Nicole’s Top Ten of 2020

This year I stayed quite nicely tucked into my reading comfort blanket of weird, atmospheric, and dark reads for the most part. I read more than one collection of short stories, and one novella, which reflects my unpredictable ebb and flow of reading ambition the past ten months: some days I couldn’t focus on reading for more than fifteen minutes, while others days I was inspired to plant myself on the couch and read all weekend. Below you’ll find my ten favorite books I read this past year: including some supernatural thrillers, weird and beautiful science fiction, horror short stories, literary fiction, and more!

Tiny Nightmares: Very Short Stories of Horror Edited by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto

If It Bleeds by Stephen King

The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

In the House in the Dark of the Woods by Laird Hunt

The Strange Bird by Jeff Vandermeer

Bunny by Mona Awad

Circe by Madeline Miller

White Tears by Hari Kunzru

What I’m Reading Now- Comics

Hello readers! I haven’t been particularly inspired to write as of late, but after a wee holiday break over Thanksgiving and some relaxation time, I have returned to the keyboard. I’m ready to share some of what I’ve been reading these past few weeks, get you some great bookish gift recommendations (coming at you later this month!) and I’m also very ready to see this year out the door. Bye, 2020. It’s been real.

Today I’m listing some great comics I’ve been enjoying recently. I’m a huge Hoopla fan and per usual, all of the titles shared below are available on Hoopla with your library card!

Basketful of Heads Vol. 1 by Joe Hill

Is this actually a story involving a basketful of heads? Why yes, it is. Talking heads to be exact – not to be confused with the band. It is also the story of June Branch, a young woman who after narrowly escaping an attack with her life, finds herself in possession of a supernaturally powered Viking axe that seemingly allows decapitated heads to continue living after their bodily departure. As she tries to save her kidnapped boyfriend she discovers that all is not as it seems in this small town. It’s all the fun and weirdness I love from Joe Hill with a dash of crime, mystery, and some solid humor sprinkled in.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott

This graphic memoir from actor and activist George Takei is truly amazing. I recently read it for the second time to discuss in RRPL’s teen graphic novel book club, Comix Club, and was once again struck by this moving and eye opening story. Readers learn all about Takei’s traumatic experiences as a young child forced to live in the Japanese-American internment camps with his siblings and parents in the 40s. An important and often glossed over aspect of American history, this personal account of the terrible treatment many American citizens endured is a book that everyone should read.

The Red Mother Vol. 1 by Jeremy Haun

After suffering a mysterious and brutal attack while out with her boyfriend one evening, Daisy is not only left without her boyfriend but she also wakes in the hospital missing an eye. After receiving a prosthetic eye, she begins to have strange visions and see a dark and ominous creature staring at her amongst crowds- that nobody else seems to see except her. This first volume doesn’t reveal much and leaves readers with quite a cliffhanger, so I look forward to what is revealed in the next collected volume.

Dune: The Graphic Novel: Book 1 by Frank Herbert. Adapted by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson

I enjoy science fiction from time to time, but have yet to read any of the sci-fi classic Dune. It always seemed somewhat intimidating and I must admit some classic science fiction titles tend to strike me as a bit too male-centric for my tastes. This graphic novel adaptation is a great way to dip your toes into the series if you are like me and don’t want to commit to the traditional novels! With the new Dune film slated to be released soon there will surely be a new influx of interest in this series so now is a great time to dive in.

What have you been reading? Any new graphic novels that you have loved? Stay safe and happy reading!

RRPL Gift Guide

Growing up I had one aunt, my Aunt Mary, who always gave books as gifts. Being a life long book lover, I was always happy to get something new from her. I am now the book giving aunt and I love it. And Aunt Mary? She’s still good for the occasional book gift. In fact, she recently sent me this one, just because. Book loving aunts are the best!

A couple of wish list books for me include A Promised Land by Barack Obama, Wild at Home: How to Style and Care for Beautiful Plants by Hilton Carter, and The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

For the teens and tweens in my life, I’m considering Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia, One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus, and Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell.

The younger ones might receive Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall, Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love, and Dino by Diego Vaisberg.

What books are on your holiday wish list? Don’t forget to support your local bookstores when you shop-check out bookshop.org.

Happy Reading and Happy Holidays. Stay home and read this year!

