Reading the Stars

If you’re having trouble deciding what to read next, let the stars (and the Library!) help you decide. The 12 signs of the zodiac, ancient in origins, help us to understand the complex and emotional journey of being human. If you don’t know your astrological sign, it will be whatever date below corresponds with your birthday.

Aries (March 21 – April 19): Youthful, adventurous, enthusiastic

Yes, Aries is represented by the ram, but if you look at the glyph used to depict the animal’s curving horns it also looks like the first green sprouts you see emerging from the cold, snowy earth in springtime. Being the first sign of the zodiac, Aries always marks the beginning of something, springing into action, and an intense enthusiasm. When looking for books, look for ones with brave and energetic heroes, or fast-paced adventures.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama
All Her Little Secrets by Wanda M. Morris
Honor by Thrity Umrigar
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Lucky by Marissa Stapley

If you’re looking for Aries authors, look no further than Maya Angelou, Leigh Bardugo, Barbara Kingsolver, Anthony Horowitz, Louis L’Amour, and Jennifer Weiner.

Leo (July 23 – August 22): Social, generous, funny

I like to think of Leos as the equivalent of a fireplace: warm, inviting, the central gathering point for friends and family. Leos have a natural ability to bring people together. Combine that with their sense of humor, flair for the dramatic, and sense of pride, they make easy and exciting friends. When looking for books, go for bold, strong characters that love to stand out and that have a certain charisma that draws people into the fold.

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi
Fight Night by Miriam Toews
If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
The Guncle by Steven Rowley

Famous Leo authors include Madeline Miller, Suzanne Collins, J.K. Rowling, Ray Bradbury, Sue Monk Kidd, and Stieg Larsson.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21): Optimistic, opinionated, confident

Sagittarius is the traveler of the zodiac, in all respects. Sagittarians love to visit new places, experience new things, and dive into a variety of philosophies in a never-ending quest for knowledge and discovery. Ever hear the phrase “Shoot from the hip?” Represented by the centaur, Sagittarius rules the hips. Sagittarians are extremely vocal and willing to immediately share their thoughts on anything and everything. When looking for books, choose ones with rich, lush locations and ones with thought-provoking questions.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
Lizzie & Dante by Mary Bly
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
God of Mercy by Okezie Nwoka

If you’re looking for a Sagittarius author, try Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, Mark Twain, Lucy Maud Montgomery, and Ann Patchett.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20): Patient, determined, sensual

Being an earth sign, Taurus is known for being well-grounded in the physical world. Taurus is all about the senses and curating the best quality stuff. They’re more than happy to indulge in an elaborate meal or bubble bath. A Taurus can be slow to act but once they get the motivation, watch out! Nothing can stop them. When looking for books, go for ones that feature determined characters or some of the sweeter pleasures in life. Work hard, play hard.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
The Gown by Jennifer Robson
A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago

Taurus authors include Harper Lee, Jodi Picoult, Daphne du Maurier, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Terry Pratchett, and Charlotte Bronte.

Virgo (August 23 – September 22): Analytical, reliable, hardworking

Virgos are perfectionists; they love to create order out of chaos. They have keen observation skills, and they can be quite eloquent and thoughtful. A Virgo can piece together details when no one else can or find patterns when there seemingly are none, so look for books that feature a mystery to solve or that illustrate the subtle intricacies of everyday life.

Normal People by Sally Rooney
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
The Four Humors by Mina Seskin
The Women of Pearl Island by Polly Crosby
Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour
When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Virgo authors include Angie Thomas, George R.R. Martin, Orson Scott Card, Stephen King, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Agatha Christie.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19): Ambitious, practical, independent

If you want something done, ask a Capricorn. Symbolized by the mythological sea goat, there is no mountain a Capricorn cannot scale. Extremely independent and ambitious, Capricorns typically have a list of goals and they enjoy the hustle. Look for memoirs, biographies, or other books that will inspire wisdom and achievements.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Educated by Tara Westover
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
Will by Will Smith
Writers & Lovers by Lily King
Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Famous Capricorn authors include Michelle Obama, J.R.R. Tolkien, Donna Tartt, Junot Diaz, Nicholas Sparks, and Zora Neale Hurston.

