My 5 Star Top Ten List

2020 has been a year in which I read many trilogies:  Shades of Magic by Schwab, Lady Astronaut series by Kowal, Star Trek: The Janus Gate by Graf, The Broken Earth by Jemisin, and The Dam Keeper by Kondo and Tsutsumi

My top 10 list (in chronological order that I read them)

The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H. Wilson

(A sequel to Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, which takes the thrills to the next exciting step.)

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

(What makes us the wise man of the ape species?)

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

(Each of the three books in the ongoing series so far are 5 stars in my opinion. I love the alternative history space race that is firmly rooted in real science and math.)

Blacksad written by Juan Diaz Canales with art by Juanjo Guarnido

(This is a film noir detective story with animal characters. It is a bit like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?)

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

(The middle volume with a sort of Olympics for Magicians is the peak)

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark

(This is a slim steampunk adventure set in Cairo by a hot speculative fiction writer.)

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

(A classic text of the ’60s Civil Rights era that is still useful for understanding current racial tensions in America.)

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

(A great start to her Hugo Award winning trilogy with a couple nice twists near the end.)

The Dam Keeper: Return from the Shadows by Robert Kondo and ‘Dice’ Tsutsumi

(Perhaps this ending of the trilogy with its community joining together is the best part.)

Citizen Illegal by Jose Olivarez

(This is a poetry book recommended by the virtual book club on this blog as a book to start the conversation about immigration.)

-Byron

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

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

RRPL Gift Guide

I love giving books and will take advantage of any occasion to find something I think will fit my giftee, and that includes pondering if there’s something you might want to gift yourself of course! I sorted the titles into broad ideas of who they might appeal to but left the heavy lifting of plot description to the reviews on bookshop.org (Bookshop is an online bookstore with a mishttps://bookshop.org/books/weather-9780345806901/9780385351102sion to financially support local, independent bookstores.) I hope this list helps you finish off your holiday shopping on a high note!

For your friend who wants something “different”
Mr. Malcolm’s List by Suzanne Allain
The Butterfly Lampshade by Amiee Bender
Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
Jane in Love by Rachel Givney
The Darkness Duology by Robin LaFevers
Weather by Jenny Offill
Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stephenson
Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies by Vicky Zimmerman

For your friend who wants something “thoughtful”
Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown
Barnstorming Ohio by David Giffels
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
Do Nothing by Celeste Headless
Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times by Katherine May
In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz
Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

For your friend who wants something “funny”
Anxious People by Fredrick Backman
The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan
The Crazy Rich Asians Trilogy by Kevin Kwan
The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman
Separation Anxiety by Laura Zigman

For your friend who wants to “solve the puzzle”
Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders by Tessa Arlen
Death in Her Hands by Ottesa Moshfegh
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
Of Mutts and Men by Spencer Quinn
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood
Mr. Nobody by Catherine Steadman
Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

And if you’re looking for a way to do something extra, I just discovered the United States Postal Service has a program called “Operation Santa.” This won’t be news to everyone as it’s been going on for years but if you, like me, hadn’t heard of it before I’ll drop a link here.

I wish everyone a safe, healthy holiday season, with a book (or two) to help you keep feeling strong!
-Stacey

Let’s Talk about Ohio

I don’t think there’s been anything really easy about this year so far and so I like to take a small win (or a rare 2020 big win!) whenever I can find one! I just finished reading Barnstorming Ohio To Understand America  by David Giffels and it’s definitely in my win column for this week!

Ohio. We are full of variety and contradictions. We are the 7th most populous state but 34th in total are; the top of the State gets incredibly cold with lots of snow and the lower half can be 10 to 20 degrees warmer with almost no snow; our economy is based on agriculture, industry, and innovative ideas; and there’s an incredible range of natural landscapes to explore. Ohioans have plenty to be proud about and issues we need to solve, but we are also an almost perfect cross-section of the U.S.A.

In Barnstorming Ohio, Mr. Giffels provides the current and historical context that helped me to understand exactly what it means to be seen as bellwether State for the Country. Having thoughtful conversations with the people who live in the “Five Ohios” (representing diverse voting communities) and offering great insights for what could be a larger, nation-wide conversation, this book was engaging, eye-opening, and easy-to-read. As we head into the 2020 General Election, you might also find this book worth checking out, and then we can chat!

(Small tangent -Did you know tomato juice is the official beverage of Ohio? Can we vote on that?)

—Stacey

True Crime Book Review

I have been spending a lot of time lately adding content to the library’s new true crime book discussion Facebook group page. We are the Riverinos and we’d love to have you in the group. If you are looking for more book, podcast, and tv reviews please join us.

Here’s a little taste of what you’ll find in the group:

Good Kids, Bad City: A Story of Race and Wrongful Conviction in America by Kyle SwensonOn May 19, 1975, Harry Franks, a white salesman, was robbed, assaulted, and murdered in broad daylight in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood. Three black youth were sentenced and spent a combined 106 years in prison for the crime. The murderer was never caught. The entirety of the prosecution’s case against Wiley Bridgeman, Kwame Ajamu, and Ricky Jackson was based on the eye-witness testimony of 12-year old Ed Vernon. Nearly 40 years later Vernon recanted his story, revealing that the police used fear and coercion to convince him to tell the story they wanted him to tell.In Good Kids, Bad City, journalist Kyle Swenson weaves the personal stories of the young men who were sentenced to grow up in prison with the corruption and injustice that plagued the city of Cleveland and the Cleveland police department. Swenson’s narrative is a scathing indictment of systematic discrimination that continues to this day.

