Trent’s Top 10 of 2021

It is always difficult to narrow down my annual list to ten titles. The top five were easy to slot in, but there were another eleven I wanted to list. I have once again included the honorable mentions that did not make the final cut so that all the books I think were remarkable are included.  

This year’s list sees the return of a few of my perennial favorites, though sadly, there is no new Steph Cha book for me to add to the list, and I am not picking up the final volume of The Expanse series until later today. Here is what made me 2021 Top Ten list:

10. Eathereater – Dolores Reyes

A young woman begins to feel compelled to eat dirt soon after her mother dies. When she does eat earth, she has visions of people with a connection to that soil. Though the locales are unsettled by her ability, people begin leaving jars of dirt with notes pleading for her assistance. This short novel was truly unique and unsettling.

9. Bullet Train – Kotaro Isaka

Bullet Train is an odd balance of fast-paced action, quirky humor, and Japanese psychological thriller. Mayhem ensues when a mix of criminals-for-hire and a youthful psychopath end up on the same train for several interrelated reasons. I have always had a soft spot for books set on trains, and the Shinkansen is a key to the story as the Orient Express in Agatha Christie’s classic whodunit. The movie adaptation is set to be released next year.

8. All Systems Red – Martha Wells

All Systems Red and protagonist Murderbot are unexpectedly charming. It is surprisingly easy to relate to Murderbot, who wants little more than to be left alone so they can watch their soaps. Funny and fast-paced, this slim novella left me excited to read the rest of the series.

7. Razorblade Tears – S.A. Cosby

Ike, a Black man, and reformed convict turned successful business owner, and Buddy Lee, a White good old boy ex-con with a penchant for drinking, would not normally associate with each other. However, when their married sons are murdered, both Ike and Buddy Lee are left with feelings of shame and regret over the strained relationships they had with their sons. Together, they start to look into the death of their sons. 

6. Murder on the Red River & Girl Gone Missing – Marcie R. Rendon

Often my favorite crime novels are when the crime or mystery component takes a backseat to characters and setting to the point of the crime being almost superfluous. Renee “Cash” Blackbear, one of the disproportionate number of American Indian children removed from parental care and raised in various white foster homes, spends her days as a Minnesota farm laborer and truck driver and her evenings drinking and shooting pool in the local bars. Cash occasionally serves as an unofficial sidekick to the local Sheriff, and when a body is found in a field, Cash begins to dream of the victim’s house and family. Cash and 1970s Minnesota Red River Valley are the reason to keep reading – and I wish there were more to read.

5. Untamed Shore – Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet was the Night is on most of the 2021 notable books lists, same for Mexican Gothic last year and Gods of Jade and Shadow the year before that. That Untamed Shore managed to go largely unnoticed is a tragedy. This bildungsroman-cum-noir is more compelling and relatable than Velvet was the Night or Mexican Gothic.

4. The Secret Place – Tana French

Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series is consistently outstanding. I completed both Broken Harbor and The Secret Place in 2021.  Broken Harbor was perhaps my least favorite of the series, and still very good, whereas, The Secret Place may be my favorite so far. French continues to cycle familiar characters from previous books into starting roles to excellent effect. I am excited to start the final installation of the series sometime soon. 

3. The Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Vietnam War is coming to an end, and as Saigon is about to fall, a Captain begins to plan his General’s escape from the county. Together, with a select few, they flee Saigon on one of the last army transports over-crowded with other refugees. The Captain, half-French half-Vietnamese, a man of two minds, is a communist agent whose role is to observe and report back on the military cadre as they establish themselves in America. As suspicion of a mole rises, the Captain must deflect attention away from himself at terrible costs. This was a poignant and relevant contemplation of war, refugees, politics, and film considering the parallels of the recent withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan.

2. The Queen’s Gambit – Walter Tevis

I started reading The Queen’s Gambit shortly after seeing that Netflix has released a new series based on the book. The story follows orphan Beth Harmon as she discovers and embraces her natural genius for chess. Beth’s struggles with loneliness and addiction are simultaneously exacerbated by and inhibiting to her meteoric rise in the national chess rankings.

1. The Library At Mount Char – Scott Hawkins

It is not too often that a book manages to be so thoroughly unique, strange, and enjoyable from start to finish. After my wife finished reading it, she insisted, nearly daily, that I read it immediately, not so I would enjoy an excellent book, but instead to have some to share in the same “what just happened” experience. I have since hunted down several RRPL staff members to ask them what they thought of The Library At Mount Char.