Gemini (May 21 – June 20): Witty, mischievous, adaptable

There’s never a dull moment with a Gemini. Geminis are intensely curious, playful, and cerebral. Geminis are constantly bouncing from idea to idea, entertaining new hobbies and passions, and adapting to new things. I also find them to be the funniest of the zodiac. Being of the mind, new ideas and communication are important to Geminis. Look for books with sharp dialogue or clever plots that will fuel the imagination.

The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
The Finder of Forgotten Things by Sarah Loudin Thomas
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
You Feel It Just Below the Ribs by Jeffrey Cranor & Janina Matthewson

Famous Gemini authors include Fredrik Backman, Andy Weir, Maria Semple, Louise Erdrich, Adam Silvera, and Ken Follett.

Libra (September 23 – October 22): Charming, fair, romantic

Scales symbolize justice, equality, and harmony. While they love to exchange ideas or join a lively debate, Libras seek the peace and balance of the scales. They’re known for being peacekeepers and mediators since they’re adept at seeing all points of view. Libras can talk for hours, they’re incredibly approachable after all, and they are known to invest deeply in their relationships. Look for books that are idealistic or charming, and that highlight the beauty in relationships.

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier
Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Beach Read by Emily Henry
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Still Life by Sarah Winman
Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff

Libra authors include Kristin Hannah, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Roxane Gay, Ursula K. Le Guin, Nora Roberts, and Oscar Wilde.

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18): Original, friendly, visionary

Every Aquarian is a rebel and a visionary at heart. They have a knack for seeing the big picture and they’re open to a multitude of ideas and experiences. Ready to change the world at a moment’s notice, Aquarius is known for being the humanitarian of the zodiac. If an Aquarius feels they’re meant to change something on the planet, they will. Look for books with a spark of revolution, unusual plots or retellings, and characters with a deep desire to improve the world around them.

Violeta by Isabel Allende
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett
The Tobacco Wives by Adele Myers
How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue

Famous authors born under the sign of Aquarius include Toni Morrison, Samantha Irby, John Grisham, Virginia Woolf, Marissa Meyer, and Casey McQuiston.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22): Nurturing, sensitive, tenacious

The crab perfectly represents the sign of Cancer: hard, tough exterior; soft, squishy inside. Cancers are very compassionate, protective, and loyal to the ones they love. Drawn to routines and comfort, a Cancer would much rather snuggle up with a book or have a movie night at home with a loved one instead of going out. Ruled by the Moon, Cancers are very intuitive and can assess the tone of a room instantly. Look for books with sweet, gentle characters, or ones that dive deep into emotion.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
The Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Rules for Visiting by Jessica Frances Kane
Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks
Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession
Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho

Authors born under the sign of Cancer include Markus Zusak, Elizabeth Gilbert, David McCullough, Ernest Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy, and Anna Quindlen.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21): Loyal, powerful, resourceful

Some of my favorite people are Scorpios and if you prove your loyalty to them, they make very devoted and passionate friends. Scorpios have an air of mystery and intensity about them that makes them hard to ignore. If you’re looking for a honest answer, ask a Scorpio. Their bluntness has no filter. They’re also great at keeping secrets. Profound thinkers, fearless, and intuitive, when a Scorpio wants something, they don’t hold back. Look for books with broody, intense characters or look for dark, moody mysteries.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw
The Spanish Daughter by Lorena Hughes
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Scorpio authors include Anthony Doerr, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Liane Moriarty, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Holly Black.