~Megan

What we’re reading now-

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Guest List is a psychological mystery/thriller.  The main characters are the bride, the groom, the bridesmaid, the best man, the plus-one and the wedding planner.  The novel takes place on an island off the coast of Ireland.  The story begins on the eve of the wedding, and someone ends up dead.  Many twists and turns throughout the story, and for me, a surprise ending.  The mystery/thriller genre is not my wheelhouse, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Foley did a great job of describing a breath-taking setting, peppered with a full Irish cast of characters.   The story moved at a quick pace, and I simply could not put the book down. Mary

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

I just started reading this book on the enthusiastic recommendation of a friend and am very much enjoying this weird and riveting story thus far. Written by one of Japan’s most highly regarded novelists, this book follows Toru Okada as he searches for his wife’s missing cat in a Tokyo suburb. He soon finds himself looking for his wife as well in a strange underworld that lies beneath the surface of Tokyo, full of odd and sometimes menacing people. I have no idea how this will end but look forward to getting there! Nicole

When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Sydney has lived in the same historically Black neighborhood since she was a little girl, knowing the same neighbors all her life, but gentrification is coming. Over the course of a week, neighbors mysteriously ‘move out,’ the greasy-spoon bodega changes hands to become a place that sells kombucha and wraps, and real estate agents knock on her door more and more aggressively to try to force her to sell her mother’s house. Sydney will discover that garden-variety gentrification isn’t the only thing in play, and that there are darker motives under the changes. This gentrification twist on the traditional thriller is a page-turning, suspenseful read as well as a biting social commentary. Shannon

 The Last Great Road Bum by Hector Tobar

This novel is a fascinating amalgam of fiction and non-fiction featuring a real person, Joe Sanderson. Sanderson, raised in the traditional Midwest of the 1950s and expected to go to college and marry, instead became a globe-trotter, searching out locations where wars raged, so that he could experience a life of adventure and the makings of a great novel. Author Tobar acquired Sanderson’s writings and added fictionalized touches to Sanderson’s life, envisioning his childhood and why he made the choices that he did. Though his novel was never published, maybe Sanderson would see in Tobar’s work the novel that he envisioned.  Dori

The Oracle Code by Marieke Nijkamp

I heard about this graphic novel when watching Comic-Con@Home 2020. A bunch of authors had a panel discussion about writing heroine characters in the Batman universe in the YouTube video Batgirls! Nijkamp is a writer who has lived in a wheelchair most of her life, so she brings real experience to the story of Barbara Gordon, Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. It is about teenage Barbara going to a rehabilitation center after being shot and adjusting to her new life in a wheelchair. In comics after The Killing Joke, Barbara, in her wheelchair, is often portrayed as becoming a librarian while secretly working as Oracle, providing intel to Batman. But here she is younger and trying to solve a mystery in her new temporary home where she feels so uncomfortable and has lost her sense of self. I’m enjoying artist Manuel Preitano’s style, including the childlike creepy ghost stories, and metaphors of jumbled puzzle pieces. Byron

Jane in Love by Robin Givney 

You don’t need to be a Janeite to enjoy the story of Jane Austen traveling through time based on making an accidental wish to find her one true love. When Jane finds herself still in Bath, England but modern day, she’s stuck in a world she doesn’t understand without money or people to rely on. How did she get here and will she be stuck forever? If you want to consider the challenges of being a woman in 1803 vs. right now, or make some new fictional friends, this might be the book for you! Stacey

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

I just couldn’t wait to get my hands on the latest by Alice Hoffman and was not disappointed. This novel is a prequel to Hoffman’s popular 1995 novel Practical Magic and is set in 17th-century in England, Salem, Massachusetts, and New York City. It follows the life of Maria Owens, a foundling child who is rescued by Hannah Owens, a kind witch who raises Maria to practice “green magic” and teaches her to only use these powers to help and heal those in need. Unfortunately, the hardships Maria faces in her life allow her lose sight of these rules of magic, and she brings a curse upon her future generations with one impulsive move. This is a book about magic, love, family, injustice, history and best of all, witches, and it makes for a riveting read. Hoffman’s writing has only improved in the last 25 years and for this reader, Magic Lessons was even better than its sequel. Prepare to be spellbound.   Carol

The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop by Fannie Flagg

I just checked out a copy of the new Fannie Flagg book, The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop. It’s the sequel to Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. The reviews are great and I’ve enjoyed reading other books by this author, and I look forward to reading this one. Emma

My Top 10 Favorite Horror Graphic Novels

As promised, I’m back this week to share some of my all-time favorite scary, spooky, and otherwise guaranteed to keep you up late at night books. It was so difficult narrowing this down, so I decided to share my top ten favorite horror graphic novels this week- saving my favorite traditionally formatted prose novels for next week.

Below you’ll find melancholy stories of hauntings and witches, disturbing tales of otherworldly creatures, horrific murder mysteries, and more tales that will leave you contemplating whats lurking in the shadows long after you close the book’s covers.

  1. Harrow County by Cullen Bunn
  2. Wytches by Scott Snyder
  3. Clean Room by Gail Simone
  4. Revival by Tim Seeley
  5. Coffin Hill by Caitlin Kittredge
  6. Black Hole by Charles Burns
  7. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa
  8. Outcast by Robert Kirkman
  9. Locke & Key by Joe Hill
  10. Redlands by Jordie Bellaire

Check out one of these great book today at the library or pop on over to Hoopla to read graphic novels without ever having to leave your couch!

