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

RRPL Gift Guide Kickoff

It’s the last day of November and the Black Friday sales are behind us, but there is still plenty of time to shop for holiday gifts. At Rocky River Public Library, we’re in the business of recommending books and movies, music and audiobooks, so we thought we’d spend the next couple of weeks sharing with you some titles we’d like to give, or get, for the 2020 Holiday season.

Below I’ll mainly talk about 2020 books and link them to our catalog so you can read a longer description. If you’re interested in buying the book, go to bookshop.org and they’ll find you a local, independent bookstore to order from. We want to support our independent bookstores!

First, for anyone on your list who likes to DIY or who has spent their pandemic time learning new skills, check out Storey’s Curious Compendium of Practical and Obscure Skills: 214 Things You can Actually Learn How to Do, an oversized book with images and step-by-step instructions. Winter Cocktails: Mulled Ciders, Hot Toddies, Punches, Pitchers, and Cocktail Party Snacks by Maria Del Mar Sacasa would make any cocktail afficionando light up. Me, I hope to get Jacques Pepin’s new cookbook Quick & Simple, which is how I like to cook right now.

For lovers of historical fiction, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is a fascinating look at the family of William Shakespeare, particularly his wife, Agnes, an expert in nature and cures. It’s perfect for a winter lie-in (the audiobook is also very well done). I’m going to give my daughter an oldie, but one of my favorites, The Known World by Edward P. Jones, the story of a former slave who becomes a slaveholder; it’s become a classic.

For scifi/fantasy fans, I’ve recently read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab and this story of a woman who makes a deal with the Devil will mesmerize you. Again, the audiobook is stellar, so hop to it! Becky Chambers, author of the Wayfarer Series, has a new addition to the series coming out next year, so now’s the time to buy your space-loving, fantasy adoring giftee the 3 previous volumes – it’s fun, character-rich, and so so good!

If your recepient is interested in the state of the world, politics or, searing experiences, please give them Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar. I also really love the writing of Paul Yoon, who’s Run Me to Earth follows a group of 3 friends in Laos during and after the Vietnam War. If non-fiction is their bag, try Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, described as, an “Instant American Classic”.

I love a good crime novel or thriller. The Searcher by Tana French brings a Chicago police detective to Ireland, where all is not fairies and rainbows. The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman is altogether different, a funny murder mystery starring retirees. Both would make great gifts for your mystery loving pals.

I’ll finish up with some more books that I’d like for Christmas, as well as a few I’m going to buy for family and friends.

I love the great outdoors and would be so happy to get a copy of Robert McFarlane’s Lost Spells, with poetry and art to inspire. Other nature books that I’d like to receive are World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil and Vesper Flights by Helen MacDonald (she of H is for Hawk).

I gave my daughter Say Nothing by Patrick Keefe last year, and she then took a deep dive into “The Troubles” and Irish politics. I thought I’d add Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen to her gifts this year; it’s lighter, , about an autistic young woman who lives in a town in Northern Ireland still affected by “The Troubles” For my son, who has been reading Anna Karenina, but also loves Murakami and history, I will buy the 2020 National Book Award Winner for Translated Fiction, Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Marie. Or maybe the non-fiction award winner, The Dead are Arising, a Life of Malcom X. Wait, I think he’d really like Vassily Grossman’s, republished classic, Life and Fate. Oh what to buy?!?

And to close, you couldn’t do better than to give The Penguin Book of Christmas Stories: From Hans Christian Anderson to Angela Carter, “…a collection of the most magical, moving, chilling and surprising Christmas stories from around the world, taking us from frozen Nordic woods to glittering Paris, a New York speakeasy to an English country house, bustling Lagos to midnight mass in Rio, and even outer space.”

Have a beautiful, peaceful, and loving holiday season.

~ Dori

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By Amy Poeppel

Best friends cellist Bridget and pianist Will founded the successful Forsythe Trio while attending Julliard 30+ years ago. They are searching for a new violinist again to complete the trio beginning in the fall. For the summer Bridget moves back to her rundown Connecticut country home. She is expecting her author boyfriend to join her for a relaxing summer, but her 20-something twins move home instead. In addition Bridget’s 90-year-old world renowned conductor father announces he is getting married. Due to a fire at her father’s home, Bridget’s dilapidated barn becomes the venue for the wedding, and major repairs commence.

This a heartwarming story filled with secrets revealed, music, friendship, romance, family and chaos. Some issues are resolved, but some aren’t. Here’s hoping for a sequel!

~Emma

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If you are looking for a smart and funny mystery, put The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman on your to-read list.

This delightful story takes place in the peaceful town of Kent, England, where four unlikely friends meet weekly in the Jigsaw Room at Coopers Chase, their retirement village, to keep their “grey cells” working. Elizabeth, Ibrahim, Joyce and Ron are members of The Thursday Murder Club, a group of septuagenarians who meet not for book club or bridge, but to pore over old cold crime case files to see if they can solve them.