Pisces (February 19 – March 20): Imaginative, empathetic, intuitive

If you’re a Pisces, you may have been called an old soul a time or two. Pisces are magical, soulful, and dreamy. They seem to have an endless source of creativity and empathy for others, and a sense of wisdom that runs incredibly deep. The glyph associated with Pisces is two fish swimming in opposite directions, reflecting the duality and internal struggle of this water sign. Pisceans want to chase big dreams, but they can easily wander and be pulled in different directions. Look for books that feature magical realism, fantasy, or beautiful language that you can get lost in.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano by Donna Freitas
Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Authors born under the sign of Pisces are Rainbow Rowell, Gillian Flynn, Sally Rooney, Khaled Hosseini, Lindy West, and Amanda Gorman.

Cloud Cuckoo Land

Cloud Cuckoo Land | Book by Anthony Doerr | Official Publisher Page | Simon  & Schuster

I drove over two hours in 2016 to see Anthony Doerr, as one does when one is nerdy and obsessed with an author and in school to become a librarian. I remember clutching my copy of All the Light We Cannot See and being completely enamored. For an exercise in curiosity, Doerr presented a slideshow full of close-up pictures and asked us to guess the everyday objects. He described how a dropped call on the subway in New York City in 2004 was the inspiration behind All the Light We Cannot See, and how he spent ten years researching and writing the book, including studying the history of radio and Nazi art looting. When he signed my book, I remember him taking the time to ask about my weekend and wishing me a happy birthday. So needless to say, I was excited to get my hands on Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Cloud Cuckoo Land is ambitious novel, spanning multiple centuries, places, characters, and even genres. There’s Anna, an orphan who lives and works in an embroidery house in 15th century Constantinople with her sickly older sister. She learns Greek in secret and during her quest to uncover even more words, she discovers a ruined library. Having a cleft palate and believed to be cursed or even demonic, Omeir is exiled to a remote part of Bulgaria and is raised by his whimsical, sweet grandfather. He is conscripted into the Ottoman army with his oxen to attack Constantinople, putting him directly in the path of Anna. Seymour lives in present-day Idaho and his only comfort is the natural world. He befriends an owl that lives in the woods behind his home but when the forest is destroyed for a new housing development, Seymour becomes a radical eco-warrior and crosses paths with Zeno in a devastating way. Zeno is an octogenarian, amateur translator, and Korean War veteran attempting to put on a play with a small group of children. Lastly, there’s Konstance. Konstance is trapped on a spaceship in the future with an infinite library meant to preserve humanity’s knowledge for a new, unspoiled planet. All five stories are connected through an ancient book following the fantastical and humorous adventures of a poor shepherd. Doerr’s writing is just as lyrical and rich as in All the Light We Cannot See. The novel is a clear ode to libraries, language, and the art of storytelling. While I wasn’t as invested in the characters as with All the Light We Cannot See, no one can illustrate the interconnectedness and beauty of our worlds like Anthony Doerr. Cloud Cuckoo Land is an epic worth diving into.

Don’t miss the chance to see Anthony Doerr this spring. Doerr is part of the 2021-2022 William N. Skirball Writers Center Stage Series presented by the Cuyahoga County Public Library. He’ll be speaking at the Maltz Performing Arts Center on Monday, May 2, 2022 at 7:30 pm. A virtual ticket option is also available. Find more information about Doerr’s visit here. Also, Doerr has a wonderful booklist on his website if you’d like to dive into worlds similar to Cloud Cuckoo Land. Check out the list here. Cloud Cuckoo Land is available at the library here.

Book Review: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

It’s been some time since I read a novel that truly surprised me and Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street not only surprised me, it astonished me. This strikingly original, difficult, and heartfelt novel disguises itself as a horrific story about a serial killer and a missing child, leading readers down disturbing paths and in all the wrong directions as it slowly but surely reveals itself to be much more.

