Megan’s Favorite Books of 2020

This year mysteries, thrillers, and true crime book topped my reading list. The Novel Scares book club forced me out of that comfort zone and introduced me to two of the books on my list-books I never would have selected for myself.

Mystery/Thrillers/Horror:

A Bad Day for Sunshine by Darynda Jones

The Good House by Tananarive Due

Good Night Beautiful by Aimee Molloy

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Nonfiction/Memoirs

The Adventurer’s Son by Roman Dial

Good Kids, Bad City by Kyle Swenson

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

Delightful Surprises:

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Sweet Murder by Tegan Maher

With the exception of Solutions and Other Problems, I listened to all of these books. The House in the Cerulean Sea was my absolute favorite book of 2020. It was the charming and thoughtful book that I needed during this difficult year.

~Megan

RRPL Gift Guide

If I could be your personal shopper for books I would pick…

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante, a fantastic coming-of-age novel by a best-selling author

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, a deeply moving and brilliantly imagined historical novel

The Guest List by Lucy Foley, a fast-paced thriller with a wonderful cast of characters

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune, a magical story, masterfully told.

Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker, non-fiction written with clarity and compassion

Hopefully these picks will appeal to a variety of readers in your life, so get busy and shop at Bookshop.org, an online book store that supports local book shops, fill your cart and make the reader in your life happy. Happy Holidays!

Let’s Make Something Good!

Here we go, headed into the making-est time of the year! And even though the 2020 Holiday Season may not offer the exact same opportunities for celebration as previous years, it doesn’t mean you can’t pick and choose some favorite parts! Maybe you just want to experiment with new foods or you want to get back into crafting, this feels like a good time to change things up.

If you’re ready to start planning, why not take a look at the books available in Fall Harvest, Fall Flavors, Crafting for the Holiday Season, or Why Buy it When You Can Make it? And while you’re making new stuff, if you want a book to listen to, I just finished Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood -here’s hoping it the first in (long running) series!

-Stacey

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager Review

Maggie Holt was five when her parents bought the sprawling Victorian estate called Baneberry Hall. The young family spent just three weeks in the house before they fled in fear, abandoning their belongs, never to return. The nonfiction account of the horrors and hauntings of Baneberry Hall, written by her father, was an international bestseller. While Maggie has no memory of the events that are outlined in the book, the story itself has haunted her for 25 years. She has never believed that the book was true, but she has never managed get her divorced parents to reveal to her what really happened in that house. When her father passes away she is shocked to learn that she has inherited Baneberry Hall. Why did her father still own the house? Maggie returns to a house she doesn’t remember with the intention of restoring it and selling, putting the nightmare forever in her past. Her arrival in town is not a welcome one. People that she knows a characters in the book are real people and they have stories of their own to tell. Maggie is interested in learning the truth, but as events outlined in the book begin to occur again in the house, Maggie is forced to consider that her father’s account may be more fact than fiction after all.

I went in to this book blind. I have read and enjoyed other books by Riley Sager, so I assumed I would also enjoy this one, despite my terror of haunted houses. Thanks, dad, for letting 5 year old me watch Amityville Horror. Totally scarred for life. But I digress…Anyway, we have a haunted house with a nonbeliever living in it. I want to be a nonbeliever, so I was onboard with Maggie’s goal to disprove the validity of her father’s book. Also, side note, I love a book within a book. But dang it, if that house isn’t creepy and probably haunted and it turns out a lot of the things in the book ARE true. Will Maggie finally learn why they fled in the middle of the night? You bet she does. Did I see the answer coming? NOT. AT. ALL. This is a perfect spooky season (aka, October) read that left me questioning everything to the very surprising end.

If you are into spooky, haunted houses, you should join us for Novel Scares, a horror book club. This month we are talking about another cursed how, The Good House by Tananarive Due. Register now to receive the Zoom link.

Happy Spooky Reading!