Honorable Mentions

What We’re Reading Now…November edition

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Last year’s hit novel, this is the story of two families on a collision course. Amanda and Clay take their two kids to a vacation home on Long Island. In the middle of the night, the owners of the house, Ruth and G.H., show up, claiming that something has gone very wrong in New York City. With no idea what is happening and no other options, the two families stay together in the house and wait for what may be the end of the world. Shannon

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede

I am rereading this book from 2002. The author shares the experiences of the citizens of Gander, Newfoundland. They became hosts to the more than six thousand passengers traveling on thirty-eight U.S.-bound international jetliners forced to land in Gander in the wake of the September 11th attacks. The citizens of Gander and surrounding communities put their lives on hold for 6 days to feed, shelter and support those stranded. An amazing community of selfless people. Emma

The Ghost Variations by Kevin Brockmeier

I have read reviews of Brockmeier’s work before but this was the first one I elected to read. This collection of short stories of varying length is connected by its shared theme, ghosts. Each story offers its unique perspective on the theme, changing in tone from the humorous to the unsettling (and sometimes both).  Ghost Variations: one hundred stories was a great introduction to the author’s work that has made me excited to explore their previously published works. Greg

Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America by Marcia Chatelain

Millions of Americans start their day with a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin or can’t help but sneak a few fries from the bag on their way home from the McDonald’s drive-through, but for black Americans, fast food is a source of both economic power and despair. In the years following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leaders believed racial inequality could be solved through “black capitalism.” As chronicled by Marcia Chatelain in Franchise, a struggling civil rights movement, McDonald’s clever system of franchising and advertising, and Nixon’s “silent majority” era perfectly combined so that fast food could become deeply entrenched in black communities. While fast food certainly created successful black entrepreneurs and black communities with serious purchasing power, economic advancement for black Americans ultimately fizzled in the face of food deserts, dead-end fast food jobs, and continuing racial inequality. A fascinating look at when Big Macs and capitalism combine. Marcia Chatelain is a Professor of History and African American studies at Georgetown University. Franchise won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in History.  Kari

My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

This smartly written coming-of-age horror story looks at a new type of “final girl” as it follows quirky slasher-obsessed teenager Jade as a series of mysterious murders spring up in her town of Proofrock. Jade is quite sassy and can be hilarious in her exchanges with other characters and is by far my favorite part of this book so far. My Heart is a Chainsaw is a completely different vibe than his previous novel, The Only Good Indians, and so far is much lighter fare.  Nicole

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

This book is a kind of Sherlock Holmes meets The Pirates of the Caribbean tale. Is the merchant vessel, the Saardam, travelling from the East Indies to Amersterdam, haunted? From evil omens painted on the sail and burned into the ship, to sightings of a bloody leper that the crew watched die in a fiery blaze, and a raging storm that lasts more than a week, strange things are certainly afoot on this old, scarred ship. The crew and passengers are hearing wicked whispers in the night, promising them their heart’s desires in return for performing a small service, and the crew is threatening mutiny for fear that there is a devil aboard. It’s up to the world’s greatest detective, Sammy Pipps, his body guard Arent Hayes and a few brave passengers to unravel what is happening aboard the Saardam before it is too late for all of them. A very entertaining book that will keep you guessing until the end. Sara

New Books Tuesday @ RRPL

Here are some of the new books coming to our shelves this week for you to add to your book list!

Lightning Strike by William Kent Krueger – In this prequel to the acclaimed Cork O’Connor series, 12-year-old Cork stumbles upon the body of a man hanging in a tree – the first in a series of events that cause him to question everything he took for granted about his hometown, his family and himself.

The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny – When a visiting professor spreads lies so that fact and fiction are so confused it’s near impossible to tell them apart, leading to murder, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache must investigate this case as well as this extraordinary popular delusion – and the madness of crowds.

The Guide by Peter Heller – Trying to return to normalcy after a young life filled with loss, Jack takes a job as a guide for the elite Kingfisher Lodge where he, while guiding a well-known singer, discovers that this idyllic fishing lodge may be a cover for a far more sinister operation.

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker – Held captive by the victorious Greeks, one time Trojan queen Briseis, formerly Achilles’s slave, forges alliances when she can with Priam’s aged wife, the defiant Hecuba and the disgraced soothsayer Calchas, all the while shrewdly seeking her path to revenge.