What We’re Reading Now….

The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman

I’ve been reading The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman, which is the fourth book in the ‘Invisible Library’ series. In this series Librarian Irene Winters steals books from alternate worlds for her interdimensional Library, which helps balance the universe between order and chaos. Expect faeries, dragons, and a fun mash-up of fantasy, steampunk, and science fiction! Shannon

The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

I am currently reading The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis. The story takes places in 1913 and in 1993. In 1913 Laura Lyons, her husband, and two children, Pearl and Henry, are living at the New York Public Library. An apartment was provided for the superintendent of the library and his family at that time. The main library was a research facility and no items were allowed to be checked out. Occasionally a rare item would disappear, perhaps stolen. There is a mystery behind why the family left the library, what happened to the superintendent, and what happened to the missing items. In 1993, Pearl’s daughter and Laura Lyons granddaughter, Sadie Donovan works as the curator of a special collection at the New York Public Library main branch. A valuable rare item is missing and library employees are suspected of taking it. At this point Laura and her co-workers are searching to track down the item.  This is where I am in the novel, and I look forward to finishing it.  Emma

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

As the book opens, we meet 13-year-old Giovanna.  Giovanna’s pretty face is changing, turning ugly, at least so her father thinks.  “Giovanna looks more like her Aunt Vittoria every day” says her father, a woman she hardly knows but whom her mother and father clearly despise.  Giovanna insists on meeting her Aunt Vittoria, described as mean and manipulative.  Once Giovanna’s father concedes to the meeting, Aunt Vittoria warns Giovanna it is her father who is cruel and manipulative.  As the story progresses, we watch how Giovanna grows from being a child, full of naivete, to a rebellious adolescent, to a maturing young adult, breaking free of her parents’ protective space, and creating her own new world.  This is a wonderful coming-of-age novel told in Ferrante’s signature eloquent yet authentic voice. Mary

Count Crowley Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter by David Dastmalchian

This past week I had some time off and decided I wanted to reconnect with some of the things I loved as a kid. This graphic novel was a perfect answer with its focus on two of my early loves, the supernatural and TV horror hosts. This graphic novel is a combination of the movie The Monster Squad with a good dose of the horror hosts we grew up with (Elvira, Ghoulardi, Mystery Science Theater 3000). The art style harkens back to the 1980s aesthetic of its setting. A great read for Universal monster films or anyone looking for a read to help get them in an October mood. Greg

The Stone Sky by N.K Jemisin

I’m finishing book #3 of The Broken Earth trilogy, The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin. It is a fantasy series with a slow burn mystery as we are allowed to piece together whether this post-apocalyptic world could have resulted from a world very similar to ours. The ironically named Stillness is a land where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are commonplace. Through this one super continent two females, a mother and daughter, Essun and Nassun, have separate but always linked adventures. They are two of the most powerful of a race of Orogenes who can control tectonic movement as well as newly discovered strands of magic energy. Other humans fear them, but also need their powers to survive. Things seem to be heading toward an explosive confrontation between mother and daughter. And what of the enigmatic Stone Eaters? Can our heroines trust their intentions? Will they restore or destroy the Earth? Byron

Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit

Set a decade after the Mayflower landed at Plymouth, this work of historical fiction explores the imagined back story to that colony’s first recorded official murder. Told in the voices of several colonists, Puritans and their once-indentured servants, this novel sheds light on what was likely a tension-riddled colony with members being afforded different status based on their faiths while others felt marginalized and poorly treated. With characters who come to life, this book makes for a quick and fascinating read that helps reshape some thoughts on our country’s founding. Carol

Florida Man by Tom Cooper

In the late 1960s, Reed Crowe watched a small plane go down off the coast of Emerald Island, Florida, assumed no one survived, and snagged a marijuana bundle bobbing near the wreckage. Almost twenty years later, Reed can still be impulsive but now owns a kitschy roadside attraction and hotel, both only slightly worse for wear. A few uncomfortable coincidences and a few near misses, it seems there was a survivor and they want to make Crowe pay. Can Reed stay alive long enough to figure out what’s going on *and* find a way to fix things? Quirky settings, some dirty deals and graphic violence, perfectly imperfect characters who are (for the most part) doing the best they can, and an intricately plotted storyline, will keep on surprising you with clever, connected details each time you turn the page. PS: Quentin Tarantino fans -this one’s for you! Stacey

Heaven and Earth by Paolo Giordano

 In Heaven and Earth by Paolo Giordano, a group of young men being raised in the farm complex next to her family’s summer retreat accept Teresa into their group, and so begins an intense and emotionally damaging story. Giordano weaves the narrative backwards and forwards in time,  as Teresa forms a deep bond with one of the young men, Bern, and they grow up and in and out of each other’s lives, try to start a farm/commune, and dark secrets leading to tragedy come to the fore. A coming of age novel that is beautifully written, emotionally driven, with fascinating characters.  Dori

