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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.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "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"

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