The Failed Promise: Reconstruction, Frederick Douglass, and the Impeachment of Andrew Johnson by Robert S. Levine – Drawing on letters, articles and the most important African American newspaper of the time, the author recreates the conflicts that brought Frederick Douglass and the wider Black community to reject President Andrew Johnson and call for a guilty verdict in his impeachment trial.

Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis De Lafayette in the Age of Revolution by Mike Duncan – The New York Times bestselling author looks at the life of the Marquis de Lafayette, who helped fight and finance the American Revolution as well as the French Revolution and the overthrow of the Bourbon Dynasty.

Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton – After rescuing pets who had been trapped in their homes during the apocalypse, a Cheeto-loving crow, S.T., and his bloodhound bestie, Dennis, discover humanity’s last hope for survival in this follow-up to Hollow Kingdom.

The Secret Staircase by Sheila Connolly – After a body is discovered in a hidden staircase at Barton Mansion during renovations, Kate Hamilton hunts to identify this man who was murdered in 1880, and learns that digging up the past can be deadly when a second body is found.

Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir by Kat Chow – After her mother dies unexpectedly of cancer, a Chinese American writer and journalist weaves together the story of the fallout of grief that follows her extended family as they emigrate from China and Hong Kong to Cuba and America.

The Second Rebel by Linden A. Lewis – Astrid seeks to bring down the Sisterhood from within, while, on an outlaw colony station deep in space, Hiro val Akiro seeks to bring a dangerous ally into the rebellion, and Lito sol Lucious continues to grow into his role as lead revolutionary.

~semanur

Staff Picks- August

One of the best things about working in a public library is being exposed to so many different books! I know I can be guilty of sticking to my reading comfort zone, but thanks to the eclectic readership we have on staff, I’m always hearing personal recommendations and reviews from my amazing colleagues, including a wide variety of genres.

This month Adult Services staff shared some current favorites, including a discussion worthy nonfiction title, an updated classic with a fantasy twist, and a stand-out autobiography. Take a look below for our five staff picks!

Hop on over to our digital library to snag one of these titles now! Ilhan Omar narrates the audiobook version of This is What America Looks Like, which was highly recommended by our staff, so if you are an audiobook fan don’t miss out on this great title.

Top FifTEeN of 2020 (Heh! No one will notice the extra five, right?)

This has been an unusual year (such an understatement!) and (not shockingly) it’s translated to what I wound up reading this year… (so much insight!) But like every previous year, it was a struggle to decide which books and why. Hopefully you’ll find a new book to try or you’ll have a happy “oh! meeee too!” moment! (Bonus comments in parentheses because you can’t see me doing eyerolls at myself. Enjoy!)

Now let’s get on to the goods, in alphabetical order by author, The Books:

Adult Fiction

Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders by Tessa Arlen

It felt like reading an excellent BBC series: engaging characters, smart mystery, and a great WWII time/place setting. The second book in the series will be out before the end of the year: Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers! (Historical Mystery)

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Mr. Backman can write a likable,  curmudgeonly character like few can but this book is really more of an ensemble journey and each character has their own quirky personality. The beginning is a little dark but quickly becomes an uplifting story of how individuals can build their own supportive community. (General Fiction)

Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown

Just like when you hear about any picture of a perfect wife, husband, or marriage, it becomes clear there is no such thing as perfect. Quiet and thoughtful, suspenseful and satisfying, this book was everything I wanted it to be. (General Fiction)

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

I loved Ready Player One and was a little worried the sequel wouldn’t live up to the original, what a waste of a decent worry! All the pop culture references, interesting future-thinking ideas, and plenty of exciting plot twists, this is *chef’s kiss* a delight! Fun extra -the IRL setting is Columbus, Ohio!(General Fiction/Science Fiction)

Weather by Jenny Offill

Odd, quirky, sometimes uncomfortable, and completely engaging. If you’re looking for a book short on pages and long on impact, this might be the one for you! (Literary Fiction)

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts was on my list last year and prompted me to read this older title by the same author. Yep, just as good! It’s a long-game mystery with shades of The Shining suspense. (Mystery)

The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz

The family relationships, the wanting to be a part of something while also needing to be an individual, watching how society’s views on a variety of topics changed with the decades, all made each page of this book a pleasure. If you grew up in a small town, you’ll feel this story that much more deeply. (General Fiction)

Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood

Mix a little Thin Man, Nick and Nora, with a little Mickey Spillane, add a female Sherlock Holmes and Watson, put World War II espionage into the background, and you’ll get close to understanding why you want to read this next. It’s a debut and I’m typing this with my fingers crossed that the second book will be coming soon! (Historical Mystery)

