Ten Great Books to Kick Off the New Year

Folks, we are so back. After a busy December spent gift matchmaking (and honing our wrapping skills), the Blue Willow team enjoyed a quiet week between the holidays full of rest, relaxation, and reading. Especially reading. Here, we've collected ten new books from these first few days of January that stood out to us as particular favorites. Any one of them would be a great pick to kick off your year in books — take a look below and see what catches your eye. Then, come and pay us a visit — there's lots more on our shelves that we're eager to share with you!

Ages 8-12

The Misfits: A Royal Conundrum by Lisa Yee; illustrated by Dan Santat

Olive's parents are often traveling for business and she is left with her grandmother Mimi. But when Mimi is no longer with them, Olive's parents enroll her at a “Reforming Arts” School on an island near San Francisco — a place that was once a castle, then a prison, and now a boarding school. There, Olive finds her place with a group of misfits tasked with working undercover and helping catch the Bling King — a jewel thief that has been making headlines. A fun caper and mystery adventure from Lisa Yee with illustrations by Dan Santat.

Read because Lisa Yee and Dan Santat are a dream team, and this book delivers!
Pass if you're waiting for the entire series to be published so you can binge them all at once.
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Slugfest by Gordon Korman

Yash can't wait to graduate from middle school — he is such an excellent athlete that the JV coach from the local high school has recruited him as a player and his middle school principal has been happy to let him skip last period PE to head over and practice with the high school team. But the state comes down with a new rule: No PE credit, no graduating middle school. Yash is horrified to find out he, along with a joyously entertaining crew of other misfits, must all take PE during summer school in order to graduate — a class officially (and embarrassingly) called PEE (Physical Education Equivalency), but really referred to as “Slugfest” amongst the kids. Because you have to be a total slug to fail PE in middle school, right? Highly entertaining, with lessons on friendship, determination, and grit — an excellent middle grade read.

Read because this is a perfect middle school romp.
Pass if you're suddenly getting flashbacks to your mildly humiliating middle school PE class.
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The Selkie's Daughter by Linda Crotta Brennan

Brigit is a half-selkie living on the coast of Nova Scotia in a small fishing village, where the locals still believe in the old Celtic myths and legends.  The locals taunt her and fear her, and she must hide her webbed fingers and cut the webbing away to avoid harm. When Brigit's little brother and a few other townspeople die of a diphtheria outbreak, the locals decide Brigit's selkie mother is bringing a curse on all of them. But someone from their village is killing seal pups for their furs, and the Great Selkie King is furious, ensuring no success when the men go fishing, and causing a great storm that batters the little town. Brigit's father goes fishing alone to try to feed his family, but is taken prisoner by the Selkie King. Can Brigit embrace her Selkie heritage and work with the Selkie king to save her dad and the seal pups? A lovely fantasy adventure steeped in Celtic folklore about a girl learning to believe in herself. 

Read if you're looking for a rich and imaginative fantasy.
Pass if you're now upset that you are stuck being 100% human.
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Adult Fiction

Northwoods by Amy Pease

When a teen is found murdered and another missing, the sheriff of Shaky Lake, WI needs her son's experience to solve the case. Eli North has been dealing with his past deployment and recent marital separation through lots of drinking and may not be up to helping out. When the dots begin to connect that these teens are innocently mixed up in an opioid situation, can Eli sober up to help or will he succumb to the ghosts that haunt him daily? Fast pace thriller-highly recommend!

Read if you are ready to find one of your favorite 2024 reads.
Pass because you like your mysteries solvable and simple.
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Anna O by Matthew Blake

Dr. Ben Prince is a sleep expert and forensic psychologist, and works at a sleep clinic known for its discretion.  When the clinic is approached and asked to take on a high-profile client, Ben is tapped as the only one who can potentially help.  Anna Ogilvy has been asleep for several years - after a night with her family and friends at a wilderness retreat, her friends were found stabbed to death and Anna purportedly sent a text to her parents apologizing for the crime.  But either in shock or in self-defense, she has been asleep ever since.  The question is - did Anna kill them in her sleep, was she drugged and coerced into the crime, or did she do it while awake and with a full understanding of her actions? The Ministry of Defense has to make a choice - let her go or find a way to wake her up and determine if she can be held accountable for the crime.  Ben thinks they can wake her up but the answers might not be what they were expecting.  A slow-burn psychological thriller.

