It was such fun to look back on what I’ve read this past year and pick my favorites! Below you’ll find mostly adult fiction titles, including some standout graphic novels, as well as a stellar young adult novel (Wilder Girls!). 2019 was also the year I dabbled in reading outside my comfort zone of generally weird and spooky, venturing into the land of romantic fiction and true crime. Much to my surprise, I was so utterly charmed by a romance novel that it ended up on this list (I’m looking at you Chloe Brown). I hope that if you haven’t read one of these titles you will be inspired to stop by and check it out this winter. Maybe you will also find yourself pleasantly surprised by broadening your reading horizons *wink*. Wishing you a joyful holiday season and happy reading!
It was fun to look back and see what I was reading all year long–some of them feel like I finished them so long ago, and some I remember every detail like I read them yesterday. It was another year of suspense and mystery for me, with a little fantasy thrown in. Not usually my favorite genre, but I may be changing my mind a little. In no particular order, please enjoy ten of my favorites that I read this year!
Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter This is about to be a Netflix original, and you will be riveted by it.
The Hiding Place by C.J. Tudor Another book about a homecoming gone wrong by the author of The Chalk Man.
The Lost Man by Jane Harper An amazing tale of love, death and survival in the Australian outback. One of my favorite authors who also wrote The Dry.
Watching You by Lisa Jewell No one’s secrets are really secret. Someone is always watching.
The Witch Elm by Tana French A stand alone from the wonderful author of the Dublin Murder Squad series.
I Know You Know by Gilly Macmillan A twenty-year-old murder and a podcast questioning whether the man convicted actually did it–what could go wrong?
I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh As usual, this author has you suspecting everyone until the bitter end.
A Better Man by Louise Penny You probably won’t find a list of mine without Inspector Gamache on it, and I hope it remains that way for years to come.
Crimson Lake by Candace Fox A suspense-filled novel set in Australia which is the beginning of a series– some of the most interesting characters I’ve ever met.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi The first of a fantasy trilogy that is a must read for adults and teens. I’m on the holds list for the second book which just came out!
Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Meet recently separated Toby Fleishman, medical professional by day, kids every other weekend, newbie bachelor exploring the the singles scene through a dating app on his phone. Toby’s life has been turned upside down by his ex-wife’s disappearance. Has she truly disappeared, is she avoiding Toby and their shared responsibilities with their kids, or is she having a nervous breakdown? Toby will embark on a desperate search for his ex-wife while juggling his career and trying to parent 2 unraveling kids. Don’t pass this book up. From the outside it seems like another “Bridget Jones ” type story, but there is much more here to enjoy and explore. This book is witty, fast-paced, with sharp observations about marriage, divorce and parenting in today’s world. Mary
The Tale of the Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
This is the tale of the ‘shining’ Genji, the favorite son the Japanese Emperor, and Genji’s many romantic dalliances and the resulting political consequences. While a bit of slog at roughly 1200 pages and with an unsympathetic main character, this novel, argued by many to be the world’s first novel, fascinatingly details the intricate court life of a thousand years ago in Heian Period Japan. Trent
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
High school dropout Galaxy “Alex” Stern has narrowly escaped her disastrous Los Angeles past of drug dealer boyfriends and violence, awakening in a hospital bed the sole survivor of a gruesome multiple homicide. While recovering, she is offered a strange but irrefutable second chance: attend Yale completely free of cost if she serves as the new “Dante” for Lethe. Lethe is the Ninth House of the Houses of the Veil, secret societies at Yale that generally practice magic to ensure their own professional success and financial security. Alex is responsible for overseeing the rituals and magic of the other eight houses, assuring everyone involved survives and that no dangerous magic escapes. Soon though a young woman is found brutally murdered on campus and Alex suspects magic was involved. Wildly atmospheric and emotional charged, this page-turner is highly recommended for fans of dark adult fantasy. Nicole
The Topeka School by Ben Lerner
Lerner is one of my favorite contemporary novelists. Whenever I read one of his books, I feel that he is describing aspects of my own experience, but much better than I could ever do – sort of giving me the words, or some words, I guess, that make sense to me, and help me understand my own life up to this point. The Topeka School is a fictional take on Lerner’s adolescence – he grew up in the Midwest, Jewish, white and privileged, but also experienced anomie, rootlessness, angst, all the blues that come with being a teenager. The novel is very smart, poignant, and incisive, as well as experimental in ways I find really interesting and exciting. Recommended as a fascinating study of violence, whiteness and maleness, that is not afraid to be both honest and compassionate. Andrew