Told through the perspective of multiple narrators, we follow the life of Ted, a strange and lonely man who lives at the end of the forebodingly named Needless Street. He has boarded up all the windows in his house, which sits at the edge of a deeply wooded park and regularly hosts visits with his estranged daughter. His only friend appears to be his cat Olivia- who is also a narrative voice and is quite charming.

The tale opens on the anniversary of the disappearance of a young girl, a disappearance that Ted was initially suspected of causing, and we also meet the vengeful sister of the missing girl who is still trying to track down her sister’s potential murderer years later. This deeply layered plot is revealed little by little with each chapter, and keen readers will note right off the bat that all is not as it seems with each narrator, and we are clearly not getting a complete picture.

The final few twists of this novel are stunning, and absolutely heartbreaking, making this a standout novel of psychological horror, but also an emotional story of trauma and finally, and most importantly, hope. A detailed author’s note at the end further explains Ward’s excellent work on this story and why this is a very realistic tale of trauma. Highly recommended for fans of deeply woven mysteries, unreliable narrators, and psychological horror.

Note: There are some very upsetting and intense scenes in this novel, particularly depicting animal abuse and child abuse, so please proceed with this trigger warning in mind.

Request a copy here or snag a digital copy here!

Kari’s Top Ten of 2021

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry 

The losing Danvers High Women’s Varsity Field Hockey Team pledges themselves to dark forces by signing their names into a spiral notebook with actor Emilio Estevez’s face on it and by tying strips of sweat socks around their arms. When they start to win, the Falcons find themselves trying to recharge the power of Emilio with darker and darker witchcraft to keep their streak going all the way to state.

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily R. Austin 

Gilda, a twenty-something, depressed, hypochondriac, lesbian atheist obsessed with death, finds herself accidently working as the office assistant for a Catholic Church. While she tries to blend in as a good Catholic, she becomes fixated on the death of the 86-year-old woman she replaced. Was her predecessor murdered?

The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon 

In order to save her public radio station and her job from the chopping block, Shay proposes a new show where exes-turned-friends deliver relationship advice. Her boss enthusiastically greenlights the show. The problem? He wants Shay to host it with Dominic, her arch nemesis, and pretend that they’ve dated, essentially lying to their listeners and violating who knows how many journalism ethics. Sparks fly immediately: the show becomes a hit, the deception grows, and Shay and Dominic start to fall for each other.  

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo 

After seeing an ad for Tommy Andrews, male impersonator at the Telegraph Club, Lily sneaks out with classmate Kathleen Miller to see her perform. Both girls quickly become entangled in the underground lesbian culture of 1950s San Franciso, but Lily’s new secrets and her blossoming feelings for Kathleen jeopardize her father’s citizenship status.  

Memorial by Bryan Washington 

When Mike abruptly leaves for Japan to see his dying father, his partner Benson finds himself the roommate of Mike’s mother, a woman he’s never met and who came for an extended visit the very same day Mike took off for Japan. As they separately unravel their traumas, Mike and Benson learn what it means to fall in and out of love over and over. 

Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit by Eliese Colette Goldbach 

When Eliese’s plans for escaping her hometown of Cleveland come to a halt during the Economic Recession, she finds herself working at the Cleveland Steel Mill as Utility Worker #6691. In confronting mental illness, gender inequality, Catholicism, politics, and the very real dangers of the molten iron she works with day after day, Eliese rebuilds herself, just like Cleveland.  

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson  

A descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings takes refuge in Jefferson’s Monticello when white supremacists threaten violence; A university professor uses his son to test the depths of racism; A woman named Virginia tries to escape her namesake birthplace; Another crafts an impossible list for buying a house and attaining security. This collection of short stories explores racial identity and the quest for self-discovery in a world that is still grappling with the legacies of slavery and racism.

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante 

Giovanna’s father calls her ugly; she’s just like his sister, Vittoria. The comparison to a woman that she’s never met and that her parents so clearly hate triggers Giovanna’s insecurities and sends her into an existential panic. As Giovanna begins a quest to learn about her aunt and her identity, she must grapple with deceptions from the adults around her.  

