16 Books to Watch for in January 2012

A coming-of-age novel about a mesmerized Muslim boy, a literary thriller set in North Korea, a rollicking account of one woman's search for a new best friend, and more. Start off the new year by cozying up to one of these captivating reads.
The Odditorium
Photo: Lara Robby/Studio D

The Odditorium

252 pages; Bellevue Literary Press
Available at: | Barnes & Noble

In this collection of eight vivid stories, Melissa Pritchard introduces you to the most fascinating people you've never heard of, placed in situations that seem stolen from fairy tale...except that they really happened. For example, meet Norbert Pearlroth, the researcher for Robert LeRoy Ripley (as in: Ripley's Believe it or Not) who spent a lifetime in the New York Public Library, leafing through 364,000 books into order to come up with earthy splendors like a timetelling horse and a world champion chicken picker. Or Pelagia Ivanovna Surin Serebrenikova, a 19th century holy "fool" of a girl  who spun around Russia, raising her skirts to every man in town (only to become, later, a local saint). The star of the book, however. is ho-hum Captain Brown who is put in charge of the Royal Victoria Hospital during the invasion of Normandy in World World II—a mammoth dinosaur of a building with therapeutic swimming pools and a museum-quality taxidermy collection, but no heat or medication. Brown's efforts to save not just the American and English wounded, but also the life of a female French Resistance Fighter—end up presenting him with the hardest kind choices: to love or not to love, to be courageous or sit by. Though all the stories in the collection display the whimsy and intelligence of a writer at the height of her powers, there is novel in the short tale of Captain Brown, one that illustrates how even the most ordinary feelings are sufficiently fantastical to transform a life.
— Leigh Newman