Read because you are a Gillian Flynn, Alex Michaelides, and A.J. Finn fan.
Pass if you are easily spooked.
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Mercury by Amy Jo Burns

Compelling, heartbreaking, and yet so full of compassion. The Joseph family is broken. Mick, along with his sons Baylor, Waylon, and Shay run a roofing business. Elise is the matriarch. She runs the "grand" house. The novel opens with a beautiful new teenager in town, Marley. Bay falls for her, but she falls for Waylon. She becomes pregnant and Elise insists on marriage. Marley tries hard to fit into this dysfunctional family. She helps turn the business around but at a cost to her soul. Then there is the fateful day when Elise turns to Marley for help. And the secrets continue for years. Perfect for bookclubs — so much to think about and discuss.

Read if you're looking for a new favorite recommendation to share with fellow book lovers.
Pass because you need a book you can put down and forget about.
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Here in Avalon by Tara Isabella Burton

Rose and Cecelia are sisters who grew up with a wayward mother and not many rules.  Cecelia has grown up to be flighty, irresponsible and largely nomadic.  Rose has grown up determined to find order - she works for a tech start-up, is engaged to a fairly famous tech CEO, and likes her ordered and quiet life in NYC.  When Cecelia shows back up and moves into their childhood apartment that Rose has continued to pay the bills on, she claims she is fleeing a terrible marriage that has ended and wants to be present in Rose's life.  She begins to play the piano at a bar and a local church, and wants to meet Rose's friends and help plan the wedding.  But Cecelia begins to talk about a magical nighttime cabaret on a river boat, and disappears for days at a time, coming back to the apartment dazed and confused.  When she leaves a message that she is disappearing for good, Rose digs to find out the truth about where she went.  She finds a way to contact the cabaret, called the Avalon, and finagles an invitation.  As Rose attends the Avalon to try to find out what happened to her sister, she begins to get swept up into the magic as well - can she leave reality behind and will she find her sister or happiness if she does?  A well-written and page-turning modern fairy tale.

Read because a mystical fairy tale is the perfect winter read.
Pass because you can't stop staring at that enchanting cover long enough to open the book.
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The Heiress by Rachel Hawkins

The McTavish family roots grow deep in the mountains of North Carolina and their elegant Ashby House contains the many twisted secrets of them all. Ruby, the matriarch, was kidnapped from the woods as a child before being returned and eventually raising her only child, Camden. Now married to Jules and in a completely different lifestyle, Camden won't even talk about his dysfunctionally rich relatives; however, he is convinced to return to those Blue Ridge Mountains after ten years away to handle important family matters. Told through different narrators, some more reliable than others, the story trails off in many directions. Keep your mental compass handy while reading this latest novel by Hawkins. Chock full of mystery and suspense from beginning to end!

Read because this is pitch-perfect gothic suspense with plenty of twists and turns.
Pass if you just can't find anything to grip you in a book full of murder, secrets, and greed within a big dysfunctional family.
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First Lie Wins by Ashley Elston

After a job gone wrong, con artist Evie Porter was approached by a mysterious Mr. Smith, who wanted to hire her for her unique "skillset." Her latest task is to get close to Ryan Sumner, southern gentleman galore, and gather intel on his business to help facilitate a takeover. Problem is, she likes this southern guy and the life they are building with each other — regardless of the lies. When Mr. Smith becomes ruthless, Evie goes on the offense to catch him at his own game. Can she outsmart Mr. Smith, clear her name with the authorities again, and finally be free, happy, and herself? A classic page turner with surprise after surprise. And the big question is who is the mysterious Mr. Smith? The answer will shock you!

Read because this Reese Witherspoon-approved thriller will keep you turning the pages.
Pass if you have an early bed time — you'll blow way past it reading this one.
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The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years by Shubnum Khan

A grief stricken Djinn watches as Sana and her father arrive at the boarding house on the coast of South Africa, hoping for a fresh start and a place to call home. A once grand estate now clumsily divided into individual residences, the current tenants are weighted down with sorrows and disappointments and little desire to delve into the past, and the family that once occupied its walls forgotten by all but the Djinn. Sana, keen to explore, encounters a bedroom undisturbed for almost 100 years containing Victorian furniture, photographs, a cradle, and of a set of diaries which tell of a love story ended by tragedy. Beautiful, heartbreaking, delightful.

Read for the lush writing and dazzling atmosphere. 
Pass if you're the one person on the planet capable of resisting a combination ghost story-love story-mystery.
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