~Megan

Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Malloy

Dr. Sam Statler, a newlywed psychologist, is missing. He and his wife, Annie, recently moved from NYC to his small upstate New York hometown. The move serves two purposes-a fresh start for the couple and to be close to Sam’s ailing mother. Sam’s private practice is located in a charming old building with the perfect landlord. He spends his days listening to the problems of his mostly female clientele and his free time celebrating the small milestones in his marriage. This quiet life suits Sam, which is why Annie can’t believe he would have willingly disappeared. However, the search for her husband reveals that Sam may not be everything she believed him to be.

To be honest, it’s best to go into this book knowing as little as possible about it. Know that it is a strange and twisty story; a first rate psychological thriller. Sam has a reputation in his hometown. His sessions are being listened in on. And who is that French woman? Is Sam really missing or did he disappear? Readers will have questions and the author is stingy with the answers until the stunning truth is revealed. I listened to the audiobook version and at first I struggled with the narrator, but by the end I could not believe how perfect the narration was.

Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Malloy comes out October 13th. Add it to your TBR list and place a hold today

~Megan

The Nothing Man by Catherine Howard Ryan

Eve Black was twelve years old when her family-mother, father, and little sister-were murdered in their home. It was only chance that spared Eve. She spent the rest of her childhood with her grandmother never speaking of the events that destroyed their lives. As an adult, Eve became determined to find the serial killer known as the Nothing Man. A college assignment turned into her true-crime memoir, the first step on her journey. Now, she’s on a book tour that takes her back to the scene of the crime and seemingly everyone is reading about her trauma, everyone including the Nothing Man himself. With every page he reads his rage and panic grows. His only loose end has come back to haunt him.

This book ticks all my boxes!

  • A book within a book
  • A true crime “memoir”
  • Pursuit of justice
  • Surprise twists
  • A potentially unreliable narrator
  • An Irish setting and Irish audiobook narrators

The story of the Nothing Man is told from two perspectives. Readers experience Eve’s memoir along side Jim Doyle, the sixty-something store security guard who killed the Black family nearly two decades ago. The memoir portion reads as an homage to Michelle McNamara and her quest for the Golden State Killer, while Jim’s unraveling ratchets up the tension. This is a must read for fans of true crime and psychological thrillers.

Thanks to Netgalley and Blackstone Publishing for an advanced audio copy of this book.

~Megan

Listen Up! The Shadows by Alex North Reviewed

Paul Adams hasn’t been back to his childhood village in twenty-five years. He left everything, including the horrible crime committed by his classmate Charlie Crabtree, behind. It’s his mother’s failing health that has brought him reluctantly back home. There is no joyful homecoming for Paul. His mother is distraught, something horrible is in his childhood home, someone is following him, and he has caught the attention of Detective Amanda Beck. Detective Beck is investigating a crime that is eerily similar to one that happened twenty-five years ago. Is it a strange coincidence that Paul is suddenly back in town? Is Charlie Crabtree back? What did happen to Charlie?

This new offering from the author of The Whisper Man, is a haunting psychological thriller with strong Stand By Me vibes. The story alternates between the past and Paul’s recollection of the crime and the present as Paul struggles to reconcile his memories with what is happening in this new case. The tension builds slowly as the the strange truth behind both cases is slowly and deliberately revealed. The skillful narration of Hannah Arterton (Safe, The Five on Netflix) and John Heffernan (Johnathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Collateral) bring the story to life and draw the listener in.

The Shadows is a great pick for readers and listeners who enjoyed The Chalk Man and other titles by C.J. Tudor and the Family Upstairs and other titles by Lisa Jewell.

Thanks to Netgalley and Macmillan audio for an advance reader/listener copy for review.

~Megan

Imagine Your Story – Summer Reading

The official Rocky River Public Library summer reading season has come to an end, but, of course, summer reading continues! Many of you participated this year, though our format required some flexibility on your part – and we really appreciate it! Winners will be announced soon – stay tuned!