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders 

It is February 1862 and the United States is slowly realizing that the Civil War is going to be a long, bloody struggle. Against the backdrop of the nation’s collective grief, President Lincoln is in anguish over the death of his eleven-year-old son Willie. While the President visits his son’s tomb and holds his body, Willie finds himself stuck in a strange purgatory, unsure where his soul should go, with a diverse array of ghosts.   

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens   

Kya is abandoned by her parents, her siblings, and even her community at a young age, but the hermit takes solace in the surrounding North Carolina marshlands and becomes an expert on the natural world. The lush landscape, however, can’t protect Kya when she is suspected of murdering the town’s most beloved son. 

Nicole’s Top Ten of 2021

Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley– An iconic work of early English literature is updated in Headley’s feminist adaptation, bringing to light elements never before translated into English.

A Hawk in the Woods by Carrie Laben– A suspenseful, dark tale of family trauma, abuse of power, and the bonds of sisterhood that centers on supernaturally gifted twins Abby and Martha Waite and follows Abby’s choices after she discovers she has been diagnosed with late stage melanoma.

The Push by Ashley Audrain– A tense, page-turning psychological drama about the making and breaking of a family and one woman’s deeply affecting and difficult story of motherhood, womanhood, grief, and guilt.

Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith– Haunting and inspired, this novel looks at the stories of three women in Vietnam, weaving together Vietnamese folklore and themes of national and racial identity, women’s bodies and their burden, and sweet revenge.

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca– A standout novella featuring an interesting combination of atypical structure, beautiful writing, and body horror about two women who meet in a queer chat room. This book, and the ending in particular, will keep you thinking long after you finish this short work.

Love and Fury: A Novel of Mary Wollstonecraft by Samantha Silva– An amazingly well-crafted and beautiful historical fiction novel of Mary Wollstonecraft – arguably the world’s first feminist and one of the world’s most influential thinkers. Inspiring and enlightening.

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel– Perhaps my most favorite book of the year, this heartbreaking and remarkable novel is inspired by the life of McDaniel’s own mother. Set in rural Ohio during the 50s, readers follow Betty Carpenter, as she endures terrible discrimination, violence, loss, and love in this luminous and often emotionally difficult book.

The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling– A beautifully written gothic romantic thriller with a dash of magic and horror. Drawing inspiration from such classics as Bluebeard and working the dangerous bridegroom trope, Starling delivers an engaging and tense tale.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo– A skillful and fantastical reimagining of The Great Gatsby that reimagines Jordan Baker as a queer Vietnamese immigrant, embellishing upon Fitzgerald’s original plot  with commentary on gender, race, and  sexuality, set in a magical Jazz Age New York.

Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke– A timely and moving meditation on isolation and longing, both as individuals and as a society, delivered in a beautiful graphic novel.

Christine’s First Top Ten!

I’m not sure I can really do my 2021 reading list justice with a list of only ten books. So with some emotional support from my co-workers, and after a long talk with my cat, I was finally able to take a deep breath and chose twelve.

Reflecting over the past year, each one of these books takes me back to a time and place of extreme joy and extreme pain. Each one is a mile marker that reminds me to keep breathing, keep moving, and when all else fails- shut out the world and grab a good book.

Bingo Love by Tee Franklin: Reunited over bingo after 45 years, these two grandmothers find that their love for one another never faded. Hope, love, and realizing that it is never too late to live authentically and with all your heart!

Good Kids, Bad City by Kyle Swenson: True crime set across the decades in Cleveland, Ohio, this is the story of a still unsolved murder and the longest wrongful incarceration of three men and their fight for justice.

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera: A young woman sets out to find community and herself. What she discovers is the true meaning of intersectionality and standing in her own self-love.

