18 Best Books Of February 2016

by Melissa Ragsdale

February is a great time to be alive when you're a book nerd. The publishing world is positively blooming this month, with tons of fantastic new books bursting into existence. Debut authors and old favorites alike are putting out books in the days to come, promising a various and delectable month of reading.

History's getting a run for its money this month. From time-travel epics to intense historical fictions, writers are really shaking up time and space, pulling out compelling characters and exciting new perspectives on the past. Plus, all of you literary world travelers are in luck, because this month we're going to Lisbin, Portugal, Sri Lanka, France, Ireland, Brazil, Russia and beyond.

It's the shortest month of the year, and fittingly, we're being treated to some killer short story collections. We're even seeing some cool hybrids, collections of individual stories that feature continuing characters and themes, allowing us to really dive into all sorts of internal discoveries.

And finally, this month's reading will really get you in touch with your identity. From stories of immigration and language to explorations of what it is to be a woman, these stories really dig into everything it takes to be who you are.

With all of these great books coming out, there's no time to waste. February's prime reading month, so get thee to your nearest bookstore and get going. (Besides, it's a leap year, so we have a whole extra day to READ.)

1. The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee (Feb. 2; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

One of the most anticipated books of 2016, this is the second novel by rockstar author Alexander Chee, and it's sure to take you for a ride. Mystery, betrayal, and history are in high supply in this story of Lilliet Berne, a legendary Paris Opera soprano who discovers that her latest libretto reveals a secret from her own past. Both beautifully written and highly engrossing, this is the book you've been hungering for. Take the first chapter for a test-drive, and I promise you'll get hooked right away.


2. The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel (Feb 2; Spiegel and Grau)

It's been 15 years since Yann Martel dazzled the world with Life of Pi, and now he's finally publishing another golden read. This book features three main characters, in three different settings: a young man, Tomás in 1904 Lisbon sets off on a quest after a journal that hints at the existence of a history-changing artifact; a Portuguese, Agatha-Christie-obsessed pathologist who, 35 years later, discovers the consequences of Tomás's journey; and a Canadian senator who, 50 years after that, takes refuge in his ancestral village in northern Portugal and concludes the century-old quest. Just like Life of Pi, this book will pull you into all kinds of unexpected territory, making your heart beat a little stranger with every page.


3. Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey (Feb. 9; Little, Brown and Company)

This debut novel is getting some serious love, and it's no wonder why. When a Brazilian author mysteriously disappears, her American translator sets off on a mission to find her. Filled with romance, noir, and plenty of adventure, this book will sweep you up for sure. Plus, a published poet, Idra Novey's writing is grade-A beautiful to read.


4. You Should Pity Us Instead by Amy Gustine (Feb. 9; Sarabande Books)

If you're a short story connoisseur, you'll love this collection. Gustine is a master at character relationships, showcasing captivating three dimensions to every character she writes. From a mother searching the Gaza Strip for her son, to a father cleaning his daughter's apartment after her suicide, to a woman who has 55 cats, each one of these stories is remarkable. Just give this story, "When We're Innocent," a read, and you'll see what I mean.


5. The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray (Feb. 9; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

If you're looking for adventure, this book is just what you need. Waldemar "Waldy" Tolliver wakes one morning to discover that he has been exiled from the flow of time and must find his way back. Reading this book is liking stepping into the TARDIS, as you'll hit every part of history, from turn of the century Viennese salons to modern Manhattan. (And boy, is it a wild ride!)


6. In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri (Feb. 9; Knopf)

This is the memoir to look out for this season. Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri takes you into her love affair with the Italian language. In fact, she originally penned this book in Italian (though, of course you can read it in English). The journey of a writer seeking a new voice, any fans of language and writing will be moved by this thoughtful work.


7. The Arrangement by Ashley Warlick (Feb. 9; Viking)

If you love historical fiction, you'll fall hard for this one. Set in 1934, this is the story of real-life legendary food writer M.F.K. Fisher and a sizzling love triangle between her, her husband, and her husband's charming friend, Al. Filled with food and passion, this is the perfect book to accompany a candlelit dinner.


8. Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue (Feb. 9; Riverhead)

In this kaleidoscope of a book, the 16th century resonates across the rest of time in fascinating ways. It all begins with a tennis match between Italian painter Caravaggio and the Spanish poet Quevedo, in front of a crowd that includes Galileo, Mary Magdalene, and a generation of popes who would throw Europe into the flames. As the plot shoots forward, we're thrown into the stories of historical figures around the globe. Filled with assassinations, love stories, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and everything in between, this rich novel will make the world come alive for you in completely new ways.


9. Wreck and Order by Hannah Tennant-Moore (Feb 9; Hogarth)

This debut novel dives into the world of Elsie, an auto-didact twentysomething who's skipping college to learn through travel, traversing the world on the back of an inheritance. There's a little bit of Elsie in all of us, and with all of Tennant-Moore's acute observations, you'll find every bit of this book intensely satisfying.


10. The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal (Feb. 9; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

After taking the breath away from readers in France, The Heart is dropping into American markets, and it's bound to wrap you up. Taking place in the 24 hours after a fatal car accident, as a young man's heart is transplanted to a woman close to death, The Heart is loaded with intense emotion. Absolutely mesmerizing, this is a book you won't forget.


11. What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera (Feb. 16; St. Martin's Press)

This riveting novel of place, identity, and desperation will blow you away. The story is told as a woman's confession to an unthinkable crime, and she traces back through the remarkable circumstances of her life. When tragedy strikes, she and her mother flee from Sri Lanka to America, where she must assimilate as an American teenager in order to survive. But when her past follows her and collides with the life she's built, everything crumbles. Gripping and emotional, get the Kleenex box ready for this one.


12. Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin (Feb. 16; Marian Wood Books/Putnam)

This book is captivating in both concept and execution. It's a collection of 40 short stories that follow a woman through her life, one story for each room she inhabits, from her childhood home to her college apartment to her first house and beyond. We're with her when, as a young girl, she talks with a mermaid in her mother's bedroom, and when, as a grown woman, her marriage begins to crumble. Filled with beautiful and surreal moments that perfectly capture the magic that can exist in real life, this book has extraordinary depth of imagination and emotion.


13. A Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin (Feb. 16; Random House)

Another fantastic read from renowned author Ethan Canin, this one will take you to new heights. This is the story of Milo who was "born with an unusual mind," as he discovers how far his brilliance can take him, as well as the dark side of his genius. Characterized by Canin's solidly good writing and his smart ability to explore character, you'll be drawn into this book for sure.


14. Cities I've Never Lived In by Sara Majka (Feb. 16; Graywolf Press)

This amazing debut short story collection explores distance in all its forms. Hailed by literary hard-hitters like Kelly Link and Mia Alvar, this is a book filled with stunning craft and transportive stories. Subtle and intimate, Majka's writing will reach all the way into you, plucking at your very core.


15. And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile (Feb. 16; Tim Duggan Books)

This heart-wrenching debut novel is turning heads. Set in 1995 Port Harcourt, Nigeria, one family's life is shaken when 17-year-old Paul Utu goes missing. Fueled by guilt and grief, Paul's youngest brother Ajie searches for him, uncovering hidden secrets and awakening lost ghosts. Powerful and spellbinding, this book will take you over.


16. Why We Came to The City by Kristopher Janka (Feb. 16; Viking)

The second book by beloved author Kristopher Jansma, Why We Came to the City is winning the hearts of everyone who reads it. This is the enticing story of a tight-knit group of twentysomethings living in Manhattan in December of 2008 who must deal with a devastating tragedy. Much like a modern Great Gatsby, this book is awash in the feeling of the city in all of its best and and most difficult ways.


17. Tender by Belinda McKeon (Feb. 16; Lee Boudreaux)

A hit when it was released in Ireland, Tender is coming stateside and it's sure to knock your socks off. Set in the '90s in Dublin, this is the story of a close friendship between two people, Catherine and James, as they navigate the changes in their lives and in their country. You're going to cry with this one, and you'll be all the better for it.


18. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad (Feb. 23, Penguin Books)

This book floored me from the very first page. It's a collection of 13 stories that all feature one girl, Elizabeth/Lizzie/Beth, as she navigates her life. Elizabeth is (all at once) frank, curious, and insecure, filled with doubts about her weight, her sexuality, and the way she's perceived by others. No matter how you identify, you're sure to empathize with her in some small, secret way that you thought was only true to yourself. With tight writing, vivid characters, and narratives that spin you into them, this is a book you need to read.