In the meantime, what have you been reading? Do you feel like it’s hard to focus on reading in the pandemic or just the opposite? I started this pandemic out poorly – I just couldn’t concentrate – but then slowly, a few books caught my attention and hit the sweet spot of what I needed to read.

First up, Optic Nerve by Maria Gainza. I am always drawn to books by Latin American authors, and I’m so happy I picked up this debut after reading about it on The Morning News Tournament of Books. Optic Nerve was in the final challenge, but lost to Normal People by Sally Rooney (which is another good book btw). Sign up to get notifications about this tournament and you’ll be on top of some of the best books of the year.

Back to Optic Nerve. First off, this book is not a plot driven story; it’s a series of reflective vignettes that center around a piece of art, a painting, a drawing, etc. The author is an art critic, and so is the narrator, so I’m sure there are biographical influences – each chapter she talks about a piece of art that moves her – and the artist’s life – and weaves it through something happening in her life. Some of the artists are well-known, but the works of art are not, because they’re generally in museums in Buenos Aires. I loved her writing, her reflections; someone describes it as ‘deeply felt’ – yes – it’s just one of those books.

I also just finished reading Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry – I read it in one day, it’s that engaging. The story of two middle-aged Irish gangsters, waiting in a Spanish port for the next boat from Tangier – doesn’t sound too thrilling, I know. But their conversations in their Cork accent, their flashbacks, their relationship – comic, but deeply sad as well.

What’s next? – well, I just started listening to Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – it’s about the death of Shakespeare’s 11 year old son during the plague – sounds timely. And I’m hoping to read some galleys of books coming out this Fall – I’ve got Jess Walter’s The Cold Millions on my iPad. I loved his book The Beautiful Ruins, and I’m hearing great things about this one as well.

Happy Reading!

~ Dori

Imagine Your Story -Variety Pack

You know how sometimes (or fairly often) it can be hard to settle down and read? I’ve found a variety pack of options to entertain myself, and maybe some of these ideas will appeal to you as well…

Magazines! From HGTV to Gourmet to bite sized articles in How it Works that help me learn something new, I’ve been enjoying flicking those pages until something catches my eye.

I’ve also been reading from the Diverse Voices for Younger Readers collection. I 100% think books for teens and younger readers can be as good -or better!- than adult books as they tell stories that are compelling but tend to be shorter (aka don’t get bogged down in wordy, unnecessary extras). Why not give it a try?

Sometimes I just listen to music while I clean or do some crafting…

But if you want to be ambitious? You could join me in the Great Courses Myth in Human History and -so far, so good!! And then I have an eye on How to Make Stress Work for You….

I hope one of these choices sounds appealing and gives you something new to try!

—Stacey

Imagine Your Story -Book vs Movie

How often have you had the discussion about which was better -the book or the movie? All the time, right? And how often do you pick the movie over the book? Not as often as you pick the book, right? Well, I’ve got a win/win for you this week! You can read the book *and* watch the movie, in any order, and walk away thinking, “that was great!” Are you curious yet?

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson blends his personal experiences and life journey with his drive to create social justice and encourage us all to get involved. I read this book when it first came out, and have enjoyed it as an audio book as well, and I think part of what makes Mr. Stevenson’s book so special is how a reader can emotionally connect to experiences, feeling his pain and his joy, while breaking down those systemic issues surrounding the inequality of our justice system. Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative leading force in the creation of the Legacy Museum as well as the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Mr. Stevenson is changing our World for the better!

“But what about Just Mercy as a movie?” you ask. This movie focused in on how Mr. Stevenson became Mr. Walter McMillian’s lawyer over other experiences in the book. Sometimes it’s that trimming that can leave a reader feeling like something was missing, but I would be surprised to hear that after you watch this film. Instead, I’d guess you might also think of this as an additional chapter to the book?

I hope you read *and* watch Just Mercy, and then -please, let me know what you think!

Take care
—Stacey