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole: A thriller that is a little bit ‘Rear Window’ and a little bit mole people. Gentrification, murder, evil pharmaceutical companies, and the most unexpected heroes.

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton: A fictional rock biography that spans decades that reads and feels like non-fiction. This story explores the music industry, generational trauma, sexism, and race.

The Things She’s Seen by Ambelin Kwaymulina: This short thriller is narrated by a young girl, who happens to be a ghost trying to help her father get justice for another young girl. Part murder mystery, part Australian Aboriginal tale, this story will sit with you long after you finish the book.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite: A darkly humorus story about two sisters- the beautiful and popular one and the responsible one. They have nothing in common, including how they deal with their traumatic childhood. One sister becomes a serial killer, the other learns how to clean up a crime scene.

Skye Falling by Mia MacKenzie: A Black queer woman in her 30’s enjoys her life of no attachments and no responsibilities until the 12 year old egg she donated to a friend she’s lost contact with shows up one day. You will laugh just as much as you cry while you go along for a truly amazing ride!

The Deep by Rivers Solomon: How did the mermaids in the Pacific Ocean come to be? This is their origin story. Beautifully written, Solomon speaks to community, healing, and reclaiming your identity.

The Push by Ashley Audrain: A psychological drama about motherhood, family, and murder (?) that will have you holding your breath and gasping out loud.

The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey: Three friends, affectionately called The Supremes, hold tightly to each other through decades of all that life can throw at them. All while Eleanor Roosevelt’s ghost is watching over them. Really.

The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur: A young female impersonates a man in order to find her father and solve ongoing murders. Set 600 years ago in Korea, this story will pull you in and not let go until the final word.

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

Hallmark Reads

If the sight of snowflakes last weekend had you reaching for a mug of hot chocolate, a cozy blanket, and your favorite Christmas pajamas, this list is for you. Charming titles from Debbie Macomber, Susan Mallery, Jenny Hale, and more have inspired Hallmark Christmas movies for years. Whether you subscribe to the belief that the book is always better than the movie or you’re just looking for festive reads to celebrate the season, here are ten Hallmark reads to enjoy.

Let It Snow by Nancy Thayer: New movie alert! Let It Snow was published last year, and Hallmark’s movie version Nantucket Noel is premiering this month. Catch it on the Hallmark Channel on November 19, 20, and 24. Christina Antonioni is preparing for the holidays at her Nantucket toy shop, decorating and unpacking last-minute holiday shipments, when her landlord suddenly raises her rent. At first, Christina doubts whether she can continue business on the wharf, but after becoming close to her landlord’s granddaughter and son, she starts to believe it may be the best Christmas season yet.

The Christmas Contest by Scarlet Wilson: New movie alert! Published earlier this year, The Christmas Contest will make its movie debut on the Hallmark Channel on November 28. Ben Winters and Lara Cottridge are obsessed with Christmas. When the strangers hear that a Vermont radio station is hosting a Christmas contest with a $10,000 prize for the winner’s charity of choice, they quickly enter the competition and become finalists. Will battling it out in the stiff competition ruin the spirit of Christmas? Or will Ben and Lara realize they have more in common aside from a love of Christmas?  

Mrs. Miracle Christmas by Debbie Macomber: New movie alert! Mrs. Miracle Christmas, published in 2019, is the fourth book in Debbie Macomber’s Mrs. Miracle series. Catch the 2021 movie on the Hallmark Channel on November 20. Laurel McCullough could use some good news. She and her husband, Zach, have given up on having a baby after too many heart-wrenching experiences. Laurel’s grandmother, Helen, can no longer take care of herself and Laurel and Zach decide to move in to help her when plans for home healthcare fall through. Just as they’re about to lose faith, Mrs. Miracle arrives at their door and gives them the best Christmas gift.     