A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight

Lizzie Kitsakis has taken a grueling job as a corporate lawyer in an elite New York law firm- not out of ambition, but in attempt to keep her marriage and financial life afloat as her heavy-drinking husband drifts from one job to another and as Lizzie struggles to accept that he isn’t just “a guy who likes to have a good time” as she’s always thought of him, but an alcoholic. She is surprised by a collect call from Rikers from an old law-school-friend- recently-turned-software mogul, Zach. His wife Amanda has been found dead at the bottom of their staircase, and Zach is a primary suspect. He swears he didn’t do it and begs Lizzie for help. Against her better judgment she allows herself to be drawn in- not only to this case, but to the idyllic world of the suburban elite with its private schools, neighborhood parties, cheating spouses, blackmail of dark secrets, and maybe even murder? As she learns more and more about the people involved in this case, she wonders whether anyone, including herself, truly has a good marriage? Sara

YA Round Up Part 2

So it appears that I have been pretty stingy with the 5 star ratings so far this year. Here are the final titles that have been outstanding reads for me so far this year.

Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis: This brutal survival story is not for the squeamish! Ashley always felt right at home in the deep woods of the Smoky Mountains, so she was looking forward to what was supposed to be a fun night of camping and drinking. But, after finding her boyfriend with another girl, she storms off in a drunken rage. She takes a hard fall, but she’s too mad to worry. It’s not until she wakes up the next morning that she realizes she is alone, far from the trail, and injured. It’s a race against time, and the infection creeping up her leg, to get herself to safety. I am huge Mindy McGinnis fan and can’t wait to read what she offers next.

The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert: Marva Sheridan has been waiting to be old enough to vote for as long as she could remember. One election day she was the first in line at her polling spot. As she’s heading out to go to school she overhears a guy her age insisting he was registered, despite his name not being on the rolls. Marva steps in to intervene, and sets off a chain of events she never anticipated. She and Duke, the guy from the voting spot, set off to set the record straight and enable Duke to cast his first vote. The more time they spend together the more they learn about each and the more they learn the more they like each other.
The Voting Booth hits many hot button topics in the news-voter suppression, gun violence, police brutality-in one delightful, whirlwind tale. I have read everything Brandy Colbert has written and she never disappoints. This is a must read!

Slay by Brittney Morris: You don’t have to be a gamer to appreciate the fact that 17-year old programmer Kiera is a genius. Kiera Johnson is one of just a few black kids at her school, but after school she joins thousands of black gamers in the multi-player online role playing game called SLAY. What no one knows is that she is creator. She goes to great lengths to protect her identity, but when a murder IRL is connected to the game and a troll infiltrates the world of SLAY, Kiera’s safe and beloved world is in danger. Can she protect her creation and her identity? This is not my go-to type of book as I have not interest in online games, but I am so glad I picked this one up. Great characters and a thoughtful look at the need for black people to have safe spaces just for themselves.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei: Pair this nonfiction autobiography of the author’s childhood experience in Japanese internment camps with the Kiku Hughes’s fictionalized account of her grandparents’ experiences. Takei’s story is a harsh reminder that internment camps were part of our country’s RECENT past. There are people living today who were imprisoned for being Japanese and Japanese-American.

My last three 5 star reviews are parts of series.

The Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland: This sequel to Dread Nation picks up the story of Jane McKeene, a badass restless dead hunter, as she ventures West towards California. This alternate history duology takes place after the Civil War, when soldiers because rising from the dead and government decided that form slaves and black girls were the perfect people to battle the undead. It’s a wild ride!

The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson: This is the third and final book in the Truly Devious series. It is a completely satisfying end to the story of Ellingham Academy. Fans of true crime and My Favorite Murder will recognize the cases of hiding people Stevie mentions. Fans of Agatha Christie will appreciate the many nods to the queen of mystery stories. I can’t to see what Maureen Johnson has in store for us next!

The King of Crows by Libba Bray: This is the final book in the super creepy Diviners series. I was not expecting the tears at the end of this one. This final book in the series is a scathing commentary on our past wrongs and evils, a cautionary tale as our current political environment has shockingly repeating some of these wrongs, and also a hopeful and stirring love letter to true American patriotism. As I was having these thoughts I kept wondering if I was reading too much in to it, but the author’s note, which I recommend NOT skipping, confirmed that I was not. Oh, and there was a really awesome story about ghosts and monsters and people with powers and love and romance and running away to join the circus. Truly a masterpiece.

That’s all for my 5 star reads of 2020, but I have plenty of amazing 4 star titles to share in future posts. Stay tuned.

~Megan