Imagine Your Story -A Memoir?

I’m taking some Liberties (future pun intended) and encouraging you to think about what your future memoir will contain… Will you be able to say you made sure you were counted in the 2020 Census? (If you haven’t you still can at: 2020 Census) Will you be able to say you made sure you could vote by requesting a mail-in ballot? (If you haven’t you still can from Cuyahoga Board of Elections or check the United States Government site for your local Board of Elections to request a ballot!)  Oh, you did all of that already? Good! I did too!  And now that we’ve fulfilled our Civic Duty toward the Life and Liberty part of Declaration of Independence, we can enjoy the Pursuit of Happiness by sitting back, relaxing, and listening to the Essential Bill Withers while we upcycle some lightly tattered clothes and look at interesting Summertime recipes (so we can avoid the oven)!

It’s good to plan ahead, isn’t it? Stay cool my friends!
—Stacey

Imagine Your Story -Variety Pack

You know how sometimes (or fairly often) it can be hard to settle down and read? I’ve found a variety pack of options to entertain myself, and maybe some of these ideas will appeal to you as well…

Magazines! From HGTV to Gourmet to bite sized articles in How it Works that help me learn something new, I’ve been enjoying flicking those pages until something catches my eye.

I’ve also been reading from the Diverse Voices for Younger Readers collection. I 100% think books for teens and younger readers can be as good -or better!- than adult books as they tell stories that are compelling but tend to be shorter (aka don’t get bogged down in wordy, unnecessary extras). Why not give it a try?

Sometimes I just listen to music while I clean or do some crafting…

But if you want to be ambitious? You could join me in the Great Courses Myth in Human History and -so far, so good!! And then I have an eye on How to Make Stress Work for You….

I hope one of these choices sounds appealing and gives you something new to try!

—Stacey

Imagine Your Story -Book vs Movie

How often have you had the discussion about which was better -the book or the movie? All the time, right? And how often do you pick the movie over the book? Not as often as you pick the book, right? Well, I’ve got a win/win for you this week! You can read the book *and* watch the movie, in any order, and walk away thinking, “that was great!” Are you curious yet?

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson blends his personal experiences and life journey with his drive to create social justice and encourage us all to get involved. I read this book when it first came out, and have enjoyed it as an audio book as well, and I think part of what makes Mr. Stevenson’s book so special is how a reader can emotionally connect to experiences, feeling his pain and his joy, while breaking down those systemic issues surrounding the inequality of our justice system. Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative leading force in the creation of the Legacy Museum as well as the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Mr. Stevenson is changing our World for the better!

“But what about Just Mercy as a movie?” you ask. This movie focused in on how Mr. Stevenson became Mr. Walter McMillian’s lawyer over other experiences in the book. Sometimes it’s that trimming that can leave a reader feeling like something was missing, but I would be surprised to hear that after you watch this film. Instead, I’d guess you might also think of this as an additional chapter to the book?

I hope you read *and* watch Just Mercy, and then -please, let me know what you think!

Take care
—Stacey

In the News Book Review-The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale

There is no escaping the news and racism, policing, and protesting are currently the main headlines for most news outlets. More and more I have been hearing a cry to defund the police, an idea that I did not fully understand. Naturally, I took to the intern to begin my research, where I came across the book The End of Policing by Alex Vitale. I found it to be a quick read and interesting read.

Alex S. Vitale is a professor of sociology at Brooklyn College. He is also the coordinator of The Policing and Social Justice Project, an organization that “…advocates and supports organizing against harmful law enforcement strategies and has provided guidance for social justice and criminal justice reform efforts across the country.” Vitale has studied and written about policing for 25 and consult both police departments and human rights organizations.

The End of Policing is a broad history and analysis of the policing system in the United States. Chapters address police in schools, the policing of our borders, the homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill, and sex workers. He discusses theories of policing such as warrior policing and broken window policing. Vitale clearly outlines the roles that presidents and politicians on both sides of the aisle have played in contributing to the problems of policing. From union-busting to the war on drugs, from ICE to three strikes, from stop and frisk to closing mental institutions, our modern presidents have all enacted polices that have resulted in harmful policing practices. Vitale cites as a major issue with policing the idea that we rely on police to solve all of our problems, despite police not being qualified to do so. Police are expected to perform the jobs of mental health providers, social workers, addiction specialists, and more without the proper skills and at great cost to society. The author details how special courts, diversion programs, and jails are all more expensive to run than social services programs. His conclusion is that training and reform are not enough. Vitale argues that diverting funds into programs that work to prevent social problems, ie, mental health care, affordable house, access to jobs, etc can reduce crime an the need for policing.

This is an interesting, informative, and well-researched book that I found helpful in understanding the idea behind the call to defund police.

~Megan