Sleigh Bell Sweethearts by Teri Wilson: Zoey Hathaway’s biggest dream is to become a pilot. When she inherits a struggling reindeer farm, complete with three dozen unruly reindeer and one dangerously attractive ranch hand named Alec, her carefully crafted plans seem to fly out the window. If Zoey wants to succeed, she’ll have to put her trust in Alec and accept his help, but it’s not just her farm that’s at stake; so is her heart. Sleigh Bell Sweethearts was published in 2013 and the Hallmark movie entitled Northern Lights of Christmas was released in 2018. You can catch the movie on the Hallmark Channel on November 24. 

Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses by Jenny Hale: Single mother Abbey Fuller put her dreams of being an interior designer on hold to raise her son. When her son starts to get a little older, Abbey jumps at the chance to take a small job decorating Nick Sinclair’s mansion for Christmas. Nick has plenty of money for the project, but absolutely no holiday spirit. Can Abbey make her dream of being an interior designer come true? Can she help Nick finally enjoy some Christmas magic? Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses was published in 2018 and premiered as a Hallmark Christmas movie in 2019.

The Jingle Bell Bride by Scarlet Wilson: New York wedding planner Jessica Christie becomes stranded in a remote Alaskan town when she goes on a quest to find the rare Jingle Bell Flower for a celebrity bride. Jessica is desperate to return home in time for the wedding, but will her Christmas wish change after meeting local botanist Matt Holden? Jingle Bell Bride was published in 2017 and premiered as a Hallmark movie last year. The movie will air again this year on the Hallmark Channel on Friday, November 26.  

The Mistletoe Inn by Richard Paul Evans: Kimberly Rossi’s life is a bit of a mess. Two failed engagements, a divorce, and numerous other heartbreaks have left her alone and with no prospects. Despite her many romantic hiccups, Kimberly dreams of becoming a published romance author and signs up for a romance writing workshop shortly before Christmas. Once at the retreat, Kimberly meets fellow writer Zeke who helps her step out of her comfort zone, both in her life and in her writing. This 2015 novel is the inspiration behind Hallmark’s 2017 movie.

Marry Me at Christmas by Susan Mallery: Bridal boutique owner Maddie Krug is excited to plan a Christmas wedding until she realizes that she’ll be working closely with the gorgeous brother of the bride, action movie star Johnny Blake. How can small-town girl Maddie keep from falling for him when wedding planning involves candlelit dinners, snowy strolls, and mistletoe around every corner? Marry Me at Christmas was published in 2016 and the Hallmark movie premiered the following year.      

The Nine Lives of Christmas by Sheila Roberts: Ambrose, a pesky orange cat, is in danger of losing his ninth and final life. He tells the universe he’ll do anything, absolutely anything, to survive and have a quiet, comfortable final life. True to his word, Ambrose plays matchmaker for the man who rescued him and a woman at the local animal shelter. The Nine Lives of Christmas was released as a book and Hallmark movie in 2014. You can catch the movie this month on the Hallmark Channel on November 25.  

Christmas Joy by Nancy Naigle: Market researcher Joy Holbrook is all work and no play when she gets an urgent call to return home to help her recovering aunt. Joy agrees to take a leave of absence from work and temporarily run her family’s farm, but she didn’t know she’d need to work with Ben Andrews, her former crush, in order to decorate for the annual Christmas Home Tour competition. Will the town’s festivities open Joy’s heart to love, home, and family? Christmas Joy was published in 2016, and the Hallmark movie was released in 2018.  

For a complete schedule of this year’s Hallmark Christmas movies, visit the Hallmark Channel. Be sure to visit the Library to discover more festive reads for the season.

Currently Reading- August

This month I’ll be enjoying some vacation, including some stay-cationing at home, as well as doing some out-of-state traveling for the first time in a long time. I have a relatively short flight ahead, but we have some long layovers, so I was sure to load up my Kindle with ebooks and my phone with audiobooks from OverDrive to keep me occupied. Nothing is worse than being book-less at the airport! Take a look below to see what I’m currently reading this month.