It’s like Christmas for these four when the developer of their very own senior complex is found murdered, and they set out to catch the killer. The club uses their years of experience and diverse backgrounds to start digging for clues, and with their powers of persuasion and perfected coffee cake recipes, they also manage to cleverly rope a new young local policewoman into revealing key facts to them about the ongoing investigation. Will this unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before he or she strikes again? You’ll have to read this complex, intelligent and engaging mystery to find out.

With a cast of diverse characters, tight plotting, and plenty of red herrings, The Thursday Murder Club is a laugh-out-loud cozy mystery that has already made it on my “favorite reads” list this year. Check it out today! -Carol

Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer Review

Departing from her usual science fiction and fantasy offerings, Marissa Meyer has released her first YA contemporary romance with a hint of magical realism and it is delightful.

Prudence Barnett is the stereotypical overachiever. She’s judgmental and difficult to like at times, especially when she’s lashing out at her horrible lab partner, Quint Erickson, the well-liked slacker who is dragging her and her final grade down. After an accidental head injury, Pru discovers she has the ability to bestow instant karma on those around her. The only problem is that Quint seems immune to her new power, much to her dismay. She and Quint have been given a second chance to improve their grade, but he continues to frustrate her.

Things aren’t all fluff, teen angst, and typical romance tropes. The story has real meat to it as both teens deal with family issues. Pru is also forced to confront her own assumptions about her friends and classmates and make some tough decisions regarding how to use her unusual gift. Throw in some environmentalism, an aquatic animal rescue, and some karaoke, and you have fun, refreshing, and thoughtful cautionary tale. The queen of retellings has struck gold with this one.

As the weather grows colder and the days get shorter, treat yourself to this sunny beach read. You won’t regret it.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book.

~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

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Truths I Never Told You

by Kelly Rimmer

The story flips back and forth between the 1950’s and the 1990’s. Beth and her 3 siblings had been told that their mother, Grace, died in a car accident when they were very young. Their father, Patrick, was left to raise four young children. Decades later after their father died, Beth is cleaning out his padlocked attic when she comes across notes written by their mother that indicate something else happened.

Both Beth and her mother suffered from postpartum depression. The way the condition was treated in the 1950’s for Grace is very different than the help Beth receives. Secrets must have haunted Patrick for decades and sadly even at the end of his life he was unwilling and eventually unable to share the truth. His children were left to sort out exactly what really happened to their mother.

This is not a happy-ever-after book, but it’s a good story. It compares the roles of women and their healthcare in the mid and late 20th century. 

~Emma

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You do not have to be a dog lover to enjoy the Chet and Bernie mystery series. According to 
Chet, he flunked out of K-9 police school on the last day of training thanks to some cat. The stories are told from Chet’s perspective. He is indispensable at catching and taking down “perps”.
Access to water in the desert is a main concern for hydrologist Wendell Nero. Wendell invites Bernie, owner of the Little Detective Agency, and Chet to his trailer at Dollhouse Canyon the next day. Sadly they find Wendell dead with his wallet and computer missing. The local police are certain they have the murderer in custody, but Bernie and Chet don’t think so and continue with the investigation.

#10 in Chet and Bernie mystery series is a delight. Enjoy!

~Emma

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Anxious

People

by Fredrik Backman

An unemployed bank robber, in the middle of a nasty divorce, desperately needs money to pay rent in order to have access to her children and avoid eviction. She tries to rob a “new-fangled cashless” bank. Escaping from the bank, the would-be robber runs into an apartment open house full of potential buyers and takes them hostage. The local police are a father and son team on duty together this day before New Year’s Eve. The reader slowly learns the personal stories behind the various “hostages” and the two policemen. The robber gradually earns support from those she has taken hostage. They don’t want her hurt and help plan a way out. Also they are not totally forthcoming with the truth when questioned by the police.

A combination of comedy, drama and mystery makes for an unusual read by the author of A Man Called Ove.

~Emma

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The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

It’s 1918. The story takes places over three days in a maternity/fever room in Dublin at the height of the Spanish Flu Pandemic. Expectant mothers who have contracted the flu are placed in this supply closet, a makeshift ward with room for just 3. Midwife Julia Powers is left in charge. Fortunately Julia has the assistance of volunteer Bridie Sweeney, who has no formal training but is a quick learner willing to help. Julia and Bridie do their best helping the women who are facing the challenge of childbirth while suffering with the deadly flu.

A controversial historical figure, Dr. Kathleen Lynn makes appearances in the ward. She was an Irish Sinn Fein politician, activist and medical doctor. Dr. Lynn joined the Irish Citizen Army and was the chief medical officer during the 1916 Easter Rising.

The book is graphic and is not a happy ever after story. Written before the COVID-19 pandemic, many parallels exist between 1918 and now.

~Emma