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Nebula and Hugo Award winning Binti by Nnedi Okorafor is a quick placed novella that introduces the reader to Binti as she leaves home to study at the most prestigious university in the galaxy, Oomza University. The author propels the reader into a futuristic world where marvels of technology live as the everyday and intergalactic travel is routine. At times the amount of new information and fast pace can be a bit overwhelming, but when enjoyed as a whole series (there are two sequels that expand on many of the terms, concepts introduced) the reader is presented with a rich narrative that explores heroism, growth, and family. Greg
The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns
It is 1957 and Naoko Nakamura wants to marry American serviceman Jimmy Kovac. Her family has other plans for her including an arranged marriage. Pregnant Naoko leaves her family’s home to marry Jimmy. When Jimmy is away, Naoko finds herself in a maternity home designed to take care of unwanted pregnancies, namely mixed-race children. Eventually Naoko escapes from the maternity home and her sickly baby is born. Decades later in Ohio Jimmy’s daughter, Tori, is given a letter from her father on his deathbed to be given to Naoko in Japan. Tori is determined to find her half-sister. This is an enjoyable well-researched piece of historical fiction. Emma
Inland by Tea Obrecht
Two lives unfold in the late 19th century American West in Inland by Tea Obrecht. A duel narrative, we hear the story of Lurie, a former outlaw and a man haunted by ghosts, lost souls who always want something from him. Lurie’s mysterious traveling companion hears his story. Meanwhile, Nora awaits the return of her sons and her husband in drought stricken Arizona while conversing with her daughter, who died in infancy. Haunted by their pasts, Nora and Lurie do what they can to survive. I listened to the audiobook, which was transporting, with talented narrators who really captured the characters. Dori
El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America by Carrie Gibson
A deep detailed history of the Caribbean and North America with a little coverage of major events in Meso and South America. The Spanish have older roots here than the English. Written records like diary entries and letters by government and church administrators are quoted as often as possible. Gibson is specific also about the different ingenious cultures (ex. Tainos, Maya, Apalachee, and Zuni) encountered. It is a thick history book and is taking quite a commitment of time to work through it, but I am finding it constantly fascinating. Byron
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Whitehead’s harrowing story about a reform school in Florida during the Jim Crow-era is fictional, though based on real life accounts. The story does not dramatize the violence and horrors of the reality, rather lets the circumstances speak for themselves. It is a powerful story regarding the very real racial inequality of our country in the not so distant past. Beth
Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell
This is the second short story collection I have read by author Karen Russell. Just like her other anthology Vampires in the Lemon Grove : Stories, Orange World offers the reader a variety of stories where everything seems similar and yet uncanny. In a USA Today interview Russell has said that her work isn’t so much magical realism as it is “magical thinking” writing. Highly recommend for fans of Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, and Victor Lavelle. Greg
Russell’s third collection gives readers eight amazing stories that span a variety of subjects and experiences, all beautifully written, insightful, and often wonderfully weird. Each work is wildly creative, whether you are transported to a future Florida ravaged by rising ocean water and climate change, joining two young women as they attempt to survive an evening trapped in a haunted ski-lodge, or following a widowed farmer as he recklessly returns to a life of raising tornadoes on the Nebraska prairie. Russell skillfully weaves tales that combine both the supernatural and mundane, crafting subtly creepy and emotionally resonant stories. A highly recommended volume for fans of her prior collections, as well as those who enjoy darkly humorous literary fiction. Nicole
The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
I recently read the stage play The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail by writing partners Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. It was first published in 1970 during the Vietnam War era, a time when many young people were protesting the American involvement in that conflict. In the play Henry David Thoreau, as a young man, engages in Civil Disobedience by not paying his taxes to show his disapproval of the Mexican-American War. The parallel is clear. The play also shows Thoreau’s relationship with Ralph Waldo Emerson and allows the character to express several themes that he would write about in his middle age before he died at the age of 44. The script is often dream-like with multiple flashbacks from the jail cell used to highlight moments from Thoreau’s development as a thinker who would not just “go along” with the status quo. Byron
The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal
This is the story of Edith and her sister Helen who have been estranged for decades when Helen convinces their father to leave the family farm to her. Helen uses the money to rebuild the Blotz beer brand with her husband Orval Blotz. When granddaughter Diana’s parents are killed, Edith raises her. Together they barely scrape by. Diana has a talent for making beer and eventually buys a small brewery. With Diana’s talent, perseverance, and the help of her grandmother and Edith’s elderly friends, the brewery is successful. This is a hopeful and heartwarming story of take-charge women when the going gets tough. Emma
The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin
In the Spring of 1981, the four young Skinner siblings lose their father to a heart attack and soon to follow will lose their mother to severe depression, a time period that the siblings will refer to as The Pause. Caught between the easy & comfortable life they once had and an uncertain future, the children navigate The Pause with fear and resentment, only to become fiercely loyal to each other. Two decades later The Skinners find themselves again confronted with a family crisis that will test the strength of these bonds and force them to question the life choices they’ve made and what exactly they will do for love. This book was much like Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. If you like family drama, like I do, I recommend this book. Mary
The Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
is convinced that her best friend’s death is not part of a suicide pact that has already claimed the lives of the school’s two most popular mean girls. When she finds a mysterious grimoire with a too good to be true solution to her problem, she sets out to resurrect Riley. Of course things don’t go as expected–instead of bringing back Riley to get answers to her murder, she resurrects her bestie AND their bullies, the newly dead mean girls June and Dayton. To make matters worse, none of them have any memory of their deaths. Mila has one week to figure it all out while keeping her zombies out of sight. Surprisingly deep and insightful, this body-positive witch tale is a fun exploration of bullying, friendships, and redemption. Megan
Follow Her Home by Steph Cha
Juniper Song has no experience as a detective. The closest qualification she has when asked by her best friend to investigate whether his father is having an affair is that she is a Raymond Chandler super fan. However, this lack of practical training does not deter Juniper from taking the role of Phillip Marlowe and agreeing to do some light snooping. Following the tradition Marlowe long ago set, Juniper is quickly knocked out soon after she begins looking into the matter. Only, when Juniper wakes up, the stakes have risen when she also finds a dead body in the trunk of her car. Great noir that, while paying homage to Chandler, looks to update and add to the genre. Trent
Watching You by Lisa Jewel
I read this quick moving thriller in a few sessions. Told from the points of view of a few “watchers”: a young, restless newlywed living with her brother and his wife has her eye on the handsome older neighbor who is the new school principal; the awkward teenage principal’s son has his eye on most of the neighborhood; the crazy lady next door is sure EVERYONE is watching her, and her daughter has heard terrible rumors about her new principal and is befriending his son to find out if they are true. This voyeuristic neighborhood is thrown into turmoil when someone is brutally murdered. Everyone saw something, but can anyone put it all together? Sara
Wilber is a philosopher and transpersonal psychologist, and this is one of a few tomes he has written, all wonderful, about helpful ways of thinking about more out-there topics like mysticism, consciousness, and spirituality. Wilber is also a Buddhist, but his critiques of religion are applicable to Western and Eastern approaches. I have been reading him for some time now, and have always found him very insightful. For anyone interested, a great place to start to understand his framework, which is called “AQAL” – standing for “all quadrant, all level” – is his Integral Psychology from 1994. Andrew
Secret Historian by Justin Spring
This the biography of Samuel Steward, a man who would go by many other names in his life. Born in Southeast Ohio, Steward would attend Ohio State University, work as a university English professor, befriend Alfred Kinsey and Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Thornton Wilder, collaborate and contribute to the work of the Kinsey Institute, begin working as a tattoo artist, be ousted from his university job, move to California, and write gay pulp novels. The story of his career is intertwined with his identity as a homosexual man and his intimate personal life. This book uses the treasure trove of personal letters and personal effects to give a frank depiction. An exploration of Pre-Stonewall and gay liberation that gives the reader a glimpse into this man’s world and life. Greg
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Daisy is a girl coming of age in the late sixties. She is a free spirited, beautiful young woman with a fantastic voice. The Six is a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. Daisy and Billy eventually cross paths in the world of music, and a producer realizes that the key to massive success is to put the two together. What happens next is the story of rock legends. Mary
Chapters in the Course of My Life by Rudolf Steiner
Steiner was a 19th century Austrian philosopher and “Anthroposophist” – anthroposophy is a spiritual movement Steiner founded, that believed there was a spiritual world accessible to human experience. Steiner was also the founder of Waldorf education, which focuses on the child as a holistic being, with an emphasis on imagination and creativity. His autobiography is absolutely fascinating, both as a chronicle of his own intellectual and spiritual development, as well as a record of the amazing thinkers, poets, and artists that Steiner associated with and learned from. Andrew
Normal People by Sally Rooney
This book, often touted as a very Millennial love story, follows Connell and Marianne and their shifting relationship as they transition from adolescence to adulthood. During high school, Connell is a star athlete, popular and well liked while Marianne is an aloof loner. They begin to grow closer during the times Connell picks up his mother from her work as Marianne’s family’s housekeeper, eventually starting a secret relationship. As time passes, so does the nature of their relationship and personal circumstances. Both Connell and Marianne are relatable, though at times, unlikable characters, leading them to make upsettingly poor choices. A quick read with a lasting impact. Trent
Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls
In 2017 much was being written about the rediscovered classic Mrs. Caliban. That was the year Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water featured a similar story of love between a woman and an amphibious creature. Earlier this year the author died and I decided to add this to my reading list for something a little different. This novella moves along at a fast clip. Despite the character Dorothy’s unhappy marriage and humdrum domesticity in the suburbs, Ingalls writes with a droll voice. The creature goes by the human name Larry although the news reports warn people that he is a dangerous monster. I’ve read analysis that Larry could just be a figment of Dorothy’s imagination, a representation of an exciting liberation from her mundane mechanical life. I tend to think of Larry as real, but until I reach the end I have yet to fully make that determination. What do you think? Byron
Weight of a Piano by Chris Cander
This is the Russian story of Katya who inherits an old Bluthner piano in 1962. She loves music and her piano. Katya marries Mikhail, who becomes a violent drunk, and eventually settles in California. Sadly, the piano is gone. Years later Clara receives a Bluthner piano from her father on her 12th birthday. At 26 years old Clara, suddenly homeless, leases her piano to photographer Greg Zeldin who uses it for a photo series in Death Valley. Greg travels to places he remembers visiting with his mother. Clara follows the adventure ultimately making a connection with Greg, his mother, her father and the piano. This is a beautiful story with lots of attention to detail. Emma
Crimson Lake by Candice Fox
Set in a small town in Australia, this series opener stars a disgraced former cop trying to hide from his past and start over. On the advice of his lawyer he seeks out a local PI who has her own dark past. They make for an odd couple, but they are soon teamed up to work a case involving a missing author. As they work the case Ted and Amanda each start poking around the other’s past. One odd couple, three cases, and a box of geese all make for a fantastic series opener. Megan
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
This book is a fictional depiction of the very real, very heinous Tennessee Children’s Home Society. Through alternating timelines we learn about one politically powerful family’s ties to this heartbreaking institution and how so many lives would forever be changed. Beth
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
Marie Mitchell is working for the FBI during the 1980s Cold War when she’s recruited to travel to Burkina Faso as a spy to take-down their revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara. Black, female, French-speaking and repeatedly snubbed in her FBI career, she’s the ideal candidate for the job. Marie chose to be an FBI agent to pay tribute to her recently deceased sister, who died mysteriously. Now, still grieving, she’s heading to Africa, knowing she’d been chosen for her looks, not her talent, and questioning whether Thomas Sankara is as destructive as the U.S. claims him to be. Told as a letter she’s writing to her two young sons, American Spy is a fascinating look at espionage, the Cold War, African politics, race, gender and imperialism, with a dose of romance and suspense thrown in for good measure. Bahni Turpin does an incredible job narrating the audiobook! Dori
I Know You Know by Gilly Macmillan
Cody Swift is doing a podcast with his girlfriend in an attempt to re-open an investigation into the deaths of his two best friends which occurred twenty years ago when the boys were only eleven years old. As Cody interviews old detectives, parents and witnesses, he frightens someone into threatening his and his girlfriend’s safety. It seems that no one told the whole truth about everything that happened that night. Told in the present, and also through the eyes of 11-year-old Cody in flashbacks, the book is an engaging, page turning read. I felt that the ending had a good twist to it that I did not anticipate, but it was a bit too rushed which made it somewhat anticlimactic. I still would recommend it. Sara
Yay the new Library Reads list is here! Recommended by Librarians nationwide, these titles are due out in March, so put them on hold today!
You can also search their Hall of Fame, which includes authors that have been recommended numerous times for Library Reads. Also, take a peek at their older lists – there are so many gems and you can usually find them right away!
Here are the March releases – click on them to put them on hold:
BONUS: If you’re the first person to comment below on which book/s you’re interested in, you can come in and pick up a free Advanced Reader’s Copy of The Library of Lost and Found!
See you at the Library ~
Trying to fill that one Winter Bingo Square with an Award-Winning book? Look no further! There are so many to choose from, in so many genres, I’ll just mention a few titles and then give you links to lists, so many lists!
I’ll start with local award winners: The Anisfield Book Awards. I have attended the ceremony for the past couple of years and find it inspiring and a source of incredible reading material. Here are a couple of books honored there:
Then there’s the National Book Awards, a source of a fantastic array of titles, such as the following:
Love a mystery? Check out the Edgar Awards and a couple of titles they’ve chosen to honor:
And there’s also The Hugo Awards, for works of science fiction and fantasy, the RITA Awards for romance, the Eisner Awards for graphic novels and so many more. If you need help choosing a title, stop by the Reference Desk – we’ll be glad to help!