Mr. Nobody by Catherine Steadman

This author consistently connects her characters and action in smart and surprising ways, with conclusions that are unexpected and satisfying. I’ve only listened to the audio versions of Ms. Steadman’s books, and I don’t plan to change that, it’s like hearing a radio drama with all the sound effects a listener could hope for! (Mystery)

Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stephenson

Charming and insightful, this is the story of a “bot” who has a degree of self-awareness that he needs to seek therapy before going on a journey to fulfill his dreams. It’s not a simple journey as he needs to hide his true nature as our society is prejudiced against AI and are as likely to attack him as help him. You might shed a tear or two along the way, but it’s worth it. (General Fiction)

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

If you like superhero/supervillain movies or you’ve watched The Boys on Amazon Prime, you will love every page of this book. Anna shows some small but special abilities with numbers but she’s tired of being a contract worker for whichever villain needs temporary help. Offered what seemed to be an easy and high paying gig changed everything, just not for the better. With engaging characters, interesting thoughts on how we think of good vs. evil, and some really clever surprises, this book checked all the boxes for me this year. (General or Science Fiction)

Adult Nonfiction

Barnstorming Ohio to Understand America  by David Giffels

The 2020 General Election may have cost Ohio our “bellwether state” title but if you want a better understanding of how one state can represent so much of the entire USA, this book is the one to read. The author uses his own travels to different locations and conversations with individuals to make each experience engaging for the reader. (Nonfiction)

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

I’m embarrassed to say this is the first book I’ve read by Mr. Gladwell but this book sent me off on a “what else” deep dive, and now I’m a die-hard fan. I learned so much but reading the book felt more like I was reading a series of short, connected, stories. If you pick this one up, we can talk about how crazy it is that our brain defaults to what we want to believe even when the facts show a different reality. Just, so good!

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman

Individually, they are funny and the laughs only increase as they tell how they became a couple. I listened to the audio version and highly recommend this option as Megan and Nick are the readers -it starts to feel like you’re in a candid conversation with new friends.

Teen Fiction

The Darkness Duology: Courting Darkness and Igniting Darkness by Robin LaFevers

The characters and setting are part of the His Fair Assassin series, and it feels like catching up with old friends (who can kick some serious hiney). Sybella must protect her younger sisters from being used as political pawns while also trying to keep the new Queen safe from enemies within the Royal House. The author always provides such strong women as main characters but remembers to give them flaws and quirks so they remain relatable. Ms. LaFevers never disappoints! (Historical Mystery)

Of course, I also think pretty highly of the books I suggested for the RRPL Gift Guide -ya know- and I might be counting those books as part of a bigger list for the year? Anyway… Happy Holidays, with books and snackies, for all!!

-Stacey

Trent’s Top 10 of 2020

While 2020 was, in many ways, an extraordinarily challenging year, it was, for me, a good year for reading. Once again, new books make up a smaller portion of my 2020 lists, with only a few from this year or last. Instead, I continue to enjoy exploring classics, the crime genre canon, and working through a favorite author’s backlist. Here are the best books I’ve read in 2020.

10. Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby

              Blacktop Wasteland is an old-fashioned heist novel ripe for the big screen staring a modern Steve McQueen style lead. Beauregard “Bug” Montage is the archetypical getaway driver gone straight that gets pulled back into one last job that is too sweet to pass up in difficult times. There is nothing too new in the plot, following typical heist tropes. What Cosby does deliver is plenty of action and character with depth and a good backstory in Bug.

9. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

              I never thought I’d be an Ann Patchett reader.  But, a coworker frequently brought up Bel Canto when we discussed books and told me on multiple occasions I should read it.  Since this same coworker badgered me into reading A Gentleman in Moscow, which turned out to be one of the best books I read last year, I figured I’d give Bel Canto a shot.  A book that was so excellent; that even with a trash ending, it still ended up on my top ten list.  This may sound like faint praise given the “trash ending” portion of the comment, but don’t let that ruin what is otherwise a sublime book for you, and you might even enjoy the ending. 

8. Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane

              I enjoy travel and nature writing, but often I get annoyed with the author’s peevish or moralistic insight or their lengthy rapturous prose capturing the awe-inspiring world we all inhabit.  Macfarlane skews hard toward rapturous prose, and clocking in near 500 pages, Underland is lengthy.  With that said, Macfarlane does an amazing job making you feel the underworlds he visits.  There is one passage that portrayed such a profound sense of claustrophobia that I was unsure if I was going to be able to finish the chapter.  Another chapter exploring the catacombs of Paris is among the most fascinating pieces of travel literature I have ever read. Also, the cover art was fantastic, and the sole reason I picked up the book in the first place.

7. Tiamat’s Wrath (The Expanse #8) by James S.A. Corey

              I wouldn’t have thought that the eighth book in a nine-book space-opera series would be my favorite one yet.  The Expanse has been a remarkably consistent series, both in quality and publishing schedule (I’m looking at you, George R.R. Martin).  More than any other book, the next book in this series is the one I’m most looking forward to reading next year.

6. Monstress, Vol 5: Warchild by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda

              Each new collection of Monstress continues to blow me away. Foremost because Takeda’s art is stunning.  I’ll continue with this series for as long as Takeda does the art.  Though progressing unhurriedly, the story continues to excel as well.  War arrives early in this volume, and the inevitable devastation follows.  This series remains complex, and I’m considering a reread to refresh myself on the early storyline. I am envious of anyone that gets to jump into the series now and can read multiple volumes without having to await the next release.

5. The Likeness (The Dublin Murder Squad #2) by Tana French

              I read Tana French’s In the Woods two years back and loved it.  However, I couldn’t imagine enjoying The Likeness as much with only some of the characters returning for this book.  Needless to say, since it’s on my Best Of list, that I needn’t have worried. A few elements to the storyline seem rather unlikely.  For example, Cassie is a perfect doppelganger for a murder victim. However, the sooner you accept it, the sooner you can focus on the engaging characters. I learned my lesson with The Likeness and didn’t wait long before picking up Faithful Place, also very enjoyable, the next in French’s Dublin Murder Squad series.

4. The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow

              I’m still working through the oeuvre of Don Winslow, so it’s too early for me to argue that you should read everything by him.  However, having read three more of his novels read this year, I have yet to be disappointed with any of his books.  The Winter of Frankie Machine and The Death and Life of Bobby Z, to a slightly lesser extent, were a lot of fun, and I would highly recommend them. However, it is Winslow’s Power of the Dog, a fictionalization of the war on drugs, that leads the pack.   

3. Dead Soon Enough (Juniper Song #3) by Steph Cha

              Read everything by Steph Cha.  There aren’t as many books by her as I’d like, only four, but they’re all phenomenal.  Three Juniper Song Marlowe-inspired PI novels, revitalizing the LA noir tropes in interesting and intelligent ways.  Dead Soon Enough being the final of the Song novels.  The fourth book is the lauded and award winning Their House Will Pay that revolves around the 1992 LA race riots.

2. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They by Horace McCoy

              I had heard of marathon dance competitions, but until reading They Shoot Horses, Don’t They, I never considered them much and certainly not as bleak and miserable experiences.  Robert and Gloria, two strangers with nothing to lose in depression-era California, meet and enter a marathon dance competition as partners.  They battle extreme physical and mental exhaustion and producers with schemes to create hype and excitement in order to bring in crowds – at the expense of the contestants. 

1. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

              At the onset of World War I, Paul Bäumer and several of this high school classmates enlist in a rush of patriotic fervor, incited largely by their teacher’s impassioned jingoistic speeches.  Their enthusiasm is bombarded as soon as they reach the trenches of the front.  Remarque masterfully writes the German counterpart to Wilfred Owen’s English poem Dulce Et Deocrum Est. “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest / To children ardent for some desperate glory, / The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori.” (Dulce et Decorum Est)

Honorable Mentions

Time to Prepare?

There’s still time! You can still bake, and craft, and read, all the holiday treats your 2020 heart desires! (I qualify this to your “2020 heart” as this year is not like the others. Maybe you’re skipping, or maybe you’re all in, it doesn’t feel like there’s one, right answer. Aannyyyywho…)

If you want to make something Buddy the Elf would approve of: Cookies and other Sweet Treats might have a digital book that can help you out!

Rather than hitting all the stores, maybe you want to check out a digital book from Why Buy it When You Can Make it? collection!

Or perhaps you’d like to unwind, read or listen to Holiday Stories for the Young and the Young at Heart -which also tend to be shorter, and great for my minimal attention span?

Maybe you want to sample something from all three options -and then- take a nap! This is a judgement free zone -enjoy what works (plus a piece of candy)!

Stacey

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!