip to Lagos, to Africa, her first trip outside the United States, armed with her camera and curiosity, she exhibits an urgency to document not just her surroundings but also who she was at the time.”
From Caleb Azumah Nelson’s review
Center for Art, Research and Alliances | $45
In this queer sci-fi romance, Maxwell has somehow combined fake dating with a far-future military adventure, set it against a backdrop of vicious civil war and psychic powers, and made it lush and poetic.
“Sci-fi romance is a high-wire act: An author has to build a unique external world while also establishing a compelling interior landscape. It’s thrilling when it goes well — and I’ve rarely seen it done better than it is here.”
From Olivia Waite’s romance column
Tor | $27.99
THE PACHINKO PARLOR
Elisa Shua Dusapin
A moving reflection on language gaps, translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins, this novel tells the story of a Swiss-Korean woman in Tokyo for the summer, living with her Korean-born grandparents and teaching a Japanese girl French.
“Heart-rending, suffused with frustration and a tenderness that shines through the book like faint sunlight. ‘The Pachinko Parlor’ gets its power from emotion, not events.”
From Lily Meyer’s review
Open Letter | Paperback, $16.95